Environmental sustainability policy

While research and innovation are vital to understanding life and finding solutions to the health challenges facing everyone, health research has an impact on the environment and can contribute to climate change. Wellcome will only fund research that is conducted responsibly. To be responsible, research must be conducted in an environmentally sustainable way.

This policy sets out our expectations for organisations and researchers receiving Wellcome funding to follow sustainable research practices.

What we expect from the people we fund 

Different types of research will affect the environment in different ways. Wet laboratories tend to be energy hungry and produce large amounts of plastic and toxic waste. Public health and the social sciences can have large footprints from fieldwork related travel. In big data driven health research, lots of energy is used to store data and train models.

We expect researchers to:

  • design their research using the most sustainable approach they can access and to tell us how they have done this in their grant application.  They should include the relevant allowable direct costs to enable this.
  • consider the environmental sustainability of their project-related purchases, even if this means choosing an item with a higher upfront cost.  All costs must be justified as part of the grant application.

146 tools and initiatives that researchers can use to ensure their research is undertaken sustainably were identified as part of a Wellcome commissioned report by RAND Europe, ‘advancing environmentally sustainable health research’. As part of this report, guidelines were developed on how to conduct some kinds of health research sustainably. Researchers should reference these where relevant.

Examples include:

Researchers across all fields should demonstrate how they will reduce the emissions and natural resources used in their research. We do not expect researchers to be environmental sustainability experts, but they should seek advice from the technical experts available to them, including laboratory technicians.  Some of the practices listed on this page apply most clearly to laboratory research but some are transferrable to all research settings.

The examples given are not intended to be exhaustive.

Reduce, reuse and recycle resources, equipment, materials and consumables

To reduce energy consumption researchers should:

  • Turn off equipment, including laminar flow cabinets when not in use (for example overnight).
  • Close fume hoods when not in use.
  • Set ultralow freezers no lower than -70 degrees Celsius. If a warmer temperature is as effective that setting should be used. Take measures to limit the time freezer doors are open, for example effective labelling of tray contents.

To reuse research equipment, materials and consumables researchers should:

  • Use second hand or reconditioned equipment where available, viable and more sustainable than purchasing new.
  • Share equipment with other researchers/organisations where available and viable, rather than purchasing one of everything each.
  • Check internal inventories/asset registries at host organisations for existing equipment, materials and consumables before purchasing new items. We won’t pay for new items where existing ones can be used instead. 
  • Participate in organisation initiatives to pass items on to others when they are no longer needed but still have useful life left, for example through the UniGreenScheme where available.
  • Use maintenance contracts so items can be repaired rather than recycled as much as possible.
  • Avoid single-use plastics where reusable alternatives are available and viable. Use plastic consumables with the minimum size required. 

To recycle waste products researchers should:

  • Use institutional recycling facilities, particularly for clean packaging, and use general or hazardous waste bins only when unavoidable.
  • Use materials, consumables and equipment that are made from recycled materials and/or can be recycled at the end of their useful life where viable.  


Wellcome will only fund essential travel related to our funded research.  

All travel requested in grant applications must be justified. 

To reduce the emissions from Wellcome-funded travel, researchers should:

  • Minimise their travel and that of their staff, collaborators and all grant participants (for example, clinical research participants, focus group attendees, advisory boards etc) when designing and undertaking their project.
  • Use alternatives (such as video conferencing, hybrid meetings and attending conferences virtually) where possible.
  • Leverage existing local skills for fieldwork or if necessary, upskill others who are already located in the field rather than to travel to site themselves. 
  • Choose modes and class of transport that have a lower carbon impact where travel is essential (this includes taking the train instead of flying and travelling economy class when flying is unavoidable)
  • Offset the remaining carbon emissions of all journeys or use an alternative to offsetting where their organisation has received Wellcome’s approval for this.

The air travel justification tool found in the Sustainability Exchange Travel Better package (provided by Sustainability Exchange) provides a decision tree to help establish if flying to a conference/meeting is justified. Researchers should use this or a similar tool to help with such decisions. While offsetting is not a long-term solution to emissions Wellcome accepts its use as a way of mitigating remaining travel emissions once all other efforts to reduce them have been taken.  

Research outputs

To manage research outputs and reduce wasted resources from duplicated work, researchers should:

  • Publish the results of their research (including null results), in line with our open access policy.
  • Maximise the availability of research data, software and materials with as few restrictions as possible, and manage research outputs in a way that will achieve the greatest health benefit. See our data, software and materials management and sharing policy for more information.  

Measure and monitor progress

To target efforts and ensure continuous improvements in sustainable practices:

  • Laboratories should achieve the minimum level of accreditation offered by LEAF, My Green Lab or equivalent by the end of 2025.
  • Desk, field, clinical, and other researchers: should use a tool appropriate to their setting to assess the environmental impact of their work and to track their efforts to reduce it. A list of currently available tools can be found in the ‘table of initiatives which was compiled as part of the RAND Research Sustainability report.

