Ask Me Anything – 10 Questions About Sustainability Answered

10 Icons for 10 Questions
(Can you find the right one for each question? :D)

Question 1: I work with animals, mice to be precise. Are there best practices or opportunities to be more sustainable?

1. Optimize Experimental Design Minimize: the number of animals used by ensuring experiments have sufficient statistical power and address specific research questions effectively. This reduces unnecessary animal usage and associated costs.

2. Consider Breeding Practices: Efficient breeding strategies are essential, especially for genetically modified mice, to avoid unnecessary surplus animals and overwork for researchers.

3. Reduce Waste and Resource Consumption: Implement practices to minimize waste generation, such as composting animal bedding, which requires coordination but can significantly reduce environmental impact.

4. Balance Sterility and Reduction: Do not impair cleanliness levels in animal facilities but plan your stay (potentially with coworkers) to reduce the amount of personal protective equipment worn.

5. Optimize Experimental Procedures: Streamline laboratory protocols to minimize resource usage, such as reducing pipette tip consumption or maximizing cell yield from harvested organs.

Literature: Some ideas for optimizing statistics: A / B / C

Question 2: What is possible to make more sustainable when it comes to experiments?

1. Review Experimental Strategies: Did you optimize statistics in terms of power and significance? Do you have a solid strategy, e.g., efficient implementation of controls or avoiding using painkillers without known mechanisms as controls.

2. Implement the Six R’s: Focus on reducing and reusing materials. For instance, pipette tips can be reused by pipetting water before DNA, and wash solutions can be prepared directly in petri dishes to minimize tube usage. Also, consider using the same culture dish for routine passaging after thorough validation. Sometimes it is possible to pour wash-solutions instead of pipetting them etc.

3. Method Optimization: It depends very much on your set-up, e.g., investigate greener methods such as HPLC-MS, which streamline workflows and require fewer sample preparations. Consider using alternative eluents like ethanol instead of acetonitrile, although potential drawbacks like increased HPLC pressure and altered UV cutoff must be considered.

In the live event I mentioned: 6R and some inspiration for HPLC

Question 3: What is meant by regulation in sustainability?

Regulation in sustainability refers to laws and requirements set by national or supranational entities, such as the European Union, that compel organizations to report on their sustainability efforts and adhere to certain standards. Currently, this primarily affects industries and companies, but there’s a possibility it may extend to academic research laboratories in the future.

For companies, compliance with sustainability regulations may involve the creation of sustainability reports, which are becoming as critical as financial statements. The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) may necessitate reporting on a wide range of data points, potentially exceeding 1,000.

In laboratories, sustainability regulation may require reporting on activities and environmental impacts, such as Scope 3 emissions from procurement and purchasing. Sustainability officers or designated personnel may be tasked with collecting and managing this data.

Regulation can also influence purchasing decisions, potentially requiring organizations to consider sustainability factors when acquiring products or chemicals, akin to current hiring practices where equal opportunities are provided to all applicants.

You can watch our previous event on that topic as well : )

Question 4: We need administration to join in. But how?

1. Regulation and Reporting Waiting for regulations to mandate sustainability reporting or initiatives can provide a framework for administration involvement (unfortunate but true…)

2. Grassroots Initiatives Scientists and staff can actively prompt administration by demonstrating the value and feasibility of sustainability initiatives. By proactively suggesting and implementing sustainability measures, staff can show administration the potential benefits and garner support for broader initiatives.

3. Align with Administrative Priorities Tailoring sustainability initiatives to align with administrative priorities can help garner support. For example, emphasizing the educational value of sustainability initiatives can appeal to universities focused on teaching and education. Demonstrating cost savings, reduced maintenance or risk reduction associated with sustainability measures can be quite powerful. However, sometimes, personal buy-in can be sufficient. E.g., an amazing colleague called Star Scott has convinced administration by making them emotionally involved after sharing that their lab waste ended up in nearby socially disadvantaged communities.

