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Studies have proven that freezer maintenance is critical, as significant energy savings can be achieved when freezer coils and filters are free of dust.Universities are teaming with various departments, industry and non-profits in the fight against energy-hogging campus laboratories. 

Academic researchers collaborate with one another on a regular basis—papers are published with multiple authors from multiple departments, spin-off technologies are often the brainchild of numerous scientists and new laboratories are built/renovated to physically and mentally encourage partnership. In this day and age, it’s only natural for one buzzword to meet the next—collaboration meet sustainability; you could learn something from each other. 
 
A second life
Most universities in the U.S., and around the world for that matter, participate in some type of “green” program, whether it’s planting new trees, usi ng less water or embracing motion-activated lighting systems. But, incorporating sustainable practices into a university’s most energy-intensive spaces is not as easy as watering a seed. 
 
According to Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass., laboratories account for nearly 50 percent of overall university energy usage, while taking up only 23 percent of campus space. This off-balance percentage is part of the reason Harvard participates in so many lab-based green programs, such as the popular Shut the Sash Fume Hood Competition. It’s also the impetus behind the Harvard Labs Reuse List, a university-wide resource designed to expand sustainable practices through collaboration. The list enables the easy trade, reuse and sharing of working laboratory equipment and supplies. Personnel turnover, building relocation and changing lab needs can often result in discarded and/or unused equipment. The Reuse List provides a second life for these items, reducing surplus equipment, supplies and costs along the way. 
 
“The creation of this list is a direct result of popular demand,” says Jamie Bemis, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Green Program Coordinator. “The Harvard research community wanted a place to trade and share lab equipment, but also recognized a gap where sustainable practice made sense.” Bemis spearheaded the effort, collaborating with the university’s Environmental Health and Safety Program, the FAS Division of Science and the Longwood campus. 
 
In addition to the Reuse List, Harvard also offers the Reuse Room. Pioneered from a study conducted by nine labs in the biology department, the Reuse Room is essentially a large recycling bin. Researchers from all labs and departments are encouraged to deposit Styrofoam coolers with return address labels (for take-back programs), New England Biolabs gel ice packs, unwanted lab and office supplies and small electronic waste in the Reuse Room. The pilot program began in the second half of 2013, and is already looking to expand the scope of items accepted. As an additional benefit, New England Biolabs partnered with the FAS Green Program to pilot the first-ever gel pack reclamation program for both the company and university. 
 
It’s not just the students and professors at Harvard going green—the university management is constantly looking for ways to promote the sustainability movement. For example, the Chemistry Department recently purchased a Stirling SU780U -80 C freezer, which consumes less than half the electricity used by traditional cascade models. The purchase was part of a pilot program designed to assess the effectiveness of incentivizing energy-efficient choices. The FAS Office for Physical Resources and Planning provided a monetary incentive to cover the premium cost of the unit, making it cost-competitive with other non-efficient models. According to Harvard, the program is part of a larger initiative to effectively manage its portfolio of -80 C freezers. With almost 200 energy-hogging units on campus, the freezers play a critical role in sustainability efforts. 
 
Lastly, in January, Harvard held a sustainability-focused tradeshow designed to bring together operations, planning, vendors and contractors to identify the “greenest” products, practices and solutions. 
 
The Reuse Room at Harvard provides a second life for lab equipment, while also reducing surplus supplies and costs. Photos: Harvard Univ. Curriculum-based sustainability
The Univ. of Washington (UW), Seattle, is another institution leading the way in sustainable laboratory practices. In Fall 2012, an Environmental 480 Green Laboratories class was created to evaluate current sustainability efforts and propose new ones. Student projects for the class were later integrated into the university’s Green Laboratory Certification program, launched in Spring 2013. 
 
The certification program assesses laboratories based on their practices in action categories, such as energy usage, communication, waste, chemical usage, water usage, work-related travel and purchasing choices. Laboratories are given a rating of gold (85%), silver (70%) or bronze (55%), determined by the percentage of points a lab achieves over the total points possible. 
 
The certification committee encourages participation in the StoreSmart National Freezer Challenge. The Challenge is designed to encourage campus labs to address the many opportunities for energy conservation related to laboratory freezers and refrigerators through a friendly national competition, while promoting better, safer and more organized sample storage. According to the EPA/DOE Labs 21 Program, the direct cost of electricity for an individual -80 C freezer could be between $1,000 and $1,500 per year. With more than 4,500 labs on the UW campus, every freezer can make a difference. 
 
UW helps facilitate participation by offering a Freezer Cleaning Kit, which includes freezer gloves, a scraper and brush. Numerous studies have proven significant energy savings when freezer coils and filters are free of dust, allowing for proper heat exchange. 
 
While the Freezer Challenge is a great action program, UW has loftier, more long-term goals in mind for its laboratories. The university wants to change overall purchasing habits, pushing toward green alternatives and recycling/sharing products. Through a collaborative study involving E-procurement, the university’s primary online purchasing site, UW created a Green Purchasing List. The list of green lab products across campus also includes sustainable purchasing tips and available vendor take-back programs to help share best practices.
 
Starting early
Through a partnership with the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, the Univ. of Maine, Orono, Maine, launched SELF—or Sustainable Energy Leaders of the Future. The program is designed to connect middle school-aged girls to STEM careers through active research, mentoring and community service. 
 
For example, the session in March had 20 middle school girls spend the morning in the lab, focusing on renewable energy. In the afternoon, the students traveled into the woods to learn about forest resources. Most participants explore the Forest Bioproducts research projects at UMaine, engage in lectures, workshops and hands-on laboratory experiments, and leave with a better understanding of what sustainability means and why it is important. 
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