Post Tagged with: "environment"

Is the Coop bank fishing for an anti-science cause?

The Cooperative bank has had its troubles of late, mismanagement, scandal ridden executives and massive debts have seen an the organisation that prided itself on its ethical policy forced to reevaluate its self image.

At the moment it takes a stance, both through its investments and the customers its accepts, that supports communities, tackles povety, encourages responsible financing and protects the environment. One way that the Coop’s reevaluation has manifested is via a poll (aimed largely at its customers, but open to anyone) asking how the ethics of the bank should be manifested. Most of the questions seemed perfectly reasonable, asking participants to rank various activites, such as customer service, responsible lend etc. But when it came to the questions on environmental protections, they highlight chemistry, nanontechnology, GM foods and fracking as particular worthy of a mention.

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Why these subjects in particular and why present them in such a leading fashion? It strikes me as a list of subjects that have been the most contriversial with respect to the environment in the last few years (or decades).

Personally I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Are they fishing for a particular area that they can easily fight? Afterall campaigning against GM or pandering to chemophobia is fairly easy to do without committing to anything in particular. However, making the bank carbon neutral actually requires some action. Or maybe its just a sloppy poll, but either way the bank needs to try a bit harder to come up with a meaningful and evidence based environmental policy.

By June 27, 2014 0 comments opinion, science policy

Is convenience costing chemists? Part 1

Times are tough and few if any are untouched by the recent economic woes. While profits have fallen, research costs for a variety of fields have remained the same if not increased, especially in the chemical industry. Academia too is feeling the crunch and many universities are making policy changes to minimize expense. At most universities, chemistry is usually the department hardest hit by budgetary strangulation for the simple reason that doing chemistry often comes at a hefty price (I.e. reagents, apparatus, instrumentation maintenance and standards, heating/cooling expenses due to fume hood usage). Many chemistry departments burn through consumables, most of which are not exactly cheap. Unfortunately, even in the present age of microscale labs and experiments, there is still a significant amount of waste both in industry and in academia with respect to energy and research material. Thankfully, there are many simple solutions that involve a little extra time but pay dividends.

Progressive steps are being made. An example: at a nearby university, the chemistry department is implementing an energy saving program, modeled on an existing program at Harvard. It is being done because heating and cooling the chemical building is expensive, and energy costs have risen. According to the Harvard program’s estimates, leaving a typical fume hood (whatever that may be) wide open 24/7 all year long uses three times the energy of an average home! Now reflect upon how many fume hoods are in your laboratory.

For my part, I hope it doesn’t stop at simply closing the sash–there are numerous other things that scientists ought to be doing. Still, it’s a start. For those of you thinking “well, we itemize our budget to account for energy, consumables, and other ancillary costs. We have the money,” you might analyze it from a perspective of using only what you must. Considering that Harvard’s 30 some billion dollar endowment is the largest of any university and they somehow find the moral responsibility to simply close the fume hood sash when not in use, is it not something all chemists ought to do? Surely they can afford a few hundred thousand dollars per year for the convenience of forgetting to close their hood.

Pinching pennies is important now, historically, and probably more so in the future. Scientists pay for convenience. Many research in an atmosphere of high throughput, intensive research with demanding deadlines. For most chemists, it’s a simple matter of putting in a purchase order for the reagent you need and paying through the nose on hazmat, fuel, and packaging surcharges to have it overnighted for your trial synthesis. Easy? Yes. Cheap? No.

So, what to do?

In the next installment, I’ll discuss a few commonsense ways to save money, possibly a few natural resources, and most importantly, time.

By March 31, 2009 3 comments opinion, Uncategorized