I2SL Sustainable Laboratories
The I2SL Sustainable Laboratories Awards Program recognizes outstanding projects, programs, and people exhibiting innovative and exemplary achievements in sustainability, energy efficiency, decarbonization, and waste reduction. There are three distinct categories of recognition:
The competition recognizes laboratory design innovation and leadership by leveraging I2SL’s reputation as the leading organization for sustainable, safe, and efficient laboratories. An I2SL Sustainable Laboratories Award provides global recognition and credibility to awardees. Award winners are publicized internationally through the I2SL Annual Conference, website, webinars, and communications and social media channels.
I2SL recognized 15 organizations and one individual at the 2023 Annual Conference in California. Read more about the accomplishments of each award winner below.
Lab Buildings or Projects Awards
Overall Lab Buildings and Projects Award:
Harvard University Science and Engineering Complex
Completed in 2021, Harvard’s new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC), supported by van Zelm Heywood & Shadford, Inc., is a 544,400-GSF, nine-story facility that has achieved sustainability goals on a large scale. The complex is LEED Platinum certified and is considered the first lab building to be certified by the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge in the Materials, Beauty and Equity performance areas. The complex incorporated myriad efficient and sustainable features, from energy-efficient building design and careful site planning to water reuse and stormwater management.
The complex’s unique custom-designed façade shading optimizes solar heat gain, reducing heat gain during cooling periods and increasing it during heating periods. Additionally, triple-glazed windows and skylighting dramatically decreases the need for electrical lighting within the building. To enhance indoor environmental quality, 54 percent of regularly occupied areas are daylit, and 50 percent of that area has access to operable windows. Thanks to these and other energy-efficient measures, the complex has an EUI of 83.31 kBTU/SF/year.
The complex also has made significant water reuse and stormwater management efforts with green roofs, biorention basins, and constructed wetlands. These measures ensure all stormwater falling on the site is collected, treated, and stored for reuse. Condensate from cooling coils is also collected and discharged into storage tanks. Thanks to these water reuse efforts, 71 percent of water used in the complex’s labs and 73 percent of toilet flushing water comes from collected rainwater.
The complex is not only a sustainable accomplishment for Harvard, but also extends to the surrounding communities. Due to years of industrial and manufacturing operations, the land which the complex was built on was a brownfield, polluted by lead, cadmium, petroleum hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds. During the construction process, the team removed and properly disposed of over 150,000 tons of soil and replaced it with a regenerative landscape. Outdoor green spaces are now open to the public and connect the university to the communities around it.
Excellence in Decarbonization:
Michigan State University (MSU) STEM Teaching and Learning Complex
MSU’s STEM Teaching and Learning Complex in East Lansing, Michigan, was a major construction and renovation project completed in 2021 supported by Ellenzweig. It includes the adaptive reuse of a decommissioned power plant, two new STEM teaching lab wings, and an entry atrium/classroom addition, turning an old space into a new, dynamic hub for science education at the university. The project adapted a coal-fired power station that served the university from the mid-1940s until 1976 into central, common spaces for both STEM and non-STEM students to gather. Legacy coal-fired boilers were transformed into collaborative areas within the complex. Both the adaptive reuse of the power plant and the use of mass timber contributed heavily to the complex’s carbon-efficient design. The project incorporated over 3,000 cubic meters of mass timber, storing an estimated 1,856 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e)—equivalent to over 4.6 million miles driven by an average vehicle!
Excellence in Continuous Improvement:
Florida State University King Life Sciences Building
Affiliated Engineers conducted a large retro-commissioning project on Florida State University’s existing research laboratories Tallahassee, Florida, in 2019. This effort was part of a larger-scale, progressive program led by FSU Utilities and Engineering Services to increase safety, efficiency, and sustainability within the university’s lab facilities. At the start of the retro-commissioning process, the team identified 311 issues in the King Life Sciences Building, including unoccupied air flow rates that exceeded occupied air flow rates, incorrect air balance and pressurization, and incorrect control system graphic display. Once the project concluded, 221 of the issues were resolved, and the university is continuing to address the remaining issues. The retro-commissioning effort resulted in a decrease of energy use intensity (EUI) of 477 kilo British thermal units (kBTU) per square ft (SF) per year to 379 kBTU/SF per year—a 20 percent energy savings. The project also helped achieve an estimated average yearly reduction of nearly 1,800 tons of CO2 and a 30 percent decrease in steam consumption.
