I have begun planning the GreenLabs pilot program that will begin (hopefully) in October. Beginning with a pilot program will allow us to focus on making significant changes in a small group of laboratories, trying out approaches on a smaller scale to fine-tune our methods before bringing the practices to many more laboratories across the division. Our main aim during this pilot phase is to help laboratories identify protocol and behavioral changes that will help reduce their carbon footprint. The general areas of assessment and improvement include: waster reduction, energy conservation, water conservation, reduction in hazardous chemical purchasing and use, and improved/reduced purchasing of pipettes and test tubes, as well as, equipment that uses a large amount of energy.
Many of these changes will stem from education and behavioral cues (signage), but some of them will require the purchase of small items. For example, many water baths or other small equipment are left running overnight in some laboratories. One easy and convenient solution is to use an electricity timer than will automatically turn on and off equipment that is frequently used during the day, but does not need to be kept on overnight. Additionally, electricity monitors are needed to measure energy use to better advise laboratories and quantify improvements after bringing an ultralow -80 freezer to -70 degrees instead, cleaning the freezers, and organizing samples. These items are relatively inexpensive compared to the purchase of an energy efficient -70 freezer, but can greatly reduce energy use and improve sustainable thinking within the laboratory.
While many of the changes in the pilot program will be inexpensive compared to our longer-term goals, funding is still needed to support this initiative. Finding funding to support your GreenLabs program has proven to be a challenge for our group. On a national level, there are not many Sustainable Laboratory grants (or at least not that I can find! Please let me know if you know about them firstname.lastname@example.org), so support from within your institution seems to be the best approach. Some Universities have large, pre-existing funds allocated for increasing sustainability on campus, while others have smaller sustainability offices dedicated to the task, which can make things a bit more challenging. Additionally, there are some local, government run rebate programs that may useful in reducing costs, but still do not provide actual funds. So far, locating funding sources has been challenging, but our group will continue looking for potential resources and working to receive a grant large enough to fund our long-term goals, as well!