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Lab sustainability in Oxford was the focus of a seminar for the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC WIMM) members this Wednesday. The session introduced the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF), a nationally recognised scheme to drive reductions in laboratory waste and carbon emissions.

Laboratory equipment such as pipette tips and pipette tip boxes. © Shutterstock/Elpisterra
Used laboratory equipment including gloves, pipette tips and boxes.

Research laboratories have a substantial environmental impact. Estimates suggest that 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced by bioscience labs each year, corresponding to 1.8% of the total plastic waste produced worldwide. As a result, there has been a push from researchers across the world towards more sustainable lab practice.  

This week we were joined by Martin Farley, Sustainable Labs Advisor at UCL and developer of the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF). Martin explained how LEAF can help researchers estimate their carbon impact and assist in creating practical steps to achieve their sustainability targets. Participating labs can work towards Bronze, Silver, or Gold awards, each with a set of criteria that collectively aim to: 

  • Reduce utility costs and environmental footprint 
  • Align your lab with the University’s environmental sustainability strategy 
  • Improve chances in gaining additional research funding 

62 institutions have signed up to LEAF since it went live in February 2021, including laboratories from departments across Oxford. Notably, groups within the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology piloted the scheme in 2020 and are encouraging participation university-wide.  

Charlotte Houghton, Oxford’s Sustainability Projects Manager for Laboratory Optimisation, also spoke about how the university supports researchers as they work on LEAF accreditation. This includes: 

  • Equipment replacement funding and assisting labs as they make switches to more efficient equipment  
  • Peer-to-peer auditing to pair participating labs from different departments as they work for the same LEAF award 
  • Running regular workshops and drop-in sessions to guide researchers as they work to complete the accreditation criteria 

Laboratory engagement with the LEAF programme will complement the achievements of the WIMM community who are already working to reduce the Institute’s environmental footprint. These recent steps towards sustainability were highlighted by the WIMM Safety Officer, Dr Kathryn Robson “in addition to a switch from fluorescent lights to LEDs and increased waste segregation, the repurposing of heat generated from freezers as heating for neighbouring offices is already in place to improve the Institute’s efficiency and energy costs”. 

Dr Stella Keeble, WIMM Administrator, acknowledges the work done by Malcom Shepherd and the WIMM Buildings team who are “continuously implementing changes within the Institute to improve its environmental impact". Stella is “delighted that the talks were received with enthusiasm and an interest to participate. I would like to thank the speakers for facilitating a greater environmental awareness by research staff”. 

Charlotte emphasises that anyone can make an impact, from putting up switch-off stickers next to lab equipment to working for a LEAF Gold Award. Labs looking to reduce their environmental footprint are encouraged to contact Charlotte ( to discuss how LEAF can plan their next steps towards a more sustainable future. 

Written by Mia Holloway, as part of the Oxford Careers Micro-Internship Programme (MIP)