Excellence in Energy Efficiency:
Boston College—245 Beacon Street
Boston College’s 245 Beacon Street property, supported by BR+A Consulting Engineers, is a 157,500-SF facility for interdisciplinary research and liberal arts programs. To maximize energy efficiency within the building, the team installed operable windows in individual offices, with an indicator light to notify occupants when the outdoor air conditions are ideal for natural ventilation and window sensors shut off space conditioning when windows are open. The building also includes chilled beams to decouple the heating and cooling loads of the building and provides the outdoor air only for ventilation or fume hood make-up. A water-based cooling system and heat recovery chiller shift building heating to an electric source and provide simultaneous heating and cooling, while reducing fossil fuel use and saving water. The project team found creative ways to save energy in the building’s cleanrooms by monitoring and operating based on actual cleanliness as detected by particle counters, instead of a prescriptive air change rate. This provided a repeatable and measurable level of clean operation while simultaneously reducing fan power and overall energy use. The building EUI is 89 kBTU/SF/year—a 76 percent reduction in onsite energy usage compared to the average laboratory building in the Boston and Cambridge area.
Excellence in Water Efficiency
Lehigh University Health | Science | Technology (HST) Building
Lehigh’s 190,000-gross square foot (GSF) HST Building, mostly completed in 2022, supports research into public health, chemistry, materials science, biological science, and the administrative offices of Lehigh’s new College of Health in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Supported by HGA, the building includes a variety of sustainable and efficient features, which earned it LEED v4 Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. In terms of water efficiency measures, the HST building includes a reclaimed water system that collects HVAC condensate and roof rainwater and treats the rainwater for reuse in indoor and outdoor irrigation and toilet flushing. The air-cooled chiller also eliminates cooling tower makeup water demand. Thanks to these features, the HST building has achieved 76 percent whole-building potable water savings compared to similar facilities. The building saves an estimated 688,000 gallons of potable water annually, which is enough to fill Lehigh’s varsity pool 2.5 times.
Excellence in Indoor Environment
Promega Corporation Kornberg Center
Promega’s Kornberg Center is a new 280,000 SF research and development facility in Madison, Wisconsin; designed by SmithGroup, includes many sustainable features to improve indoor air quality and environment. The space includes interior plantings and water features, operable windows in the atrium and offices, and natural daylighting that reaches 75 percent of interior space. The Center provides 100 percent outside air to the entire building with total energy recovery, improving indoor air quality. The Kornberg Center features a double-skin façade on all sides, which extends the natural ventilation cycle from two to three months to nine to 10 months. The double skin also allows maintenance to occur without closing labs, increasing energy efficiency and stabilizing the effect of outside temperatures in the labs. A total of 22 miles of in-floor tubing and a geo-exchange system provide radiant heating and cooling that both enhances occupant comfort and increases energy savings.
Lab Programs or Initiatives Awards
Outstanding Green Labs Program:
University of Georgia (UAG) Green Labs Program
Through its Green Labs Program, the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, Georgia, is not only paving the way for sustainability and efficiency within UGA labs, but also raising awareness about the need for equity within the research enterprise. UGA’s Green Labs Program focuses on waste reduction and sustainable purchasing across the university’s 1,900 research facilities and has become a model for other labs. To reduce and divert lab waste, UGA encourages researchers to scale down experiments, embrace green chemistry, and use research consumables that can be recycled or reused. UGA has donated ice packs from labs to local nonprofits to use when delivering food to local citizens in need during summer months. UGA Green Labs Manager Star Scott has also worked with the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council to develop a guidance document on sustainable procurement.
UGA Green Labs has pioneered efforts to identify more lab consumables that were created using fair labor. In partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, Star also developed a method for institutions to objectively research how their labs’ hazardous waste is handled, and whether it is disposed of equitably or in underserved communities.
UGA Green Labs focuses on strengthening equity to in-lab operations by educating researchers on publishing and funding disparities, as well as the challenges of “invisible work” such as mentoring, fostering outreach, and other efforts in support of research that often go unrecognized. The program provides shared language for researchers that can help them better organize and address some of these challenging topics, both within the university and with funding and publishing entities. Based on UGA Green Lab’s ongoing efforts, programs across the country better understand the intersection of equity and sustainability in the lab and are inspired to seek justice through waste reduction and purchasing.
