Engineering Engagement: The Building-Occupant Interface of Green Labs

Christine Alencar, University of Virginia
Doug Livingston, University of Virginia

The University of Virginia (UVA) is a rapidly expanding R1 research institution where laboratories contribute 33% of institutional energy consumption, despite only accounting for 16% of the physical footprint. Therefore, reaching institutional sustainability goals relies on greening lab spaces. Other Green Labs model programs have sought to improve efficiency through building retrofits, but this narrow approach risks overlooking additional opportunities that engage researchers in sustainable lab practices. Researcher engagement helps to raise awareness for safer lab operations that can simultaneously improve user safety while enhancing research protocol efficiency. Through a comprehensive Green Labs Pilot Program, UVA Sustainability has built a case for uniting outreach and engagement initiatives with energy engineering to maximize energy savings in lab buildings. Two life sciences labs and one chemistry lab partnered with the program, allowing UVA to separately track energy savings resulting from building infrastructural improvements (new LED lighting, HVAC controls, etc.) and savings captured following a brief Green Labs training curriculum (lowering freezer set points, maintaining a shut the sash policy on chemical fume hoods, etc.). Both quantitative and qualitative results have been the basis for expanding the Pilot Program to a broader set of labs on grounds.

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the importance of developing educational programs that go beyond building infrastructure changes to support lab occupants in "greening up" their research operations.
  • Learn about new Green Labs outreach strategies at institutions of higher education institution.
  • Understand the biggest sources of energy demand within the three pilot labs.
  • Learn the most effective way building engineers play in interacting with lab users.


Christine is the Green Labs Outreach and Engagement Specialist at the University of Virginia. With eight years of professional research experience in molecular biology and chemical analysis, she communicates the benefits of sustainable lab operations to the campus research community, helping labs lower their carbon footprint, increase user safety, and improve protocol efficiency.

Doug is an Energy and Sustainability Engineer at UVA, with over 10 years of experience designing, analyzing, and optimizing building energy systems. In his role as an energy engineer, Doug works with various stakeholders to investigate the biggest drivers of energy demand in buildings and designs solutions to reduce those demands and increase overall building efficiency. Doug is also involved in new construction and LEED EBOM projects on grounds.


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