Labs and Carbon Part 2: Can a Sustainable Scientist Have a Carbon-Neutral Lab?

Nick Ciancio, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Paul Foote, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The choice of research topics, what we teach, how we conduct our research, and whether we engage decision-makers all contribute to our greenhouse gas impact. The imperative of a carbon-neutral workplace especially extends to scientists, and the challenges are as complex as any occupation. For building operations, how can scientists minimize excess ventilation, the biggest energy component of their building, and perhaps their campus? Driven by research needs, ventilation-based loads drive energy use in laboratories.

By adhering to the spirit of green chemistry and minimizing unnecessary impacts of chemical use, lab occupants can assist operations staff to keep their building safe while saving 20-40% of building energy and GHG output. This "good behavior' must be coupled with a formal hazard reduction and risk assessment program by safety officers to document low-risk rooms, followed by adjusting air flow to appropriate rates for the risk profile. Scientists' endorsement of this hazard assessment process and HVAC tuning may be a key motivator for operations staff.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand that committing to green chemistry practices can reduce the needed airflow in laboratory;
  • Understand that endorsing a hazard assessment and ventilation tune-up is one of the most effective ways a lab occupant can support climate neutrality;
  • Understand that a ventilation risk assessment distinguishes fume hood risk from open bench space risk; and
  • Understand that a risk assessment combines the hazard levels and amounts of the chemical inventory with the practices and equipment in the lab.


Nick Ciancio is the sustainability coordinator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where he has overseen the green labs program for the past six years. One focus of the program is on effective cold storage practices. In 2021, Nick helped UAB win the Freezer Challenge award for Top Academic Institution.

Paul Foote is an energy efficiency and conservation specialist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), with over a decade of work focusing on Sustainability in higher education. His campus wide efforts in cold-storage management have helped UIUC win the International Freezer Challenge & Winning Streak awards over multiple years.


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