During my time as a student working in research labs in the US and the Netherlands, I was constantly impressed with the amount of materials and energy that went into our experiments and facilities, and wondered if anything could be done to curb that usage. To investigate this, I did an internship last year with the University of Edinburgh and S-Labs to work on this very topic and through the initial successes of the internship was able to turn the position into a full-time job. Today I work as a Programmes Facilitator in the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability with a specialisation in laboratories.
Recently I visited the U.S to see friends, and realised that my very first contact in lab sustainability, Allen Doyle of UC Davis, worked not far from where I was staying in the bay area near San Francisco. Through this contact and some more errant emails, I was able to take advantage of my location to visit and network as much as possible. I contacted sustainability programs at Berkeley, Stanford, and Lawrence Berkeley. Lawrence Berkeley is a group of research facilities that have a very broad scope of research, and are funded mostly by the government while still maintaining close ties to UC Berkeley. Lawrence Berkeley is also the birthplace of Labs21 (now known as I2SL), the initial organisation from the US that focused on environmental improvements in research labs, so I figured I could learn a lot from the sustainability team there.
UC Davis: There I spent an entire day touring the campus and talking with Allen Doyle, the Sustainability manager and green labs lead. He keyed me in on the mostly US based networks of research-related staff and updated me on a whole host of projects in motion. We spoke particularly about the advancement of lab sustainability and our respective methods of penetrating research communities with topics such as improved cold storage management.
Berkeley: I met with Katherine Walsh who is the director of the Green Initiative Fund, as well as several of her staff and David Angel Scrimger the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) Construction Specialist. They shared with me their plans for a Green Labs certification program, but were in early stages of rolling it out, so I mostly shared experiences from the Edinburgh model.
Lawrence Berkeley: Partly run by UC Berkeley and the US government, this unique research facility is located on top of a scenic hill overlooking the entire bay area. There I met Jon Elliot the Chief Sustainability Officer and Erin one of his employees. Again we shared good practice and discussed approaches for introducing lab sustainability. Their focus was on fumehoods currently, and they were trying to approach labs through motivated individuals they called eco-advocates.
Stanford: Main contact was Moira Hafer. They are in the progress of setting up a university wide plug load survey, and will be including labs in this subject. They are not interested in focusing on labs quite yet, though they are considering implementing a labs program in September.
Finally, I was also lucky enough to network with several people from start-ups from the bay area. It seems quite a fertile area for innovation, and the entire experience was a huge motivational boost not just for what can be done at Edinburgh, but for what can be done nationally and even world-wide. I look forward to applying some of the novel good practice methods I picked up there, and in return sharing what I pick up along the way.