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Behavior Matters: Scientist Buy-in for Sustainability Saves Energy and Resources From Top to Bottom

Allen Doyle, University of California at Santa Barbara

The forbidden question: What difference do scientists make in laboratory energy and resource conservation? Architects and engineers often deliver and operate laboratory buildings as if scientists' behavior is unchangeable and insignificant. Scientists often overlook conservation as unrelated to their primary mission, and sustainability programs at universities and colleges rarely evaluate laboratory practices. The Laboratory Assessments for Resource Sustainability (LARS) program at the University of California at Santa Barbara evaluates this issue by inspecting laboratories and interviewing managers for their conservation practices. We found that researchers can reduce plug load, lighting demand, and even HVAC needs, as well as conserve water, plastic, instrumentation, and apparatus, while at the same time enhancing research efficiency and educating students.

Most laboratories were relatively efficient and took measures to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce solid wastes, for instance. On the other hand, glaring inefficiencies were often present, such as outdated freezers or refrigerators, refrigerated centrifuges left on when not in use, or entire floors lighted for only one researcher. While some continuously powered instruments needed to remain on for stability reasons, common room facilities tended to remain on even when not needed. Because ordering is often decentralized at universities, appliance purchases were not tightly controlled to be ENERGY STAR®-certified. In addition, small autoclaves were unavailable for small batches, and incubators were sometimes incorrectly used as refrigerators. Potential energy savings typically were five to 20 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day for small to medium academic laboratories.

LARS also evaluated research sustainability at the campus level. Large gains are possible when scientists and maintenance staff examined departmental facilities and practices, amounting to hundreds of kWh per day in cleanrooms and vivaria and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment savings. The main hurdle to these savings is an integrated approach to conservation that administration and faculty endorse and students and laboratory staff understand and practice every day. Complete adoption of conservation principles by researchers reduces consumption at the source, and raised awareness among scientists also increases their motivation for energy-efficient design and renovation, thus leading to the core mission of Labs21.

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