A conversation with Jan Heidelberger about sustainable lab best practice, grass-root science organisations and everything in between
Transcript of the conversation with Jan Heidelberger
Jo: Welcome, Jan Heidelberg. So everyone, please meet Jan, because I'm very extraordinarily honored. Because this topic we're going to talk about here today is highly important to me and many of us. And I think also for you. And if it's not, it should be, because you may have thought about this or not, you can actually change quite a few things in your workflow as a researcher as well, to make this world a better place, directly and indirectly, and especially with regards to climate change. I think the message has come across that each of us can do our parts. And you might think, yeah, I can do so much at home, you probably ride your bike to work, to the lab, to the research institute, the university, or take public transport, all of that. But also in the lab, you might think, well, there's nothing I can change because research is just wasteful. Let me tell you, it hasn't always been that way. Also, it doesn't have to stay that way. And Jan is here to share with us what he and his team at the Max Planck Sustainability Network have put together in guidelines I've learned from other initiatives, groups, professionals, experts in what the research and academia sector can do to reduce the impact and mitigate climate change. So, welcome, Jan. It's a pleasure to have you.
Jan: Thank you very much for the invitation. And we are really happy to be here. Actually, this is the very first time I'm doing a podcast. So, yeah, it's also a nice way of sharing some things and experiencing this new method and way of communicating. So, yeah, it's an honor to be here. It's a pleasure to share some of my insights and some of my story, my path, and some ideas we're working on actually in my free time, so besides my job. So maybe just start with my background, if you like, and give some ideas of where I'm coming from and where I'm now.
Jo: Tell us about your journey as a researcher, where you're coming from, where you're headed, what's your research topic and why? Concern and active in sustainability, in academia and the broader sense.
Jan: Yeah, actually, I started studying biochemistry in Frankfurt, Mine, and yet they're my studies. And after this, I decided to do my PhD. I changed the institute. I went to the Institute of Molecular Biology in Mines, was working there with mass spectrometry, working on post translational modifications. And this is also where my passion for sustainability and science started because I was already starting to work on sustainability in my private time, on what I can do in my private life to reduce my carbon footprint. I was reading some publications, thinking, okay, how can I change my shopping behaviors, my energy consumption and all these kinds of things, but continue to go to the lab every day, putting all my experiments together, wasting a lot of plastics, producing tons of waste. That's probably what most scientists, especially in the biological context thought over. The easiest is all the waste they're producing. But for a long time I was not thinking about it at home. I was trying to sort my waste, looking for everything, going back to work and producing a lot of waste. And then at some point, a colleague wrote an email, hey, how about we meet and talk about sustainability and science and what we can do in the institute? And that's where I got caught, where we started the Green Initiative at my previous institute and where I got interested in the topic. Then after this, I changed gears. I went to Scientific Management. This is where I'm currently working for the Max Planck School Matter to life as a scientific coordinator. So it's a graduate program where I'm coordinating all different kinds of stakeholders, the students and professors and all the structure of the school.
Jo: Do you miss active research?
Jan: I don't do active research anymore. That's completely true. So far, I'm not missing it so far. I really love interacting with the scientists, still managing the scientists, getting in interaction with them and dealing with them. But I don't stand all day on the bench myself.
Jo: I hate that pipetting. And we're going to talk about the actual pipetting exercise a bit more because of the ways that come with it. But it just didn't occur to me how that's useful. I mean, yes, with reproducibility and replicability, of course. It is so boring and repetitive, and I think that's the most daunting part about research, which most people and not researchers don't know about. It's just so boring and repetitive. And that's the least pleasure I can find in anything to keep myself busy with in this lifetime. No, it wasn't for me. But then to analyze the data now I can analyze the data or other data, but to analyze the bioscience data that I did during my PhD could have done this forever. Like, so exciting to yes, I miss being a biology researcher or evolution or molecular biology. I miss that. And I'm glad I'm still in touch with those who do the work. And I sometimes listen to that. I could shoot earlier. What are you working on? And 1 minute ago. Yeah, I remember that. So that's hard for me. But it's been ten years, twelve years now out of the lip. It's becoming more and more of an emotional experience when I see research equipment and all of that.
Jan: Everybody needs to find their niche, right? And what they like. And for me, it's the interaction with the scientists. And really, I mean, science is still cool and super interesting, and a lot of people really enjoy being in the lab and doing experiments, and I admire this. But I figured it out, not for me. I like to work with people and exchange and get people excited in that way. And this is more my thing. And I think what I found now being the scientist management is a nice bridging thing of still being connected with the science, but I don't have to do it myself. That's absolutely fine. I'll leave that to other people who are more passionate about this. I think that's a nice thing. And then, yet to continue, then I switched to the Max Planck School, wanted to still work on sustainability and research, and found the Max Planck Sustainability Network. I mean, I was already in contact with some of the people before, but then I really became an active member and also was then elected to be part of the steering committee. So the steering committee of the Max Planck sustainability network is a group of five people who are kind of this committee that represents the Max Planck sustainability network towards the administration of the Max Planck Society and also outside of the Max Planck Society, interacting with other networks in Germany, in Europe, in the world, connecting, organizing events and all these kind of things. So by now…
Jo: I was not on the steering committee, but I was on one of the working groups of the PhD network.
