A Year of Green Labs

by Becca Payling

Towards the East end of campus, a group of passionate scientists have been working for over a year to make Trinity’s lab practices less resource-demanding and develop more conscious practices among staff and students. 

TCD Green Labs was founded by Camilla Roselli of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN). It aims to increase awareness of sustainable research and lab practices, collate green labs across campus, advocate for lab changes among individual scientists to the level of institutions, and exist as the point of contact for Trinity sustainability. This is no small task when labs consume ten times more energy than offices, and scientists create over sixteen times more waste per capita than the average Irish citizen. Borne of the more comprehensive enterprise My Green Labs, an international initiative aimed toward accrediting labs and scientists who have made efforts to reduce their energy, water and waste footprints in wet labs, TCD Green Labs inspires and implements change in how labs are run sustainably in Trinity. 

“This would significantly cut Trinity’s overall energy, waste and water footprints, in line with the 2020-2025 Trinity Strategy Goal No.5 of contributing to a sustainable and healthier planet”

On the 18th May 2021, TCD Green Labs were pushed into the spotlight when TCIN achieved a Platinum Green Lab Certification from My Green Lab, the first in Trinity and second in Ireland to hold the award. The award was the culmination of efforts by PhD candidate Camilla Roselli, Prof Andrew Harkin, Ciaran Conneely, and Dr Virginia Mela Rivas, who were awarded €1,500 funding from the Provost’s Sustainability Fund to pursue Green Labs certification in February 2020, before their first committee meeting on the 12th March 2020, days before the country-wide lockdown. For the following year, despite the covid-related challenges, the TCD Green Labs team worked hard to improve their resource and waste management practices and more efficient water and energy usage to achieve the certification. This meant an impressive 70% of assessment actions of My Green Labs criteria were achieved and consisted of changes such as changing temperatures in freezers from -80°C to -70°C, saving about 30% of energy in the process. Dr Sarah McComish of the TCD Green Labs Committee added:

“The journey towards Green Lab certification begins with a survey, which was completed by all lab members (PIs, staff and students) in TCIN in August 2020. We received the results of this survey from My Green Lab in September 2020 and achieved an overall score of 44%; based on the answers from 33 researchers.”

Last November, the School of Physics Undergrad Teaching Lab & NatPro Centre for Natural Product Research, and earlier this year the School of Pharmacy, have joined the TCIN in achieving My Green Lab certification in Trinity, with 13 more labs undertaking the process, and the end goal by 2023 to sign up a total of 30 labs to the programme. This would significantly cut Trinity’s overall energy, waste and water footprints, in line with the 2020-2025 Trinity Strategy Goal No.5 of contributing to a sustainable and healthier planet.

This year, the TCD Green Labs Committee have been looking for more certification across Trinity labs and striving for better internal practices of labs already certified. This year’s goals were predominantly outreach-orientated, with recycling posters in the lab to encourage better waste management practices among staff and students, along with a traffic light ‘switch off’ system to reduce accidental energy consumption. Excitingly, TCD Green Labs received funding from UNI-ECO (a partnership between five universities uniting staff and students in implementing sustainable projects in universities and raising awareness about the benefits of climate conscious-actions) this summer to run a ‘Cold Storage Challenge’ where labs inside and outside Trinity competed for a prize to be crowned the facility with least energy-consuming freezers. Cultivating a TCD Green Labs community can also be seen in the production of a Green Labs Guide as an accessible blueprint and point of reference for not only certified labs, but college-wide, to introduce other scientists to Green Labs, advise them ahead of certification, and communicate the TCD Green Labs Committee’s goals for the future.  This vibrant 11-page step-by-step companion can be found at https://www.tcd.ie/provost/sustainability/assets/guides/green-labs-guide.pdf, and offers tips as simple as unsubscribing from mailing lists and links where labs can purchase ‘greener’ chemicals and lab equipment.

TCD Green Labs, despite its many successes, parallels most research in that it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. For example, amongst the goals for this year have been implementing a polystyrene recycling scheme on campus with specialist company Rehab Recycling, but have faced the issue of working around Panda, the recycling company already operating on campus, as well as a lack of funding. Similarly, the installation of tap aerators to align with a main My Green Labs goal of reducing water in labs, and would reduce the water consumption on campus by 50%, has also been delayed due to lack of funding. However, with the increase of certified labs and lab sustainability interest across campus, along with the tireless work of the TCD Green Labs Committee, these projects will likely come to fruition in the coming years. 

This semester, the TCD Green Labs Committee are embarking on making more college-wide connections and nurturing sustainable mindsets. The creation of a Green Lab workshop will be available in October for current and incoming staff to reflect on and start building better lab practices. There will also be a sustainability scenario integrated into the first-year medical students’ problem-based learning tutorials, with the idea that the knowledge and application of more conscious practices will follow them throughout their time in college and later in their careers.

TCD Green Labs,  chaired by Camilla Roselli, are one of the subcommittees of Trinity Green Campus. Students and staff can get on board with the movement and are welcome to join the monthly meetings to make science in Trinity greener and cleaner. 

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