Question 5: What are Carbon Credits?

Carbon credits are a form of tradable permit or certificate that represents the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide or an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases. They are a mechanism used to offset emissions by investing in projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

Here’s how carbon credits typically (should) work:

1. Emission Reduction Projects: Carbon offset projects can take various forms, such as reforestation, renewable energy generation, methane capture from landfills, or energy efficiency initiatives. These projects are implemented to either reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.

2. Certification and Verification: Once a project is implemented, it undergoes a certification process to ensure that it meets certain standards and criteria set by various carbon offsetting organizations.

3. Issuance of Carbon Credits: Upon successful verification, carbon credits are issued to the project based on the amount of emissions reduced or removed. Each carbon credit typically represents one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) that has been mitigated by the project.

4. Trading and Sale Carbon: credits can be bought and sold on carbon markets, allowing companies or individuals to offset their own emissions by purchasing credits generated by emission reduction projects.

5. Offsetting Emissions: By purchasing carbon credits, companies or individuals can offset their own carbon footprint, effectively neutralizing their emissions by investing in projects that mitigate emissions elsewhere.

However, while carbon credits are intended to incentivize emission reductions and support sustainable development initiatives, there are huge issues with their effectiveness and integrity:

1. Additionality: There are many example where some carbon offset projects may not be additional, meaning they would have occurred anyway even without the sale of carbon credits. This raises questions about the real environmental impact of offsetting activities.

2. Longevity: Some offset projects, such as reforestation, face challenges related to permanence. For example, a forest that is planted to sequester carbon could be subject to deforestation in the future, leading to the release of stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

3. Estimation: The amount of carbon credits issued is most often based on calculations that rely on a broad range of assumptions. In effect, emission reduction is expected, not assured. A wide range of projects was vastly overestimating their reduction.

4. Wrongly Incentivizing: Some companies will tend to buy credits instead of making possible reductions in their emissions. On the other hand, companies have been able to issue carbon credits for driving reductions that would be obligatory by law anyway.

One heart-breakingly obscure story, one estimate on the impact if the global north would offset all emissions, one Youtube video that illustrates the issue

Question 6: How do I convince colleagues who don’t care about sustainability?

1. Understand Their Concerns: Start by having conversations with your colleagues to understand their perspectives and concerns. What are their priorities, motivations, and objections? By listening attentively, you can tailor your approach to address their specific interests and apprehensions.

2. Highlight Benefits Beyond Sustainability: Frame sustainability initiatives in terms of the benefits that matter most to your colleagues. For example, emphasize cost savings, improved efficiency, enhanced safety, or regulatory compliance. By demonstrating how sustainability aligns with their objectives, you can make a more compelling case for its importance.

3. Provide Evidence and Case Studies: Share relevant data, research studies, and case examples that illustrate the positive outcomes of sustainable practices. Highlight success stories from similar organizations or industries to show the tangible benefits of adopting sustainable initiatives.

4. Emphasize Future Potential: Highlight the risks associated with lingering with the status quo, such as potential regulatory penalties, reputational damage, or operational lags with newer innovations. Sustainability as a proactive strategy for risk management and resilience, not just a nice idea to benefit the environment.

5. Engage in Collaborative Problem-Solving: Foster a collaborative approach by involving colleagues in the decision-making process and soliciting their input on sustainability initiatives. Encourage brainstorming sessions where everyone can contribute ideas and perspectives, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to collective goals.

6. Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate milestones and achievements related to sustainability initiatives within your organization. Highlighting success stories and positive outcomes can motivate and inspire colleagues to engage more actively in sustainability efforts.

7. Continuous Communication and Education Keep the conversation about sustainability ongoing by regularly sharing updates, insights, and educational resources with your colleagues. Foster a culture of learning and open dialogue where sustainability is viewed as a dynamic and evolving priority. This is especially important when new members or students join the laboratory.

Check out our weekly lessons on that topic to convince others or help your coworkers or initiate lasting change

Question 7: I’ve been separating trash for a long time, but heard it doesn’t help. Is that true?

