A new Virginia Tech program is striving to make laboratory spaces more environmentally friendly.

Launching this spring, the Green Lab Certification Program is the product of a partnership between Virginia Tech Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of Sustainability.

The Green Lab Certification Program is a self-assessment tool that empowers, encourages, and recognizes labs that are engaging in sustainable practices. The program provides faculty, staff, and students with the tools needed to go green in their labs. 

“We estimate that lab ventilation systems account for more than 15 percent of the overall energy consumption at Virginia Tech. Additionally, lab spaces produce large amounts of waste that can be difficult to recycle, like Styrofoam and soft plastics,” said Rob Lowe, senior environmental engineer.

“With roughly 600,000 square feet of laboratory space and over 1,200 labs across the Blacksburg campus, we have outstanding opportunities to improve energy efficiency and conservation and waste and recycling efforts in labs,” Lowe said.

The Green Lab Certification Program was originally developed by Ellen Garcia, who received her master's in biology from Virginia Tech in 2020. Her work on this program has led to the final iteration of the Green Labs Tool, which assesses laboratory’s sustainability efforts spanning 11 different topic areas.  

Bolstering the sustainability of labs is a charge with deep ties to the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment, which serves as the university’s guiding framework around sustainability and energy efficiency in campus operations, facilities, curriculum, and research.

The Green Labs initiative supports the following Climate Action Commitment goals: 

  • Goal 4 - Reduce building energy consumption to enable carbon neutrality by 2030. Labs tend to demand more energy than other spaces on campus, but there are opportunities to implement behavior changes and purchasing standards to reduce energy consumption in many of our buildings with laboratories. This reduction can have a significant impact on Virginia Tech's ability to reach carbon neutrality.

  • Goal 7 - Virginia Tech to become a zero-waste campus by 2030. Labs can produce a lot of waste that may be unique from other spaces on campus. By completing their Green Lab Certification, labs can create a plan to better manage their waste and help Virginia Tech reach its goal of being zero-waste.

  • Goal 12 - Diminish barriers to sustainable behaviors through institutional change, education, and social marketing. By making sustainable practices the norm in laboratories, we're helping reduce the barriers to acting sustainably within those spaces. Additionally, this program will help educate all members of a lab on the impact their work may have on the environment, while providing them with tools and tips to reduce that impact.

Program details

Participants will be provided an online assessment tool to track the completion of different tasks to make lab spaces more sustainable. Each lab will complete this assessment to get a baseline score for their overall sustainability. An 80 percent or higher on the assessment represents the criteria to be recognized as a certified green lab. Labs can implement changes and retake the assessment as needed to achieve certification or improve their score. 

Some examples of criteria that the tool uses to measure a lab’s sustainability include:

  • labeling equipment with reminders to turn off after use;
  • taking active steps to ensure fume hoods are closed after use and ensuring all fume hoods are labeled with reminders to shut the sash;
  • estimating or measuring water usage each month; and/or
  • contacting Environmental Health and Safety to discuss any uncertainty regarding proper disposal of materials.

Access the Green Labs assessment: To take the Green Labs assessment, log into your Environmental Health & Safety SMS lab and go the Tools tab.

Participate in the program: Labs interested in participating in the Green Labs Certification Program or seeking more information can email sustainability@vt.edu

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