Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, October 2016

Three Best Practices for Greening Labs

UCSF’s commitment to sustainability extends to greening our labs, which consume significantly more energy per square foot than the average building due to specialized equipment. Laboratory fume hoods, minus eighty degrees freezers, and other research equipment are energy hogs.

By greening your lab, you can help UCSF meet its goals to reduce waste, minimize energy use, and use water wisely. According to Kathryn Ramirez-Aguilar, Ph.D., University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) Green Labs Program Manager, a key benefit to a green labs program is resource savings. Since CU-Boulder’s Green Labs Program began 6.5 years ago, it has saved five million gallons/year of water, reduced heating and cooling costs by approximately $50,000 from ongoing fume hood sash efforts, and reduced waste from recycling programs. She also notes other benefits, including the rising culture for green chemistry on campus and CU’s growing national reputation of high regard among those working in lab sustainability.

Best Practice #1:  Identify LivingGreen Champions

The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) Green Labs Program is a campus-wide, collaborative, team approach to conservation in labs at CU-Boulder.  The program partners with lab members (students, staff, and faculty), lab departments, Facilities Management, the Environmental Center, CU Recycling, and Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S).  Ideas for conservation can come from any of these partners where CU Green Lab’s role is to enhance connectivity and communication between each for the benefit of conservation in labs.  The program focuses on energy, water, green chemistry, material waste reduction, and hazardous waste reduction and is funded by both Facilities Management and the Environmental Center.
Ramirez-Aguilar is a proponent of what she calls the “bottom-up approach.” She actively engages 150 Lab Eco-Leaders at a third of all labs at CU-Boulder.  Other organizations might call these green champions ambassadors. A Lab Eco-Leader is a lab member who cares about resource consumption in laboratories and would like to volunteer to encourage the efficient use of energy, water, and material goods in his or her lab. One goal of the CU Green Labs Program is to have a Lab Eco-Leader established in every lab on campus.

A Lab Eco-Leader acts as the eyes, ears, and voice of conservation in their lab.  A Lab Eco-Leader is a lab member who:
1. Acts as the lab point of contact for CU Green Labs;
2. Helps identify opportunities for resource conservation (energy, water, and material goods);
3. Discusses changes with the Principal Investigator (PI) before changes are implemented;
4. Solicits ideas/feedback from other laboratory members;
5. Encourages sharing of equipment between labs;
6. Promotes green purchasing of equipment and supplies; and
7. Finds a new lab member to take on the role of Lab Eco-Leader before leaving the lab.

In UCSF’s Shut the Sash campaign earlier this year, Zachary Schoenrock, UCSF Climate Corp Fellow, helped to engage labs about the benefits of shutting the sash of fume hoods.  He used a variety of tactics to inspire behavior change including peer-to-peer outreach.  Zach identified a green champion in each lab to “adopt a hood” and take responsibility for educating others on the benefits of shutting the sash.  At the CVRB, all 12 hoods are in one room and 12 green champions were identified, one for each hood. Dr. Hyunil Jo was awarded a 2016 Sustainability Award for his leadership and support of the successful “shut the sash” energy competition. The project depended on effective outreach to the researchers in his lab. Jo successfully engaged the researchers in his lab and promoted real behavior change. Check out the profile that highlights Jo HERE.

Best Practice #2:  Green Lab Certification

A new UC-wide green lab policy is encouraging all the campuses to amp up the greening of their labs by having three labs per year be green lab certified. At UCSF, labs can already get certified through the LivingGreen Certification Program. The four-page checklist provides a wealth of possibilities for tackling waste reduction, carbon neutrality, water conservation, culture shift, and toxics reduction. Even if you aren’t ready to tackle getting certified, the checklist is a useful list of green lab best practices.

In FY15-16 the following labs were certified:

  • Sandler Neurosciences Center, SOM, 540L, Bronze
  • DeGrado Lab, SOP, CVRB, 412, Bronze
  • DeRisi Lab, SOM, Byers, 409, Bronze
  • Weisman Lab, SOM, Byers, 409, Bronze
  • Clinical Pharmacology Lab, SOP, SFGH, Building 100, Bronze

Become an informal, volunteer LivingGreen Champion and oversee the certification process. Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to get started.

Best Practice #3:  Lab Equipment and Space Sharing

Ramirez-Aguilar is also excited about her new efforts to promote shared equipment and shared space. A “shared culture” can allow labs to share super expensive equipment.  Ideally, when funding is available, she suggests hiring someone to manage the shared assets.  According to Ramirez-Aguilar, the benefits of managed, shared research equipment includes:

  1. Saves funding for researchers by avoiding duplicate purchases at a time when competition for grant funding is on the rise and expected to continue;
  2. Saves time by facilitating researcher access to equipment resources, especially if an on-line tool such the UC-Santa Barbara Shared Instrumentation Site is used;
  3. Places upkeep, repairs and training responsibility on equipment manager rather than researchers enabling lab members to keep their focus on research;
  4. Attracts talent by being able to showcase equipment resources on campus;
  5. Promotes collaboration on campus and with off-campus partners which can benefit funding opportunities;
  6. Better space utilization in line with where university campuses appear to be heading;
  7. Preparedness for possible heightened expectations for efficiency in use of federal funds by federal government likely to come as competition for federal dollars continues to rise; and
  8. The right thing to do and in line with a growing sustainability culture!

In addition to the UC Santa Barbara example, she points to the CU-Boulder Biochemistry Shared Instrument Pool in JSCBB.  This pool enables sharing of more common, general-use equipment rather than just very expensive pieces of equipment and has a gradual approach to adding equipment (for example, adding equipment as faculty retire and needs are discovered), which is a model that avoids a heavy handed approach and likely could work in other departments. She also mentions the Shared Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) Freezer Program.

The goal of the Shared ULT Freezer Program is to establish efficiently utilized, shared ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers around the CU Boulder campus. Scientists are able to rent space in an ULT freezer instead of purchasing an entire freezer for their lab. By developing a model where ULT freezers can be shared between several different labs, this promotes equipment sharing on campus, reduces laboratory plug loads, encourages more efficient use of freezer space, and contributes to the sustainability culture of the CU Boulder campus. CU Green Labs wishes to encourage a culture of shared lab equipment on our campus not just for the very expensive, specialized pieces of equipment but also for more general items such as incubators, centrifuges, and freezers. Overall, the purpose of the program is to save research dollars, save researcher time, and minimize the environmental footprint of research taking place at CU Boulder.

Look for opportunities to create a shared culture!