Opening of the GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratory

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The GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratory

Throughout Monday 27th February 2017 there were a number of events to mark the historic opening of the GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratory (CNL). The day began with a tour of the facility for all the attendees, with an explanation of the buildings innovations that will help achieve carbon neutrality within 25 years. One example of this is the building’s shape which has been designed to control the flow of air throughout the building. This design means that both air conditioning and extraction fans in fume hoods are no longer needed. The success of the buildings innovations are being closely monitored in the hope that they will lay the foundation for any future GSK laboratories.

After the tours there were a number of speeches from different stakeholders such as Professor Pete Licence, the Director of CNL, Sir Andrew Witty, the Chancellor of the University of Nottingham and Sir David Greenaway the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham. Both of these had large parts to play in the success of this project, especially after the tragic fire of 2014. A plaque was then unveiled to commemorate this historic opening.

The evening was then completed by a stimulating discussion panel entitled ‘How Chemistry can take us to a sustainable future’. The panel consisted of:

  • Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff – a Professor of Chemistry in The School of Chemistry at Nottingham and ex foreign secretary of The Royal Society
  • Professor Helen Sneddon – Head of Green Chemistry Performance Unit at GSK
  • Professor Dame Jessica Corner – Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Nottingham
  • Professor Paul Anastas – Director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering and previously the Science Advisor to the United States Environmental Protection Agency
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Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff discussing how chemistry can contribute to a sustainable future.

The discussion started with opening statements from each member followed by a number of questions from the floor. One of the common themes was the need to do more with less; the human population is soon expected to reach 9 billion with over 1.5 billion considered ‘considerably poor’ who deserve to consume more. A memorable point raised by Martyn was the fact that more people use mobile phones than toothbrushes where a single mobile phone can contain over 60 different chemical elements.

Helen also highlighted the work GSK are currently doing to promote a more sustainable future; they have identified that around 86% of their carbon emissions come from the use of raw materials and patient use. To reduce this they need to invent new chemical reactions and processes that not only reduces but, if possible, eradicates waste. There hope is that the work in the CNL will not only pioneer these new techniques but also train the next generation of researchers to think in a more sustainable way where sustainability is top of the agenda.

Following from this Paul raised various points regarding the relationships between the economy, society and the environment. He questioned the current dogma that states that green methods will be adopted if they become ‘economically viable’ and said even if they’re not cheaper they should be seen as essential for the future of our planet. He explained that the economy is created to merely serve society whereas society only survives within the environment. Paul also raised the point that it is easy to look back at history and criticise previous generations for their political, environmental and societal mistakes but it is much harder to look at ourselves and think what future generations will condemn.

Jessica, coming from a medical background, highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary research to solve these issues; saying there needs to be a cultural shift towards collaborative efforts rather than individual pursuit of recognition. It was widely accepted by the audience that although most step change innovations require a certain amount of serendipity, collaboration will only increase the chances of this serendipity.

Once this debate had finished there was a drinks reception and networking session to round off an enjoyable day in the newly opened CNL.

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