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Lab Programs and Initiatives Take Sustainability to the Next Level

To recognize efforts within the lab that reduce impacts on the environment, the International

Institute for Sustainable Laboratories’ (I2SL’s) Sustainable Laboratories Award Program’s Lab Programs or Initiatives category focuses on systematic changes that promote an organizational culture ofsustainability across laboratory operations; efforts to eliminate toxics and promote a circular economy;and lab management practices that reduce waste, decrease energy and/or water consumption, or otherwise minimize a lab’s environmental impact.

In 2023, I2SL recognized two green lab programs, three initiatives in specific areas, and four efforts with honorable mentions. Earning the overall Outstanding Green Labs Program Award, the University of Georgia’s (UGA’s) Green Labs Program in Athens, Georgia, is not only paving the way for sustainability and efficiency within UGA labs, but also raising awareness about the need for equity within the research enterprise. UGA’s Green Labs Program focuses on waste reduction and sustainable purchasing across the university’s 1,900 research facilities. In partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, UGA Green Labs Program Manager Star Scott developed a method for institutions to objectively research how their labs’ hazardous waste is handled, and whether it is disposed of equitably or in underserved communities. UGA Green Labs also focuses on strengthening equity in lab operations.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, BC, Canada, won the Pioneer Green Labs Program Award. Established in 2008, UBC’s Green Labs program was one of the first such programs and has focused on researcher engagement and education, resource conservation, and continuous improvement and innovation. The program’s “Chill Up” Challenge encourages researchers to raise the set point temperature of ultra-low temperature freezers (ULTs), and their Shut the Sash competition in the Chemistry Department resulted in an impressive 47,000 kilowatt-hours of energy savings. The Waterless Condenser Lending Program allows researchers to test waterless models to replace single-pass water-cooling condensers.

The University of Colorado’s School of Medicine conducted a clean-up of lab space in five different buildings on the Anschutz Medical Campus, winning a Programs and Initiatives Award for Space Optimization. To start, teams completed walk-throughs of lab space to identify underutilized or unused lab space and dispose of over 3,000 pounds of unused corrosive liquids, flammable liquids, oxidizers, and other liquid hazardous waste. Over 4,000 items were also redistributed, freeing up space for new research and avoiding the need for new construction.

The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Durham, North Carolina, received a Lab Programs and Initiatives Award for Education and Equipment Sharing for creating a voluntary self-assessment for scientists to better understand researchers’ choices that affect the environment. NIEHS also created a Database of Laboratory Equipment for Sharing where users can find the host laboratory location, points of contact for scheduling a reservation, and any requirements for sharing over 100 pieces of equipment from more than half of the labs at NIEHS.

Winning a Programs and Initiatives Award for Climate Impact, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) employees Shannon Blair and Michael Moss led initiatives to aimed to reduce emissions of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Shannon and Michael worked with operations staff to reclaim SF6for recycling during maintenance activities at the facility, reducing SF6gas pollution by an estimated 200 cubic feet per year. LANL funds research on SF6management, including a project to replace SF6gas with air in fusion research. These initiatives have helped LANL reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 percent since 2021.

Two universities and two private companies received honorable mentions for their sustainable programs or initiatives:

  • Eurofins Biopharma Product Testing’s Green Team

  • Janssen Immunology Biology Lab

  • Pennsylvania State University’s Sustainable Labs Program

  • University of Alabama-Birmingham Green Labs Program

To read more about the Programs or Initiatives winners, as well as winners in the Buildings or Projects category, visit the I2SL website; the applications for the 2024 Lab Programs or Initiatives Awards will open in early 2024.

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