Green neuroscience

The BNA is joining other organisations and institutions across the UK and globally in taking action in response to the climate emergency, raising awareness within the neuroscience sector of the urgent need to minimise the negative environmental impact of undertaking research, teaching and practice.[1]

Bristol, where the BNA office is based, has been at the heart of climate advocacy. Bristol City Council became the first UK council to declare a climate emergency, while the University of Bristol, which hosts our office, was the first UK university to declare a climate emergency. We want to follow this lead throughout our work, exploring synergising efforts with the University of Bristol, to share learning and knowledge exchange.

Changing the way the BNA works

A green and brown artistic image of the brain that looks a bit like a treeWe're committed to making the BNA as environmentally responsible as possible in all our activities – from how we organise our own events and provide support for neuroscientists, to how we can work with other organisations involved in neuroscience research. We have established a Green Neuroscience Working Group (GNWG) to help guide our activities, set targets for the BNA on carbon reduction, and raise the profile of green neuroscience within the wider neuroscience community.

We have already made changes to practices at the BNA to reduce our carbon footprint, including:

  • enabling up to 50% of speakers in each session of our festival of neuroscience to present online rather than deliver their talk in person
  • asking applicants for our travel bursaries to demonstrate how they have made efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel, encouraging a ‘train over plane’ approach
  • ensuring catering at BNA events is vegetarian and considering other low impact food options as much as possible

The BNA will also facilitate engagement on sustainability by providing an opportunity to promote green neuroscience and engage with delegates at our biennial Festival.

Our Credibility in Neuroscience campaign also aims to ultimately reduce waste in neuroscience research through boosting reproducibility of the research produced.

Reducing the environmental impact of neuroscience research

We want to support neuroscientists to make positive steps to reduce the environmental impact of their own research activities. Part of the remit of the GNWG is to identify ways that the BNA can help to support individual researchers that strive to make a difference – be that in their own research, their academic career, or in their own institutions.

We are encouraging our Local Groups to help support individuals that want to raise the profile of the need for more sustainable research. This includes collective action to encourage institutions to go greener.

Encouraging change at institutions

Research labs have a large environmental footprint, from the various consumables of a project and animal housing for in vivo research, to the overall energy consumption. The Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) has been developed by UCL to provide an independent standard for defined sustainability.  

The UK has committed to achieve net zero by 2050, to cancel out the carbon emissions produced by the amount removed.[2] Several research organisations are already aiming to change practice to meet these targets, for example the MRC (a LEAF member) is planning to halve its carbon footprint by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2040.[3]

We are encouraging neuroscience research labs to encourage their institution to participate in LEAF and to then implement this within their labs.

Actions that you can take as an individual

  1. Switch your USS pension to an ethical fund
  2. Advocate for sustainability in your institution, for example via its sustainability team or by supporting efforts to encourage fossil fuel divestment
  3. Speak up about the need for climate-related research and to reduce the footprint of funded projects, for example in grant panels or lecturing opportunities
  4. Consider research that can provide new insights into the neural and psychological processes underpinning pro-environmental behaviour and social change
  5. Speak up outside of your institution, to friends, colleagues, politicians, and the public

Green Neuroscience Working Group membership

Our GNWG aims to meet every 2-3 months, and has the following members: Charlotte Rae (University of Sussex), Martin Farley (UCL), Kate Jeffery (University of Glasgow), Amy Sylvester (University of Oxford), Rik Henson (BNA President), Anne Cooke, Sophie Jerrold, and Joseph Clift (all BNA Executive). Sophie Grange (BNA Placement student) will be joining the group for the duration of her placement. (ends July 2023).

  1. Rae CL, Farley M, Jeffery KJ, Urai AE. Climate crisis and ecological emergency: Why they concern (neuro)scientists, and what we can do. Brain and Neuroscience Advances. January 2022. doi:10.1177/23982128221075430