Toward the Net-Zero Lab: A Pathway to Carbon Reduction Strategies for Research Facilities

Brian Smiley, HOK
Devki Desai, HOK

Labs are traditionally carbon-intensive. Addressing total carbon in lab design is becoming increasingly urgent in order to mitigate climate change. This presentation will review the results of a research initiative completed by HOK that addresses the climate impacts of lab design through the lens of operational and embodied carbon.

Presenters will address the following questions regarding operational carbon:

  • How do you find big reductions in ventilation and air change rates though fume hood and lab planning strategies?
  • How do you balance risk and carbon reduction using air quality sensing technology?
  • How do you implement incremental strategies for further carbon reduction?

Presenters will address the following questions regarding Embodied Carbon:

  • Which types of structural bays and facade systems have the most impact on carbon reduction?
  • What are the vibration implications of each structural system?
  • Is a hybrid structural system an effective way to balance embodied carbon and vibration?
  • What are the next steps for concurrent evaluation of operational and embodied carbon for zero-carbon lab design?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the magnitude of operational and construction carbon in typical lab facilities and the importance of tackling the issue to meaningfully address climate action; define the knowledge and construction practice gaps in the lab sector and the need for better benchmarking and data collection;
  • Identify progressive design measures to incrementally reduce the in-use energy consumption and how the assessment process can help us make better choices;
  • Explain how material selection can reduce embodied carbon in principle and how combining these principles with structural vibration requirements presents a particular challenge with lab buildings; and
  • Describe the importance of working closely with structural engineers as part of the life cycle assessment process to ensure vibration criteria is tested against a life cycle impact assessment.


Brian is a Senior Project Architect & Sustainability Leader at HOK Philadelphia with 25+ years experience leading teams in the development of award-winning science & technology projects. Brian has extensive experience with high performance design and is the current Chair for the Committee on the Environment for AIA Pennsylvania.

Devki Desai PE is a Structural Project Engineer with work spanning large-scale laboratory, healthcare, aviation and high-rise projects. She spearheaded the HOK structural engineering team's life-cycle analysis initiatives. She is a National Science Foundation fellowship alum experienced in bench-scale lab research, and CTBUH NY's Emerging Leader of New York 2019.


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