Sustainability is often misunderstood by scientists, argue Patrick Penndorf and Johannes Jabs in a new Scientists' Forum article for FEBS Letters. According to Penndorf and Jabs, who co-founded the ReAdvance initiative, sustainability is not merely a trade-off to reduce climate change but an opportunity to optimise and improve scientific practice by making protocols and experiments more efficient, impactful and purposeful.
They propose the following '6R' concept as a framework for rethinking sustainability in the lab:
Reduce: decreasing use of materials, energy and hazardous substances, as well as financial expenditures, time and error; paring down nonessential steps.
Reject & Rethink: distancing from conventional or convenient practices; questioning established norms and ordinary protocols; exploring alternative solutions and perspectives.
Reuse: reusing consumables like filters, buffers, and staining solutions; finding novel uses for waste materials.
Recycle: establishing recycling programs to foster engagement among team members.
Repair: restoring rather than purchasing new equipment; preventing the need for repairs by minimising user error.
Penndorf and Jabs argue that reframing sustainability in these terms 'provides new incentives for change due to the accompanying economical, scientific, and mental benefits' of optimisation, and counteracts the inertia that arises from 'fear of disturbing [experimental] processes'.
Read the full article in FEBS Letters.
The Scientists' Forum is a unique series from FEBS Letters that features news articles, interviews or letters to the editors showcasing researchers' perspectives on science and society. The Scientists' Forum has presented commentary on science policy, ethics, art, communication and industry.
Penndorf, P and Jabs, J (2023). A new approach to making scientific research more efficient – rethinking sustainability. FEBS Lett, 597: 2371-2374. https://doi.org/10.1002/1873-3468.14736.