Implementing Efficient Lab Practices in Cold Storage Management Institution-wide: Perspectives, Challenges and Behavioral Changes from UAB and UIUC

Nick Ciancio, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Paul Foote, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

University of Alabama Birmingham and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign were recognized internationally by I2SL and My Green Labs for their work in getting researchers to prioritize treatment of cold storage units. Both engaged researchers in participating in the freezer challenge to improve efficiency, achieve behavior changes, inform researchers on the importance of implementing cold storage sustainable protocols, and engage university leadership in the importance of implementing these efficient practices campus-wide.

UAB and UIUC both recruited at least one intern tasked with engaging researchers regarding cold storage practices to engage and educate researchers on how to effectively treat equipment; encourage them to participate in the International Laboratory Freezer Challenge; assist labs in the process of cleaning freezer coils and freezer filters; replace filters; conduct defrosts, and identify energy-efficient units for labs that replace cold storage equipment.

Data that UAB and UIUC accumulated were sufficient for presenting to leadership the significance of developing a cold storage maintenance program. UAB and UIUC both had 34 labs implement freezer behavioral changes in 2021, and both institutions tracked total energy savings and equated energy savings to monetary savings. This savings was used to illustrate the importance of broader cold storage policies that should be implemented. The presentation would focus on how other universities could implement similar programs.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify and analyze metrics to determine the energy savings of certain cold storage behaviors;
  • Develop an engagement plan for interacting with researchers and encouraging them to take certain actions regarding cold storage;
  • Identify best practices for labs to implement to prolong the life of freezers and how this integrates into energy savings; and
  • Explain how you can get institutional buy-in on cold storage maintenance and optimizing cold storage efficiencies.


Nick Ciancio is the sustainability coordinator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where he has overseen the green labs program for the past six years. One focus of the program is on effective cold storage practices. In 2021, Nick helped UAB win the Freezer Challenge award for Top Academic Institution.

Paul Foote is an energy efficiency and conservation specialist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), with over a decade of work focusing on Sustainability in higher education. His campus wide efforts in cold-storage management have helped UIUC win the International Freezer Challenge & Winning Streak awards over multiple years.


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