Shifting Campus Culture to Efficient, Optimized Lab Space Utilization via Education on the U.S. Federal ICR Rate Calculation

Kathryn Ramirez-Aguilar, University of Colorado Boulder

With the climate crisis upon us, one of the most important actions that can be taken for efficient science is to optimize utilization of existing lab space. Regrettably, this has not historically been a front and center topic of the U.S. research enterprise. In fact, few U.S. universities have a process in place that regularly assesses research activity in existing spaces and reallocates space to match changing needs. Most research funding at U.S. universities comes from the federal government.

Unfortunately, the U.S. federal Indirect Cost Recovery (ICR) rate calculation process, which is responsible for determining an institution's level of overhead funding connected to grants, neglects to promote efficient use of space. In fact, this process rewards research institutions with a higher rate if they are inefficient with space. Higher rates mean more is paid out of U.S. granting agency budgets for overhead costs and less goes to science.

For some U.S. grants, increasing rates also decreases how much funding scientists can request for their proposed research. By educating scientists on how the ICR rate is calculated and the significant influence that space utilization has on the rate, CU Green Labs believes culture will shift towards more efficient use of research spaces at U.S. institutions. This session will share the ICR rate presentation that CU Green Labs has organized and, in collaboration with our campus controller's office, will be co-presenting to research faculty and other CU Boulder members.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the U.S. federal ICR rate calculation for large research institutions and why CU Boulder Green Labs Program believes that educating scientists on this process will help shift culture towards efficient, optimized use of research space;
  • Learn about how the U.S. federal ICR rate process neglects to promote efficient use of research space and, in fact, rewards large institutions with a higher rate when space is not used efficiently;
  • Learn about ideas for changes that could be made to the U.S. federal ICR rate process to promote efficient research space utilization; and
  • Learn about posters that the CU Boulder Green Labs Program has created to promote a culture of efficient research space utilization.


Kathy has a PhD in chemistry & 15 years of lab experience. She created and manages the CU Boulder Green Labs Program. She is an I2SL board member and chair of the I2SL University Alliance Group; through this group leads the Bringing Efficiency to Research Grants effort working to connect efficiency expectations and sustainability to research funding.


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