Life science research is energy-intensive and relies heavily on the fossil-fuel economy and single-use plastics. And yet, hands-on initiatives to cut down plastic waste and minimize the footprint of energy-demanding equipment are scarce in labs at the University of Vienna and beyond. In 2019, a handful of junior scientists at the Department of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (FEE) were inspired by the Fridays For Future movement and decided to act. Their goal? To implement sustainable research practices in their molecular biology labs and to inspire a larger movement in life science research culture. What started out as a loose group of people sharing the vision of “green” lab work, soon gave birth to the initiative Green Labs FEE, dedicated to establishing concrete measures against the waste of energy and plastics at the Department with the help of everyone – students and staff alike. Since then, the initiators of Green Labs FEE also have made it their mission to connect life science labs all around the country and beyond via the platform Green Labs Austria (www.greenlabsaustria.at).
Initiatives to foster more sustainable research exist at other Universities, especially in the United States. They largely focus their efforts on reducing energy consumption. One of the swiftest, concrete measures is to raise the temperature of ultra-low temperature freezers by 10°C (from -80°C to -70°C), which saves up to 30% energy usage without compromising the quality of the samples (https://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/greenlabs/lab-energy-efforts/labs-taking-action-ULT). While Green Labs FEE has started to implement this practice Department-wide, a more ambitious action is urgently needed to fundamentally change the use of plastics in the lab – an effort that is strikingly missing from other initiatives. To this end, Green Labs FEE is coordinating efforts among all participating labs to determine the average amount and types of plastics used at the Department, which will then inform feasible and effective alternatives (e.g. glassware), new recycling strategies and collective purchasing to minimize packaging.
Green Labs FEE encourages everyone to participate and share ideas – small or large – for a sustainable research environment. For biologists and for scientists of all disciplines, sustainable research practices should represent a natural part of our daily work and our passion. Join us! Contact Green Labs FEE: firstname.lastname@example.org.