By Sudhakar Reddy, Ph.D., Coordinator - Sustainable Labs, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Like most higher education institutions across the country, lab operations at the University of Michigan (UM) typically consume 4 to 8 times more energy when compared with a class room or office environment. This is largely due to chemical fume hoods, conditioning of air, lab equipment and operations that go in these laboratories, providing rich opportunities to save on energy, utilities and resources.
Sustainability in the labs can be achieved through engineering controls, operational changes and behavior. UM’s Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) department, UM’s Plant Operations, and several other sustainability teams strive to make system wide improvements to reduce energy and utility consumption. The Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) applies green chemistry principles and waste reduction techniques along with administrative and behavioral controls to achieve short and long term sustainability goals in our campus laboratories. OCS spearheaded a unique program called Green Laboratory Operations for Sustainability, focused on standardizing greener practices in our teaching and research laboratories. This program developed through the participation of student groups addresses two of four broader University wide sustainability goals to reduce scope I and II greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, and reduce waste being disposed of in landfills by 40% by 2025.
The program is run in a phased manner in order to lessen the impact on laboratory staff, energy and resources. Once a Principal Investigator (PI) or a Laboratory Manager contacts OCS, the OCS staff visits the laboratory to evaluate its current practices in the areas such as pollution prevention, waste minimization, green purchasing, recycling, green chemistry, energy and utilities conservation, and chemical treatment and disposal. Following this evaluation step, appropriate operational recommendations specific to the laboratory are provided along with suggestions on how best to implement them. After the recommendations are implemented, a follow-up visit is scheduled at which time the laboratory is formally recognized as a U-M Sustainable Laboratory. A certificate of recognition along with promotional items will be presented to the group.
Through this program we have designed and produced ‘Shut the Sash’ magnetic stickers (see Figures below) and placed them on every chemical fume hood on our campus. We have nearly 2500 fume hoods on campus and this campaign is geared to educate our lab users to shut the sash when not in use to save significant amount of energy thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Redistribution of surplus chemicals, recycling solvents, treatment of dialysate and HPLC streams to reduce waste, chemical substitution are a few among many benefits that are being achieved through this program. Metrics are being tracked and published in an annual environmental report.
Furthermore, this program also emphasizes and encourages our lab users to employ less toxic alternatives in place of toxic chemicals and solvents. Consequently, many life sciences labs have replaced toxic ethidium bromide with non-toxic gel-red as a gel staining agent in their DNA research. Some labs participated in this program have now shifted to green solvents such as methyl acetate and 2-methyl tetrahydorfuran in place of toxic solvents like methylene chloride in their extractions.
To date, we have evaluated nearly 40 labs through this unique program and the number is growing.
Principle investigators and laboratory managers are seeing real benefits from this program, including the introduction to Green Chemistry practices, reduced consumption of energy and utilities, reduction in the use and generation of hazardous materials, increased recycling, and improved safety for laboratory students, faculty and staff.
“Our new sustainable lab practices have resulted in savings of chemicals and supplies,” says Dr. Pilar Herrera-Fierro, lead research engineer at the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility and a College of Engineering faculty member. “The LNF community, users and staff have embraced sustainable lab practices wholeheartedly.”
Sudhakar Reddy, Ph.D.,
Coordinator – Sustainable Labs
Office of Campus Sustainability
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
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