Sustainability Scoop — January 2021

Lab Owners Learn Lessons on Pandemic Operations

As the United States marks one year of battling COVID-19, lab owners and operators can look back and learn from how they handled the pandemic to address ongoing issues in the future. During the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) Annual Conference in October 2020, four speakers from a variety of lab types discussed how they handled the challenges presented by COVID-19 during the plenary session, Labs and COVID-19: An Owners’ Perspective. Here are some key takeaways for labs to consider as they work to ensure lab safety and sustainability in 2021 and beyond:

  • Understand what makes your lab unique. While ASHRAE and other organizations have released COVID-19 guidance for research facilities, it’s important to understand how your particular lab and its air handling systems function before applying guidance. Every lab is different, and the suggestions given are not one-size-fits-all solutions. You may need to identify similar situations or complete an independent study before researchers are convinced that it is in fact the best solution for their lab.
  • Don’t default on deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance, or the practice of postponing maintenance on machines and repairs on real property to keep costs in check, is typical in labs. However, when a public health crisis hits, not having systems operating in top shape can cause real problems. When addressing COVID-19 guidelines and enhancing occupant safety, lab owners may realize that some of the maintenance deferred is now critical. While you have a moment to breathe, evaluate system maintenance requirement and determine what’s most essential to address sooner rather than later. Since effective ventilation is crucial to controlling the spread of airborne viruses like COVID-19, HVAC and air systems are a good place to start.
  • Plan for resiliency instead of risk. Pivoting from risk to resiliency means focusing on maintaining an entire system and considering all the ways it could be disrupted, rather than focusing on one natural disaster or other disruptor such as the pandemic. Resiliency planning means becoming comfortable with a certain level of uncertainty about what disruptions may arise and taking a holistic approach to risk planning, ensuring that labs are equipped to handle any possible future disturbance. Resiliency planning also ties back to addressing maintenance, so that facilities are not scrambling to catch up during a pandemic or weather-related disaster.

You can watch the full recording of the plenary panel free of charge on I2SL’s Teachable site and access more COVID-19 resources for labs on the I2SL E-Library Pandemic Readiness and Response section. If you have information to share about COVID-19 and labs, please send it to info@i2sl.org.

Bring Your Tour to Tech Tuesdays

Although COVID-19 has curtailed the ability to take facility tours, I2SL wants our members to have an opportunity to demonstrate their latest projects and lab efficiency technologies, systems, equipment, and design elements. Through a series of “Tech Tuesday” webinars, we will co-sponsor virtual lab and project tours throughout 2021 and invite architects, designers, construction teams, and vendors to provide a videotaped tour to our network of 7,000 with a live Q&A. If you are interested in promoting one of your projects through a Tech Tuesday tours, please contact michaela.magnuson@erg.com.

Mark Your Calendars

The I2SL 2021 Annual Conference is scheduled for September 26-29 in Atlanta; we’re still hoping to meet in person, as long as it is safe to do so. Stay tuned for more information about the Call for Presenters and Technology Fair!