First offices, now Penn strives to green its labs

Green Labs

Did you resolve to be more sustainable in the new year? Here’s your chance. Penn staff who work in campus laboratories now have an opportunity to help the University go greener.

Green Labs @ Penn, a new program designed to reduce the environmental impact of everyday lab operations, allows staff to do their part in making sure Penn reaches the objectives outlined in its Climate Action Plan.

As a research university, Penn is home to dozens of labs of all sizes and missions, and while many campus offices participate in the Green Office Certification program, labs are more difficult to make green.

Offices are more standardized across campus, and those with committed staff are working toward green certification at one of four levels, based on efforts in waste reduction, purchasing, energy and water efficiency, air quality, transportation and staff involvement.

However, labs, by their nature, most often restrict their range of greening efforts. Room temperature, water usage, and the reuse of materials, for example, are often dictated by ongoing research.

Nonetheless, Marie-Luise Faber, biosafety officer with the Office of Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS), says labs can still play a strong role in sustainability across campus.

“We want lab personnel to think about their practices and include more green methods such as waste reduction and recycling,” Faber explains. “Reduction of energy and water usage is a big part of it as well.”

Turn off the Tap

Faber, one of the staff Eco-Reps for EHRS, and her colleagues perform annual compliance audits in all campus labs. That gives them first-hand knowledge about what practices can change while still meeting required research regulations.

“Labs are so focused on their research,” she says, “that trying to do anything else becomes time-prohibitive.”

Although lab greening will vary based on the location, size, and type of research conducted, the Green Labs @ Penn guide, available on the Green Campus Partnership website, is a helpful place to start. The guide is a detailed “how-to,” that includes an action checklist, a commitment form, tips, and resources.

Penn’s Green Campus Partnership recommends reviewing the guide as a team first and then completing the commitment form with no fewer than 75 percent of lab personnel signed on. This will earn the staff a sticker/sign to display in the lab that says: “We are committed to greening our lab practices. Ask us how.”

The Green Labs program takes into consideration that some labs will be able to complete more actions than others, based on available resources and the operation of each lab.

Those with questions about the greening initiative can email the Green Campus Partnership at sustainability@upenn.edu, using the subject line “Green Labs.” 

Originally published on January 31, 2013