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LEAF: A new framework for lab sustainability

University laboratories are extremely energy and material intensive and there are few drivers for sustainable research methods. A lab will consume up to 10 times more energy than other academic spaces.

As a leading research university, a significant part of our energy use comes from laboratories. Therefore King's College London is piloting a tool called LEAF - Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework.

The programme, with Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels, allows users to estimate the impact of actions and aims to help laboratories bring down costs, reduce our impact on the environment, and inform users in the process.

Criteria include waste, ventilation, chemicals and procurement. One of the most important criteria is research quality - in recognition that a repeated/mis-published experiment represents the most unsustainable research - and aligning our commitment to sustainability with research of world-leading quality.

The framework is intended for use by local laboratory groups up to departmental level. Labs targeted include: teaching, all wet labs, IT labs, and some engineering labs. If you'd like to take part in the initiative, contact Martin Farley, Lab Sustainability Advisor.

King's is running a pilot of the framework over the course of this year along with around 10 other UK universities and international partners. There is a steering group in place to support the pilot and the HE Institutions taking part will report on its impact after applying it locally.

The steering group contains a mix of pilot participants, interested parties, and funding bodies. In addition to King's, some of the key pilot members are UCL, Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester, UEA, and more. Other steering group members include the SFC and Research England.

Want to know more?

If you want to use LEAF in your lab or institution, please get in touch with Martin Farley, our sustainable labs advisor.

Waterloo Campus, 57 Waterloo Road London, SE1 8WA

Futher information

KCL LEAF Case Study: Fume Cupboard Competition and Equipment Sharing Leads to Big Savings at Britannia House

Jordan Guthrie, Martin Farley

Britannia House houses a growing Chemistry Department at King’s College London. Within Britannia House sits Jordan Guthrie, who has been a technician in the department since December 2016. Jordan, having participated in KCL’s previous Sustainable Lab Awards, was interested by the LEAF pilot and signed up targeting a Silver in the first year. He organised and led the technical teams to start to implement various criteria from the LEAF tool, whilst using it to estimate the carbon and financial savings which resulted. What stands out about Jordan’s work though, are the unexpected outcomes from implementing LEAF in the department.

LEAF contains criteria which ask users to establish a means to ensure fume cupboard sashes are kept closed when not in use, this is particularly important for the variable air volume models which Britannia House possesses. A fume cupboard can consume more energy than a house through loss of conditioned air along with the fans required to facilitate this process. This energy consumption can be reduced by at least 50% by simply closing the sash of the cupboard, which reduces the volume of air being expelled. Sometimes though users don’t close the sashes when their work is done, resulting in significant waste of energy. Looking at this, Jordan decided to engage with staff in a positive manner by running a “close the sash competition”, and incentivising the winners with pizza!

To ensure people were on board with the initiative, Jordan engaged with users about the impacts of leaving the sashes open. He ran the competition over a course of a month, and recorded when sashes left open at the end of the day. The results were stark – Jordan observed a 25% increase in sash closure. Using LEAF to estimate impact, Jordan and the team’s efforts will save £14,850 per annum in energy costs!

Jordan and the team didn’t rest their laurels on this achievement, while implementing LEAF, other members of the technical team, Vicky Snowden and Mark Withers, identified 6 bio-safety cabinets which were in line to be disposed of.  A typical bio-safety cabinet new can cost £7,000 or more, and while the existing units were old, they were still functioning. Rather than a potentially costly disposal, the department managed to rehouse 4 units within the college through the technical network, and even sold a fifth unit at a profit. The final unit was disposed of as it was beyond repair.

In implementing LEAF, Jordan and the team were able to achieve fantastic savings. While some of the savings will derive directly from criteria within the tool, some of the greatest impact have simply originated from empowering of the team to consider sustainability of the department. Technical staff like Jordan will always understand their environment best, and as such be best placed to innovate and implement solutions in efficiency and sustainability.

Chemistry technical teamJordan (centre) with members of the Chemistry technical team

LEAF safety cabinetRehoused safety cabinet in Guys Hospital, which avoided the skip