The on-campus program CU Green Labs began as a collaborative way to combat the massive amount of energy that campus laboratories consume without limiting research activity.
“It was beginning to be recognized that the three largest campus energy consumers were laboratories, IT and dining,” said Kathy Ramirez-Aguilar, CU Green Labs program manager. “This issue had always been a particular interest of mine. I had been working in a lab for 15 years, and we would see things like the sign reminding us to switch off the lights, but there were a number of us who had greater interest. We started implementing ideas on more ways we could conserve.”
CU Facilities Management and the CU Environmental Center fund the program. Both partner with CU Environmental Health and Safety, encompassing lab departments, the scientists and researchers working in the labs, principal investigators (lead researchers) and CU students, Ramirez-Aguilar said. With such varying involvement, many perspectives contribute to the process.
“We are a team approach to conservation,”Ramirez-Aguilar said. “Some projects may involve many stakeholders to implement an idea, but some projects may only involve a few of the lab members.”
She explained that many of the best ideas come from lab members who work closely within the labs and know what’s possible in terms of improving conservation and efficiency.
A 2010 study by Facilities Management showed that labs occupied only a fifth of CU’s square footage, but contributed to 43 percent of energy consumption. With laboratories consuming so much energy, many other campuses are beginning to follow CU in implementing green initiatives.
“This is a fast-growing community,” Ramirez-Aguilar said. “When we started, we had one of five [programs] across the nation, and now they are starting up everywhere.”
CU Green Labs works to upgrade inefficient equipment and technology, encourages labs to turn off equipment not in use and get rid of duplicates.
Contributing to CU’s goal of a 90 percent diversion rate by 2020, CU Green Labs recycles lab waste like boxes and foam, and is working toward recycling plastic films. In addition, they are trying to address other material waste coming from the labs, including plastic and chemical bottles.
“One thing that we are known for across the country is that half of our campus freezers are set to -70 degrees instead of -80 degrees, which accounts for 2 to 4 kilowatt hours a day of energy savings,” Ramirez-Aguilar said. “We are considered leaders on this because we have done a huge shift, starting with 3 percent at -70 degrees and now up to 50 percent.”
The program is entirely voluntary, so it works to incentivize rather than enforce through numerous contests or fund offerings.
“When scientists have a piece of equipment that needs replacement, we will provide the funds if they are willing to go for more energy efficient machinery,” Ramirez-Aguilar said. “This applies for new equipment as well. We also have hosted contests like The Freezer Challenge, The Drying Oven Contest and Bright Idea Contest.”
Despite the program not being mandatory, it has been relatively successful. Members working in the labs are the ones most eager to make changes to promote more sustainable practices, said Ramirez-Aguilar.
Several of the labs have “eco-leaders,” usually student volunteers who represent their laboratory. They encourage efficient activities and seek improvements within their designated labs.
Green Labs has also implemented “team leads” in several lab departments. Team leads are in charge of managing the eco-leaders and identifying potential projects.
“More than anything else, we try to be a resource for the labs,”Ramirez-Aguilar said. “They are the ones with the ideas, so we act as a receiver of these ideas. Scientists are busy, so we research their ideas and see if they are feasible options for green improvements.”
As a relatively new program that started out small in 2009, CU Green Labs aims to further its initiatives, including seeing eco-leader representation in every lab on campus.
“Another long-term goal is to have environmental sustainability just naturally part of the culture of day-to-day operations of labs, such as including green considerations in writing of grant proposals, designing of new experiments, purchasing decisions and training of new scientists,” said Ramirez-Aguilar.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jenna Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.