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Starting and Sustaining Your Own Lab Sustainability Group

Last month, we wrote about how we are not alone in the effort to make research more sustainable. Maybe you read that article, and were inspired to start a sustainability group in your own laboratory. But where to start?

If you’re lucky, you already know one or more people in your group who is interested. Maybe you’ve even had your first meeting! So, where do you go from there? Well, we (writing from the perspective of the Synthetic Molecular Chemistry program at Ångström Laboratory) only know our own experience – but it has worked so far. Here’s what we’ve done.

I think they are building something?…Regardless, they clearly put some thought into how to work together. By Dirk Tussing, CC BY-SA 2.0

Group formation

  1. Announce the formation of your group via your lab’s internal email list and in-person when possible (yes, COVID sucks for the in-person part…but if we’re lucky, some of you readers will find this post-COVID). Schedule a first meeting.
  2. Have the first meeting! It doesn’t need to be fancy, or well-planned, but rather an informal brainstorming session and a ‘meet and greet.’ It is easier to not feel alone in the effort if you know who else in your laboratory wants to be involved.
  3. Discuss who wants to take notes during the meeting – if you are reading this post, that probably means you.
  4. Have someone take notes during or after the meeting. This will provide (clean) fuel for subsequent meetings.
  5. Set a second meeting. For us, what proved key was scheduling our meetings directly after a reoccurring meeting we already had. SMC has joint group meetings every month; therefore, we have our sustainability meeting directly afterwards.

Sustaining the group

  1. Okay, it is time for the second meeting. Send an email reminder a few days before (I recall research showing people are more likely to open emails during the afternoon between Tuesday-Thursday).
  2. Start the second meeting by showing (screen-sharing in Zoom works great, one perk of COVID) the notes you took during the first meeting. Briefly review what was discussed last time.
  3. As a group, make *drum roll* a to do list. Maybe you want to set up a recycling collection point, investigate options for more sustainable procurement of lab supplies, or figure out what in your lab uses the most energy.
  4. Go through the list and ask who wants to do what. If the list is too long; that’s okay – your group will meet next month and hopefully have checked off some of the first items by then.
  5. Close the meeting by thanking everyone for their participation. I feel this is crucial for reminding people that what they agreed to do is important and will have positive outcomes. Your fellow researchers are busy people with outside lives, and they will have to find ways to squeeze in this new responsibility. Thank them!
  6. Within a few days of the meeting, tidy up your notes and the to do list. Email the to do list to everyone who participated (feel free to thank them again for agreeing to help).
Example of a to do list from SMC

7. Wait two weeks (assuming you meet every four weeks)…

By N. C. The Duke, CC BY-SA 4.0

8. Send a reminder to everyone saying ‘Hey! We will meet again in two weeks, here is the to do list we agreed on. Please let the group know if you need any help.‘ Paste the to do list in your reminder.

9. Wait until the next meeting…And repeat!


  • Get your boss(es) on board: if the leaders of your research unit support your efforts (e.g., verbally acknowledging to the greater group that what you are doing is important, by joining some of your meetings, offering funding for infrastructure improvements, etc.), this sends a strong message to your peers. This says, ‘hey, the boss thinks this is important and worth spending time on. maybe I will join this new group too
Adapted with permission from under CC BY-NC 2.5
  • If you have trouble finding people to join, it doesn’t hurt to remind people that this type of activity is good for their careers and for the greater laboratory (e.g., by being able to write in a grant application that your laboratory has a sustainability working group and that you have accomplished X, Y, and Z). The second point is especially good for convincing your boss(es) why this is important!
  • Delegate! You cannot do everything yourself, and the outcome is better if more people are involved. Many minds working together = greater results + less pressure.
  • Write small thank you notes for the participants of your lab sustainability group, thank them verbally, and/or even leave them cookies/muffins/chocolate.

Last, if you already have your own sustainable laboratory group, what has worked for you? We’d love to know below in the comments or by email!

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