A UNH research team has proposed the Environmental Responsibility 5-R Framework (ER5F) to help scientists reduce the environmental impact of their research. The framework is centered around five Rs: Recognition, Refinement, Reduction, Replacement, and Restoration. ER5F encourages researchers to:
- Recognize that research can have environmental consequences
- Refine their research questions to minimize environmental impact
- Reduce the resources and energy consumed by their research
- Replace materials with sustainable options and alter methods
- Restore the environment in the case of field research
By introducing this framework, the authors hope to promote enhanced awareness across the entire scientific community and encourage researchers to identify and mitigate the environmental impacts of their research.
Innovations developed by scientists at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES), like the Agricultural Experiment Stations in 49 other states and U.S. territories, are essential to ensuring that the U.S. food supply chain—from producer to consumer—is abundant, safe and accessible to all communities. In 2021, over 6,500 projects were conducted at Agricultural Experiment Stations, each focused on responding to a particular opportunity in their state or territory that can help America’s food supply chain be more resilient to emerging challenges.
Because of the inextricable relationship between food and the environment, many Agricultural Experiment Station research projects have components that assess environmental issues and impacts. These projects are led by thousands of professors, who are supported by thousands more staff, post-doctoral researchers, and graduate and undergraduate students, as well as collaborators from other public and private organizations. In 2021 alone, 26.3 million research hours were spent by Agricultural Experiment Station scientists and staff developing impactful agricultural and food research.
But what ethical guidelines help researchers ensure that the protocols and methods they use consider the environmental impact of the research itself?
A team of UNH researchers that includes Station scientist Adam Wymore, a research assistant professor in the natural resources and the environment department at UNH, and Ph.D. student Desneiges (Deni) Murray offers a framework for exactly that—environmentally and ecologically responsible research—in a recently published paper in Earth’s Future.
The proposed Environmental Responsibility 5-R Framework, or ER5F, was inspired by the Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee, the internationally recognized framework governing animal care in research. The researchers found that there currently exists no universally applied framework for mitigating research impacts on the environment.
“Such frameworks exist for research involving animal and human subjects, but there seemed to be a void of similar protocols with respect to environmental subjects,” said Murray. “For ER5F, the overall goal is acknowledging research’s environmental impact and generating effective change towards mitigating the direct and indirect consequences of scientific practices.
“For ER5F, the overall goal is acknowledging research’s environmental impact and generating effective change towards mitigating the direct and indirect consequences of scientific practices.”
The 5-Rs of the Environmental Responsibility framework include: Recognition, Refinement, Reduction, Replacement and Restoration. ER5F begins with Recognizing the impact that research can have on the environment, with each subsequent ‘R’ providing an opportunity for “acknowledging, evaluating, and mitigating the environmental impacts of scientific research,” according to the journal article.
“Recognizing our impact is a very important first step,” Wymore said. “This framework is not intended as judgement, but rather as an honest assessment, and recognition is intrinsic to each of the iterative and action-based goals of the subsequent R’s.”
“This framework is not intended as judgement, but rather as an honest assessment, and recognition is intrinsic to each of the iterative and action-based goals of the subsequent R’s.”
ER5F was designed to be used at any point within the scientific process, from initial inception or proposal writing to data collection and study completion.
"The ER5F process can be applied to lab, field and computational work—each of which have different forms of impact,” said Murray. “It’s neither intended to focus on an individual’s personal actions or carbon footprint nor to provide a legal framework, but rather to encourage the scientific research community to consider the environmental impacts resulting from the design and implementation of their research.”
“Sometimes ER5F will help identify opportunities for environmental mitigation and other times it won’t—both outcomes are okay and it’s really the effort that’s most important,” she added.
The Environmental Responsibility Framework: A toolbox for recognizing and promoting ecologically-conscious research was co-authored by Deni Murray; Adam Wymore; post-doctoral researcher Hannah Fazekas; Ph.D. students Eric Parker, Allison Herreid, and Anna Mikulis (née Lowien); undergraduate UNH student Isabel Cole; Nicolas Nunez from the University of Puerto Rico; and agroecosystem scientist Mitchell Donovan of Terra Informatics.
This material is based on work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station through joint funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (under Hatch Multi-State award number 1022291) and the state of New Hampshire. Additional support was provided by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR project Canary in the Watershed (NSF EPS-1929148). Support for DSM was provided by the NASA FINESST program (Grant No. 80NSSC1441). No numerical data were used or produced by this study.
You can read the published article, The Environmental Responsibility Framework: A toolbox for recognizing and promoting ecologically-conscious research, in the latest issue of Earth’s Future.
Written By:Nicholas Gosling '06 | COLSA/NH Agricultural Experiment Station | email@example.com | 858-837-2103 (cell)