LEAF Project: Reading University Technical Services Details Their Sustainability Journey

By 17th November 2021 Blog, News
The Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) is an independent standard that enables science laboratories to improve their sustainability and efficiency. In this series of articles, we will focus on a different University technical team and how they are tackling waste reduction and sustainability.

Reading University has been utilising the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework since 2019. The Reading LEAF team (Olga Khutoryanskaya, Scott O’Brien and Andy Whittam) have been applying the framework across the university and are currently looking to apply it to more specialist spaces such as glasshouses and studios. However, the team’s sustainability achievements start earlier than 2019 as the team details below:

Like many technical staff, Technical Services staff here at the University of Reading have had a long- standing enthusiasm and engagement for environmental sustainability and have worked with the University’s Sustainability Services Team over the years.

One of our earliest campaigners for improving energy and water efficiency in the University’s science laboratories is Andy Whittam, a Technical Manager in our Operations Team. Many of the largest energy and water saving projects the University has delivered have originated from Andy.  This has included an estate-wide upgrade of 200+ fume cupboards from constant volume to variable volume ventilation, a centralised chilled water and vacuum system in Chemistry’s teaching labs, and the replacement of ageing, inefficient lab equipment through a scrappage scheme part-funded by Sustainability Services. More recently, Andy was involved in the replacement of water aspirators with rotavap condensers, new chiller equipment in the School of Chemistry, Food & Pharmacy and the preparation for the replacement of a centralised water vacuum system with a re-circulating system in the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science.  Savings of 1,200 m3 water per annum are estimated from the first 2 projects, with a further 1,000 m3 expected from the vacuum project. When Salix Finance launched their Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund in October 2020, Andy was the Sustainability Services Team’s first port of call for suggestions of further energy efficiency projects, leading to a successful bid being granted specifically for a range of lab equipment upgrades. Andy’s efforts around environmental sustainability have contributed to him being shortlisted in THE Awards in the category ‘Outstanding Technician of the Year’ 2021.

More widely, the University Sustainability Team have given presentations at our regular TechNet sessions since 2017 and around that time we set up a Technical Services Sustainability Group bringing in more of our Technical Services staff to contribute to sustainability work and they launched various initiatives such as recycling of laboratory plastics. In 2019 we worked with a number of Universities to learn about the LEAF scheme and started making staff and students, particularly in the Science Schools, aware of how we can improve the sustainability and efficiency of our laboratories. LEAF gives us a structured means by which we can measure and assess our progress, and this sets an expectation that we need to maintain and improve standards, through bronze, silver and gold awards. Assigning award levels embeds a culture of continuous improvement and makes progress very visible. This visibility engenders competition amongst our applicants and drives us towards achieving our aspirations as environmental sustainability is one of the four principles of our 2020-2026 University strategy.

Our Technical Services LEAF Team (Olga Khutoryanskaya, Scott O’Brien and Andy Whittam-photo attached) are the panel assessors for the LEAF awards. Being part of the pilot for the on-line tool has enabled us to provide feedback on the registration process, ease of use of the software and suggestions for improvements. We are now using the tool to assess a recent bronze application, made by an academic colleague in the School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy and look forward to publicising the success of the application as the first step in a University wide rollout of the online framework. We are very keen to apply the assessment framework to other specialist spaces including glasshouses, theatres and studios and our involvement in the pilot is facilitating our ambitions in this area.