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Case Studies

Laboratory Sustainability: How KCL Facilitates Sustainable Science

Martin Farley – Research Efficiency Manager, KCL 

Since 2013, KCL has been running Sustainable Laboratory Awards, using NUS’s Green Impact. The programme revolves around a set of criteria that help laboratories improve their sustainability, particularly in areas such as cold storage, ventilation, equipment, and more. Labs complete the criteria and are audited against them, and the award levels which may be achieved are Bronze Silver and Gold.

Our programme was made unique through the decision to make our awards ‘evidence-light’, i.e. administration associated with awards submissions was greatly cut down, and we instead focused on the practical implementation of the criteria. This enabled our programme to succeed and grow and gave our teams the opportunity to find innovate ways of making their labs more sustainable. Furthermore, annual reporting was introduced in recognition that there is relatively high turnover in both laboratories as well as sustainability departments. The reporting proved invaluable as management and delivery of the awards changed from Martin Farley, to Tytus Murphy (then back to Martin, and now with Sophia Courtney), whilst many of the laboratory teams changed their leads as well. They allowed teams to know exactly what had been done previously, and quickly decide on goals for the coming year. Finally, typical Green Impact audits are conducted by students who are trained by NUS, though this was varied at KCL so that audits were conducted via peer-audits. In this scenario auditors were other participants in the programme and thus very familiar with laboratory settings. This improved audit quality, while also proved a fun experience for participants who learned a bit about their neighbouring laboratories. The process was expanded so that inter-university audits were conducted with UCL laboratories in 2017, which similarly proved very successful.

The awards are entering their 4th year, and it felt necessary to assess what the impact may have been of the programme. Two separate surveys were conducted of participants, one qualitative and one quantitative. Results of both surveys may be found on this diagram. Responses on impact concurred that users found the programme ”was a useful exercise and highlighted the small changes that can be adopted that will lead to huge energy savings”, giving the programme an 8.25/10 in terms of usefulness. Financial savings proved notable as well, as the programme is conservatively estimated to have saved at least £150,000 thus far, with this figure increasing annually. Approximately 2/3 of these savings were estimated to come from energy, but another 1/3 went directly to the laboratory as procurement/consumable savings (note labs don’t pay for electricity directly at KCL).


This programme is still growing, and this year KCL Sustainability hope that at least 85% of the laboratories at KCL will be involved. This will result in a saving of at least £100,000 per year, but crucially represents hundreds of tonnes of reduced CO2 emissions. For more information on how you can get involved, contact, or ask your local lab technical team if they’re yet involved.


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