Sustainability Spotlight - Laboratory Optimisation

Sustainability Spotlight

This new blog series ‘Sustainability Spotlight’ is intended to share more information about the various roles and projects that exist within the Sustainability team. Environmental Sustainability has such a broad scope that, although we have a Meet the team page, we want to share some more in-depth information about what sustainability means in practice.

We hope this will help to raise awareness of what is happening, foster engagement and share knowledge about work that has largely been kept under the radar!

Portrait image of Stefanie Reiss, Environmental Sustainability

In our first Spotlight blog we speak with Steffi Reiss, Projects Manager for Laboratory Optimisation.

What do you do?

I’m a Sustainability Projects Manager for laboratory optimisation, which means that I aim to make labs more sustainable. My focus is on energy and carbon reduction projects. 

What has your career path been so far? How did you end up doing this job?

My background is in mechanical engineering. I’ve completed an industrial doctorate (a so-called EngD) in sustainable engineering. After that I worked as a researcher on low carbon energy at the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) here in Oxford, before starting my current role in Estates. 

What challenges do you face, in your job and in the wider industry?

Many people view sustainability as being opposed to profitability, but that isn’t necessarily the case. For example, we are doing lots of projects that help to reduce energy consumption. This is not only great for the environment (reduced emissions) but also reduces energy bills and therefore the projects often pay for themselves after a couple of years. This in turn enables us to do more sustainability projects. 

What do you love about your job?

It’s a great job, because I know that I can really make a difference. The projects that I manage help to save a lot of energy and carbon emissions. I also get to work with lots of amazing people who are not only really good at what they’re doing, but they also deeply care about sustainability. This includes of course the Environmental Sustainability team, but also all my fantastic lab managers and support staff. Together we can achieve so much!

I also love that the type of my projects and the approaches and skills they require vary a lot. In the course of one week I may do detailed data analysis on one day, create engaging best practice slides on another day, and have some very technical discussions about energy efficiency of different equipment in between. 

Ollie the freezer

Ollie, the best practice freezer, always has a lot to say!

What current projects are you working on?

I work on equipment replacement and upgrade projects (ultra-low temperature freezers, glass dryers and fume cupboards). Alongside these I work on producing best practice guidance for laboratories to help change behaviour towards more efficient and sustainable practices - which is at least as important as replacing equipment!

I also help with reporting and I work on promoting our new carbon target. Last but not least I’m involved in Green Impact – our main sustainability engagement programme.

Why are you focusing on these projects?

We are only a small team, and we can’t really tell staff or students what they can and can’t do. Therefore, I think that it is super important to get others engaged and involved. It’s all those little choices that people make in their everyday (work) life, that together have a tremendous effect. Hence we try to a) provide lots of support and guidance and b) aim to make sustainability fun and rewarding. 

So far the journey has been very positive, with lots of energy savings achieved. This becomes even more important in view of the current and planned growth of the University. 

What are your key aims for the next year or so?

My long term hope is that sustainability will one day be seen as important as health and safety, with a focus on positive opportunities, rather than restrictions. With regard to my specific projects, I look forward to supporting more labs in getting energy efficient equipment, but also share best practice ideas and raise awareness about simple things that can be done in order to achieve excellent research in the most sustainable way possible.

I would also like to strengthen our Green Impact programme by making it even more relevant for labs and get more labs to participate next year. 

What is the worst example of sustainability you have seen?

I’m not sure if there is one – most activities are a step in the right direction. I think in most cases it’s the lack of sustainability that is the problem. This is usually due to prioritising other factors such as profitability and time. 

What has been your best experience so far?

Delivery of the first ULT freezer

Steffi welcomes the delivery of the first ultra-low temperature freezer

There’s so many! One of my highlights has certainly been the sustainable labs event. Events are great in general, where I get to meet lots of researchers and I can listen to what really matters to them and prioritise my work accordingly.

Another highlight was the delivery of the first ultra-low temperature freezer that we sponsored to replace the oldest and most inefficient freezers on campus. The new units consume up to 76% less electricity!


And finally, what are you most looking forward to?

As you'll have probably gathered by now, I really enjoy my current work. So what am I most looking forward to? That’s easy to answer: more of the same! 


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Next steps

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