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UC San Diego Certifies Hundredth Green Lab

July 29, 2020

UC San Diego’s Green Labs program helps labs conserve resources and reduce waste without comprising research quality or safety to help achieve UC system-wide carbon neutrality and sustainability goals. In mid-July, UC San Diego’s Green Labs certification team certified Dr. Jan Kleissl’s lab to reach a 100 certified labs milestone. Since certifying its first four labs in 2016, UC San Diego certifies approximately 25 new labs each year and currently leads the UC system with the most certified labs.

Kleissl Lab

When Dr. Kleissl, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Energy Research, learned about the milestone, he said, "I would have liked to be the first certified lab, but I’m honored to now be part of this prestigious circle! Even though I already knew a lot about sustainability, I learned a few more tricks from the certification team. The certification process was efficient, well customized to our specific lab situation and actionable."

UC San Diego has hundreds of campus labs conducting research in multiple disciplines from particle physics to atmospheric science. Although lab buildings only occupy approximately 30 percent of campus space, they consume millions of gallons of water annually, produce most of the campus’ hazardous waste and account for roughly 50 percent of the total campus energy demand. Research institutions worldwide target resource conservation in labs to reduce their environmental impact.

Sustainability Engagement Manager Jennifer Bowser leads a team of student interns and volunteers through the Green Labs certification process, as they assess a lab’s behaviors related to energy and water use, cold storage, lighting, ventilation, waste reduction, fieldwork and travel and assign a certification level from Green to Platinum. Then, the team presents the assessment results to lab staff, recommending actions and identifying available resources to help the lab implement more sustainable practices. Labs can implement the recommendations and request a reassessment every six months to achieve a higher certification level.

Students play an integral role in identifying new labs to certify, assessing survey results, preparing presentations and cultivating relationships with certified labs. Sustainability Programs Office intern Camille Perkins said, "It's an awesome experience to help with the Green Labs program because the process of empowering labs to become more sustainable through behavioral change is so fulfilling. I enjoy discussing different ways that labs can implement sustainable solutions in their space and educating them about available resources. I really feel like I'm able to make an impact and help the campus reach its sustainability goals."

The Green Labs program began in 2013 as a group of representatives from several campus departments, including Sustainability, Facilities Management, Environment, Health & Safety, Core Bio Services, Procurement, among others. Many principle investigators and lab managers have joined the team, offering their experiences and perspective on implementing best lab practices.

Rina Salanga, Assistant Project Scientist and manager of Tracy Handel's lab in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been a Green Labs team member since 2018 when her lab was certified. “I’ve long valued sustainable living at home, but achieving sustainability in the research setting always seemed like a daunting task. The Green Labs certification process provided a much-needed platform—raising awareness to environmentally friendly lab practices and engaging our research group to safely and reasonably implement identified improvements. This type of critical collaboration has led to meaningful long-term changes in our lab. I’m hopeful that by promoting the program to other labs, we can increase the participation and impact, with the goal that these strategies become standard practice within our research community,” Salanga said.

Green Labs team members meet monthly to discuss initiatives and help labs implement sustainable practices. The Green Labs program has advanced campus sustainability by installing aerators on laboratory faucets to save nearly four million gallons of potable water, implementing initiatives to recycle and reduce excess packaging waste, reviving ChemCycle, a program that lets labs safely share unopened chemicals and manage hazardous waste more efficiently and helping labs transition to safer chemical alternatives.

“Reaching this significant milestone reflects the hard work and dedication of our Green Labs team and I am proud of the utility and material reductions they have achieved. It’s great to be leading the UC pack in this category, but, I want to encourage all our labs to get involved in this program to learn what they can do to improve our campus and the environment,” said Stephen B. Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor of Environmental & Building Services in Resource Management & Planning.

Learn more about UC San Diego’s Green Labs program.