Foster a Broder Culture of Sustainability: Two Case Studies

Jennifer Su-Coker, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Case Study #1: Safely Managing Hard to Recycle Material - Nitrile Gloves

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), nitrile gloves are significant source of non-hazardous laboratory waste destined for the landfill. In 2015, we began a limited nitrile glove recycling program by collecting gloves from analytical, instrument, and clean laboratories. Building on this success, glove recycling was expanded to include biological safety level-1 (BSL-1) gloves. Although the initiative was well received among our research staff, safety representatives raised concerns of improper handling of hazardous or biological wastes, such as staff picking through the collection bin to remove non-recyclable gloves, cross contamination, and collecting hazardous waste gloves.

To address those issues, we conducted a safety assessment with a group of hazardous waste and bio-waste subject matter experts (SMEs). As a result, pre-screening of laboratory activities by appropriate SMEs was incorporated into glove recycling selection criteria. The revised process has raised confidence that glove recycling is a safe and sustainable operation which can be applied to other laboratories.

Case Study #2: Institutionalize Sustainability Expectation

In 2014, a team of research and operations staff developed a sustainability performance assessment protocol to create a more robust sustainable laboratories program. After auditing 12 buildings and nearly 30 laboratory spaces, the team worked to institutionalize aspects of the sustainability assessment process to help improving sustainable laboratory operations and fostering greater staff engagement.

In 2016, the sustainability team selected PNNL's Integrated Operations System (IOPS) assessment tool to bridge safety, environmental, and sustainability requirements. At PNNL, laboratory managers and safety and environmental compliance representatives use the IOPS assessment tool to verify compliance with safety and environmental requirements. By working closely with the IOPS administration team, several sustainable operation indicators, such as closing the fume hood sash and recycling were successfully incorporated into the IOPS tool. Although those indicators are a subset of the initial sustainability assessment protocol, opportunities exist to incorporate additional sustainability indicators into the IOPS assessment tool.

Additionally, modeled after our 2015 Rock the Watt conservation campaign, the sustainability team embedded volunteered building sustainability champions (BSCs) across campus to build advocacy for a sustainability culture. The 18 BSCs identified nearly 40 employee-driven energy- and recycling-related improvement opportunities in 2016.

Learning Objectives

  • Participants will be able to model the case studies to incorporate safety and environmental aspects for future sustainability improvement efforts at their own laboratories.
  • One of the case study will illustrate how to collect nitrile gloves for recycling in a safe and replicable way.
  • Participants will acquire concrete examples of how to incorporate sustainability performance indicators into existing safety and environmental assessment tools to drive continuous improvement.
  • The case studies will demonstrate the value of teaming with safety and environmental representatives to improve sustainability performance.


Ms. Su-Coker is the subject matter expert for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL) pollution prevention and sustainability programs. She is also the chairperson for PNNL's sustainability team. She has led many initiatives aimed to foster sustainable culture and laboratory operations.


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