Jan: Oh, yeah, so now, I mean, the network has now more than 40 sustainability groups at the individual institutes, right, doing their measures at their institute, doing changes there, and the steering committee stay on top coordinating this more on the really Max Planck level. But it's not a direct part of I mean, it's really a workers I mean, it's a grassroots initiative, right? It's really from the people working in the Max Planck Society on all different kinds of levels in the lab, in the administration, as a group leader, as a manager, as a technician, PhD, postdocs, all these kinds of people. And that's also, I think, what is important for these kinds of networks, right? Because everybody has different needs, different knowledge, and does different things. Also on the different institutes, not each institute is the same. Some do biology, some physics, some chemistry. There's also the Max Planck Institute for Law and so on. Right. And they all have different things. They are working on different needs, but all of them can do something to improve the sustainability of their institutes. And that's what we're trying to get the groups together, talking about exchanging, getting ideas and knowing that they are not alone, right? Yeah. It's something we're all interested in. We're all trying to thrive forward and change something together.
Jo: I just appreciate the fact because I love that so much about the PhD, not because it just pointed out how all the disciplines that the Max Planck Society represents physically across the whole spectrum come together. And they're all in their PhD kind of level. So they are motivated. They're passionate about their research, they're passionate about the working group topics. Some are a bit disillusioned by the system, whatever the system is, by the way, we are the system, but we hate to change it, which is why we talk about open science related topics and sustainability. Let's get to work.
So the thing I'm with the interdisciplinarity aspect of basically that's what I felt research should also be to deliberately bring people from different fields together and I think in some research project that is actually the case happening. But I wish we would see so much more of that. And also the systemic approach that the PhD is not taking with the working groups is also a natural approach from the needs and I think this can also be applied in research more strategically. But that's a whole other conversation to have. But I was reminded by what you said still in your introduction, but the different disciplines coming together as researchers with talking about a shared topic and then approaching. Did you already have a working group about sustainability at this point? Or was that later?
Jan: Already doing my PhD, we started this group, right? And this was among the PhDs, right, but at an early stage you realized, okay, we really need to get the institute on board and to talk also with the managers, the directors, the group leaders and then started from this small group of PhDs to reintegrate everyone in the institute interested in sustainability, right?
Jo: About that topic that you brought to the table,
Jan: Sorry, once more
Jo: How interesting or how easy was it to convince them of the importance of your topic, the sustainability at the time?
Jan: This always depends a little, right? I mean, the people understood the need and that they wanted to do something and they supported us, right? So they were like, okay, if you want to do that, go for it. But they were at the beginning a little skeptical. There are these students, they want to change stuff, right? They want to do it differently than it has been done all the time and how it is working and running. So they were a little skeptical. But then when we started doing things, we then introduced some new ways of treating the waste system and so on and started talking to the people and making them aware that we actually just want to discuss and see what can we do together and achieve right, for all the different aspects. So it was a little of a journey and getting the people you need to see, right? You need to make aware that you do not just want to point at people and say things like you should not, you should not, you should do that. It's more like let's get into a discussion and let's see what is our institute actually doing, how is it doing, what is actually our impact, and then finding spots where we can do and change something and then ideally also see afterwards. Now we implemented this, can we measure the change we did? Of course, it's also rewarding, right? And what we also did was then set up a lecture series, right? So we shared this passion and invited people. I got to know a lot of people do this, right? So there's people at all kinds of institutes all over the world who are interested in doing something, changing something in their lab work, right? And this was a great opportunity to refine them, to get together, to exchange and to learn and not to invent the wheel every time the same. And this is also what we're trying to do a little in the network, right? So we set up a Vicky, we set up this care catalog, it's called the Catalog of Recommendations, but we collected more than 30 ideas on how you can make your Max Planck Institute more sustainable. And in the end, we publish this so it's openly available because a lot of these things are not just down to the Max Planck Institute, but you can just do it at whatever institute, right? Some more, some less, depending on what kind of institute you have, but a lot of the things and then of course, it's interesting, what can I do in my lab, what can I do in my institute? Because I mean, if I'm just working on the desk, I don't care about pipetting, I don't care about the plastic waste so much because I'm just on my computer programming or sending emails or whatever. But in each of these stages, there is something I can do to reduce my footprint.
Jo: By the way, because you already mentioned a few sources, we put all of these into the show note, and so by the time you hear this, they will be discoverable and accessible. So you can read all the details and explore this topic further, but we'd like to hear more from you while we still have you. Okay? How is this now unfolding? So what is the network doing? How many people are on the team? Or are we jumping too far ahead from where we've been?
Jan: No, that's all fine. So, I mean, in the steering committee, we have the five members we meet on a biweekly manner to discuss what's currently going on. And then we also started exchanging with the general administration, we see how we can connect with the groups. We have an annual meeting where we meet all people who are interested. And we have time, right? We do this now on a hybrid base, so everybody can join in person or online, right? Also in this way facilitating the exchange. And what do we do? I mean, we have this catalog and what we did now, for example, we did a survey on what institutes are already doing, what they're implementing, in order to then make sure that one institute thinks about doing something, but it has no clue how. And another institute is already doing it later, so we can exchange and find a way to do it together. For example, since last year, all flights are compensated, which is done because all scientific research is really flight heavy for conferences, for meetings, for all these kinds of things, right. So what we recommend in our catalog, for example, is that of course, as much as you can reduce flights, this is the best, right? If you're not flying, this has the biggest impact. So find a way to reduce your flights or not flying, but taking the train or a different kind of public transport, that's a good way of reducing at least, right? Or if none of this is possible, then at least to compensate and to find a way to do this. Right, so this is what we're recommending there and trying to find out.
