Sharing Sustainability: The Green Labs Reception

On Friday, July 14th, Tufts administrators and lab representatives met in the historic Coolidge Room of Ballou Hall, to celebrate and share their ongoing sustainability efforts. The event marked the culmination of the North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge, an international energy-saving initiative sponsored by My Green Lab and I2SL. Several Tufts labs had participated in this challenge and taken major steps over the prior months to reduce their energy use. The Freezer Challenge was just one component of the overarching Tufts Green Labs Initiative, aimed at reducing the overall environmental footprint of lab spaces.

The event opened with the introduction of Dr. Meydani, the Vice Provost for Research.

 

Tina Woolston, Director of the Office of Sustainability, presented certificates to the Tufts labs that participated in the Freezer Challenge: the Nair Lab, the Van Deventer Lab, and the biology labs at 200 Boston Ave.

Next, Michael Doire, the biology department manager, gave an informative presentation on the details of the freezer challenge and discussed the extent of lab energy use. A single ultra-low-temperature freezer demands as much power as a typical home, and for some universities, lab spaces require as much energy as all other operations combined! Therefore, implementing efficient technologies and practices not only increases sustainability, bus also greatly reduces operating costs for the university.

 

The following three student presentations reinforced the idea that lab sustainability makes sense economically, as well as environmentally. Emma Cusack, an undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering, presented her work on a “Shut the Sash” initiative. Chemical fume hoods, which operate continually to remove dangerous fumes from lab spaces, are some of the most energy-intensive devices at Tufts: a single fume hood draws more energy than three average homes. Emma discussed how shutting the protective sash on these hoods has the potential to greatly reduce energy costs, since less air is drawn through the system – by the end of the 2017-18 academic year, her proposed campaign aims to reduce the average height that fume hoods are left open by 25%. By implementing a campaign to educate students and faculty about these benefits, Tufts could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy bills each year, while greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Next, Patrick Milne, an undergraduate chemistry student, presented his research on energy use for heating and cooling in the Pearson building. He described how improvements to the building’s heat recovery system would result in significant energy savings. He also proposed removing specific fume hoods that get very little use, but are still running continuously.

 

Finally, Jonathan Ng, another undergraduate chemistry student, presented his research on solvent use at Tufts. Solvents are hazardous chemicals often used in lab settings, and they present significant financial and environmental costs. Safely disposing of solvents can cost two to four times as much as their initial purchase cost; Jonathan described a single Tufts lab that spends tens of thousands of dollars each year on solvent disposal alone. He discussed how flash chromatography, a tedious and chemically intensive process, can be replaced by a machine that minimizes solvent use and saves time for researchers. Although the machine is costly, it would pay for itself in one to two years, and would save an enormous amount of money in the long term.

 

After the presentations, guests were invited to mingle and view posters with information on the Freezer Challenge and other green labs initiatives.

The official Freezer Challenge has come to a close, but now is a great time to try it on your own! As Tina Woolston pointed out in her closing speech, “Actions taken by students and employees help contribute to a lasting culture of sustainability.” If you are involved in lab work at Tufts, please consider taking steps to make your lab more sustainable.   You can read about best practices for freezers, or visit our website to learn about other Green Labs initiatives at Tufts. For an overview of the Shut the Sash campaign, check out the video below. If you have already successfully implemented sustainable practices in your lab, please share them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

The Green Labs Initiative: An Overview

 

We can all have a positive impact by incorporating sustainable behaviors into our daily lives, but not all impacts are equal. At universities, laboratory settings have especially high resource and energy demand, making them important targets for sustainability initiatives. Duke University estimates that lab spaces can require five times the energy of other campus buildings. For this reason, Tufts began work on the Green Labs initiative, which aimed to increase the overall sustainability of these spaces through a variety of means.

Across all three Tufts campuses, ten labs signed up to participate in the Green Labs initiative. Emily Edwards, who coordinates chemical and bioengineering labs in the SciTech building, has long been committed to increasing the sustainability of these spaces. Her department currently runs 14 labs, researching topics from solar panel development to filtration membranes to bioengineering with mammalian cells. When she first joined the department, Edwards wanted to reduce plastic waste in her labs, which use high volumes of disposable items like pipette tips, weigh boats, gloves, and vials. However, she found this to be nearly impossible because these materials are necessary for routine lab work, and are difficult to clean for reuse. In light of this, Edwards feels that energy conservation is the most practical way to reduce the environmental footprint of her labs. She worked to address this challenge through her participation in the Green Labs initiative.