What we expect of the organisations we fund 

Our policy recognises that the organisations we fund share obligations to address environmental damage caused by research. However, it does not require all organisations to share these obligations equally. Organisations based in high-income countries are asked to do more than others.  

To support researchers reduce their environmental impact, all organisations must:

  • Ensure all laboratories achieve the minimum level of accreditation offered by LEAF, My Green Lab or equivalent by the end of 2025. In future we will expect a higher level of accreditation. Applicants can request the subscription cost of adding their laboratory to these initiatives in their applications.
  • Provide training and access to expert advice and tools to support them with the measurement and monitoring requirements of this policy (training costs are allowable under our Continual Professional Development policy).
  • Have arrangements with a carbon offset provider(s) to offset the carbon impact of all travel undertaken on Wellcome grants. Organisations may find the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges's (EAUC) carbon coalition useful to fulfil this requirement.
  • Where carbon offsetting is not part of an organisation’s sustainability strategy, they must seek prior approval from Wellcome to use our funding to support other sustainability initiatives. We will not pay for alternative initiatives that only provide benefit to the organisation itself.

In addition, to address the environmental impact of their research activity, organisations based in high-income countries must: 

  • Be signatories of the Concordat for the Environmental Sustainability of Research and Innovation Practice where they are based in the UK. Organisations in other high-income countries should follow the principles of the concordat.
  • Have an organisation-wide sustainability policy with science-based targets to reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions to net zero and by the end of 2024 they must have a plan for achieving this.  In future we will also expect organisations to have plans for Scope 3 emissions.
  • Maintain logs of existing and left-over resources (for example, equipment, including freezers and other cooling equipment, materials and consumables) that researchers can check before purchasing new items.
  • Take advantage of available initiatives to ensure useful items are reused and made available to researchers who can make use of them.

Wellcome’s role in addressing the environmental sustainability of the research we fund 

Wellcome is a signatory of the Concordat for the Environmental Sustainability of Research and Innovation Practice and we are committed to the priority areas for delivery. We recognise the need to change how research is conducted. This policy is one way we are supporting that change.

The research we fund forms a large part of our Scope 3 emissions. It also creates large amounts of plastic and toxic waste. We have a responsibility to reduce these and to do this we have to take research environmental sustainability into account in our funding decisions.

In the future we will require organisations and researchers to help us understand our scope 3 emissions in more detail, including measuring their contribution to them. Wellcome is working across the sector to support the development of tools to help measure the emissions arising from research. The requirements that we place on organisations, researchers and ourselves may increase.

What costs will we pay 

Wellcome funds the direct costs of research. Researchers should consider the environmental sustainability of their project-related purchases when considering “value for money”, not just their upfront financial cost even if this means choosing the item with higher upfront cost.

All costs requested must be justified in the application. Grantholders can use their existing funds to cover these costs and do not need to ask Wellcome to do this.

Wellcome will pay for: 

Project staff

  • Time for technical experts to advise, assess, measure and report on the award’s emissions and resource usage. Where these staff work across more than one award there must be an auditable record of their time on the project. 

Continuing Professional Development

  • Our CPD policy allows up to £500 per person per year for career-based training (to enable researchers to obtain broad skills to allow them to develop as a research professional). This is payable for lead applicants, coapplicants and staff on the award who are staff in a post of 12 months duration or more only and working on Wellcome funded awards for at least 50% full time equivalent. This funding can be used for training on how environmental sustainability relates to research and how to use tools to assess the sustainability of the research. 

Materials and consumables

  • Sustainable versions of the materials and consumables required for research. For example:
    • chemicals that are more environmentally sustainable to make and/or dispose of
    • reusable items instead of single use, for example, plastics. 


  • Second hand or reconditioned equipment.
  • New efficient equipment where it is the more sustainable option (taking into account embodied carbon of manufacture). Purchases should be delayed to make use of existing equipment that does not need immediate replacement when grants start. Purchases should not be made at the end of awards to use up existing funds.
  • Maintenance of existing equipment where it is viable as an alternative to purchasing new equipment.  


  • Computer hardware and software to enable hybrid meetings (for example business Zoom or Teams subscriptions where a collaborator does not already have these and where free versions are unsuitable). We will not pay for institutional software/hardware. 
  • Essential travel by the most carbon efficient mode and class of transport, even if cheaper less sustainable options are available. We will not pay for business class flights.  


  • Life cycle assessments for any products, tools or therapy developed as an output of research can be costed into outputs management plans.  

Measuring and monitoring

  • The cost of adding the lead applicants’ laboratory to LEAF, My Green Lab or equivalent accreditation programme (we won’t pay for an entire organisation’s membership).