Labs are the most energy intensive spaces on the Harvard campus, so resource conservation and energy efficiency in the labs are of significant importance in meeting the University's goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Across Harvard, Schools and Departments are building greener, more efficient lab space. By making educated purchasing choices and following best practices for resource conservation, the energy impact of lab spaces can be further reduced. 

The Green Labs Program works with researchers, staff, faculty, and building managers to implement sustainable practices and technologies in lab buildings. Because of the resource intensity of lab science and the unique conditions and requirements in each individual lab, lab sustainability is approached both from a building-wide perspective, as well as a granular perspective aimed at identifying local opportunities at the lab level.

Green your lab today

Top Ten Sustainable Lab Actions 

  1. Shut the Sash! Open fume hoods are one of the most significant energy consumers in a lab. 
  2. Mind your -80. These units are energy hogs but there are things you can do to minimize their impact. Freezer Best Practices
  3. Buy energy efficient equipment. Ask vendors for energy consumption information, and look for Energy Star appliances where possible.
  4. Use less hazardous chemicals. The MIT Green Chemical Alternative Wizard is a great resource for finding non-hazardous alternatives to common chemicals.
  5. Talk to vendors to advocate for less packaging and more sustainable options.
  6. Recycle! Common items are pipette tip boxes, empty solution bottles, and some chemicals.
  7. Swap your unwanted equipment and supplies on the Labs Reuse List!
  8. Power down. Talk with your lab about turning off lights and equipment where applicable.
  9. Check out our comprehensive Best Practices Guide for Lab Sustainability.
  10. Start the conversation: tell us your ideas and spread the word. Contact Jamie_Bemis@Harvard.edu for lab-related questions on the Cambridge campus, and Alicia_Murchie@Harvard.edu for the Longwood campus.

Programs

Shut the Sash

Fume hoods are one of the most energy intensive types of equipment in a laboratory environment, but significant savings can be achieved by keeping them closed when not in use. The Shut the Sash fume hood competition was started in 2005 in the Harvard Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) Department as a way to combat the high energy consumption of variable air volume (VAV) fume hoods. Since then, the 5-lab pilot program has expanded to involve 19 labs and over 350 researchers. The program has high visibility department-wide and has led to significant improvements in user awareness and behavior. To date, this program saves more energy than any other behavioral program at Harvard.

How it works:

  • Monthly competition with goals for each lab established in terms of exhaust airflow averages (in cubic feet per minute).
  • Each lab has customized goal based on number of hoods, usage patterns, and exhaust airflow ranges. This allows for lab to lab comparisons despite differences in research habits and lab setups.
  • Real-time exhaust airflow readings for each lab are taken every 30 minutes automatically through the building automation system (BMS). These points are used to track performance on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
  • Each month a pizza party is raffled off to one lab that met its goal for the previous month.
  • Bi-annual wine and cheese celebrations reward labs that are consistent on an ongoing basis.

Impact:

  • As of 2010, a 30% reduction in fume hood exhaust levels had been achieved compared to pre-contest levels, resulting in:
    Annual energy savings of over $180,000 at $7/cfm
    Annual reductions of over 300 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Researchers are excited to see the results, and there is a very “feel-good” atmosphere at the parties, as everyone feels that they have contributed to the success.
  • Prompt reporting of fume hood problems ensures that issues are identified and resolved quickly, further contributing to energy savings. 

Get involved:

  • Close your sash each time you walk away from the hood—and remind your lab-mates to do the same!
  • Email energy@fas.harvard.edu for free fume hood reminder stickers and magnets!
  • Be the voice for your lab: report any fume hood issues to facilities ASAP to ensure they are resolved as quickly as possible. 

More outreach methods:

  • Visual cues are used to remind researchers to close their hoods after each use (including posters outside each lab, and reminder stickers and/or magnets on most fume hoods)
  • Bi-monthly emails are sent to all lab members:
    Mid-month updates let the labs know if they are on track to meet their goal
    End of month updates share the results from the previous month and announce the winner of the pizza party raffle
  • Posters with up-to-date charts of the results are posted every month on each lab’s bulletin board.
  • Each lab has appointed a volunteer within their lab to emphasize the importance of keeping unused sashes closed and to report any problems with the hoods promptly.
  • Presentations and recognition at the bi-annual wine and cheese parties to celebrate the semester’s accomplishments.

