Energy saving plans required for Wellcome grant applications

Biomedical research charity asking applicants to submit sustainability plans in funding bids as UK institutions launch new green research code

April 25, 2024
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Researchers applying for Wellcome Trust grants will have to explain how they plan to reduce energy consumption, reuse equipment and recycle waste products, the biomedical research funder has announced.

Under new guidelines issued on 25 April, applicants to the UK-based health research charity will be asked to consider the environmental cost of their proposed research projects as well as the financial expense.

The new rules are designed to encourage more environmentally responsible choices, even if there is a higher up-front cost, Wellcome said.

The changes coincide with the launch of a voluntary environmental sustainability concordat co-developed by more than 25 UK research organisations, including the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester and Liverpool, as well as UCL.

The agreement is aimed at supporting the wider ambition set out by the UK government to achieve net zero by 2050, with concordat signatories and supporters committing to embed environmental sustainability into all research and innovation practices.

Alyson Fox, director of research funding at Wellcome, said its new policy was a “first step but sets a clear path” towards net zero, adding that the charity was “[looking] forward to continuing to support world-class science in an environmentally responsible way”.

Under the new Wellcome policy, the science funder will require those in lab-based environments to achieve the minimum level of accreditation offered by university sustainability schemes such as LEAF and My Green Lab by the end of 2025.

Desk, field, clinical and other researchers will be asked to use tools appropriate to their settings to assess the environmental impact of their work. There are additional expectations for organisations based in high-income countries, such as maintaining logs of existing and leftover resources.

The changes follow a Wellcome-commissioned RAND Europe report published in August 2023, which found that there were 146 initiatives to mitigate the environmental impact of health research. Despite enthusiasm across the sector to make meaningful change, the study found progress was often sustained by the voluntary goodwill of individuals, and that more could be done to build wider, collaborative engagement at the top level of the research sector.

Under the new concordat, signatories agree to action six priority areas, including maintaining transparency about the environmental impacts of research output and finding new climate-conscious, low-carbon approaches.

There is also an expected commitment from signatories to publicly share how their organisations will deliver their sustainability aims and publish annual summaries of progress.

Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, an initial signatory of the concordat, said that the new pact “will allow us to work together to build a more sustainable research system”.

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Reader's comments (1)

The kind of virtue signalling nonsense that make me glad I only have five months to retirement. Everyone should be recycling and conserving resources as a matter of course. Making applicants waste time putting this into bids is another piece of box ticking.