Jo: What's going on is offsetting, right?
Jan: Yeah, exactly, it's the same, right. But other days you need to see how you are offsetting, how are you compensating, right.
Jo: What's the offsetting approach plan?
Jan: We have a collaboration with atmosphere. Sorry?
Jo: I'm going to add that link to the show note.
Jan: Yeah, sure, absolutely.
Jo: It’s a German company or a German organization, right?
Jan: I think so, yeah. Don't vote me on this
All the different projects they're also supporting, they're also now trying to do more sustainable fuel. Right? So there are some investigations going on and some innovations trying to trigger.
Jo: Lufthansa is basically leading the way on that. I heard my brother, a friend of one of my brothers, is working in management at Lufthansa, so that's how I know.
Jan: Yeah. Good, then you know better than I do.
Jo: That's all I know.
Jan: It's always whenever you do something sustainable, right? You can have these three Rs or even more Rs in your head, right? Can I reuse or recycle? Can I do something in order to affect my footprint, right? So in this case, of course, always the best thing is reducing. It's also for conferencing, right? That's why, for example, we're also trying to investigate and see what kind of new modern I mean, the COVID area showed, right. A lot of things can move online and then have a way lower footprint. So why not keep some of these things? You don't need to meet in person all the time, but sometimes it's nice to meet in person and also has its benefits, right? But maybe we can have a hybrid thing, right? So that people who have not had the opportunity to travel or would travel a long way just for giving one brief talk and then would travel all the way back, maybe we can just have them online with us or something. What I'm currently trying to do with the school, it's a new approach, it's called multi hub events. So that you have one event in multiple locations at the same time, right? So that you meet at these locations and people have less travel to come to these locations. And then the talks in person on the one spot and streamed on the other location, and vice versa. Right. And you can have social events and you can exchange, right? And this you can even do cross borders, cross time zones and so on. You just need to see, well, starting the event, that you make sure that all the needs of your different stakeholders, your participants, are met, right. And you give them because this is more inclusive, this is cheaper in a way. I mean, it's for the organization. It can be a little more tricky because you need to see all these different things. You need to get some experience, but then it can have so many benefits on the other hand. Right. Also, if you don't have the money to travel to the conference, it might be nice if you have the opportunity to at least participate online and to see some things or to have less travel going on. And you can do so many things. And I think this is something we are just starting to experience, right? Into experimenting with and finding new ways of connecting and getting people together. Right. Also find new collaborations and see what's possible in the end.
Jo: Exciting. That's so cool. And I remember the Farmer is not new. I've seen it here and there, all falling walls. As Berlin based, they also have satellite events before the big event. And that basically works the way you just explained. So it's something that any consortium can really easily adopt, especially a research consortium, where there is more than one person in one location and then just follow what you just described. So maybe we can point us in the blog post or the show notes. We can point people to how to organize something like that or what to think about as you plan for such a multi half event?
Jan: It's something I think everybody, it's not new, as you say. Right, but it's also something still not like common sense, right? Like, okay, I'll do my event, so I need a location, I need a caterer, I need the speakers, let's go for it. Right? It's really something you need to find. There's some publications on this by now, also. Yeah, this I definitely put in the show notes and it's something interesting to experience and to try out and to sing new.
Jo: So now from these events and also from your own research on the topic, which are the disciplines. I mean, you basically already said it earlier, it's biosciences and all the lab heavy work in research and academia. But where do we have the biggest footprint on our planet? Where do we put the most pressure in research?
Jan: Yeah. I would say it's a difficult question, but let's say like this, every incident has a different research discipline, and has their own big footprints, right? So there was a study by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, and they found that, for example, 40% of their footprint is due to travel. They have to travel a lot. A lot of the big microscopes and astronomic....
Jan: No, also the people flying.
Jan: Yeah. Building an institute itself, running facilities. I mean, for example, if you are in a biological lab, if you have cell cultures, if you have -80, freezers and stuff like this, right? I mean, I always find it stunning again when you realize one of these -80, ultra low temperature freezer uses as much energy as a small household right? And this is something where the whole air exchange rate is also something super high energy needs a lot of energy. If you do super high resolution calculations on your Computers and stuff like this all the Power that your Computer Consumes and all these things right is a really massive thing so energy is definitely a thing right in the lab of course you're also consuming a lot of water. So if you have distilled water, if you think about the Process of deionization water and stuff like this you need to think for one liter of this deionized water you need about three to five liters of tap water, right? The rest is just wasted and all these kinds of things, right? So you need to think twice. Okay, do I need to use Water or not and all these kinds of things? What can I do with all the plastic waste and all the things happening there? There is a nice publication from a Microbiology lab. They were doing a colony forming essay and they showed how with different ways of doing the experiment right, how they can minimize the amount of equipment and resources they needed for the same experiment, right getting the same results. Because of course in the lab you can do a lot of things but always the most important thing is of course the quality of your research that doesn't get infected right? Because it doesn't help Me when I do the experiment most sustainable but then I have to do It twice or three times right? Then nothing is one so I need to make sure the quality is still the same and of course safety right I mean talking about the air that circulates in the lab you need to make sure that still the safety conditions are met right? So of course there are some guidelines that you need to have an eight times air exchange within 1 hour. But this depends on the room you're actually using it in. If I'm assessing the room and the risks of what is in the room, how is everything there do I really need eight times the exchange? Do I need that twenty four seven and all these kinds of things, right? And then you can see okay, maybe I can reduce that. And also thereby of course costs are reduced, right? Sometimes it needs some initial investment, but most of the time, this pays off after a while. Also like if you put solar panels on your institute, this can reduce your energy. But of course, you need to buy the solar panels first.
