The Shut the Sash Competition is considered one of the most impactful engagement programs at reducing greenhouse gas emissions at Harvard. Each month, with help from the Green Labs Program, 18 labs in Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) and one in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) compete in the competition. It is taken very seriously by the researchers, and helps save over $200,000 a year to the building’s HVAC system.

Something different

I decided to stir up additional interest by piloting the first “Intra-Lab Shut the Sash Competition." Instead of labs competing against each other as whole groups, why not have researchers from a single fume-hood-intensive lab compete against one another. In these chemical intensive labs, many scientists have a dedicated fume hood that they use exclusively. Thanks to the Building Operations staff in CCB and more detailed trend reports for every hood, we can make these intra-lab competitions a reality.

The next step was to select a group to pilot this competition. I worked with the lab group of Matthew Shair, Ph.D. to test the feasibility of having this type of competition in addition to the ongoing inter-lab Shut the Sash Competition. The goal was to see if this type of engagement program would further improve behavior with the fume hoods. To kick start the competition, I met with the researchers in the lab and explained the importance of shutting their sashes. I outlined how their contribution is vital in achieving Harvard’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal. I gave a demonstration on how to make sure your fume hood reaches the minimum Cubic feet/minute (CFM) when you shut the sash, and told them that I would be back with the results and a celebration.

Example of a fume hood trend. Cubic feet/minute (CFM) of exhaust is trended in 30-minute intervals.Example of a fume hood trend. Cubic feet/minute (CFM) of exhaust is trended in 30-minute intervals.

Exciting results

At the end of the month the fume hood reports came in. The reports showed a decrease in average CFM, and it proved that every researcher in the lab was making a conscious effort to shut the sash. Not only did the they achieve great savings individually, but the Shair Group as a whole won the March Shut the Sash Competition, beating out the other 18 lab groups. The Green Labs Program hosted a “pizza & beer” party for them, and they received additional prizes for the intra-lab competition.

To select the top winners I looked at the number of five plus hour sash openings, and the length of the longest sash opening. The winners were Jim Tucker, Joe Panarese, Jaeyoung Ahn, and in first place was Rocco Policarpo. I asked Rocco if there was a particular reason why he is so committed to keeping his sash shut. I could tell from the report that he used it numerous times each day, but he consistently shut the sash after each use.  His response was that after the Green Labs Program came in and discussed the importance of shutting the sash with the whole group, it inspired him to become more committed to energy-reducing behaviors. He also stated that he tries to shut off his fume hood light regularly, and has shut off other researchers lights when he is the last one out of the lab. We have a true “eco-champion” among us.

First place winner of the Intra-lab competition, Rocco, working in his fume hood.First place winner of the Intra-lab competition, Rocco, working in his fume hood.

When I compared the baseline of fume hood use before the competition (which already indicated conscious closing of fume hoods), to after the intra-lab competition, the group reduced their energy intensity by an average of 608 CFM/day. If this continues, this behavior will save an additional $4,500 in energy over the next year. However, the greatest savings would be to the environment, as it would reduce emissions necessary to supply the building’s HVAC system.

Big thank you

Congratulations to the Shair Group for proving that this type of engagement program is well worth the investment, and thank you for your dedication and participation.  With the addition of these intra-lab competitions each month, we hope we can improve the impact of the Shut the Sash Competition as a whole.