Laboratories Take a Closer Look at Waste, Materials, and Energy in Daily Operations

January 27, 2011

Pipets from Yale laboratories no longer need end their lives in a landfill or incinerator. Instead, proving that their great capacity for innovation lies not only in energy and genetics research, but also in institutional sustainability, Yale University laboratories are tackling environmental issues in their everyday operations. A partnership between the Yale Office of Sustainability, and Department of Environmental Health and Safety, the Green Laboratory Certification Program is designed to recognize efforts to minimize environmental impact and encourage sharing of creative solutions in issues of waste, energy, and materials consumption.

Laboratories accumulate points by performing various action items on an extensive checklist—everything from participating in a chemical recycling system to printing double-sided—and work towards four levels of achievement: Y, A, L, and E. To date, 55 labs have enrolled in the program (38 have already earned “L” distinction), with several approaching “E” level of certification, and various strategies for creative areas in which to cut waste.

One of the most exciting aspects of the program is the opportunity for laboratories to write in their own initiatives that pursue workplace sustainability: Environmental Health and Safety received myriad submissions including setting up a solvent recycling system (in chemistry laboratories and the Peabody Museum of Natural History), taking reusable containers to vendor carts, and stopping the use of nitrogen purge boxes so as to eliminate nitrogen gas use. Operating under the idea that the people who work in a laboratory are in the best position to identify areas for improvement in sustainability, these write-in submissions can then be tweaked by and incorporated into other laboratories.

The Keck Foundation Biotechnology Resource Laboratory provides a great example of how one lab’s innovation can serve as a model to others. After Nancy Williams helped to launch a recycling program that resulted in the truckloads of plastic pipette tips sent to the recycling center, various other labs around campus are implementing their own recycling program, and building upon it to include other laboratory materials.

In a sector of the University that is often associated with large amounts of material waste and energy use, it is particularly thrilling to see so many individuals and groups taking on a challenge—to sustainably streamline their everyday work—with such enthusiasm and ingenuity. More information, or to participate in, the Green Laboratory Certification Program, visit theEnvironmental Health and Safety website.