Sustainability Scoop — July 2020

Experts Grapple With Returning to Labs

While all types of businesses and institutions have been affected by COVID-19, some labs in particular have faced unique challenges of continuing or ramping up critical work while keeping researchers safe. Others had to quickly close, then determine how to ensure social distancing in spaces that are inherently tight. To help labs address safety and air quality while continuing to integrate sustainability best practices, the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) has invited industry experts from across the country to discuss the challenges and successes they’ve faced shutting and reopening to operate during the pandemic. On July 8, six panelists joined I2SL for its second town hall, COVID-19 Challenges and Successes for Designing and Operating Safe and Sustainable Labs.


  • Moderator: Jonathan Eisenberg, ARUP
  • Lisa Churchill, Associate Principal, ARUP
  • Patrick Daley, Senior Director, Facilities, Engineering, Maintenance, Logistics, and EHS, Gritstone Oncology
  • Jim Doughty, CIH, Senior Program Manager, MIT
  • Ted Palashis, President, Overbrook Support Services
  • Kelley Raasch, CSP, Associate Director of EHS, The Broad Institute
  • Mary Jo Spector, Director of Research Facilities, Design, Construction, and Maintenance, Florida State University

Stream the Town Hall Recording Now

  • Many lab users and operators have questioned how to maintain social distancing practices while in the lab, since research often requires people to work in close quarters, using the same equipment and sharing space. Patrick Daley from Gritstone Oncology noted that their labs and offices had to stay open during the shutdown, but they deemed some employees essential and allowed others to work from home. Mary Jo Spector noted the Florida State University’s labs are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity; however, after surveying PhD candidates, she learned that lab training has been difficult to complete with social distancing measures in place.
  • Panelists Jim Doughty and Kelley Raasch discussed how they are addressing air quality and air exchange rates in their labs. Kelley provided insights about the use of MERV 13 filters to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through laboratory ventilation. Jim spoke about MIT’s plans for returning to labs and how they’re handling air flow in older buildings that may not have the systems to facilitate the highest levels of air quality. To read more about maintaining good air quality in the lab, check out this article.
  • To wrap up the discussion, panelists addressed how the pandemic is changing new/retrofit lab design requirements for safety and sustainability. A big issue for several panelists is how make lab space meet evolving space requirements. Patrick Daley stated that Gritstone is redoing the design for a new lab so it includes the capability to move equipment around easily in case more space is needed for future social distancing. When continuing construction of an older lab building at the Broad Institute, Kelley Raasch said that they faced several challenges, including revamping construction schedules to meet occupancy limits and ensuring construction companies had COVID-19 policies they were following consistent with the Broad Institute policies.

One of the more forward-looking topics was how to design and plan for resiliency in labs when addressing future pandemics, as well as climate change. Learn more information about this topic by streaming the town hall recording or catch the plenary session of the I2SL virtual conference, October 6. If you have any relevant information you’d like to share about COVID-19 and labs, please send it to info@i2sl.org and we’ll add it to I2SL E-Library Pandemic Readiness and Response section.