Jo: So you need to see a few years. But if you think about it as a direct Southern institute, long term and beyond your own term, or maybe within, because I think it's a lifetime employment position, at least that Max Planck is. I'm not sure about other places, but anyway, it's truly worthwhile. And I think I recently learned by seeing some of your updates. Was it yours or karate? And so the colleagues coming on the show a little bit for next month about the freezers, I think a common practice, most biosamples, if you want to preserve them through freezing. They're still good with -70 and that saves I think 40 or 30% energy. Right. Or something like that.
Jan: I mean, it depends. On what? On the freezer you're using, right. The new ones are a little better, but still, I mean, there's a lot of research done for the assembler so that they stay fine. There's a big freezer challenge for Migraine labs. They are just starting this now. In January. Relaunch. So if you want to do the Freezer challenge, go ahead on their website and try it out. But they definitely show. I mean, 20% to 30% of energy you can save depending on the freezer you're using and all this kind of stuff. And most of the samples are absolutely fine. Right. And if you're afraid your samples might not be fine. Maybe if every institute has more than just one -80 freezer just from my experience there might be somewhere it's not the case, but most of them definitely do so you can keep some of them on -80 you switch some on -70 you can split your samples. And you can see your right. Then you still have some you can come back to, but you're already saving on, I don't know, let's say you have ten. You do five and five on five of these freezers, you're saving 20% to 30% of the energy. And I think that's worthwhile trying. And all these things, right? I mean, also defrosting your freezer, occasionally making sure that you sort your samples. You know where your samples are. Because the shorter I need to open the door before I close it again, the less energy is needed in order to get down to the temperature again.
Jo: Right. I saw that in some labs. We didn't have that. Or maybe we did. I can't remember. So to have an actual legend or some, I don't know, like a piece of paper on the freezer door which indicates where the sample is, and you have to maintain that. Obviously, if you take a sample out and it's getting out of stock, just mark that on that thing. So That's An Easy Way to just do it quick and easy and nice, quick and nice and quick. Open the door, get the sample close again instead of standing there for like ten minutes. And why didn’t I label it?
Jan: Or changing all the filters frequently and all this kind of stuff where do I put my -80 freezes maybe not next to the incubator who's running at, I don't know, 37 degrees and stuff like this, right? And so it's a little thinking and checking, right? And also, like I said, in the night, on the weekend, when there's no people or less people, do I really need all these things running, switching it off. It's an easy thing, right? Put a sticker reminder…
Jo: Switching it off, not a good idea.
Jan: But yeah, don't switch off your freezer. But you can switch off your centrifuge. You don't need to have the PPR machine standing all night long on 40 degrees, all these kinds of things. It's also standing at twelve degrees. Or you finish your experiment before or starting it the next day, right? All these kinds of things can be saved.
Jo: I was thinking like, who's responsible for that? Should it be the PhD student? Is there a lab assistant or lab manager? Because the team consistency or the setup of a team and the staff in our research institution differs. It's a question of team management, coordination, communication and strategy.
Jan: It's definitely a mix of all these things, right? And I mean also education, right? Because if I learn how I can do my experiment more efficiently already during internships, during my studies and all these kinds of things, right? Then I have a feeling for it and I have an awareness. And this is the most important point, right? Did you get aware of this and think about the things you're doing like the people in the microbiology lab did in their study? If I think about how I do my experiment, how do I do it efficiently, then I can also do I mean, first of all, I can do bulk orders because I thought about it. What do I need? I can maybe pool with others. What do we need to order? And we do one order and not five times. And I need it by tomorrow because tomorrow I want to do the experiment and I forgot to think about it before and I can think, can I do it in a way of not using 20 plates, but just one plate and I do 20 spottings on this, right? And all these kinds of things. There's a lot of planning ahead, rethinking where you're doing your experiments and your lab work and all these things.
Jo: For those people who are not bioscientists, not in the lab or Alice's research impactful to the ecosystem.
