Internationally Recognized U-M Sustainable Labs Program Cuts Energy and Waste

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Contributed by Sudhakar G. Reddy, Ph.D., Coordinator, Sustainable Labs, University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Office of Campus Sustainability Sustainable Labs program earned the 2014 "Go Beyond Award" (pictured below) during the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) Conference held in Orlando. In 2013 this program received the Michigan Governor’s Green Chemistry Award. More importantly, sustainable lab practices in all campus laboratories have resulted in a 10 percent energy reduction and an avoidance of $1.5 million in energy costs for the university.


Energy avoidance from the "Shut the Sash" awareness campaign on fume hoods located in approximately 800 campus labs is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power 800 U.S. homes. The campaign reminds users to close the transparent barrier on chemical fume hoods when not in use to avoid unnecessary energy consumption, and is just one of the efforts in the broader initiative to create more sustainable operations in university labs.

One hundred labs and more than 6,000 students, faculty and staff have participated in the Sustainable Labs program offered by the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS). The program promotes best practices for safer and greener laboratory operations, and is applicable in all teaching and research laboratories on campus.

“One of the key aspects to the Sustainable Lab program is the direct involvement of everyone working in the lab. As with safety in the lab, sustainability relies heavily on the individual’s desire to save energy, reduce water, and cut waste in their work. All of the systems and procedures are useless if people don’t want to participate," said Terry Alexander, Executive Director of Occupational Safety & Environmental Health and Office of Campus Sustainability.

The average laboratory consumes four to ten times more energy and resources as compared to a similar sized classroom or office environment. This is a byproduct of the high level cutting edge research performed at U-M. The goal of the program is to support this research but in a more sustainable way. Certified sustainable labs are safer and more efficient as they use alternatives to traditional chemicals; practice increased recycling, pollution prevention and green purchasing; and have a zero-spill record on campus.

Results of the program from the past year include:

  • 670 gallons of properly neutralized liquids disposed safely as sewage
  • 31 labs switched to safer, less toxic chemicals
  • 8,000 pounds of hazardous waste was eliminated from the Medical School anesthesiology lab.
  • 710 gallons of solvents were recycled in three UMHS labs
  • 420 lbs of surplus chemicals, equipment and materials diverted from sending to landfill by redistributing through ChEM Reuse program
  • 95 percent of labs on campus became mercury-free

OCS has worked with renovation engineers to install many compressed air lines at the Chemistry and George Grander Brown Memorial Laboratories to replace water aspirators for lab filtration systems, which collectively consume nearly 600,000 gallons of water annually. Compressed air is less expensive to generate and is made available to most of the labs on our campus.

New this year, OCS introduced an additional energy conservation resource encouraging the lab community to raise the temperatures on Ultra Low Temperature freezers from -80 to -70 degrees Celsius, resulting in up to a 30 percent energy reduction.

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"With the help of the Office of Sustainability, the Lauring lab has taken the needed steps to reducing energy and chemical waste,” said William Fitzsimmons, Lab Manager and Safety Liaison at the Lauring Lab in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Division of Infectious Diseases at the U-M Medical School.

“By increasing the temperature of ULT freezers to -70 degrees Celsius and adding timers to 24 hour instruments, we can effectively say we are providing a much more sustainable working environment for future viral research."

Since the launch of the Sustainable Labs program in the fall of 2011, participation has grown from seven labs to 100.

“We’d like to see 300 labs certified in the next three years,” said Sudhakar Reddy, sustainability coordinator with OCS. “At that point we’d have reached almost 50 percent of labs on campus to make a bigger impact toward the university sustainability goals.”

Through the program, OCS staff meets with a lab manager to review and evaluate lab operations, and create a report with recommendations for more sustainable operations for that particular lab. Labs receive a certification ranking between bronze and platinum once they’ve completed the recommended adjustments.

Michigan Green Chemistry

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International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories

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