Pioneer Green Labs Program:
University of British Columbia Green Labs Program
Over the past 15 years, the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, BC, Canada, has shown an unwavering commitment to sustainable labs and continues to find new ways to educate others on best practices. Established in 2008, UBC’s Green Labs program was one of the first such programs in the world. Since then, the program has focused on researcher engagement and education, resource conservation, and continuous improvement and innovation. To reduce the high volume of waste that research generates, UBC Green Labs created a program that empowers researchers to make informed choices and implement effective strategies for reducing lab-generated waste. They also provide guidance on smart purchasing and offer a Green Purchasing Guide for researchers.
To reduce energy use, UBC Green Labs created the “Chill Up” Challenge to encourage researchers to raise the set point temperature of ultra-low temperature freezers (ULTs). UBC’s Freezer Rebate Program also provides financial incentives for purchasing energy-efficient ULTs. The program’s 2022 Shut the Sash competition enlisted researchers in the Chemistry Department to participate with 43 of their fume hoods; the effort resulted in an impressive 47,000 kilowatt-hours of energy savings. To save water, UBC launched a Waterless Condenser Lending Program in 2023 to offer researchers the ability to test waterless condensers before investing in new equipment that would replace single-pass water cooling condensers.
UBC Green Labs further engaged researchers in 2023 by launching a sustainability course focused on lab users; the university also continues to provide funding to support innovative ideas that reduce the environmental impact of research activities. Many green labs programs still look to this pioneering effort to gain ideas and inspiration.
Lab Programs and Initiatives Award for Space Optimization:
University of Colorado School of Medicine Anschutz Medical Campus
Recognizing that resource and space sharing can maximize research efficiency and prevent purchasing unnecessary equipment, the University of Colorado’s (CU’s) School of Medicine conducted a clean-up of lab space in five different buildings on the Anschutz Medical Campus. To start, teams completed lab walk-throughs of 550,000 SF of lab space to evaluate space utilization and identify clutter. They noted how many people worked in each space, how cluttered it was, and any environmental safety issues, then they rated each lab on a scale of 0 to 5 based on how efficiently space was utilized. From those walk-throughs, the team identified 44,000 SF of underutilized or unused lab space.
Based on their findings, the team was able to dispose of over 3,000 pounds of unused chemicals, including corrosive liquids, flammable liquids, oxidizers, and other types of liquid hazardous waste. Many other materials and property could be salvaged, recycled, or re-homed. Over 4,000 items were redistributed, including: consumable materials; glassware; standard equipment (electrophoresis, pipettes, PCR hoods, gel docs, and microscopes); specialized equipment (cryostat, plate reader, and microscopes); and refrigerator-freezer units. The clean-up project helped the CU School of Medicine free up space for new research and avoided the need to construct new lab spaces on the Anschutz Medical Campus, which supports the university’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Lab Programs and Initiatives Award for Education and Equipment Sharing:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Durham, North Carolina, has implemented two key initiatives to improve sustainability and efficiency in its laboratories. To better understand how the choices individual researchers make can reduce the environmental impact of their research, the team created a voluntary Green Researcher Self-Assessment for scientists. Each assessment takes about 20 minutes to complete and closely examines research practices. NIEHS launched the assessment in 2021 with 20 participants; 42 participants completed the assessment in 2023. Lab group participation has increased from 21 percent in 2021 to 31 percent in 2023.
NIEHS also designed and implemented a Database of Laboratory Equipment for Sharing (DOLES) to help promote and log equipment available for sharing. Previously, researchers would have to email each other this information; DOLES allows researchers to easily search for available equipment and view photos and descriptions on the NIEHS intranet. Users can find the host laboratory location, points of contact for scheduling a reservation, and any requirements for use all in one place. Since its launch in June 2022, the database has grown to include over 100 pieces of equipment from more than half of the labs at NIEHS.
