The FAS Green Labs Program was established in 2004 to address the high energy intensity of research labs on campus. They have launched a wide range of campaigns focused on reducing energy use from fume hoods through the Shut the Sash competition and targeting high energy use of ultra-low temperature freezers with a preventative maintenance and energy efficient purchasing programs. In this How To, former Green Labs coordinator (and all around superstar) Jamie Bemis uses her experience managing these innovative programs to inform six simple steps for launching a green labs program.

1.Start with fume hoods

Fume hoods are the most energy intensive equipment loads in labs, and many older buildings will have outdated hoods that present significant opportunities for energy savings. High priority efforts should be to assess the feasibility of converting constant volume fume hoods to variable volume (VAV) fume hoods, as well as starting an awareness campaign to educate researchers about the importance of keeping fume hoods closed to save energy (only VAV hoods will save energy when closed, but it’s a best practice for safety for any type of hood). Later, fume hood face velocity reductions should be discussed as well.

2.Explore other equipment opportunities

Minus 80 freezers are the most energy intensive type of plug loads in a biological lab and can use upwards of 8,760 kwh/year. Energy savings can be achieved by making sure units are operating properly, are free of dust buildup, and that efficient freezers are purchased when additional units are needed.

3.Collaborate with partners

An energy efficient, environmentally friendly lab is often a safer lab—making Environmental Health and Safety a natural and valuable partner. Collaboration ensures stronger solutions to issues of waste management and energy conservation projects. Procurement should be involved in procuring the most efficient options for lab equipment. Other partnerships—with academic departments, recycling teams, green teams, etc. should be explored as well. Strong partnerships strengthen efforts and allow for a more comprehensive and visible program.

4.Spread awareness 

A variety of tactics should be employed to make the green labs program as visible as possible. Attend key meetings (lab meetings, safety officer meetings, etc.) to present about the program and garner support. Visibility can also be achieved by setting up a table in the lobby of key lab buildings and handing out information about the program (often with candy, games, and prizes to entice the audience). Green boards and digital screens can also spread awareness.

5.Work on all levels of the organization

Identify key audiences (often departments with the highest concentrations of wet labs—chemistry, biology, etc.). Partnerships with individuals at the head of these departments can ensure that sustainability is a priority for the department and can affect widespread change. They also provide valuable endorsements for other behavioral efforts like competitions. However, it’s also critical to work with individuals who work in the labs every day and have more of a “boots on the ground” perspective. These will be the individuals who will take the individual actions that will ultimately affect energy consumption and waste management.

6.Think in terms of researcher priorities

Programs are most effective when framed in terms of researcher priorities—time, money, and sample security. When you can benefit one or more of these priorities in addition to saving energy or reducing waste, it becomes a win-win for everyone involved, and therefore it becomes easy to generate support for your efforts.   

Learn more about Harvard's Green Labs Program