Jan: One big thing is, of course, how is my institute built? Right? I mean, is it an old building? Can I do something there? Can I change for having photovoltaic
Jo: The Max Planck Institute, one of which I did my work at, they were rather new, not even ten years old, and they were so energy inefficient. There was a third floor, mostly glass, not ceilings, but also ceilings, but also walls. It looked really fancy, like a fence, but first of all, all the poor bird babies. Every spring there was like a mass murder, because as they were practicing to fly, they were flying right into the glass, but they couldn't see there's actually something there anyway, so that's a drama. But also the third level during summer they are being boiled and I'm not kidding you. So how is that and whereas old buildings from the before that tended or used to be so well, what is it like? Better not all, I give you that. And usually the glass, what is it especially for us here in winter, the windows tend to be a bit leaking, I hear you, but what are the research institutes usually like? Old buildings or new ones?
Jan: The thing is, it's probably better to not build a new building but to maintain and to renovate your old building, right? Because also building a new building costs a lot of energy and all these things that you're putting into, even though it might be more efficient afterwards. But maybe you can get your current building more efficiently. Changing the windows, for example. If you say they are leaking, why not put in new windows, putting triple glass windows.
Jo: Because sometimes it's just enough to put in some isotherms.
Jan: Yeah, isolation to update this, right? Having movement detectors on the hallways, right, in the bathrooms and stuff like this. If somebody forgets to switch off the light, then it's burning all night long, all weekend long. But you have a movement detector, switches off the light automatically, right? All these kinds of things. What else can you do at your institute? I mean, if you have a canteen, what kind of food do you serve? Is it local, is it regional? Do you have vegan vegetarian options? Which is also shown to reduce the carbon footprint, right? So all these kinds of things can be reduced. Do I need to let's say I have a lot of computers in my institute running the service or whatever, they're producing a lot of heat. Do I have an option to use that heat, for example, in winter, to heat also my institute that is not just wasted heat. These can be things, right? This can be stuff that can be done. Do I need to have now, with the energy crisis, of course, a lot of people are interested in how I can save energy with the freezers with all these kinds of things, but also reduce the heating temperature, right? Modernizing things, yeah, all these kinds of steps that you can do, right. You already mentioned, I think, at the beginning, mobility. How do I get to work? Maybe I have to travel over the campus. Do I have to have an institute car or can I have an institute bike? Maybe an e-bike or something like this? Or having a bike.
Jo: Instead of saying they used to do them like I think the current generation of us, they do it out of necessity. And now we can also do it to be nice to our mother's plan.
Jan: Then having bikes, bike stands which have a rain cover, great to have, right? It's really nice to your employees also. And what you can do with bike stands, you can put solar panels on top if they are in the right place and thinking about these things, maintaining bikes. I know an institute here in Heidelberg. They did a bike maintenance day, right? Everybody could come with their bike. They got a bike check or participated in company biking events and all these kinds of things, right. You need to get your people motivated and interested in joining. Right. We did a garden with a green team here. So we set up a special area where we were planting plants, which is something visual but also something people can relate more plants in the offices and stuff like this if possible and all these things.
Jo: I want to point this out. I highlight this a bit more because it's a whole other category of how you can be green, literally green the institute and the compass at large of all have more plans in the building because it also helps the atmosphere inside the building. But outside I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the institute I was working at for my PhD a couple of years later. They had rearranged the campus and they've created a rather big recreational area with a pond. You could hear the frogs working and whatever the English term is. There were fish on the pond and all kinds of so for Biofnz Institute it makes a lot of sense because we study biology. We want to see biology happening in front of our eyes. Like, normally institutes are pretty serum inside and outside, but here, like and also it's so much better for the wellbeing, people can just step outside the building, like, literally, not to have to walk to a park. It's ten minutes away. But other than the building, sit on a bench, watch the bees, the grasshoppers do their thing. See the flowers going nuts and all colorful. It's so good for the soul and helps to get you through the day with a boring pipetting.
Jan: In the end it's also making you more attractive as an employee, right? I think there are many people searching also for job opportunities where they can do something more sustainable and be in a working environment that cares right about their workers. I mean, sustainability. In the end we're talking a lot about ecological sustainability but in the end it's also about sustainability of the people working, the working atmosphere, about making research more sustainable in a way of also conserving the experiments we are doing and the knowledge.
Jo: Avoiding the brain drain and people change every other year. There's a lot of knowledge going elsewhere.
Jan: if you see their studies on reproducibility of experiments and so on, right? I mean why is that? Also sometimes because I have lab books which are written by hand manually, nobody else can read and understand stuff like this. So also digitalization in this sense can sometimes often make a lot of impact as well, right? If you have cross linkages, you have a service where the data is stored and you know how to grab it and also people can then work on the same space even if they are in different locations and they can really better see what was done, how it was done. Sometimes people can then even have a QR code on there. The chemicals can scan what they used and so on. So, you know, the lot number, the chemical and so on and so forth. It makes it easier to reproduce stuff and so on. But this, of course, needs all the time and you need to make your people aware of how I can use it? And it's something more long term thing, right. So for sustainable measures you often also see whatever low hanging fruits or things I can easily do and already have an impact and then the long term goals and this is also something you need to find a balance, right? Also how you get people on board, you need to see you can get them motivated. It's really also something that I mean because why I'm doing this is because I do an impact but also in the end it makes fun it makes fun talking about it to affect people also trying something, to interact, to really move something and that can be also so give you so much joy about it, right? A lot of the people, they're doing this in their free time, right? Because they're not doing that while they are having the job and stuff like this. So I'm also doing this in my free time, next to my job and so on. But it's like a hobby, it's so much fun and it's great to talk about it, to affect people, to see what can we do together? To know also this. I'm not alone in doing that.
