Green Lab campaigns: a smart way for universities to save energy

Image of students in SFU green lab
From left to right, Kyle Bobiwash, Lindsey Button, Julie Wray and Tiia Haapalainen in the lab at Simon Fraser University, where a Green Labs program is paying off in electricity and natural gas savings.

SFU's Green Labs program rolls out campus-wide

When it comes to university campuses, research labs are huge consumers of energy. Instituting a Green Labs program can go a long way toward reducing energy use — just look to SFU's Burnaby campus for some great ideas.

Begun as a pilot in 2011, SFU's Sustainability Office expanded its Green Labs program in 2014 to target all research labs across its Burnaby campus.

"We wanted to cast our net much wider to get more energy savings," says Landon Hoyt, community engagement coordinator at the SFU Sustainability Office. "Lots of staff had heard about the Green Labs program and wanted to know when we were going to roll it out to other buildings on campus."

Lesson learned: involve key stakeholders early on

Before starting a Green Labs program, Hoyt offers one key piece of advice: make sure to include everyone who would potentially be involved or affected [PDF, 461 KB].

"When we first started the program in 2011 we developed a green labs guide but we didn't run it by SFU's safety group," he explains. "It was a huge oversight. So when we updated the guide for 2014, we took all the materials to the safety committee for approval ahead of time. Not only did we get their full support, they helped promote the program."

Program includes a meet-and-greet, green lab coats and fume hood stickers

To become part of SFU's Green Labs program, labs register to be certified; once they've completed the actions required, they receive certification. They can then maintain or improve their certification level every year, advancing from Bronze to Silver to Gold status, depending on the actions they've taken.

All labs receive a Green Kit full of energy-saving tools, including a green lab coat.

"The green lab coat has been super popular with the labs," Hoyt says. "Instructors love to wear it, and when students ask them why they have a green lab coat, they can talk about the Green Labs program."

Another key item supplied to labs: customized fume hood stickers. Science buildings use more energy than any other building and fume hoods are one of the biggest opportunities to capture energy savings, explains Hoyt.

"Every building on our campus has a different fume hood so there's not one universal instruction for shutting them off," he says. "Customized stickers for each individual building offer short instructions about how to shut each fume hood down, and it is framed as a safety procedure as well."

Hoyt notes that labs have come up with a variety of initiatives to save energy and advance their certification. For instance, the Crespi Lab, an evolutionary biology lab, conserves energy with shared freezers and refrigerators. At the Biology teaching lab, each workstation is equipped with an individual powerbar, and students may leave the lab only after all equipment is turned off.

This work is paying off: during the initial pilot at SFU's South Science Building, natural gas consumption was reduced by 4.4 per cent and electricity consumption by 2.3 per cent compared to the baseline year.

Since then, SFU has certified eight additional labs, with four more that are registered and in the process of becoming certified.