Scientific research involves the use of appliances that require a lot of energy to run, and a large amount of single-use plastic. For good reason: freezers are needed to keep cells at the correct temperature, fume hoods make it safe to work with gaseous substances, and grabbing a new pipette tip each time reduces the risk of contamination of the experiment. But to Florijn Dekkers and Hannah Johnson, two researchers in the Rios group, this didn’t sit right. Dekkers: ‘At home I was always thinking about living sustainably, but I found myself using single-use plastic a hundred times a day in the lab. We strongly felt we needed to do something about this.’
Together with researchers at Radboud University and Sanquin they started Green Labs NL, a community where scientists from across the Netherlands can share ideas and resources around lab sustainability. Dekkers: ‘There are many initiatives taking place in individual labs in the Netherlands and Europe already. The key now is to learn from each other and pick out those things that we can implement relatively easily, and those things that will make the most impact.’ One example of a practical solution already being implemented in the Rios lab is a policy for lab members when they leave the Máxima center tidy up their samples to avoid freezer space – and therefore energy – being used unnecessarily. The team also hang their safety gloves above the lab bench with a magnet to use them more than once.
Broader developments in sustainability
The Rios group members’ initiative fits right in with broader developments in the sustainability space in the Máxima centre. Their project was met with support and enthusiasm from COO/CFO Gita Gallé and Facilities Manager Claudia Alflen. ‘From the start, we’ve incorporated sustainable solutions in our building, such as heat and cold storage, solar panels and LED lighting,’ Alflen says. ‘On top of that we aim to shift the negative impact of our work on energy, waste and materials – a good fit with the Green Labs NL project. In 2021 we will implement the ‘environment thermometer’ that will shine a light on sustainable operations and helps set new goals. We’ll also be signing the government’s Green Deal.’
Currently the Máxima members of Green Labs NL team are further outlining their sustainability goals for our Research department. Dekkers: ‘The organizational support is essential to enact any meaningful change. And it’s a fruitful combination: we’ve got the can-do mentality and motivation from the lab combined with valuable advice and sector connections from senior management.’
These connections landed Green Labs NL a spot at the Dutch Health Week event in the Jaarbeurs today, where Gita Gallé is also involved in a roundtable discussion on sustainability in the healthcare sector. Dekkers hopes the event will grow the Green Labs NL initiative and build momentum for sustainable scientific research, also at a political level. ‘The first step is awareness at all levels. The will to change is there, especially among the younger generation.’