2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Lab Freezer Challenge

Liz York, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Results estimated from the 2012 CDC Freezer Challenge will save more than $127,000 per year in operating costs and will reduce energy use by more than 320,000 kWh annually, equivalent to the yearly energy consumption of 36 single family homes. It is this type of innovative thinking and dedication that will help us achieve our federal sustainability targets for energy reduction. The challenge highlights the ingenuity and win-win opportunities that sustainability offers to CDC in times of limited resources.

The 2012 CDC Freezer Challenge consisted of implementing ways to reduce energy use, cut operating costs, adopt innovative laboratory sustainability practices, and leverage existing storage capacity in CDC laboratories without the need for new equipment or space. All teams fulfilled the requirements and were winners in their own right, but one took the coveted Freezer Challenge Champions title; CDC's Microbial Pathogenesis and Immune Response Laboratory took home the title.

Based on unique lab operations, each team selected specific sustainability strategies to implement during the challenge held from September to November 2012. Labs were asked to implement a variety of strategies to reduce their carbon footprints and also help them regain precious space.

Sixty-six laboratory professionals from four National Centers in Georgia and Alaska participated in the competition, including lab groups from Emerging Infections; Bacterial Diseases; Arctic Investigations; HIV/AIDS; Viral Diseases; Gastroenteritis and Respiratory Virus; Environmental Health; and Birth Defects and Blood Disorders.

Laboratories are energy-intensive due to high demands for safety and around-the-clock operation of equipment. Members of the internal Store Smart workgroup realized the great potential to reduce CDC's energy use based an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the agency and its laboratory culture.

The competition collectively accomplished the following:

  • 226 cubic feet of items discarded
  • 44 freezers emptied and unplugged
  • 100 freezers inventoried to improve sample access
  • 85 freezers inventoried using an electronic inventory system
  • 38 units adopted a barcode system for their inventory
  • 60 freezers temperature tuned from -80 degrees Celsius to -70 degrees Celsius, reducing energy use by ~40%
  • >100 fridges and freezers defrosted and cleaned.

Moving Forward The Store Smart workgroup is planning to:

  • Conduct a Room Temperature Sample Storage (biostabilizers) pilot study, which could provide scientific advancements in specimen storage and transport and improve the agency's ability to quickly respond to public health emergencies.
  • Host another Sustainable Labs Challenge.


Liz York, A.I.A. Chief Sustainability Officer and Acting Associate Director for Quality and Sustainability Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Liz York serves as Chief Sustainability Officer and Acting Associate Director for Quality and Sustainability for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this role, she works to increase employee and agency involvement in sustainable practices while also instilling quality improvement methodology into CDC operations. Ms. York, a registered architect, holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Architecture both from the Georgia Institute of Technology. At the CDC since 1999, she has served as a construction project manager, design architect, and design reviewer, working closely with security and safety professionals on CDC's high containment labs and protocols.


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