Jo: zSo that you're heading to the next question I was going to ask you anyway so you find it enjoyable, you enjoy the process, you get a lot of motivation out of the activities themselves. How's the response?
Jan: The response of other people?
Jo: Response by people that you talk to first? I think I assume there's quite a bit of reluctance first like yes, that's important, but what can I do? And this is how we're doing it and always doing it. First of all, maybe as much as you have seen, but this generation before things were really done differently and more sustainably because people just didn't waste because there was no incentive or need and also no opportunity to waste as much as we do nowadays. But then as you get them into the process, how soon or what is it like when you see they're changing their attitude towards the topic? And also maybe when the spark heads over to them, the spark of joy is like, oh, now I see what I can do. And now I see how it's actually also rewarding and fun to do it.
Jan: I think one really important step is to set the barriers low, right, to see what can I do in order to achieve something and to really do something. And it doesn't always mean I need to stop what I'm doing and I need to change everything completely. And it's like, okay, what can I do? Yeah. What makes it fun? How do I get the people together? And a lot of people have different motivations, right? So I know things changed because of the management changed, right. Or because people were changing their minds because their kids were going to the Fridays for future demonstrations, right? So they were confronted with it. So they were starting to think about it. And they say, like, yeah, actually, I can also do something and then start doing things. And that's a little bit we are also trying right, to not try to push people into you need to do something because it's also important and so on, but to get them on board to see, okay, what do they think of what is their way to make it easy for them to start with us.
Jo: Sorry to cut it shorter, but that's what everybody says. But how do you convince somebody to start something they feel reluctant about? Something you can do today? Actually not today, but now to have a quick feeling of accomplishment, to see and learn that it's actually not painful to do that differently. And it's actually also efficient in doing it this way rather than how we might be. Maybe it's another five minutes to invest, but already seeing today or 30 minutes down the line now, it's having your time in the long run, something like that. Do you have an example or two that you can yeah.
Jan: So one thing, I mean, maybe you're aware of this nudging thing. Nudging is like it's not not you're manipulating people, but you're getting people in the end to do things because they want to do it and stuff like this, right? So you have, like, a cartoon on the waistband explaining you how to put which kind of waste you're putting in there and stuff like this, right, and people stopping by, they read the cartoon, they find it funny, learn something about something, in this case, of what to recycle there, and then they start doing it. Right, or just having the sticker on the machine. And then they think of, oh, yeah, I'll switch it off without further ado. Or I'll need to tell them you didn't switch off your computer yesterday. You should definitely do that to save energy and stuff like this. I think it must be these small steps to make it easier for the people to have these kinds of things and then to do an event, right? I mean, I heard of another institute, they were doing a run around the campus collecting waste together and celebrating in the end all the waste they collected, right. And all these kinds of things, right? There's something easy to do. It's something you can start right away also with the garden, right? It's something people can enjoy. A colleague of mine, she did a tour through the grass area around the institute showing what kind of plants actually are growing there, what kind of benefits they have. And people joined and were super interested in what kind of things they can learn and what is growing already out there. And that it's not just what's the English phrase?
Jo: They call them weed. I don't know, in Germany, we call it…What is it called?
Jan: Plants you don't want to be growing there. You think it's there.
Jo: …no plant, but it is a plant. Like the German translation really doesn't make sense. And I keep telling everyone it's not an uncau, but it's a wild one. Let it be. It's supposed to be here. It shows this what? No, I don't know. Also it has a function. It's probably going here because the soil just provides the appropriate mix of nutrients. Also, anything green actually helps convert the carbon kind of I mean, not convert the carbon to oxygen, but kind of the whole turnover. Anything green traps carbon from the atmosphere, so no matter how small.
Jan: It has an effect on the air in the lab, you have a green plant or something like this, right?
Jo: You might have weeds instead of these potted plants which need to be flown in or grown in heat. What are the greenhouses? It's just grow weed in the lab. Also looks beautiful, no?
Jan: Absolutely. And then in the end you need to be an example, right? You need to say like okay, this is the way I want to do it. And you can explain to the people why you are doing it, right? Because you feel good about it and doing it and you just do it and people see it and people see what he or she is doing. It's actually not so difficult. I could also do that. I make sense easy to do. If I sort my samples better in the -80 freezer I find them quicker. That's actually cool. I should also do that. Right? And then people are less reluctant of doing it. It's like, oh, I need to clean up.
Jo: Yeah, I need to sort of clean up anyway. So now that everybody's doing it, let's just get to work and get it done with. So the group effects and the group motivation also helps.
