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A technician's perspective on sustainable science

I am Rhianna Williams, a research technician interested in lab management and sustainability. Read the below for my perspective on sustainable science and the impact of LEAF.

Photo of Rihana, the author

6 August 2021

Technicians work in teaching, industry and research in different sectors. This highly skilled community has a diverse range of skills and roles. One of the things that is important to technicians, no matter the role or the department, is sustainability. Technicians are often in the frontline support roles, so are well placed to notice things that can be improved.

UCL's LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) acts as a guide to efficiency and sustainability. Through its framework, users can recognise issues and assess whether they can make changes. LEAF comes with tools like calculators to help quantify the improvements made from sustainability in terms of changes in environmental, energy and financial cost.

A common role for technicians is to buy and maintain equipment, chemicals or consumables. It can be easy for people to make the mistake of thinking short-term or sticking to old habits without assessing alternatives.

For example, a barrier to reducing plastics in labs could be that it is cheaper to buy plastic serological pipettes. But a long-term approach would suggest that buying more expensive glass as an alternative but then reusing it multiple times is more cost effective and reduces plastics. Sustainable UCL provide guides on buying equipment and consumables to help technicians and lab staff make better choice about their purchases.

I have taken part in LEAF and engaging with it has given me a sense of achievement. Currently, we have received a Bronze award and are aiming to do even better next time. LEAF is set up so that you are always aiming to improve and reach the next level, be it Silver or Gold. There is also a sense of community, which shines through at the annual awards ceremony where the community provides encouragement and advice and you have the chance to network with others. Finally, labs are certified and the data they have collected can be presented to institutions to help inform choices made at a larger scale. In the end, the goal is for LEAF to have a beneficial impact not only for those that take part, but for everyone.

Find out more about LEAF