3 Easy Tips to Green Your Lab

Quick steps to greening your lab.

Resource conservation (including energy, water, and material waste reduction) in science should be a goal for every laboratory, which consume 5-7 times more energy than campus classrooms or office spaces. Activities that ‘green’ your lab do not need to compromise research efficiency or monetary consistency. In fact, in many cases, laboratory sustainability can actually enhance laboratory safety and organization. Even the National Institutes of Health is developing guides to designing sustainable lab and data management practices (http://www.nems.nih.gov/)! So, how can your lab take part? The Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (12SL) and the University of Colorado, Boulder have a few quick suggestions:

1. Upgrade inefficient laboratory equipment and techniques
- Replace inefficient machines, such as low temperature incubators. In instances where new equipment must be acquired, labs should consider purchasing environmentally friendly machines, such as Energy Star freezers, which use about 10 times less electricity than ultra-low temperature freezers or chromatography refrigerators. Replacing aspirators with vacuum pumps can also save water and avoids water contamination problems. Many labs often operate equipment at maximum capacity when it is not necessary. For example, increasing freezer temperature from -80° to -70° can save 2-4kWH/day!  Water usage can also be reduced by using processed chilled water instead of single use tap water.

2. Turn equipment off when not in use, and retire unnecessary or duplicate equipment
- Unplug energy vampires (machines that suck energy when plugged in even when they are switched off), turn off unnecessary equipment (and always be sure to close fume hoods!). Posting signs around the laboratory reminding members to be more energy conscious can directly mediate these types of ‘green’ behaviors. Alternatively (or in addition to), timers that automatically shut down lab equipment for you can be installed on most machines. All laboratory equipment should also be labeled with contact information of a lab member in the case of malfunction.

3. Develop means to reduce the large flow of lab materials into the waste stream

The book ‘Green Organic Chemistry: Strategies, Tools, and Laboratory Experiments’, by Kenneth Doxsee and James Hutchinson describe techniques that might be common in your outside of lab life, including recycling chemicals such as acetone and ethanol (which reduces costs associated with hazardous waste disposal) as well as storage materials such as carboys, plastic film, pipette tip boxes and styrofoam. Before purchasing new equipment, communicate with other labs to explore equipment sharing or consolidation.

In order to deploy ‘green’ lab infrastructure and develop environmentally efficient laboratory behavior, a network must be cultivated among the lab, the department, the facilities manager, and the environmental health and safety office for resource and expertise sharing. Reducing the energy footprint of every laboratory is possible. It takes teamwork, a bit of discipline and some knowledge. Consider taking the lab to a sustainability conference (e.g. http://orf.od.nih.gov/). For more information, check out: https://sftool.gov/ and http://www.greenlabsplanning.org/.