Jan: And then you celebrate afterwards together, have a nice day and have a nice lab outing or something. And that even more creates community, creates exchange, creates joy of what you were doing. Right. And this thing will accumulate and also this assessment, right? You don't see in the end what you did and what it had. What kind of impact was it? It's less grabable, right? If I just exchange the windows, I see the bill and I see, okay, exchange the windows for 10,000 euro. If I also check what this may have done with my heating costs that were reduced, then I see, okay, wow, it really made a difference. Right. If I compare this lab waste day every year in September, they were doing this by posting pictures on social media about the lab waste they were collecting and then calculating actually, what does that mean when I produce 200 grams, 2.5 plastic waste? What does that mean in the long term for a year of plastic waste that I'm producing? And then if I start changing something and then I can measure it again, and then it's instead of 200, just 100 grams. I know, okay, wow. This is the impact I had. And that makes me feel good because I achieved something. And this is all kinds of stuff. I mean, everybody has different motivations and everybody has different ways of approaching things. But I think whatever person you can find there, there's no one recipe that fits all. But you can try. And you need to play around a bit and not get frustrated because people might not join immediately or they need some time. Right. Some people also need to see it first or they need to experience it. Like in the Institute, they were looking at SSP and they wanted to change something. But then we started communicating. They saw what we were doing. We were doing some nice stuff. They see it's not such a big change. It's actually quite easy. It helps the institute. It's a good way we produce something. So, yeah, let's do it. And then they start supporting us. And that's also where it needs to come together in the end, because not just a grassroots organization can do everything alone. They need to be supported from the top down of an institute as well. And they need to work together, find solutions, and see what they can do together. And then addressing long term goals, setting milestones, setting things they can reach together, getting carbon neutral, all these kinds of things, but also finding ways of how to get carbon neutral, not just saying, okay, I get carbon neutral until 2040. How do I do that? Right? And how can I find ways of approaching milestones on the way there?
Jo: Yeah, it's so exciting to hear all of these activities going on and all the possible actions taken and actually being taken. So how can we scale this? So one question would be and that's not an easy one to answer, I guess I can answer myself. But you can also very much add zero or $0.05. So where do you see the most potential for scalability of lowering environmental impact through research practices? So is there one practice which has a lot of impact on carbon emission and which we can easily change and revert? And that again, as you said before, it depends on the discipline and the practice. I think it's a bit of a complex answer and we already deleted this in a way. But the other question would be I had another approach to this. Where do you see yeah. Which are the activities? Maybe one or two or three. What's one activity that most people easily embrace and feel really proud of in changing habits and doing something good?
What's the low hanging fruit for everyone?
Jan: What's the low hanging fruit? I mean, although therefore everyone is always a difficult thing. But switching off stuff, it's super easy, right? Because I think about yeah,
Jo: But to do that once in a workshop is easy, but then to also actually change the habit because you clicked in your head and now you want to change it. If you forget it once, it's actually bothering you while you're lying in bed at home and then you're making sure not you're forgetting again because it clicked.
Jan: That's a really tough one, I would say. All right. I mean, changing habits is probably also the thing that makes a lot of people struggle with it. It's like a New Year's resolution. I'll do more sports from January on, then do that. The first week I forget it the 8th day and then it's like, okay. Then it starts tripling away.
Jo: I think in changing habits your system or brains need something 86 or something touch points. So you have to go to the gym 80 times before it's easy. There's always this reluctance, this hesitation, like should I really go? Or so much effort. But this changes after because then your system is used to it, apparently, research shows I’ll try and find the evidence in more than one paper that it takes that many recurrences. In other words, wait to see what's the biggest insight or not the biggest insight. But where do people have a realization of havingn't thought of that and that's actually easy. And let me try to do that without actually measuring.
Jan: if you have mine 80 freezers, putting it to mine 70 is definitely an easy thing to do. Right? I mean, it's just changing the temperature. You just need to make sure about the samples and downscaling. I would definitely say if I do my experiment smaller, if I think about my experiment and how I'm doing it, this is an easy thing to do. And anyone needs to think about my experiment, what I'm doing. And then I can also incorporate, do I have to use, I don't know, 50,000 plates for that? Can I do that on a smaller scale? Right? High throughput is great. But don't need to say, okay, I'll try everything I can try. It's also like thinking about what I'm doing, what I'm trying.
Jo: Because many people will go like, yeah, but reproducibility and we need the numbers, blah, blah. So it's of course a trade off. We need to be research and taker in both directions for sustainability, yes, reduce the numbers, but also for the actual research, reproducibility and replicability. Or to avoid false positives, of course, we need a certain relatively high number depending on your experimental set up. So it's not that the results you get most of the time are actually true and not false positive, but that's for the researcher and the group together. Like whoever's knowledgeable about the project set up or the research set up to assess, but not to do as many as you can just because you can and have the money for. That's what we're talking about, right?
Jan: I think also an interesting approach on this topic, I don't know if you heard about it, is Slow Science, right? That we need to change all the systems in the way of how we approach science. Because it's not about all this pressure of publishing as fast as possible, but maybe you have results you don't trust even yourself into detail. It's really about thinking about the science process. How do we address science, how do we do science? Must it be in the way we are doing it?
Jo: This experiment is so wasteful. Do we have another experiment that's less wasteful but gives us more information?
Jan: Taking out the pressure, right? Sharing more knowledge, thinking about incorporating people, combining our efforts, combining our strengths. I mean, we saw it also with the development of the vaccine. If you combine forces, things can go faster, right? But this is also a little bit about how the system needs to change. It's not about this pressure of being the first in as short a time as possible. This is a long term goal. This is not something you can easily reach and this is something that really needs the transformation of the whole system and how science is done in a way, right? To really produce what needs to be done in a way that is sustainable and yeah, I say has more impact, right? impactfulness and sustainability. This needs to be improved.
