On 26th July 2018 I attended the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability’s Summer Meet-up at 50 George Square for teams entering the 2018 Sustainability Awards. We began with Rachael Barton (SRS Projects Coordinator) giving an initial overview of the Awards purpose. The awards aim to promote and recognise efforts by groups or departments within the University to make their workplaces more sustainable, to assist with the Universities commitment to be carbon Zero by 2040. The awards also provide an opportunity to gain new skills and be part of a growing community of people who are making a difference. There are 42 teams taking part in the awards this year.
Edinburgh CRF currently holds a silver offices award and our genetics lab has a silver lab award. This year we aim to maintain our silver office award whilst also attempting to achieve a gold lab award.
The second talk was from Alan Peddie (SRS Projects Coordinator) and was about Changing Behavior (subtitled: how to get people to do what you want!). This was a very interesting and humorous look at ways to encourage long-lasting behavior change. Put simply, sell the benefits, appeal to the person and think about the context. I enjoyed hearing Alan’s amusing story of a guy who started rewarding his colleagues with a chocolate on their desk if they remembered to turn off their computer and screen at the end of the day. Those that didn’t switch off, also received a note explaining why they hadn’t received a chocolate. Apparently this annoyed his colleagues greatly, but within a few months everyone was turning off their computers and screens religiously at the end of the day. Annoying people, appears to be one of the most effective ways to invoke change!
Another example given was the 5p plastic bag charge. Just a tiny amount of money, but it annoys people so much that they don’t want to pay it – the result? An 80% drop in plastic bag use across Scotland in the first year of this being implemented. I think this is incredible, and have definitely noticed less plastic bags stuck in trees and hedges or floating around the streets. The University is taking a similar approach to this to encourage more people to start using their own coffee cups. Currently in University café’s and many other cafes in the centre of Edinburgh, if you bring your own coffee cup you get money off your coffee. This is going to change in that the prices displayed will be the price for those who bring a cup, whilst if you want to have your coffee in a disposable cup, you will have to pay an extra 25p for it. This will be a constant, niggling reminder that you could be saving money if you got your own cup and did a small thing for the environment, and will no doubt be thoroughly annoying to people.
Talking of coffee, it was now coffee break-time and a chance for me to chat to another team who were working for a lab award to share ideas of how to improve sustainability in the lab, something that I have been interested in for many years. We discussed the pros and cons of light-detecting lights and motion sensitive lights and about switching to glass tubes and universals rather than using disposable plastic. Encouragingly, it seems that students coming into labs are increasingly questioning what happens to lab plastic-ware, which in turn is prompting staff to think about ways that recycling and switching to re-usable options can be implemented.
Next we had a bit of a guide through the computer programme which lists and explains the different criteria to be achieved to obtain awards, and how to upload our evidence. Then we had a chance to get into groups and talk about things that people have achieved so far. One lab example was groups (including ours) getting funds towards buying the most energy efficient freezers or better freezer racking to enable the lab to be more energy efficient. As these are generally more expensive options than less eco-friendly alternatives, funds are available to cover the difference. I was also interested to hear about initiatives that are being undertaken to re-use food and other items left behind by students at the end of the year, such as a spice store and tinned food, lamps and other electricals going to various charities. We also heard about many food share schemes that are being used which sound brilliant, such as bakery deliveries of leftovers where students can get free bread that would otherwise have been wasted. I know that when I was a student (many, many years ago now) that I would have jumped at this chance. It was also mentioned that a free share supermarket is opening in Edinburgh soon. These are all fantastic ways to prevent food from being wasted and getting it to people that need it.
Further discussions were continued over lunch where I had more opportunity to speak to teams from around the University and to be inspired by their enthusiasm to implement change also. I even slipped in a bit of shameless promotion for our Genetics services to keep the boss happy. I was most excited however (I don’t get out much), to find that the lunch was a more sustainable, all vegetarian lunch! So instead of my normal hunting for the veggie sandwich, I could enjoy a plethora of veggie wraps and sandwiches! I also did my bit to reduce waste by taking a box of left-over goodies back for my Lab mates, who always enjoy a bit of free food.
Tammy Gilchrist is a Research Technician in the Genetics Core leading on the gold lab award. She is a vegetarian who is passionate about the environment and can be found on twitter at @TLGilchrist1.
Originally posted on Edinburgh CRF blog, in August 2018