Scientific research is at the heart of what we do at EPFL. Since our research activities also have an impact on the environment, we’re taking steps to measure and reduce this impact and shrink our carbon footprint. To that end, we’re developing new research systems and methods, and carrying out a number of pilot projects to help our research staff measure their labs’ carbon emissions. This information will allow our scientists and engineers to enhance their lab operating procedures without compromising the quality of their research results.
Measuring the carbon footprint of research activities is a difficult exercise because each lab employs different techniques and processes. We therefore need to introduce measures that can be adapted to individual labs’ requirements. Our efforts include raising awareness among research staff and updating our logistics, purchasing and organizational processes in order to make our research activities compatible with a climate-neutral, sustainable society.
School of Life Sciences case study
In 2020, the School of Life Sciences teamed up with the Zero Emission Group to carry out a pilot project in which two EPFL labs measured their carbon footprints and used this data to develop a carbon emissions calculator. The concept has since been expanded to about ten laboratories in the School of Life Sciences. Given the encouraging results of the pilot project, we’re planning to expand this carbon-emissions calculator to other EPFL schools.
→ For more information on the pilot project, visit the web page
Reducing the carbon footprint of our research labs will necessitate raising staff awareness, whether in terms of purchasing and using equipment or of making travel arrangements for research purposes. As the first EPFL school to appoint a sustainability coordinator, the School of Life Sciences has issued a series of recommendations for its research staff.
→ Read the best-practices guide to reducing the carbon footprint of life-science research
Developing sustainability skills within our schools
Each field of research has its own methods, procedures, and type of equipment, meaning each research lab has its own carbon footprint. A lab that uses mainly computer equipment and servers won’t have the same environmental impact as one running chemistry experiments, for example. We therefore can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our Green Lab initiative is designed to make EPFL labs more sustainable by tapping into the curiosity and innovative spirit of our entire research community, encouraging them to come up with fresh, actionable ideas.
Following the School of Life Sciences’ lead, other EPFL schools have hired or will soon hire a sustainability coordinator. These include the School of Basic Sciences and the School of Engineering. Our goal is to have at least one sustainability coordinator per school in the coming years, and to name people at each research lab who will be responsible for implementing sustainability measures and sharing best practices.
As we appoint sustainability coordinators at all our schools and colleges, each lab can already take steps to reduce its carbon footprint. For more information, contact the EPFL Sustainability Unit or the sustainability coordinators who are already in place:
- School of Life Sciences: Joan Suris
- School of Basic Sciences: Tomoko Muranaka
- School of Engineering: (hiring process still ongoing)