Make your lab sustainable with LEAF
Laboratory based research is essential for advancing society but it is also extremely energy and resource intensive. It’s estimated that laboratories are responsible for around 2% of global plastic waste and use 3-10 times more energy per meter squared than a typical office. By taking part in the LEAF programme you can make your laboratory more sustainable.
- What is LEAF?
Here at Sustainable UCL, we’ve developed LEAF, a green lab standard to improve the sustainability and efficiency of laboratories. The LEAF programme, short for the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework, is a self-assessment tool targeted at research, teaching and medical laboratories.
LEAF contains actions which lab users can take to save plastics, water, energy and other resources. By taking part in the programme, laboratories reduce their carbon emissions and create an environment that supports research quality.
Laboratories are awarded either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold level depending on how many sustainability actions they take.
A key feature of LEAF is that it allows participants to estimate what impact their changes have made (both in financial and carbon terms) with user-friendly calculators.
See a few example actions below:
- What does LEAF comprise of?
The LEAF programme comprises the following four elements:
- The Framework: An online tool that guides users through sustainability actions for the laboratory.
- Online calculators: To help you estimate how sustainable your lab is now and track improvements as you make changes.
- Toolkit and Resources: Everything you need to implement the suggested changes in LEAF from guides to sustainable lab equipment and consumables to induction and exit procedures. You can access these here.
- User Engagement & Training: To get you started we offer each institution a tailored workshop to engage laboratory staff and students on sustainable science, and to introduce LEAF.
- Who is using LEAF?
LEAF is supported by the UKRN (UK reproducibility network). This is in recognition that high-quality research is sustainable research – Ensuring that studies are reproducible and that we make use of the data we generate is a sustainability challenge as well as one for science. UKRN provides an annual review of the actions within LEAF which relate to research quality. LEAF is also supported by the National Technician Development Centre (NTDC), in recognition that the application of sustainable lab practices improves career development and visibility for technical staff.
“Reproducible science and sustainable science are intimately linked. More robust research will ensure we make progress more efficiently and less wastefully. UKRN is proud to support LEAF, which provides researchers and laboratories with the tools to improve the efficiency and quality of their work. - Marcus Munafò, Professor of Biological Psychology, University of Bristol, UKRN Lead
“By engaging with the LEAF Project, technicians will further boost their progress in delivering a sustainable laboratory and related working practices. Their work in this field highlights the key role technicians play in delivering “the green laboratory” whilst helping their institution contribute to the battle against climate change. Using the LEAF tool will undoubtedly lead to the reduction of their institution’s carbon footprint whether in a teaching or research setting, whilst helping to promote and recognise the major contribution technician’s make to tackling today's environmental issues.-Terry Croft MBE, FIScT, CSci, Founding Director, National Technician Development Centre (NTDC)
View the 70 global institions taking part:
- University of Exeter
- Manchester Metropolitan University
- University of Southampton
- University of Manchester
- Queen Mary University of London
- UNSW Sydney
- Swansea University
- University of Bristol
- University of Oxford
- Queen's University Belfast
- University of Leeds
- Imperial College London
- University of Liverpool
- Edinburgh Napier
- University of Glasgow
- University College Cork
- UWE Bristol
- Vienna BioCenter
- British Antarctic Survey
- University of Reading
- Nottingham Trent University
- British Geological Survey (BGS)
- Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
- Newcastle University
- University of Bath
- University of Stirling
- Oxford Brookes University
- MPI SHH
- University of Warwick
- EPFL SV
- University of Surrey
- King's College London
- University of Cambridge
- Northumbria University
- University of Huddersfield
- Crick Institute
- Babraham - CRUK
- MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
- Cell & Gene Therapy - Catapult
- Princess Máxima Center
- Erasmus University Medical Center
- Radboud University
- Marine Biological Association
- Cardiff University
- University of Dundee
- University of Copenhagen
- Plymouth Marine Laboratory
- Max Planck Institute of Biophysics
- Technical University of Darmstadt
- Edge Hill University
- TU Dublin
- University of Suffolk
- University of Brighton
- SHU - TORS
- University of Twente
- Hubrecht / Westerdijk Institute
- University of Nottingham
- Glasgow Caledonian University
- Amsterdam UMC
- What savings can I make?
Before making LEAF widely available, we piloted LEAF for 2 years with 23 other universities and research institutes in 2018-2020. 99% of those surveyed said they would use LEAF again.
