In the 400 energy-intensive laboratories across the CU campus, there
exist opportunities to conserve millions of gallons of water each
year, hundreds of thousands of kilowatts in electricity and a very
large volume of material waste.
Kathryn A. Ramirez, Ph.D. and manager for the CU Green Labs Program, a
new energy conservation initiative, said she is working to bring to
campus in partnership with her colleagues from the Environmental
Center, Facilities Management Office of Resource Conservation, and
Environmental Health and Safety.
The program is working to receive more funding to ultimately have
laboratories lower their energy usage and waste, Ramirez said.
"The idea is to get the labs just to use resources based upon what
their experiments demand, rather than what is most convenient,”
she said. “It is also about replacing inefficient laboratory
processes and equipment with efficient ones.”
In addition to the funding provided by the Facilities Management
Office of Resource Conservation and the Environmental Center, Ramirez
said the CU Green Labs Program has recently made a request of $2,100
from Sustainable CU primarily for block foam recycling.
The program will also be requesting $24,000 for energy-saving freezer
initiatives in labs related to CU-Boulder’s participation in a
National Laboratory Freezer Week Contest in April between
Ramirez said that the collaborative effort began the summer of 2009
when she and her colleagues began discussing ideas on how to reduce
the resource consumption in the campus’ laboratories.
“I saw a lot of unnecessary energy use occurring in the labs while I
was here,” she said. “I also had wished there was a program in
place to work with the labs on being greener.”
She said that together with support from the Facilities Management
Office of Resource Conservation, EH&S and the Environmental Center,
the new program is headed toward a large impact on the way
laboratories consumed resources.
Under the new program, laboratories would focus on weeding out the
unnecessary. One example of the ways the funds from the Office of
Resource Conservation may be used toward more energy-conscious
equipment solutions include vacuum pumps to replace the use of a water
faucet aspirator for vacuum conditions. The pump pays for itself in
one year from the savings of 200,000 gallons of water used in a single
laboratory, Ramirez said.
“That means savings to the university but also savings for the
environment,” she said. “That’s the driving force here.”
Another focus of the program is laboratory fume hoods, which generally
each consume the energy equivalent of three houses for traditional
The hoods constantly remove heated or cooled air from the laboratory
and release it into the atmosphere. The campus has only 80 to 90
energy efficient hoods compared to more than 300 non-efficient hoods.
Ramirez said the program seeks to take a “grass roots” approach to
implementing conservation in laboratories by the use of eco-leaders.
Every lab will have a representative student to promote conservation
within the lab.
“The power of this comes from the representative being one of their
own,” she said. “Someone who knows their particular lab and what is
possible in that lab.”
Ramirez said she hopes that the program will have a much bigger impact
by being a model for other universities and causing a shift in
manufacturers of scientific equipment and products.
“We are pushing the manufacturers, not just the University of
Colorado-Boulder, but also others such as the University of
California, Harvard and others,” she said. “Collaborating with these
universities, we’re collectively pushing the industry to change.”
Meg Heikes, an 18-year-old chemical engineering major, said it could be hard to cut back on
small things like water usage.
“Especially for chemistry, you have to wash everything off before you
can use it,” Heikes said. “I think you need that water for the most
part, it’s hard to cut back on it.”
One of the many people working alongside Ramirez in this initiative is
the Director of Sustainability at CU, Moe Tabrizi.
Tabrizi said his confidence in the program is in the improvements
already made obvious in the laboratories, some before the CU Green
Labs Program existed.
He said the labs are trying to cut back on water usage mentioned by
Heikes. One way is by providing chilled water to cool down laser
“We provided campus chilled water which is being constantly recycled,
not wasted,” Tabrizi said. “Over 20 to 25 million gallons of water a
year is being saved.”
Even with the successes, conservation efforts in labs have faced some
barriers, Tabrizi said. Such obstacles include large-scale laboratory
projects, making sure conservation practices are piloted and lack of
“Funding is always going to be a challenge,” Tabrizi said. “But so far
we have been able to manage to come up with funding to get these
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Nora Keating at Nora.Keating@colorado.edu.