Lab spaces are integral to research at Swansea University, yet their significant environmental impacts must not be overlooked. They are highly resource-intensive spaces, producing substantial amounts of waste and typically using three-to-ten times more energy than office spaces1. A single fume hood can use as much energy as three households per year2. So to reduce our impact we’re encouraging our labs to join the LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) programme.

LEAF is a green standard for laboratories, developed by University College London (UCL) that improves lab sustainability and efficiency. Lab users follow a set of criteria that recommends actions in areas such as waste, sample and chemical management, ventilation, and equipment. Laboratories are then awarded a bronze, silver or gold award based on how many changes they’ve implemented.

LEAF aligns with the university’s Sustainability and Climate Emergency Strategy, increases research efficiency and ensures health and safety compliance. Two hundred and thirty different laboratory groups took part in the LEAF pilot study from twenty-three institutions. On average, each group saved £3,700 and 2.9tCO2e. In total, laboratories saved approximately £641,000 and avoided 684 tCO2e, the equivalent of 140 passenger vehicles off the road per year. Swansea University was the only Welsh university to contribute and is leading the way in Wales. Since the start of the project in 2019, 31 labs at Swansea have achieved an award, including 25 Bronze and six silver.

Speaking about the initiative, Ruth Jones, Research Officer within the University’s Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Science, said: “The ILS1 2nd Floor lab has gained a Bronze LEAF Award and is now working towards a Silver. As a lab, we’ve been trying to select more energy-efficient equipment; however, we’ve discovered that it is vital for users to also be on board. For example, if energy-efficient freezers aren’t defrosted regularly and maintained properly, they use more energy and are more likely to break down; this could lead to the loss of samples. We’ve found that following the principles of LEAF can lead to more environmentally friendly practices in the lab, as well as being more economical and safer.”

Joe Bater-Davies, Senior Technician, Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: “The Chemical Engineering technical team has achieved the LEAF Bronze award across our teaching spaces for a second year running and we are aiming to achieve Silver this year. The LEAF process itself has challenged us to reflect on the impact of our activities on the environment, encouraging us to make changes to our process and procedures to make them more sustainable. As an added benefit, we have also been able to improve lab safety and reduce costs.

LEAF is a user-led programme, applicable for both teaching and research laboratories. Supporting resources are available from the sustainability team, sustainable labs page and the LEAF online tool. For more information get in touch via   

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