235 lab groups took part across 23 research institutions saving:
- £3,700 per lab group, per year on average
- £641,000 in total
- 648 tonnes of carbon in total (equivalent to taking 140 passenger vehicles off the road in a year).
View the wider results here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/sustainable/staff/labs/how-much-carbon-can-you-save
- Who is talking about LEAF?
Click on the links below to read more about what others are saying on LEAF.
- Check out this blog from FEBS on how we can make labs more sustainable using LEAF
- Read this BNA paper titled Climate crisis and ecological emergency: Why they concern (neuro)scientists, and what we can do
- Check out this research article titled “Urgent action is required to increase sustainability in in vitro modelling”
- Read here a short article from Research Professional News on LEAF
- Read here how the University of Exeter has enrolled 100% of their labs in LEAF
- Read here how the University of Bristol became the first institution in the world to achieve 100% of their labs using LEAF
- Read a series of articles from Efficiency Exchange on Sustainable Science, Reproducibility, and LEAF
- Read Universities UK endorsement of LEAF
- Click here for the UCL Life Science Student Publication
- Read an article from C&EN (Chemical & Engineering News) on LEAF, plastics, and more
- Read an article from Chemistry World
- Read an article from Chemistry World on LEAF and reducing lab waste
- Read an interview with Martin Farley and Cristina Azevedo in ecrLIFE
Can an individual lab sign up for LEAF?
LEAF works best when an institution signs up, then any lab from that institution can participate.
Is LEAF international?
LEAF is used across 12 countries and growing fast, with over 70 institutions registered it has quickly become the largest green lab programme in the world.
Which type of institution or lab is LEAF applicable to?
LEAF is currently only available for non-commercial laboratories, however by the end of 2022, it will be widely available for businesses too. LEAF may be applied to a wide variety of labs, such as life science, chemistry, engineering, and even informatic lab spaces.
What support do LEAF users receive?
Administrators are given registration access to LEAF and are given a demonstration of the platform, typically lasting 30 minutes. Subsequently, lab users are offered a 1 hour workshop outlining why sustainability is relevant in science, a brief background to LEAF, what actions labs will be asked to take, and how the platform works. Technical assistance is offered throughout, as well as support on finding sustainability solutions. Throughout the year, workshops are provided on a variety of topics, including LEAF content, assessment, calculators, and implementation.
How long does a LEAF submission last for?
LEAF submissions are run annually. The LEAF platform will save answers, allowing laboratories to build on their efforts each year.
How much time does it take to implement LEAF for a lab?
This varies on the size of te lab, and how it is set up. LEAF has been designed to minimise administration, whilst maximising action. Surveyed labs have indicated that they may spend 1-10 hours in the first year, though this can vary. At an institutional level, LEAF has a tailoured platform which helps administrators manage a large number of labs at once.
Who should be managing LEAF at an institution?
This can vary depending on the institution, but successful LEAF managers are typically composed of technical or lab managers, sustainability leads, researchers, energy managers, and / or administrators.
How does LEAF comply with Health & Safety?
Safety for staff is paramount to operations, and LEAF takes into account safety requirements. Many LEAF criteria align perfectly with safety targets, e.g. keeping fume cupboard sashes lowered when not in use, or tracking chemical stocks.
How are LEAF submissions assessed?
LEAF provides tools to assess criteria, including a Criteria Assessment Guide, which provides an outline of what a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ would look like for each criteria. Institutions can organise assessments to be conducted either by their own administrators, or the peer-audit function in which laboratories can assess each other (with final approval from the administrators).
Once the submission is approved, then what?
LEAF produces a certificate for laboratories to access and print to acknowledge their efforts. Some universities organise Sustaianbility Award Ceremonies to reward their lab teams.
What’s next for LEAF?
We’re developing new features and content for LEAF constantly, and you’re welcome to input in this process. LEAF is a user-led initiative, and we look forward to hearing how we can improve.
How much does LEAF cost?
Institution research income p/a (for UK HESA reporting institutions)
Employee Count (for non-UK institutions)
Price p/a (excl. VAT)
>£60,000,000 3,000+ £2,600 Between £25,000,000 – £60,000,000 2,000-3,000 £2,000 Between £2,500,000 - £25,000,000 1,000-2,000 £1,600 <£2,500,000 <1,000 £1,100