Time has flown since the initiation of the UChicago GreenLabs pilot program. Upon hearing about the program, other scientists have expressed interest in improving their laboratory’s sustainability, as well. To expand the program, the process for a new laboratory to become a ‘GreenLab’ needs to be defined and implemented. The pilot laboratories joined the initiative easily. At least 75% of members were required to agree to improve their laboratory sustainability and the EcoLeader filled out a simple, non-selective application. While they joined the program fairly easily, their participation has played a critical role in the program’s initiation and my own learning. Additionally, other scientists have expressed interest in becoming a GreenLab because they heard about the pilot labs.
Right now I am creating documentation outlining how a laboratory can join the program. Many other institutions have certification processes, so I could simply follow their lead, which is similar to LEED building certification with four tiers (platinum, gold, silver, and bronze) based on a percentage of sustainable practices followed. The sustainability of a lab in my program will be determined using a very handy online assessment tool created by Allison Paradise, the founder of My Green Lab (mygreenlab.org). This assessment is a great step towards a universally recognized measure of laboratory sustainability and is a great resource because it streamlines the assessment procedure (and makes my life easier!). I am not sure whether a tiered system is necessary given the current state at my institution.
Since sustainability is less of a priority at the University of Chicago than at most of our peer institutions, I do not think that having a ‘platinum’ level of certification will encourage labs to be more sustainable or provide benefits for laboratories that reach the highest level. If the University provided funding to GreenLabs certified laboratories, and that funding increased with sustainability level, that type of distinction would be important. Since GreenLabs is very new and no such funding currently exists, the levels may be confusing and add increased complexity.
Instead, I am leaning towards have a baseline percentage of sustainable practices determined using the My Green Lab assessment tool that a lab must meet to become certified initially. If a lab is above the cut off, they will be certified if more than 75% of lab members also agree to improve their sustainability. I will meet with the labs to help them implement improvements that are suggested by the assessment. If a lab falls below the cut off, I will still work the lab to reach the minimal score.
Under either strategy, the certification must be renewed annually and the score required will increase by 5% each year. Ideally, this should be met easily with building and division-wide improvements from GreenLabs projects, improvements based on the results of their previous assessments, and increased autonomy and ability to utilize online resources to find more sustainable options and practices.