Financial Incentives for Researchers to Reduce Energy Use: A Pilot Program at Harvard University

Quentin Gilly, Harvard University

The Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences (FAS) conducted a pilot program to understand the efficacy of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by providing a financial incentive to lab groups for saving energy over a one-year period. Six labs were chosen based on the availability of sub-metering; three chemistry labs and three biology labs. The pilot resulted in saving 22 MTCDE, with the chemistry labs achieving all of the savings. While it could be said that the chemistry labs had an unfair advantage in the pilot, the hypothesis was that the biology labs would at least be able to save $1,000-$10,000 each based on the equipment inventories.

This pilot is unique in that it tested the hypothesis that a financial reward is more effective than celebration and recognition when engaging building occupants to save energy. It will review the use of sub-meters and equipment monitoring, and how we provided a financial incentive for improved fume hood sash management.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the intent for launching the financial incentives for labs pilot, which links to goals outlined in the I2SL BETR Grants initiative;
  • Understand how it was estimated that an average academic wet-lab research group could save $1,000-10,000 per year in energy through thoughtful and planned research;
  • Learn about some of the difficulties with building sub-meters, and why it is important to have a clear long term plan when sub-meters are installed in laboratories; and
  • Review the results of the financial incentives pilot, including why the chemistry labs saved more energy than the biology labs.


Quentin is the Sustainable Labs Manager at the Harvard University Office for Sustainability. His primary role is to find new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from the lab sector, through occupant engagement and building upgrades. Before moving to the sustainability field, Quentin worked for a number of years as a lab manager and automation specialist at Harvard Medical School.


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