Another major participant in the initiative was Sanjukta Ghosh, a lab coordinator in the biology department. Ghosh oversees nine labs at 200 Boston Ave, researching topics like molecular biology, genetics, and bioinformatics. Her building is LEED certified, and features sustainable technologies including daylight-sensitive lighting systems and open floor plans that facilitate equipment sharing. Ghosh has an academic background in green chemistry philosophy, and has applied these sustainability concepts to her work at Tufts. She also acknowledges the environmental difficulties of lab work, which inherently creates a large plastic footprint. Ghosh has recently worked with vendors to purchase more recyclable materials including pipette tip boxes. Her labs also participate in vendor take-back programs, in which equipment manufacturers collect used items and donate or safely recycle them.

 

Fume Hoods

The single largest energy demand in lab buildings comes from chemical fume hoods, which are a staple of lab work. Fume hoods are used to protect researchers from dangerous materials or vapors by drawing contaminated air through a ventilation system. For safety reasons, these systems must run continuously 24 hours a day, whether or not they are actively being used. One energy-saving element of Variable Air Volume (VAV) fume hoods is their adjustable sash, which can be lowered or shut completely when they are not in use. This drastically reduces the energy demand of the ventilation system by slowing the fan. Many universities have designed “Shut the Sash” campaigns to educate lab personnel about the environmental benefits of this simple action.

Unfortunately for sustainability at Tufts, the vast majority of the SciTech building’s 50 VAV fume hoods have broken fan regulators, and are so old that replacement parts cannot be obtained. This means that shutting the sash on these machines does not reduce their energy demand. According to Edwards, it would be necessary to entirely replace many of the fume hoods to fix this issue, but funding is lacking. In contrast, the fume hoods in Ghosh’s labs are all equipped with automatic sashes, which use proximity sensors to open only when researchers approach. Ironically, this safety feature fails to save energy because the fume hoods at 200 Boston are not VAV, and therefore draw a constant amount of power regardless of their sash position. According to Ghosh, replacing these fume hoods with more efficient ones would cost millions of dollars.

 

Freezer Challenge

Another major energy draw for labs is refrigeration and cooling, as certain biomaterials must be stored in specialized freezers. “Ultra-low” freezers cool samples to -80 degrees Celsius (-112OF). The SciTech building has roughly eight of these ultra-low freezers in use, and Ghosh’s labs at 200 Boston have six.

Edwards and Ghosh both participated in the Freezer Challenge, a component of the Green Labs project, which set out to reduce the energy use of lab freezers. In order to operate each freezer more efficiently, a clear inventory of its contents was created, minimizing the time that the door needs to be open when searching for an item. The freezers also had to be regularly de-iced so that their doors could seal properly, keeping the heat out. Finally, it was important to remove unused items and consolidate partially full freezers, taking extra units offline when possible. At 200 Boston, old freezers have been gradually replaced with new, high-efficiency units, which use only one quarter of the power.

 

Other Initiatives

While optimizing the use of freezers and fume hoods may be the most direct way to increase efficiency, Edwards and Ghosh promote sustainability in other ways as well. Although recycling certain lab materials can be difficult, Edwards collects packing materials like Styrofoam and bubble wrap for reuse. SciTech has a dedicated recycling bin for electronics, which is used heavily when old workspaces are cleaned out. Ghosh also recycles all worn-out lab equipment, and donates functional equipment to other institutions, so virtually none of it ends up in the trash. In addition, Tufts sometimes receives donations from biotech companies, which is more sustainable and cost-effective than purchasing new equipment.

Tufts labs are making progress working towards their sustainability goals, but much work can still be done. Lab faculty, students, and administration must all collaborate to continue addressing the environmental impact of Tufts labs, thereby working towards a greener campus.