Freezer Management

Freezer Best Practices

The use of -80F freezers is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions on campus. According to data compiled on the EPA/DOE Labs 21 Program Energy Efficient Equipment wiki, the direct cost of electricity use for an individual -80F freezer could be between $1000 and $1500 per year (at $0.15/kWh). In 2008, Stanford University commissioned a study which found that its 2000 -80F freezers were costing the university $5.6 million per year to operate. Take the following steps to save money on purchases, extend the life of your freezers, and decrease energy usage and emissions.

Maintain your freezer

Host an annual freezer cleanout

Make wise freezer purchasing decisions

Freezer Management Program (FAS)

A study was conducted in the summer of 2011 that proved significant energy savings were associated with keeping freezer coils and filters free of dust, allowing for proper heat exchange. The study also revealed that routine freezer care is often overlooked due to competing priorities in research labs and a lack of understanding of the importance of these measures. In response, the FAS Freezer Preventative Maintenance Program was developed by the FAS Office for Physical Resources and Planning to provide a blanket contract that would cover all -80 freezers at FAS—relieving each lab from the responsibility of arranging for proper care and ensuring that a basic level of service was being performed on all freezers across the school. The program saves energy while providing a more secure environment for research samples—a win-win situation for research labs and facilities teams alike.

Key Facts:

  • Open to all labs at FAS with -80 freezer(s)
  • Covers one annual inspection and servicing per freezer by Shon’s Scientific Refrigeration
  • Actions include checking the temperature setpoint vs. actual temperature, checking that the freezer alarm battery is working properly, ensuring that gasket and seals are intact and that there are no tears, and cleaning the condenser filter.
  • Does not include any activities that involve disturbing samples (such as defrosting the freezer or cleaning out old samples). These tasks are the responsibility of lab members.
  • Please contact energy@fas.harvard.edu with any questions.

Sign up for this program

Green Lab Certification Program (FAS)

The FAS Green Lab Certification program is a customized approach to identifying and addressing opportunities for waste and energy reduction in labs across campus. The collaborative process involves working with lab members to identify sustainability opportunities within their spaces, and sharing best practices related to energy efficiency, water reduction, lab material recycling, purchasing, and toxic waste reduction and prevention. By implementing simple and effective changes, the process often leads to a more efficient workflow and organized space.

Process:

  • The first step is to meet with a lab representative, get some background information on the lab, and do a walkthrough of the lab and office areas. This usually takes about one hour.
  • Next, we will review the findings from our initial meeting, and come up with a list of recommendations. We then will work with the lab representative to schedule a presentation for the lab group, to share the results and get feedback from the group. The presentation is usually about 10 minutes long, and often we can schedule these to occur during a regular group meeting.
  • The lab members will agree on three objectives to pursue from the list of recommendations. Sample objectives include improving recycling procedures (both in the lab and office areas), putting equipment on automatic timers so they can be turned off overnight, or defrosting freezers that have significant ice buildup. We will support the lab in achieving the objectives as much as possible, so there is minimal time commitment involved on the part of the lab members.

Impact and benefits:

  • Tailored feedback on sustainability questions pertaining to your lab- from recycling questions to energy efficient purchase recommendations.
  • Access to free resources and programs including, the FAS Freezer Preventative Maintenance Program for -80 freezers, the Labs Reuse List, outreach materials, etc.
  • Improved awareness of your fellow lab members on topics related to waste reduction and energy conservation.
  • The ability to pioneer new initiatives and establish pilot programs such as, composting, Styrofoam recycling, acid recycling, etc.
  • A more organized lab environment and workflow.
  • A sense of community with fellow lab members and other Green Labs!

Highlights:

  • The Engert Lab from MCB improved the recycling infrastructure and procedures in their lab so that more items can be diverted from the waste stream.
  • The Dulac Lab from MCB implemented a two stream process to reduce autoclaving needs.
  • The Zhuang Lab from CCB switched from using 5 gallon water bottles to a water filtration system in their common area- saving money and plastic waste.
  • The Francis Lab from MCB started turning off their shakers when not in use, reducing the energy consumption of these units by 50%.

Get your lab started:

Pre-Walkthrough
Questionnaire

Walkthrough Checklist

Contact us

Additional Resources

Labs for the 21st Century

MIT Green Chemical Alternatives Wizard