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Make Space for Efficiency in Your Lab

What happens when we run out of space in our laboratories or want to attract new

research? Often the solution has been to initiate additions or new construction projects to create new space for lab facilities. But when considering a building’s carbon footprint, the most sustainable lab is the one that’s never built. To create more lab space without having to turn to new construction, lab owners, operators, and researchers can conduct periodic space evaluations to assess whether lab spaces are meeting current and future needs and find ways space isn’t being used optimally.

Lab space evaluations can help identify and repurpose or dispose of supplies and equipment that aren’t being used. They are also a time to coordinate among researchers and departments to find ways to improve storage and create innovative systems for equipment sharing. When conducting a space evaluation, you can decide how in-depth you’d like to go, but use the following steps to get started:

  • Confirm the type of research, experimentation, processes, or manufacturing performed in each space. Open communication with supervisors, department heads, or PIs, and coordination with lab managers, users, and facility staff are key to a successful evaluation.

  • Complete a walk-through of the lab and make note of whether the level of research matches the space allocation, what equipment is consistently being used (or not), and whether fume hoods are operational and in use.

  • Assess whether storage is spilling over to active workspaces; a fume hood should never be used to store chemicals, samples, or supplies. Note if storage spaces are being used appropriately or if additional shelving units or closets are needed.

  • Determine whether equipment such as autoclaves and appliances such as freezers and glassware washers are being used or could be removed.

  • Work with other labs or departments to create an equipment sharing system to avoid buying redundant equipment. Freezer farms and core facilities are two ways labs have consolidated functions, saved space, and avoided new construction.

  • Consider setting up a space inventory and database of workspace occupancy and utilization within and across departments.

By completing lab space evaluations, you’ll be able to find ways to optimize efficiency, creates opportunities for promoting adaptive reuse of buildings and spaces, or even find extra space that’s not being used to its full potential—all minimizing the need for new construction. Once you’ve completed your evaluation, you can conduct a lab clean-out to recycle or donate old or unused equipment. And don’t forget to document your results! Share your findings with campus, company, or building management and researchers, including the amount of square footage underutilized, cleared of clutter, or reassigned; tons of items diverted from landfill or reused; pieces of equipment or electronics donated; volume of chemicals properly disposed; and lessons learned from this process. If you need some inspiration to get started, watch this talk presented by Suzann Staal and Ethan Carter of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus during I2SL’s 2024 Education Week.

Be a LabSaver!

To assist lab owners, operators, planners, and researchers, the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) created the new LabSavers campaign. With guides for both space evaluations and lab clean-outs, the LabSavers tool kit can help facility managers, green labs professionals, researchers, consultants, or student leaders organize and implement events with step-by-step suggestions to help maximize success. The tool kit includes promotional materials such as a customizable flier, poster, social media posts, and digital signage for lobby kiosks or mounted TV monitors. Email I2SL with any questions about the tool kit.

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