Last fall, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the FAS Green Program collaborated on a plan to explore and implement energy and waste reduction programs across the School. Just under a year later, some important milestones have been achieved, including the certification of the SEAS Undergraduate Teaching Labs as a Green Lab in mid-August.

The certification is the first for a lab at SEAS, and is of particular importance due to the high visibility of the lab with undergraduate students. Furthermore, both the space and the usage are unique and flexible, providing a strong example for how sustainability can be implemented in a variety of space types. Composed of over 8,000 square feet of lab space, with equipment ranging from a wind tunnel to -80 freezers, and able to accommodate 150 students at a time, the Teaching Labs make up the largest and most versatile lab at SEAS. “We have Teaching Labs in every one of the following disciplines (Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, BioEngineering, Environmental Engineering and Computer Sciences) which is exactly what makes our Teaching Labs ideal for testing how to become a  Green Lab,” says Dr. Anas Chalah, Director of the SEAS Teaching Labs, “We want to spread the message, and make sure we test it in different environments.”

In addition, the Teaching Labs are SEAS students’ first introduction to engineering laboratory work as undergraduates, providing an ideal time to create awareness about safety and sustainability. Anas Chalah explains, “This is the starting point for every young engineer at Harvard. We capture the priority of being green early on, so students will form important habits that will carry them through their academic and professional careers.” Sara Hamel, an Environmental and Biological Engineer with the Teaching Labs, nods in agreement, “We’re dealing with trainingstraining students how to do procedures, training on safety protocol, training them how to use equipment—now we are teaching them how to be green, right from the start.”

To become Green Lab Certified, a walkthrough is conducted with a lab representative to identify potential opportunities for energy or waste reduction, and then the opportunities are explored and implemented where possible. In the case of the SEAS Teaching Labs, objectives included improving recycling signage, identifying and labeling lab equipment that could be turned off when not in use, recycling electronic waste, and powering down lights, computers, and workbenches after use. The strong enthusiasm of the Teaching Labs team provided a catalyst for the effort that simplified the process. As Christie Gilliland, a Staff Assistant with the Teaching Labs, explains, “Our team was engaged from the get-go and willing to make changes to become more sustainable. We were already a motivated group."

This is the starting point for every young engineer at Harvard. We capture the priority of being green early on, so students will form important habits that will carry them through their academic and professional careers.

When asked about lessons learned, Sara offers the following tips: “Extension cords are helpful to consolidate equipment and make turning off easier. Signage is helpful as a reminder to turn items off and power down, as well as for recycling—especially in high traffic areas.” She explained how the Teaching Labs' close ties to Facilities and to the Safety Program strengthened their ability to make changes in the space and to raise awareness about behavioral elements, like recycling and turning off lights.

The recent certification comes just in time for the arrival of new students and the kick-off of a new academic year filled with plans to build a culture of environmentally-minded students, faculty, and staff. Exciting new initiatives will include highlighting student projects that save energy or reduce waste, piloting a Green Office program in some of the administrative spaces, and a fume hood energy saving campaign, among other efforts.