 

 

Wear it Out, Send it Back: Vendor Take-Back Programs for Labs

As any science student knows, laboratory settings are extremely resource-intensive. Tufts’ Campus Sustainability Council confirmed this in their 2013 report, stating that lab and hospital buildings have a disproportionately large environmental impact. Unfortunately, much of the material waste produced in labs is unavoidable. Items like pipette tips and vials are demanded in enormous quantities and typically cannot be recycled. Despite these difficulties, steps can be taken to minimize the amount of material that ends up in the landfill.

Emily Edwards, the Engineering Lab Coordinator and Eco-Ambassador in the SciTech building, continually tries to reduce waste in her labs. She collects and recycles packing materials like Styrofoam coolers, commonly used for transporting biomaterials, and tries to reduce the use of disposable materials like paper towels. SciTech also has a large electronics-recycling bin, ensuring that worn-out lab and office equipment is not sent to the landfill. Sanjukta Ghosh, a biology lab coordinator at 200 Boston Ave., has also taken steps to reduce lab waste, most notably her participation in vendor take-back programs.

 

What are vendor take-back programs?

Vendor take-back is an increasingly common practice whereby a product can be returned to the company that sold it at the end of its useful life. Many companies have begun to offer take-back services voluntarily, although it is up to the consumer to participate in these programs. Vendor take-back has a number of advantages over traditional waste disposal, and has the potential to greatly increase environmental sustainability. For example, vendors of electronics may offer to collect and safely recycle them, preventing them from ending up in landfills. In addition, many vendors will take back packaging materials from their products and reuse them. This reduces waste, and also saves the vendor money and resources. Interestingly, the vendor take-back model places the onus on retailers to safely dispose of their products, rather than passing this responsibility on to the consumer.

It is important for consumers to take advantage of existing take-back programs, especially in equipment-intensive settings like university labs, in order to reduce their waste output and environmental impact. Agilent and Eppendorf are two such companies that have programs in place to collect worn out lab products. Large equipment pickup may only be offered with the purchase of a replacement product, but pickup is often free for smaller items. Details vary by company, and it is typically necessary to make arrangements for pickup with a local representative.

As lab equipment retailers are becoming more environmentally conscious, they now offer a wide array of services toincrease sustainability. For example, some companies offer refillable pipette tip boxes, which saves packaging and is typically cheaper too! These include:

  • Ranin
  • USA Scientific
  • VWR

Many lab vendors have also begun developing products that use less materials, and some offer specialized programs like solvent recycling. Finally, many companies will take back their own packaging materials for free, using pre-paid shipping labels. Some of these companies are used by Tufts, and include:

  • New England Biolabs
  • Qiagen
  • Sigma Aldrich

Although this practice does divert material from the landfill, it can still have environmental drawbacks. For example, because Styrofoam is so porous and light, transporting coolers back to the distributor for reuse can actually have a larger carbon footprint than manufacturing new ones.

 

Onsite Supply Center

While the waste associated with shipping equipment and reagents to labs may seem unavoidable, many universities have already implemented a simple solution. Instead of individually mailing each new order of lab materials, a supply center can be set up onsite to provide campus labs with the materials they demand. This system virtually eliminates packaging, as items are delivered in bulk to the campus supply center, where they are stored and then picked up as needed by lab personnel. As an added bonus, onsite supply centers tend to save money, as items no longer need to be individually shipped to campus, and vendors may offer discounts for bulk purchases. Although Tufts does not currently have any supply centers, in the future this could be a cost-effective way to minimize unnecessary waste.

 

Tips to Reduce Lab Waste

Always recycle when possible – common lab materials (like cardboard boxes from gloves) often end up in the landfill when they could easily be recycled. Make sure that you know which materials are recyclable, and always place them in the appropriate bin. For more information on recycling at Tufts, visit the recycling website.

Keep track of inventory – know what materials you already have on hand, and only purchase the needed amount. Properly labeling and storing reagents also ensures that others can use them in the future.

Properly dispose of e-waste – old electronics, batteries, light bulbs, and similar items can be diverted from the landfill by placing them in their designated specialty-recycling bins, which may vary by building. This ensures that they will be safely disposed of, while salvaging useful materials. Empty Ink and toner cartridges can often be mailed back to manufacturers to be refilled.