Jo:I have good news. A friend and colleague of mine, Pauola Massutzo, who's also been on this podcast before, she has slides on Zenodo on Slow Science, Open Science, so that's more resources. So go and check it out, audience, listeners and I will also send it to you. Cool. Any final statements? We've learned a lot already. I always enjoy talking about this topic because there's always something more that I also learned and I thought I already know quite a bit, but there's also something that I learned today? I think some of the initiatives you mentioned, which we now have as certainly the references I collected a few and yeah, I'm also putting together so we'll have a Zotero collection. Do you have resources somewhere listed on your website? Well, of course, on the website for the sustainability network. Also research on reducing carbon footprints in research topics.
Jan: Let me make sure to add some of the stuff I mentioned. If you find anything which is not in the show note at that point, I'm happy to share it also, it's all out there.
Jo: While we were talking, you saw the clicking that you heard. That's me putting the reference.
Jan: Heading up. Yeah, I think it's quite a bunch of things. And there I mean, that's also good, the good message, right, that there's more and more research out there and more and more sources out. Great collections of ideas. Also Greener Lab, they have a nice database of what you can do to achieve Greener Labs. I mean, there are certifications that you can also do now to get your labs greener. I can highly recommend checking out the leaf approach on getting your lab more sustainable. They have now more than 1600 labs signed up and more than 1000 labs already certified. Migraine Labs also does a certification program. You can also check that out on their website as well as the freezer challenge there, right? So there are so many databases of things that are coming out now. Nice publications about comparing plastic towards Glass Lab where what is more sustainable, when is it more sustainable, all these kinds of things. I highly recommend checking that out. There's so many sources out also to share, right? If you tried something that didn't work out, also share that not just about the research, but also about sustainability measures you did and tried, right? It's a good thing about exchanging a lot of the suppliers also changing now the way they're sending samples, they're partially of them, they're recycling oil. You can send back packaging material. They're using new materials for producing the labware, reducing the thicknesses of pipet tips, losing less plastic for that and all these things.
Jo: Let me add that that's my favorite topic because that's really from me. The pipettes. We don't have as much money for buying more pipes and just wasting them once often used, you can just watch an article of them like still today there's no need.
Jan: Of what you're doing. I mean, I have colleagues who say that doing RNA works for them. It's really tricky.
Jo: But now but most people can use yeah, I know.
Jan: That is also a lot. I mean, tubes for sure. Also depending on what you put inside, right? If you label them and use the same chemical over and over again, that's all fine. You can clean it. There is now a company that also sells tip cleaning machines, right? So a little investment, but you can clean your pipe tips in this machine and they have also a bunch of references on what they tested and that it's really almost like new, the tips. And you can really wash them a number of cycles and reuse them and reuse them and reuse them.
Jo: Instead of buying yet another equipment piece like autoclave. Every modern lab usually has an autoclave. And maybe you can just build something to put inside the autoclave so not to have to buy a new machine, which does the same thing. Kind of. We don't have to go into the details, but I think out of necessity, they had to be innovative about what they already have and get the job done. Whereas in institutions where you have so much money extra or left over at the end of the year and just buy another machine. Do we need something? No. Anyways, buy something because otherwise the money will go to waste or .
Jan: I think I should change. Right? You have this pressure spending the money. It's like, why not? If I saved money and worked more efficiently with the money I had.
Jo: PhD students or librarian?
Jan: It's done right now it's not possible. But this is something I mean, for some of the stuff it's important also that law changes, right? That there is some movement in the way that science is funded, that science is treated, that things are run. There are also some guidelines that you always have to buy the cheapest and maybe not the most sustainable and so on, right? What kind of energy is my institute consuming? Can I switch to a sustainable supplier? All these kinds of things. There's also some rules and guidelines that need to change and they will change over time.
Jo: But they mentioned something important also within an institute, within a research group, everybody has a say, has an experience, has some ideas, has some ideas. And it's just important to put our heads together and talk about the issues that are important for us personally, but also for the planet and us as a species on the planet, all kinds of things. So communication. and it's also a matter of research integrity. That's why I grouped it as a topic in my courses or in our courses at Access 2 Perspective. So expect more of that topic to come your way, if you follow us. And you Jan, also of course, most welcome to come again and share more of your wisdom with us and what else we can do.
Jan: It's been a pleasure being here, sharing some of my insights. I'm looking forward for comments and people who show what they are doing, what they think about the topic, what their approaches are, and what works for them. Right? I mean, stay curious if anyone who I can now in fact is excited about doing research more sustainable. I'm absolutely happy about this and this is something we should spread. So go out, share what you learned. There are so many also now talks about seminars, lectures you can check out, definitely do that. Try. To learn and get excited and share this with your colleagues and bring it out in your lab and your institute.
Jo: And also share your own experiences with us. Anything that we haven't mentioned that you think is important, you've seen and actually implemented in your research group, please visit us now. So we need to hear success stories and activities. Everybody is already doing so much, and it's important that we talk about the good stuff that we're doing. So get in touch with Jan. The contact details will be also accessible for you or are as we speak. And I'm also always happy to hear from you, and we can come back together any time in the future. Thank you so much.
Jan: Thank you.