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GreenLab Initiative – reducing the carbon footprint of the i3S since 2020

The i3S GreenLab Initiative was born in May 2020 with the aim of reducing the institute’s carbon footprint and increasing recycling. Between this initial idea and now, and despite the pandemic, the group grew and launched several initiatives.

“It all started when Fabíola Costa, who was the Post-Doc representative at that time, sent an email to our mailing list proposing that we create procedures to increase the recycling of material in the laboratory and asking for ideas. I and a few others, I think seven in all, recognized the problem and responded”, says Andreia Fernandes.

“In my case”, continues the researcher, “I was shocked by the amount of plastic that I threw away every day in the laboratory, even trying to reuse it. I think we all felt that we could do something and Fabíola received several ideas. Shortly thereafter, she spoke to the Board and they asked us for a document explaining what we wanted to do. At this point, we were already thinking about much more than recycling. At the next meeting with the Board, our document was approved (you can find it on the portal). From then on, we were already a group and we started trying to do what we wrote”.

Below is a list of the various GreenLab initiatives with the names of those who were responsible for them:

Close the sash of fume hoods (Christiane Salgado)
When open, a single fume hood can consume as much energy as 3.5 homes due to air being constantly exhausted through them to the outdoors. All laboratories that possess a fume hood were visited by one i3S GreenLab initiative volunteer. All the information regarding the energy consumption by the flow hood was provided and a sticker was fixed to remind that all researchers should keep the sash closed when possible and make the change happen to reduce our carbon footprint.

A platform for sharing leftover reagents (Christiane Salgado)
In an attempt to reduce chemical and plastic waste, and contribute to a greener and circular economy, the i3S GreenLab initiative has developed together with the Information Systems and Technology Unit a platform for the management of surplus lab supplies. i3S GreenLab initiative together with the Health, Safety and Quality Unit will ask all research groups for a Clean up day to reduce the chemical accumulation within the i3S building and provide an easy way for our researchers to share their unwanted consumables for another one that could be precisely looking for those items for use in a trial or experiment.

Ultralow temperature freezers (Andreia Fernandes)
A freezer at -80°C uses as much energy as an average apartment in our country, which multiplied by the number of freezers we have at the institute is gigantic. Many research institutes in Europe and the US are raising the temperature of the cabinets to -70°C and are satisfied with the conservation of their samples. This change saves up to a third of the electricity. At GreenLab we try to create awareness of this issue. We invited an expert in sustainable labs, Martin Farley, to give a webinar on cold storage in December 2020. We then did a survey of group directors. Some were convinced to raise the temperature of their freezers, others were not, and many were still undecided. We sent information to those who asked. Right now, we have about 7 chests at -70°C (out of ~40) and we want to have more.

No plastic coffee cups option (Initiated by alumni Chiara Perod with text by Pedro Alves)
Coffee machines at i3S now have a "No cup" option. You can re-use your own coffee mug every day, instead of single-use plastic cups.

A new life for styrofoam boxes (text by Pedro Alves on behalf of João Gomes. The Logistic staff helps)
We have partnered with Fragário do Norte to reuse styrofoam boxes for the transport of water-living beings.

Greener Animal Facility (João Gomes)
The animal facility is a major source of waste, as the need for the safety of researchers and animals requires the usage of many single-use consumables. However, we were able to promote the exchange of some disposable personal protective equipment to reusable ones (fabric lab coats and working shoes), and implement a new setup that allows daily multiple uses. This led to a 60-80% reduction in these disposable materials and 50% costs reduction. 

Two projects to recycle lab plastics (Cláudia Monteiro)
Research laboratories are big plastic users, and this kind of plastic cannot be collected and recycled by the regular urban waste collection companies. We should all try to replace plastic by glass and downsize our experiments to reduce the amount of plastic used. As this is not always possible, the GreenLab Initiative did a pilot study with AMBIWASTE, the company that collects lab residues at i3S, which consisted in collecting non-contaminated lab plastics in the lab 116S3 to be recycled by AMBIWASTE. This experience will be extended to all i3S labs. Also, in the scope of the recently created National Network, we are obtaining data on the average amount of plastic a wetlab Scientist produces a day (weight) with the help of volunteers from participating institutes, with the aim of recycling all categories of plastic including plastic with biological and toxic contaminants.

Green Procurement (Isabel Amaral)
As part of our commitment to reduce the environmental impact of i3S research, we have established Guidelines for Green and Circular purchasing to consider when buying laboratory supplies at i3S. A list of guidelines to be considered when preparing a tender for equipment acquisition has also been prepared.

Green Laboratory Certification (Isabel Amaral)
Efforts towards the Certification of i3S Laboratories in terms of environmental sustainability have also been pursued. The i3S board of directors has recently approved the engagement of two i3S research groups and one scientific platform in the LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework, UCL) pilot program, a nonprofit program available for research institutions to help scientists to self-assess and to implement sustainability actions to reduce utility costs and environmental footprint in labs. After the first year, we plan to extend the program to all interested labs at i3S.

Recycling Containers (Joana Marques)
Given the importance of recycling waste materials and the lack of appropriate bins to separate them at i3S, the Greenlab partnered with Sociedade Ponto Verde (SPV) in this initiative. SPV kindly offered recycling bins, which were distributed through our institute according to the needs of each common area. Moreover, i3S recently bought two recycling bins for each entrance of the building, so now you can recycle your waste while enjoying your break in the outside! In a second phase, we also hope to assess the scientific platforms needs in terms of recycling bins, as we already started with the animal and cell culture (CCGEN) facilities.

Mobility (Filipe Marques)
Hundreds of persons - workers, suppliers, patients, visitors - move daily to i3S. We aim at understanding how can i3S make their commute shorter, safer, cheaper, and environmentally more sustainable.

E-Cycle Initiative (Bruna Costa)
We collaborated with E-Cycle in the Christmas solidarity initiative for the collection of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. The amount of weight collected (114 Kg) will be reverted into a monetary amount to be delivered to an IPSS - Associação A Casa do Caminho, which intervenes in the social sphere by providing support and care to children and adolescents at risk.  Part of the informatics material collected for this solidarity initiative was donated to a Start-up Recycle Geeks, from UPTEC, that restores and sells this equipment, and part of the value goes to institutions.

Promotional Videos (Bruna Costa, collaboration with the Communication Unit)
Some videos were performed with the participation of GreenLab Initiative volunteers to disseminate the implemented and ongoing tasks, which were and will be divulgated on i3s Instagram page.

National Network of Green Labs (Joana Magalhães)
i3s Greeblab initiative is organizing a national network of greenlabs. At the moment we have 8 members including the major research institutes in Portugal. Our aim is to share resources and best practices, have common actions and the dissemination of our green efforts.

Participation at Rede de Campus Sustentável (Joana Magalhães)
Participation in the 2021 congresso campus sustentável with an oral presentation.

Other External Oral Presentations (Pedro Alves)
The establishment and the work developed by the GreenLab Initiative at i3s has been presented in the Young Scientists Forum at the 31st Conference of the European Society for Biomaterials (ESB 2021, September 2021) and also at the first meeting of the GreenLab National Network (October, 2021), of which i3s Greenlab Initiative is a founding member.

Internal Web Page at the Portal (Pedro Alves and Ana Sofia Figueiredo)

Face Masks Recycling Project (Bárbara Adem)
GreenLab is actively establishing a partnership with “TO BE GREEN” which has a protective mask recycling program that minimizes the environmental impact of their use and disposal. In the near future the i3S will manage to reduce its ecological footprint in the context of the pandemic.

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