Lab Programs and Initiatives Award for Climate Impact:
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) SF6 Reduction Initiative
Led by LANL employees Shannon Blair and Michael Moss, this initiative aimed to reduce emissions of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) that made up approximately 15 percent of LANL’s total GHG emissions in fiscal year 2021. To avoid release of SF6 gas during unplanned/planned maintenance activities at one facility, Shannon and Michael worked with operations staff to reclaim the gas for recycling, ultimately reducing SF6 gas pollution by an estimated 200 cubic feet per year. That amount of SF6 is equivalent to approximately 912 tons of CO2. In addition, they have continued to develop and improve a gas tracking system with LANL gas operations that will help get more accurate measurements of the gas used.
Michael and Shannon have also engaged with the LANL science community to fund research in support of SF6management. For example, working with a fusion researcher, their program funded a project to replace SF6 gas with air in a switch redesign. Between engaging with the science community, gas tracking, and recycling initiatives, they have helped LANL reduce GHG emissions by over 10 percent since 2021.
Eurofins Biopharma Product Testing’s green team, established in 2008, initially focused on lab spaces, but has grown to encompass the entire building. They created a classifieds page on their Sustainability intranet web page in 2022 that provides details of unused lab consumables or equipment to avoid unnecessary purchases, and they donated approximately $150,000 worth of used lab equipment and unused supplies to area high schools and colleges through Science in Motion.
Janssen Immunology Biology Lab has reduced waste over the past five years by encouraging researchers to share purchased items such as electronic pipettes and avoid duplicative ordering. They created a common, searchable, inventory of several hundred reagents, lab items, and chemicals. Staff conduct daily lab walkthroughs to ensure lights are off, equipment is powered down, and sashes are shut. They also simplified recycling practices to make it easier for researchers to participate.
Pennsylvania State University’s Sustainable Labs Program created a Sustainable Labs Ambassadors program for students focused on equipment management practices, product selection, and waste reduction. Paired with a green lab guide, the five 2022 student ambassadors took coursework focused on sustainable research practices and learned behavior change approaches to motivate their peers in the lab; the program was such a success that the number of ambassadors increased by 15 after the first year.
University of Alabama-Birmingham Green Labs Program has been a long-standing leader in the green labs community, and they have continued to introduce innovative sustainable initiatives into their practices. Most recently, UAB Green Labs has been working to right-size sterilizers in labs across the campus by surveying users and adjusting the sterilizers’ cycles. They also created a program to warehouse and reuse lab glassware when an investigator retires or a research project is completed.
Phil Wirdzek Leadership Award
Wendell Brase, University of California, Irvine
After decades of commitment to educating—and improving—the sustainable laboratory community, Wendell Brase has received the Phil Wirdzek Leadership Award for 2023. Wendell joined the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in 1991 and under his leadership, the university’s Smart Labs Initiative was created in 2008. In his position of Vice Chancellor, Wendell took a hands-on approach to implementing a cutting-edge program to reduce lab energy use by at least 50 percent at UCI. Under his leadership, facility staff at UCI identified aggressive efficiency opportunities in laboratories across the campus. UCI then developed a formal process for Smart Lab retrofits, as well as accompanying resources and staff training. Wendell helped spearhead a series of energy-efficient upgrades resulting in a 57 percent reduction in electricity use, a 72 percent decrease in natural gas, and 61 percent in total energy savings across 10 academic labs. Since then, UCI’s Smart Labs Initiative has become an example for other programs around the world adopting the philosophy of making their labs smarter and more efficient.
Wendell and his team’s efforts to reduce lab energy consumption was one of the prime reasons that UCI was the first university in the United States to meet President Obama’s Better Buildings Challenge to reduce campus-wide energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2020—and they achieved it seven years early!
Embodying the same spirit as I2SL’s late founder Phil Wirdzek, Wendell has used his leadership position to lift others up in the sustainable lab community and educate his peers about energy-efficient lab practices. Wendell has given frequent presentations and workshops at both I2SL and other conferences to share how good lab design and energy-efficient retrofits can dramatically decrease lab energy use, emissions, and operating costs. For many years, UCI has co-sponsored free Smart Labs workshops with the U.S. Department of Energy to help others plan, implement, and maintain the Smart Labs program. Wendell also volunteered his time to I2SL’s Board of Directors, serving from 2011 through 2013. Without Wendell’s passion for energy efficiency and education, many research and teaching facilities wouldn’t be the sustainable laboratories we know them as today.