Greg Moss / Wellcome Sanger Institute

Wellcome sets environmental sustainability standards for researchers, as wider goals to support the UK research sector are launched

Sanger Institute signs concordat to reduce the environmental impacts of carrying out research.

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Wellcome will expect researchers to use the most sustainable approaches they can, and to explain in new grant applications how they plan to reduce energy consumption, reuse equipment, and recycle waste products, it was announced today. The requirements are part of a new Wellcome policy that sets out expectations for sustainable research.

Scientific research is at the forefront of finding solutions to the climate crisis and its impacts on our health. Yet all types of research – from lab to computational to field – have an impact on our environment.

To guide researchers and ensure consistency, Wellcome will require those in lab-based environments to achieve the minimum level of accreditation offered by high-quality 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 setting 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 left-over resources.

Wellcome will ask new grant applicants to consider the environmental cost of the research approaches in their project as well as the financial cost. This could mean making more environmentally responsible choices, even if there is a higher upfront cost. Existing grant-holders will be able to use existing funds to cover these costs.

Research undertaken with Wellcome funding falls under Wellcome’s scope 3 emissions, which it has committed to reduce as part of a wider sustainability programme to reach net zero. In future, Wellcome will work with researchers and organisations to understand their environmental impact in greater detail in order to get an accurate picture of its scope 3 emissions.

“Health research has a crucial role in lessening the impacts of the climate crisis, yet rightly there is an increasing focus on the environmental impact of research itself. The report that Wellcome commissioned through RAND Europe last year highlighted the enthusiasm from across the sector to make change but also the need for meaningful leadership to create the momentum required.

As an initial signatory of the new environmental sustainability concordat, Wellcome shares the ambition of others in the UK research and innovation sector. Our new policy is a first step but sets a clear path. We look forward to continuing to support world-class science in an environmentally responsible way.”

Alyson Fox, Director of Research Funding at Wellcome

A report published in August 2023 by RAND Europe and commissioned by Wellcome highlighted the current efforts in place to reducing the environmental impact of health research. It found there are 146 such initiatives in place, accompanied by plenty of enthusiasm across the sector to make meaningful change. However, the report found that 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.

Cross-sector environmental sustainability concordat

The changes to Wellcome’s policy coincide with the launch of a voluntary environmental sustainability concordat co-developed by more than 25 organisations across the UK research and innovation sector. The concordat supports the wider ambition set out by the UK Government to achieve net zero by 2050. Concordat signatories and supporters commit to progressively embedding environmental sustainability into all research and innovation practices.

The concordat is aimed at all organisations in the research and innovation sector. An initial group of 18 signatories, including the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and six supporters have joined at launch, and they are calling on other organisations to do the same. The ambition is to create meaningful, and long-lasting impact to reduce the environmental impacts of carrying out research.

Signatories agree to action six priority areas outlined in the concordat, such as 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 its sustainability aims and publish annual summaries of progress.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK), an initial signatory of the concordat, have also developed a new policy introducing requirements for grant applicants and core-funded institutes to demonstrate the environmental sustainability of their labs, as well as for institutions hosting CRUK-funded researchers.

“We have a key part to play in reducing the environmental impact of our research by addressing how the labs and facilities we fund operate, enabling researchers to carry out their activities in a sustainable manner. The concordat will allow us to work together to build a more sustainable research system.”

Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK

Since January 2023, five labs across the Sanger Institute have participated in a LEAF pilot to trial the framework and identify any organisational barriers that may need addressing before rolling the tool out more widely. Teams have been monitoring energy usage of laboratory equipment to determine efficient standby options, turning off equipment, and reducing the amount of plastics disposed in laboratory waste.

Other teams at the Sanger Institute are reducing the number of Ultra Low Temperature freezers in use, to significantly reduce energy consumption. Plus, the data centre team is working to highlight the importance of responsible computing, and helping to improve the efficiency of code to reduce the use of energy across site and in the data centre when processing scientific information.

“Our research is dedicated to enhancing health outcomes, recognising that climate change has an extensive impact on human health. Incorporating sustainability throughout all areas of our decision-making ensures that our primary mission of improving health remains central to our efforts. I’m proud to see that Sanger Institute teams are already implementing practical measures to reduce carbon emissions from their labs and other workspaces. Our commitment to this concordat will encourage our staff to continue exploring innovative solutions for reducing the environmental impacts of our research.”

Dr Martin Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

The concordat represents a shared ambition for the UK to continue delivering cutting-edge research but in a more environmentally responsible way. It also recognises the critical role of research and innovation to understand how our planet is changing, and creating solutions to the challenges we face.

Organisations from across the UK research and innovation sector have worked together, involving extensive consultation, to develop the set of priorities and responsible behaviours set out in the concordat. The final document is owned collectively by the UK research and innovation sector.

Wellcome is hosting the concordat on its site providing information on how to join, alongside a regularly maintained list of signatories and supporters. The EAUC will provide the secretariat function for the concordat’s signatories. A new oversight group will be formed to co-ordinate a review of the content and impact of the concordat in line with new innovations in sustainability.

More information

Wellcome environmental sustainability research policy:

Wellcome sustainability programme:

Download the Concordat for the Environmental Sustainability of Research and Innovation Practice [PDF]:

List of initial concordat signatories at launch:

  • Bangor University
  • British Academy
  • Cancer Research UK (CRUK)
  • Cranfield University
  • John Innes Centre
  • Keele University
  • National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)
  • University College London (UCL)
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Essex
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE)
  • Wellcome
  • Wellcome Sanger Institute

List of initial concordat supporters at launch:

  • Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)
  • Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfENI)
  • Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC)
  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Royal Society

More information and to sign-up to the concordat:

Contact for concordat queries: