Sustainability Scoop – August 2019

How Lab Planning, Design, and Operations Are Changing With the Climate and the Times

It's not just the climate that's changing. As a new generation of scientists enters the workforce, lab planning, design, and operations are shifting to suit new workplace trends and emerging technologies. If you step into a new or recently renovated lab, you may find a more open, modular, and collaborative space that is also less environmentally impactful, according to a recent paper on evolving research workplace trends by Irene Monis.

In "The evolution of academic research facilities: workplace trends and emerging technologies reshape laboratory design," Monis explores how research facilities across the United States are modernizing to suit various work styles, enabling scientific advancement and resource efficiency in the following ways:

  • Creating multi-functional facilities. Operators and designers are reconfiguring their spaces to merge the lab, office, and social hub.
  • Automating. Many labs are adapting automation and informatics systems such as Laboratory Information Management Systems and Electronic Laboratory Notebooks to streamline processes and free researchers up to dedicate more time to brainstorming and collaborating.
  • Miniaturizing for efficiency. Smaller, automated lab equipment and instruments allow labs to dedicate space to other more critical functions.
  • Incorporating virtual reality and augmented reality. These technologies offer more immersive, collaborative experiences and promote multi-use spaces.

Planning for sustainability is also an essential element of modern lab design and operations. The University of Virginia (UVA) launched a sustainability pilot program last year to reduce the environmental impact of various research efforts by incorporating similar sustainability measures in three different types of labs on campus. Following are a few takeaways from the pilot that lab designers, owners, and operators can take into account when creating new spaces or upgrading existing labs:

  • Install equipment to monitor energy consumption such as submeters and kilowatt meters connected to lab equipment; measurement was critical to comparing the three different labs' success.
  • Consider fixtures and equipment that reduce energy and water use such as LED light bulbs, dimmers, window tinting, and water-efficient faucet aerators. Occupancy sensors, however, yielded mixed energy savings and could result in "blackouts" due to lack of motion or bulky lab equipment.
  • Don't forget the human element. New technologies are only as good as the people who use them. Train lab personnel to turn off lights and equipment when not in use, and form relationships with maintenance staff to encourage them to use efficient bulbs, plumbing fixtures, and green cleaning supplies.

Do you want to learn more about how your lab can be more modern and sustainable? Register for the International Institute of Sustainable Laboratories Annual Conference, October 20-23, 2019, in Denver, Colorado.