Green Lab Build - Implementing Change

UChicago Labs Tackle Energy Usage, Recycling and Water Consumption

The meeting with facilities went well and we are collaborating to begin some projects regarding energy use reductions, decreasing water waste, and improving waste management.

First, we are starting a shut the sash initiative in one of the laboratory buildings in January. By placing ‘Shut the Sash’ stickers on all chemical fume hoods and distributing information about energy and greenhouse gas emissions savings, we hope to see a significant improvement in sash height throughout the building, which includes 30 fume hoods on 9 floors of laboratory space.

The facilities professionals believe that the energy consumption throughout the building will not be significant enough to see by examining the utilities bills alone. I hope that this is not the case, and that we will see significant results. In case it is infeasible to see a reduction in energy cost, we are also monitoring the height of the fume hoods bi-weekly with the help of the building manager. He will note if the fume hoods are closed or open during his rounds of the building. We have collected data regarding the most up to date airflow rate for each hood and the size of the hood so that we can make estimates about energy savings through this measure in addition to examining the utilities bill.

There have been a few bumps in the road. Firstly, if we really do not see a major reduction in the utilities bills, it will likely undermine our message about how impactful behavioral changes can be. Secondly, the fume hoods are of course in laboratory spaces. Sometimes special permission and training is required to enter the space and put up the signs. This is not a huge issue, but one must consider the qualifications of anyone helping out with many green laboratory projects, especially if one must enter the laboratory space.

The best way to educate researchers is not clear. I personally read flyers, but have heard that others ignore them. Very few people will read an email that is not obviously important, but sending out letters to laboratories will likely not be successful. For now, we are going to rely on flyers and electronic message boards to distribute the green house gas emissions savings of shutting chemical fume hoods.

To reduce water flow and thus water waste in laboratories, we are hoping to utilize a People’s Gas program to ensure the water flow of a faucet matches the use of the faucet. Additionally, we discussed current recycling practices. While at the meeting facilities told us that all waste (recycling and trash) is put in the same receptacles to be taken to the Waste Management facility, where it is sorted, there is a lot of evidence in the contract that this is not actually occurring. We are struggling to find a fool proof way of determining what is happening to our recycling, and this problem is much larger than must for laboratory buildings. A large systemic change would need to occur to fix this problem, and while we can push facilities to take the issue seriously, I sometimes fear that a much bigger University atmosphere change needs to occur before we can make progress.