Donate equipment – even better than recycling unwanted, functional equipment is donating it to other institutions. On the flip side, you can receive equipment donations from other labs, which saves money too! Finally, Tufts employees can subscribe to the freecycle e-list, and donate or request items within the Tufts community.

Purchase environmentally friendly materials – many vendors offer refillable or recyclable items like pipette tip boxes. Look for more sustainable alternatives to commonly used lab materials!

 

Taking steps such as trading in old equipment or refilling pipette tip boxes may seem small, but they can contribute to a significant decrease in lab waste. Implementing these actions can help transform resource-intensive labs into pinnacles of sustainability on campus.

 

Grafton Campus Waste Station Checklist

Recently, you may have noticed some big changes in recycling on the Grafton campus: all recycling is now mixed, meaning there are now only types two bins at waste stations across campus: trash and recycling! 

Research shows that an effective way to capture more recyclables is to pair trash containers with recycling containers. Your waste station should have BOTH types of bin listed below:  

Gray trash bin with white “landfill” label 

Gray recycling bin with: 

  • Blue “mixed recycling” label 
  • Light blue bag 
  • Blue UFO-shaped lid 
Complete waste station

Now, that’s a good looking waste station!

If the waste station in your office or classroom doesn’t look like the photo above, please submit a work order that will go to Facilities Services.

During the transition to mixed recycling, Tufts strategically reduced the number of waste stations in each building. This helps with efficiency (regarding the time to empty bins) and sustainability (reducing the number of plastic liners we use reduces our overall impact!). Your original central waste station may have been moved to another area on your floor or removed entirely during the transition, however, please do not move any waste receptacles. If you feel that an error has been made with your waste station please submit a work order and contact recycle@tufts.edu with specific questions.  

 

4 Ways to More Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion has a broad definition. It ranges from buying from and donating to second-hand clothing stores to decreasing the environmental impact of agro-chemicals in cotton production. The question is how can we be more conscious consumers and choose products that are ethically-made and environmentally-friendly?

 

  1. Shop from thrift stores and second-hand clothing stores.

Did you know it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans? This number doesn’t even include the water used in washing the pair over its lifetime. Instead of buying new and wasting another 1,800 gallons of water, try thrifting your next pair. From Boston Garment District’s wide variety of thrifting opportunities to consignment shop chain 2nd Time Around’s high-end selections, there are so many local thrifting opportunities to check out in the Boston area!

 

  1. Sell or donate used clothes that you no longer wear.

A good way of getting rid of things you don’t want is to post on the Tufts Facebook Buy and Sell page or the Tusk Marketplace. Through these platforms, other students can purchase items second-hand from you—so you can make money while you downsize your wardrobe. You can also bring your clothes to sell at stores like Buffalo Exchange or donate to others like Goodwill. In April, check out the annual Eco-Reps clothing swap where students can donate and trade clothes for free!

 

  1. Think twice before buying more clothes.

In the age of fast fashion, we are quick to buy trendy pieces and abandon those no longer in style. Clothing sales have been skyrocketing — the fast fashion industry is expected to hit $2.1 trillion by 2025. These days, consumers buy 60% more clothes that they keep for half as long as people did just 15 years ago. Also, synthetic fibers like polyester emit 3 times more carbon dioxide than cottonduring their lifecycle. Rather than spending money on larger quantities of cheap clothes that create huge environmental impacts, consider investing in a few, long-lasting, high-quality pieces of clothing. Remember that you can find quality pieces at thrift stores without spending a fortune!

  1. Ask your favorite brands how your clothes are made.

Fashion Revolution Week calls attention to social justice in the fashion industry. This April’s Fashion Revolution Week commemorated the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,138 people were killed in 2013 due to unsafe working conditions. Many people have instagrammed and tweeted at the brands that make their clothes with the hashtag #whomademyclothes, building awareness of these disconnects between fashion producers and consumers. Small actions like these can pressure clothing companies to be more conscious of, accountable for, and transparent about their sustainability efforts, treatment of workers, and production methods.

Watch the following ENVS Lunch & Learn Presentation to look at the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing and some of the cutting edge innovations from science and technology that are leading to breakthroughs in more sustainable production.

 

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