Saving energy in campus laboratories
UGA to launch Green Lab program to save energy, conserve resources, save money and make labs safer.
The University of Georgia will launch a Green Lab program next year to lessen the impact that campus laboratories have on the environment with the side benefits of conserving energy, saving money and improving safety.
UGA is the first school in the SEC with a Green Lab program. With about 2,000 research laboratories on UGA’s main campus, the program is expected to save the university $187,000 annually. This effort is part of UGA’s commitment to sustainability outlined in the 2020 Strategic Plan.
“The Green Lab program offers small initiatives that people can participate in that will make a really big, big difference in how much water, energy or chemicals these spaces are using,” said Star Scott, the Green Lab program coordinator. “The point of this program is to be more sustainable in your research without compromising the ease or integrity of the research itself.”
The project has already placed reminder stickers on autoclaves, large machines used for sterilization that use about 200 gallons of water every cycle. These machines use solenoid valves, which occasionally fail or break resulting in a waste of water. These stickers remind users to listen for a gurgling noise at the drain when the unit is not cycling, indicating a valve that has failed. In the first week of the stickers’ implementation, two autoclaves were discovered to have valves that had failed.
Scott, a UGA graduate, advocated for the university to develop and implement its own Green Lab initiative.
In 2003, while conducting research in an ecology conservation lab, she was struck by an unfortunate part of her research. “I was throwing away hundreds of polypropylene Falcon tubes every week,” she said. “It was breaking my heart.”
Because research dictated the tubes must be sterile, they couldn’t be reused. The Green Lab program will eventually offer lab recycling for many lab materials.
In March 2015, the university created a Green Lab task force comprised of professionals from all over UGA’s campus — including Scott, members from the Office of Research, Facilities Management Division and numerous schools with research facilities. The Green Lab task force made a recommendation in May 2015 for a program to be developed at UGA to reduce energy, water and waste while enhancing safety and environmental compliance.
Based on similar programs at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and University of California, Davis, UGA’s plan will launch in January 2017. According to Scott, it will begin with six or seven initiatives.
“Once we get those up and running, we will just keep adding,” Scott said. “We’ll be open to feedback from our researchers and from our students about other things they see in the lab.”
According to Scott, there has already been a soft launch on a number of these initiatives. For example, the university has put stickers on fume hoods reminding researchers to close the sash. Not only does shutting the sash prevent HVAC conditioned air from being unnecessarily removed from the building in many cases, it also enhances safety for lab users.
Additionally, the bedding collected from many of the university’s animal facilities is no longer taken to the landfill. Instead it is sent to UGA’s Bioconversion Center, where it is composted and then reused on campus in landscaping.
When John DeRosa, a UGA student and former intern in the Office of Sustainability, received a $5,000 sustainability grant, he purchased numerous bench-top timers to turn water baths on and off and thus save energy in pilot laboratories.
When the Green Lab program launches, it will include voluntary initiatives such as using temperature tuning ultra-low freezers to conserve energy, reducing hazardous chemical use to enhance environmental safety, and eventually offering recycling for specific lab items.
“I love this town, I love this school,” Scott said. “There are small things we can do to care of our campus and take care of our town that will make a huge difference.”
To learn more about the Green Lab program, visit sustainability.uga.edu/get-involved/labs/.
— Jim Lichtenwalter, Marketing & Communications