Green Labs

by Faye Murphy

In the past couple of years, many Trinity students and staff have been trying to find a way to create a more sustainable lab environment. In August 2020, the Institute of Neuroscience began its journey to becoming Green Lab Certified.

As Trinity College Dublin has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, the green labs initiative will significantly help Trinity in its journey towards this commitment. While the numbers vary from lab to lab, globally, labs use ten times more energy and four times more water than an office of the same size. In addition, labs alone contribute 2% of the total global plastic production.

Even on an individual basis, bench scientists contribute much more to climate change than the average individual. For example, while the average Irish person produces 61kg of waste a year, the average bench scientist can produce up to 1000kg of waste annually.

globally labs use ten times more energy and four times more water than an office of the same size

From these statistics, we can conclude that labs are resource-heavy environments, but this is not entirely necessary. Most of this energy and waste comes from poor management practices and bad habits. If only 2% of lab plastics were diverted from landfills, it would prevent 100 million metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere annually. This change would not only aid in Trinity’s goal but also aid in the international fight for climate control.

The My Green Lab programme is an international certification system where laboratories undergo a five-step programme to reduce their environmental impact and introduce sustainable practices continuously. These steps include a baseline assessment to understand the current state of lab practices. After the evaluation, some recommendations of change to improve lab sustainability are discussed and implemented. Based upon the percentage of green lab practices adopted, a lab is then certified as bronze, silver, gold, platinum or green. After initial certification, more recommendations and re-certification occurs down the road to ensure the lab is keeping up with their green practices.

labs alone contribute 2% of the total global plastic production.

As part of their green lab initiative, a group of PhD students from the institute of neuroscience and the school of chemistry created the Trinity Green Lab Guide. This green lab guide offers simple ways to reduce lab costs and improve efficiency. Trinity’s green lab guide focuses on five main areas, water management, energy, waste, green chemistry, and sustainable purchasing and management of substances inventory. The guide can be followed and used by any lab within the campus.

bench scientists contribute more to climate change than the average person … while the average Irish person produces 61kg of waste a year, a bench scientist can produce up to 1000kg

During Green Week last February, the college voted to decide which lab would be next to receive funding to become green lab certified. The vote decided that this funding would be allocated to The Cocker Chemistry Teaching Lab. This choice is a new step in the right direction as green chemistry is one of My Green Labs and Trinity Green Lab Guide’s main aims. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green chemistry is “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances”. Green chemistry involves using safer and more environmentally friendly chemicals and substances as well as reducing solvent waste. There are 12 principles of green chemistry that one can find on the My Green Lab website. Also, the EPA provides an environmental toxicity report of chemicals used in labs. All types of labs must try to become “greener”, as for chemistry labs alone, 60% of their energy is used for ventilation, which can be significantly reduced by introducing green lab practices.

There are many ways to get involved in the green lab initiative, such as introducing your colleagues or peers to the Trinity Green Lab guide. On a personal scale, the My Green Lab website offers a free course to become a Green Lab Ambassador. This course is an introduction to lab sustainability, behavioural changes as well as how to suggest and make changes in the lab. Green labs are in the best interests of all individuals as not only will they create a more environmentally friendly lab, but a safer and more economically sound environment.

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