My post today revolves around two concerns that are frequently expressed when discussing starting a Green Labs program: biological and chemical safety, and ensuring that research is never affected by our sustainable laboratory suggestions. Scientists are concerned about sustainable practices will prevent them from being productive researchers by forcing them to spend too much time improving their protocols in order to meet sustainable standards. Based on the success of other Green Labs programs at many extremely successful institutions, as well as how little protocols need to change to improve sustainability in the lab, these fears are generally unfounded. Typically this worry can be assuaged somewhat easily, but in some cases requires careful collaboration and wording.
Luckily, one of my committee members is a Biosafety professional who is enthusiastic about improving all lab practices to be more sustainable while upholding the highest level of safety. I felt it was imperative to include her when I formed a small group to work on the Sustainable Laboratory Resources Guide. She invited another safety professional who's background is more focused on chemical safety, and the two of them were very insightful. Throughout the document there were many topics that were relevant to biosafety; some sustainable practices are extremely in-line with safe practices while others are not, but it is still important to prioritize safety. Practices that are in-line with biosafety practices include: keeping an up-to-date chemical database, keeping the fume hood at appropriate levels when in use and not in use, and keeping laboratory doors closed to prevent air circulation. Of course many biosafety precautions do create a lot of waste, but these practices are essential to maintain funding, health, and the trust of the public.
When writing instructive documents or giving presentations, it is important to be very clear about what our initiative is recommending. Potentially dangerous or unfortunate situations could arise if the sustainable guidelines were taken to the extreme, so we are including advice about how to stay safe in the laboratory as well. Despite our precautions, I still worry that the document will not be clear enough in its disclosure that biosafety and common sense should still come before all sustainable guidelines. I have forwarded the rough draft of the document to a legal professional to give us advice on necessary wording or other liability steps that we should take as an organization.