Laboratories are the most energy intensive spaces at Harvard, and a new Green Lab Certification program being rolled out at the University’s Longwood campus — and available as an educational resource to anyone — seeks to encourage researchers and lab staff to address this challenge with a framework for tangible sustainability actions.

There is approximately five million square feet of laboratory space across the University, accounting for 22% of the total building area and nearly 44% of the University’s total energy use. This disproportionately high energy consumption calls for creative and thoughtful approaches to optimizing labs for health and safety, reducing their energy intensity, while maximizing the capacity for the Harvard community to conduct world-class research.

Harvard’s new Green Lab Certification targets lab-level changes — a complement to building-level strategies — and requires engaging researchers, lab staff, and building operators in the process.

The Certification process is intended to empower, encourage, and recognize labs that are engaging in sustainable practices and is applicable for laboratories of all types. The certification consolidates a variety of resources from Harvard and elsewhere into a self-directed toolkit with four certification levels, similar to Harvard’s Green Office program. It’s designed for lab members to be able to pursue on their own, in collaboration with other labs, and in partnership with Harvard’s Office for Sustainability and Environmental Health and Safety.

Harvard's first certified Green Lab

Harvard Medical School’s Institute for Chemistry and Cell-Biology Longwood (ICCB-L) Screening Facility is not only the first lab to be certified under this program, but received the highest level of certification.

ICCB-L’s Coordinator of Operations, Katrina Rudnicki, a longtime champion of lab sustainability efforts, led the green lab certification process. Despite a long-time commitment to lab sustainability, she says the Certification process “provided new opportunities and resources to drive further improvements.”

Serving as a core screening facility, ICCB-L lab staff are able to ensure that all researchers using their lab are educated on their universal practices for not only safety, but also sustainability. New researchers go through an intensive one-on-one orientation where they are instructed on protocols and accept terms of use.

Additionally, ICCB-L’s centralized structure enabled them to make improvements to their procurement and operational strategies. Their lab invests in preventative maintenance for critical equipment to ensure efficient operation (and energy usage),  and to increase the equipment’s lifespan. Another step that ICCB-L took as a result of the Green Lab Certification process was to increase their ultra-low-temperature (ULT) freezer from -80 to -70, a step that can save upwards of 30 percent of electricity.

ICCB-L's Rachel Warden, Katrina Rudnicki, and Stewart Rudnicki showcase their Leaf 4 Green Lab Certificate as Anna Onishchenko, Harvard Longwood Green Labs associate, looks on. 

Despite ICCB-L achieving the highest level of certification, Katrina says her work is not done, “ICCB-L is one of about thirty core research facilities on Harvard’s Longwood Campus. As the Coordinator of Operations for those core facilities, I plan to work with the core directors on their certification with the goal of certifying ten additional labs during 2018.”

ICCB-L is one of about thirty core research facilities on Harvard’s Longwood Campus. As the Coordinator of Operations for those core facilities, I plan to work with the core directors on their certification with the goal of certifying ten additional labs during 2018.

- Katrina Rudnicki, ICCB-L’s Coordinator of Operations

Where the Green Lab Certification fits into lab sustainability strategies

For most laboratories, energy consumption is predominately HVAC-driven (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning). To a large degree, building-level sustainability strategies can have large scale impacts on energy reductions and require dedicated attention from building managers and facilities professionals.

Many of the building-level lab sustainability strategies are directly linked to environmental health and safety best-practices such as properly stored chemicals and using fume hoods and biosafety cabinets when performing relevant procedures. Decisions made in the lab can impact building-level enhancements. Furthermore, lab members can take important steps to reduce their environmental impact and reliance on resources through procurement and operational practices.

While facility and operation offices at the individual School level are often focused on reduction of financial and environmental costs, there is huge potential in engaging and recognizing lab members for their day-to-day contribution of sustainable practices in their work place.

Green Lab Certification process

The Green Lab Certification (GLC) encompasses a downloadable application through which lab members document their progress, track their successes, and learn about steps that can optimize their lab’s operational sustainability and efficiency. The GLC is focused on three major pillars: applying Universal Practices, Saving Energy, and Conserving Resources.

Each section of the application provides action steps and resources for participants to reference in order to successfully pursue new strategies highlighting many operations and procurement strategies.

Once the application is complete, the Office for Substantiality will conduct a lab walkthrough and award one of the four levels of excellence of the Green Lab Certification - Leaf 1 through Leaf 4, depending on the completed actions and their complexity. The Green Lab Certification program is currently available at the Longwood Medical Campus only.  

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