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Green Labs

Welcome to the Green Labs at Penn State Website


About Green Labs

Laboratories are some of the most energy-consuming facilities at Penn State. As a research university, it is important for us to implement energy-saving strategies with scientists and researchers who understand conservation methods.

Goal: The Green Labs at Penn State highlights ways that researchers, staff, faculty and lab managers can implement sustainable practices in lab buildings.


Fume Hoods

Fume hoods are heavy-duty ventilation systems, used to remove hazardous vapors.

Guess how many houses use the equivalent of one fume hood in energy per year? 

Fume Hoods = Fume Hoods
Question Mark

Fume Hoods Impact on Energy:

Fume hoods are crucial pieces of equipment in research labs, designed to protect researchers' exposure to hazardous fumes, vapors and dust by continuously pulling air away from the hood work area and into the building's air filtration system. When the cabinet sash is accidentlally left open, the room's conditioned air is exhausted out of the building, wasting the energy used to cool or heat that air. A National Institutes of Health lab analysis of energy used in the lab contributed 44 percent of the energy to ventilation and a Harvard study calculated the average annual cost to operate a fume hood at approximately $4,460 per hood, roughly equivalent to the average energy costs of two households.1. Penn State has a total of 1,358 fume hoods: 994 at the University Park campus and 364 at our Commonwealth campuses. Closing the fume hood sashs when not in use, especially on variable air volume hoods, can save over $1,000 per hood annually and millions of dollars of savings for the University.

Steps to reduce fume hood emission:

  1. When not using the fume hood, close the sash.
  2. Use the cabinet for chemical storage only.
  3. If you will not be using a fume hood for several months, please contact Kevin Myers to have it decomissioned.

1.Validating Cost and Energy Savings from Harvard's Shut the Sash Program, by Quentin Gilly, Office for Sustainability, Harvard. 2016


Ultra-low freezers (ULT) traditionally set at -80° C, consume a significant amount of energy yearly and therefore emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

Guess how many houses use the equivalent of one Ultra-low freezer in energy per year?

Freezers = Fume Hoods
Question Mark

Steps to reduce electricity use by freezers:

  • Use preservative reagents that do not require cold temperatures for storage of reagents (e.g. DNA and RNA).
  • Before purchasing, evaluate potential freezers on their longevity and their absolute energy use. Penn State's Energy Conservation Policy, AD64 requires that all appliances be EnergyStar certified.
  • Share freezers with neighboring labs, if possible.
  • Adopt energy-efficient freezer maintenance procedures:
    • Check freezer door seals: If left open, cold air (energy) escapes.
    • Move the freezer to a cooler location: It has to work harder if it’s placed in sunlight or warm rooms.
    • Minimize frost buildup. Manual defrost and partial automatic defrost freezers should be defrosted regularly. The buildup of ice on the coils means the compressor has to run longer to maintain cooler temperatures, wasting more energy.
    • Manage your storage space. Label items for easy access so that doors are not left open for long periods of time.
    • Encourage your colleagues to clear out any unneeded materials from past research to prevent the purchase of new freezers.
  • Clean out freezers of unneeded samples. This may enable the lab to shut down one freezer, saving electricity, the draw on air conditioning, and funds. A traditional -20 freezer (1993 - 2000 vintage) uses about 1,053 kWh annually, costing the University about $75 and emitting an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide as 1.2 month's worth of energy use by an average American home.


General Sustainability Tips

Guess the number of trees harvested for the amount of paper used by one person for one year?

Person = Trees
Question Mark

Save Energy:

  • Turn off lab equipment when not in use:
    • Centrifuges
    • Water baths
    • Balances
    • Ovens, Etc.
  • Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
  • Power manage your computer and data by activating sleep mode.
  • During off hours, when buildings are unoccupied, lab temperatures should be lowered (in the winter) or raised (in the summer) to save energy.
  • If you are leaving your lab area for a long period of time and it is not in use, please contact Bruce Smith in the Office of Physical Plant so that energy-saving measures can be enacted during your time away.
  • Use task lighting versus overhead lighting. Task lighting gives you full control of the energy being used for your immediate work area.
  • When purchasing appliances or electronics for your lab, select Energy Star or EPEAT certified products, if available. Products carrying this mark generally consume 25 percent less electricity than federal standards require.


Steps to reduce resource use in labs:

  1. Set double-sided printing as the default.
  2. Purchase recycled ink and toner cartridges
  3. Enable energy savings settings on office electronics.
  4. Report dripping and leaking faucets
  5. Remember to turn out the lights when you leave.
  6. Polystyrene coolers: if you receive temperature sensitive samples in coolers, consult the manufacturer to see if they have a Shipping Box Reuse Program. These coolers take millions of years to decompose in a landfill and there are no economical recycling programs presently.


How to Become a Green Lab

  1. Learn about the Green Lab program
  2. Commit to the program with leadership endorsement; inform and enroll your lab members
  3. Assess and act by finding areas to improve, and make and document sustainable changes
  4. Certify and celebrate—when done, you will receive a framed certificate and other recognition

Step 1: Learn

  • One person or more in your department learns about the program from this material, or meets with the Sustainability Staff (contact Lydia Vandenbergh).
  • Get the approval of your director or supervisor by briefing them (10-15 min) on the program.

Step 2: Commit

  • Select at least one Green Champion in your lab.
  • They will:
    • Lead the Green Team and spend about 4 hours per month on Green Lab
    • Be the contact between your lab and the Sustainability Institute
    • Request an editable version of Green Labs Assessment and coordinate completing it
  • Organize your Green Team – including purchasing, IT, management and other key staff.
  • Define your green vision—what is it about conserving resources that fits with your departmental values; what are your goals? Your PI should write their reason for participation in the assessment.
  • Arrange a kick-off meeting for your whole staff to get everyone oriented and on board (20-40 minutes).

Step 3: Assess and act

  • Your Green Team will meet with Aaron Knight, Facilities Coordinator for Biology, for a laboratory walk-through to identify energy and waste savings opportunities.
  • Assess current “green” practices and create list of suggested improvements.
  • Take the Green Leaf Assessment, which everyone in your laboratory should complete. It describes personal actions they can take in their immediate workspace or when traveling to work.
  • Your Green Team will track your progress and score on a Green Laboratory Assessment. The assessment is very thorough! We will schedule a Green Office Hour with you to help you fill it out.
  • Bonus Points: Innovative and exemplary performance is rewarded by extra points.

Step 4: Certify and celebrate

  • At the conclusion your lab-wide score and any bonus points are added for a final score.
    • For Bronze certification, laboratories need at least 25% of checklist points
    • For Silver certification, laboratories need at least 60% of the points
    • For Gold certification, laboratories need at least 80% of the points
  • You will receive a framed plaque with your lab’s name and Green Team members’ names.
  • Certification is good for 2 years.


Lydia Vandenbergh
Associate Director of Employee Engagement