Chemistry Partners with Campus Sustainability Manager to "Green" Labs

Graduate students Cody Yothers and Brittany Armstrong of the Franz Research Group show off their Green Lab certification.

Graduate students and "Green Champions" Cody Yothers and Brittany Armstrong of the Franz Research Group show off their Green Lab certification. (Photo by Minh Hoang)

By Doug Banda

UC Davis is at the top of its game when it comes to university sustainability initiatives. Sierra Magazine has ranked UC Davis in the top 10 "Coolest Schools" four out of the past five years (#1 in 2012 and #2 in 2015) for its leadership in sustainability and addressing climate change across the 5,300-acre campus.

Together with the entire UC system, Davis is committed to becoming "climate neutral" by 2025 and "zero waste" by 2020. Accordingly, Davis has reduced greenhouse gas emissions year after year and currently diverts nearly 70 percent of waste away from landfills through recycling, composting and reuse programs (like Aggie Surplus and the Aggie Reuse Store). Davis has also paved the way for sustainable commuting through 42 miles of bike paths and a natural-gas powered Unitrans bus system.

However, to remain at the forefront of innovation, Davis has to address laboratory energy consumption, which easily swallows three-to-five times more energy than the comparable classroom or office facility. Labs can account for an astonishing two-thirds of the total energy consumption on campus.

To tackle this feat, Davis looks to its campus sustainability manager, Allen Doyle, for creative solutions to resource conservation and ventilation management across individual labs. Doyle became nationally recognized in 2006 when he co-founded Laboratory Resources, Advocates and Teamwork for Sustainability (LabRATS) at UC Santa Barbara.

Lisa Anderson (holding the box on the left) first introduced a glove recycling program to the department in summer 2013. Lisa received her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2015 under the direction of Professor Annaliese Franz.

"We started LabRATS when I realized that graduate students were making the first greenhouse gas inventories on campus," explains Doyle. "Labs were a large portion of that footprint, yet no one was engaging scientists to conserve resources. We started with very in-depth assessments of lab practices and found several opportunities. When UC Davis advertised for my position in 2008, it was one of the first in the nation to include energy conservation in laboratories."

After Doyle was hired at Davis, he started the campus' Green Lab Program. The goal of the program is to engage researchers--principle investigators, students, post-docs and lab managers--with practices that make labs more energy efficient. Research groups participating in the program may become a "Certified Green Lab" by evaluating current lab sustainability practices, identifying areas for improvement, and then taking action to make the lab more green. This can include freezer management, water conservation, shutting down or monitoring fume hoods, and cutting electricity use overnight.

Dr. Annaliese Franz and her lab were the first to complete the certification in Chemistry and supported a department seminar for the Green Lab Program in June 2014. Since then, nine Chemistry research groups have joined the movement, including Drs. Jared ShawSheila DavidXi Chen and Shota Atsumi. Three additional groups are currently nearing green lab certification, making Chemistry one of the most actively green departments on campus.

Doyle encourages research groups to find creative solutions to greening their labs by, "practicing good habits, keeping your eyes open, being a squeaky wheel, then looking for the grease." This means that researchers are the experts in their labs and finding unique solutions to one lab's waste may become a departmental, or even campus, best practice.

For more information on UC Davis' pioneering sustainability initiatives, visit Sustainability 2nd Century. If you and your lab are interested in joining the movement, head over to The Green Lab Program website to find out how to become a UC Davis Certified Green Lab.