January 28, 2014

Environmental sciences lab ups bar for green labs at UW

News and Information

A soils lab that schedules fieldwork to minimize car trips, reuses sampling containers and recycles soils and leftover plant material has achieved the highest score yet in the University of Washington’s 10-month-old Green Laboratory Certification Program.

Woman next to equipment labeled on front with pink tape

U of Washington

Tape is a quick and easy way to label equipment with a reminder to unplug when not in use.

With an overall score of 95 percent, Tom DeLuca’s environmental and forest sciences lab has just topped the 93 percent previously earned by a UW Bothell chemistry instructional lab.

The labs are among 16 so far certified through the UW’s Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability office. Labs earn points by, for example, keeping freezers and refrigerators at efficient temperatures and right-sizing experiments to minimize chemical and water use, according to program coordinator Caileigh Shoot, a UW undergraduate.

Laboratories use about five times as much energy per square foot as a typical building, which was among the reasons to start a green lab certification program, Shoot said.

The DeLuca lab is used by half a dozen graduate students, according to lab manager Amanda Bidwell. She started organizing the biogeochemical lab last year by recycling and sending to surplus little-used equipment. Equipment that stayed has been labeled with reminders to unplug when not in use to avoid “vampire power,” the electricity many gadgets waste just being plugged in, even if they are switched off.

The labels and notes around the lab are an example of how to score points in the certification’s communications category. Bidwell also includes information about sustainable lab practices when she orients new users, which also is rewarded with points toward certification.

Faucet and sink with label on wall behind.

U of Washington

Lab users are urged to put unneeded soil and plant samples into a special soil waste bucket or the compost bin, not down the drain.

Not only does the DeLuca lab top the UW list of certified green labs but it also won bragging rights in the College of the Environment’s recently concluded green-lab-certification contest, besting labs from three other units. Shoot hopes other colleges and departments will be interested in conducting similar contests.

Only a handful of other institutions have green lab programs, according to UW sustainability office’s Aubrey Batchelor, who developed and manages the green lab program. She modeled it after the UW’s Green Office Certification program established in 2011.

Last year student Mike Ferguson evaluated the UW and modeled green laboratory scenarios as part of an undergraduate capstone project through the UW’s Program on the Environment. His findings suggest that, with modest adjustments to practices across all laboratories on all three campuses, the UW could save more than $8 million a year just through more efficient use of its resources.

“This would also reduce the total electricity used on UW’s campus by about 20 percent,” he said.

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