It is not true, however, there are a few points to consider:

1. Effective Separation: Properly separating your waste, especially plastics, is crucial. High-quality plastics, such as those typically used in labs, are valuable for recycling. Ensure that your cleaning staff maintains the separation of recyclable materials and doesn’t mix them together during disposal.

2. Trustworthy Recycling Programs: If you’re participating in recycling programs or working with third-party waste management services, ensure that they are reputable and transparent about their recycling processes. Unfortunately, there have been cases where companies claim to take-back waste and after the additional transportation discarded their waste without recycling it.

3. Consider Waste Types: While paper recycling tends to be successful, the effect of separating biological waste depends heavily on your location. Unfortunately, it is hard to generalize. Also, different types of plastics have varying recycling capabilities. PET, for example, has a higher chance of being recycled than PC in many cities.

Question 8: How to switch to greener chemicals? I’m mainly doing synthesis work.

1. Due Diligence: Before implementing any changes in your lab practices, it’s essential to conduct thorough research and consider the potential impacts. Sustainability efforts should be deliberate and well-planned to ensure effectiveness. We will need to try things out, but there should be a method to the madness.

2. Trade-offs: When choosing “greener” solvents for experiments, it’s crucial to consider that there are many factors such as price, health impacts, environmental regulations, and life cycle analysis playing into the equation. It is also important to note that there is no standardized definition of environmental impact. Since are no unified scales or definitions, you will find a plethora of measurements and assessment, therefore, a bit of subjective decision making will be remain.

3. Guides for Sustainable Practices: Utilizing tools and guides, such as solvent selection guides, can provide valuable insights into choosing sustainable alternatives. These resources offer information on the environmental impact of different chemicals and help researchers make informed decisions.

Here are Nr.1 and Nr.2 useful publications.

Question 9: What is procurement and how can I make it more sustainable?

Procurement involves all the practices connected to purchasing items and services for your laboratory.

Here are some key points on how to make it more sustainable:

1. Efficiency: It’s important to ensure that what you purchase is truly necessary and beneficial for your institute, company, or laboratory. Avoid unnecessary purchases by consulting with collaborators or colleagues to determine actual needs.

2. Bulk Ordering: Ordering items in bulk can increase efficiency and save time and resources. By coordinating bulk orders, you can minimize the frequency of deliveries and ensure that all items are received and stored properly.

3. Delivery Practices: Consider the delivery practices of the companies you purchase from, including the frequency of deliveries and their impact on the environment. Companies that prioritize sustainable delivery practices contribute to overall sustainability efforts.

4. Ethical Considerations: As sustainable procurement extends beyond environmental considerations evaluate the ethical practices of suppliers, including their treatment of workers and adherence to labor laws

Also here you can refer to a recording from our events

Question 10: What are options to make computational work more sustainable?

1. Energy-efficient Equipment: Consider the energy efficiency of the computational equipment used for bioinformatics analyses. Opt for newer, more energy-efficient hardware when possible.

2. Data Storage: Evaluate options for storing and managing data, such as using cloud-based storage versus local hard drives. While cloud storage offers convenience and scalability, local storage on hard drives may be more energy-efficient in the long term, especially if the data doesn’t need to be accessed frequently.

3. Code Optimization: Optimize bioinformatics algorithms and software code to minimize running time. This can involve using optimized algorithms and libraries, as well as implementing efficient coding practices.

4. Data Filtering and Processing: Minimize the amount of data processed and analyzed by applying filtering criteria and selective processing techniques. Focus on extracting relevant information from datasets while discarding unnecessary data, which can reduce computational workload and energy consumption. Nevertheless, be careful what data you discard!

5. Off-Peak Computing: Schedule bioinformatics analyses and computations during off-peak hours when computational resources are underutilized. This can help reduce overall energy consumption and alleviate strain on computational infrastructure during peak usage periods.

And many more right here on our website

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