Green Education – Risks & Benefits Of Sustainable Practice

Published about 2 months ago • 4 min read

Personal Note From The Editor

Hey Reader hope you have had a successful week so far without too many set-backs?!

However, nothing valuable in life comes without risk.

Still, we have to distinguish the risk that is associated with pure uncertainty (like business development or sports betting) versus the risk that comes from insufficient attention or dedication.

The former is unavoidable. In fact, it is a valuable skill to learn how to handle it. The latter risk often just serves as an excuse not to start.

Most often people focus on what comes to mind first and ignore any other risk or reward. Therefore, this piece should point out some risks and benefits that are at the core of sustainable practice yet commonly overlooked.

Today's Lesson: Overlooked Risks & Benefits

Understanding what most others do not consider.

Number Of The Day

About 90% of rainforest carbon offset are worthless according to an investigation by multiple newspapers and initiatives. The harsh truth is that about 21 project did not show any climate benefits, while 7 had at least 52% less. But still one had 80% more … Yuhuu?

90 %

Commonly Overseen Risks & Benefits

Hold your breath!

Listing benefits of sustainable practices!

Widely known:

  • Reducing environmental impacts
  • Reducing expenses (due to reduced item use and more efficient equipment)
  • Not having to remove trash as often (yes, it is annoying… :D)

Often known:

  • Motivating teamwork since it requires buy-in from multiple members
  • Preventing catastrophes such as failing freezers (prevented by defrosting or cleaning coils)

Seldomly known:

  • Increased safety (using more benign chemicals and best practices like keeping sashes shut)
  • Preparation for future regulation (e.g., measuring footprints or reporting on measures)
  • Optimization of processes through tracing and monitoring

Wait, what?

I will be more sustainable by ordering a manufactured device that runs 24/7 to measure energy consumption?

Of course, everybody is quick to point out that sustainable practice involves

  • Extra work to relearn habits
  • Can impair processes when implemented recklessly
  • Takes time to convince colleagues
  • Restrictions by regulation e.g., unable to put freezers to -70 for some samples

However, the most often overlooked issues lie somewhere else:

Hidden Dangers

Strategies that are not thought through and half-hearted implementations can be detrimental and damage the environment more than it otherwise would.

For example, if a company offers to collect the waste from their products, that might sound great, but unless they actually recycled it entirely, it causes an additional footprint due to extra transportation.

Similarly, carbon offsetting is in most cases damaging the environment. For example, randomly planting trees can disturb ecosystems while not capturing carbon unless maintained for decades.

video preview

Fantastic Video, Great Channel

In our monitoring example, it entirely depends on where and how the device is manufactured, for what purpose you use it etc ... There are no easy answers unless they focus on reduction...

Overly ambitious claims whether from companies, politicians or individuals that do not lead to results, will undermine belief in potential change. Thus, disinterest will just lead to further ignorance.

Making It Worse

At some point though, we will wake up…

And then push comes to shove. People lose their minds and rush to a new set of even tougher regulation...

Still, sustainability entails economical, societal, and psychological aspects too. Overly ambitious initiatives, as we might see coming from the EU, may motivate resistance and cheating. Additonally, we may see an economical drain into states that are certainly less invested in environmental protection due to diminishing competitiveness in the EU.

Nevertheless, I promised to deliver on overlooked benefits too

Improving Research

Sustainable action motivates us to review our protocols and processes that we often blindly inherited from predecessors or the habits at the institution. Simply having another look often reveals potential for optimization. People copying protocols look for applicability in terms of convenience and do-ability, they often do not optimize.

Taking a few extra minutes to critically go through a process will offer a plethora of options to become more efficient. But this might also lead to enhanced data quality. Whether sustainability encourages optimized statistics (e.g., through reduced sample sizes) or enhanced experimental designs in terms of controls or long-term strategies… Often it just needs sustainability as a motivator, not as an end goal.

PS: For some people, the additional attention they pay to reduce footprints automatically increases focus and consciousness during work.

Applying The Knowledge

Unfortunately, you will be required to double-check whether claims from companies and certifications are actually valid. Even though we are scientists, we buy our equipment from regular companies that prioritize revenue…

Within the laboratory, avoiding contamination is probably the predominant risk we as scientists run into. That is not because sustainable practices are so dangerous, but because we are so limited in time…

This directly ties to the biggest risk for newcomers in the movement: ambition that is not yet experienced in how long some changes take to realize. Be careful not to put too much burden on yourself – it will lead to overwhelm and emotional stress. It will wear you out in the long term.

However, the improvement of your experiments can come in unexpected ways… For example, when I tried to fit more samples on my microscopy slide, I automatically was able to control for staining differences since I had all treatments and controls on one slide. Similarly, by trying to leave out the parafilm that is used to reduce evaporation when staining samples (not necessary in the wet chamber I used), I was able to enhance sample quality since removing it would rupture my skin samples.

I also tried to optimize antibody staining time (shorter time in the cold room) because it might reduce background, but that did not do anything in my case. Maybe it works for you :)

Upcoming Lesson:

How to help your lab-mates & colleagues to become more sustainable

Asking You

How many people around the world speak English?



How We Feel Today

If you have a wish or a question, feel free to reply to this Email.
Otherwise, wish you a beatiful week!
See you again the 9th : )

Find the previous lesson click - here -

Edited by Patrick Penndorf
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