ASU leads the way in research lab sustainability

The Biodesign Institutes and the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Buildings are models for implementing environmentally-friendly lab practices

ASU has had a long history of commitment to sustainable practices, but few know about the numerous steps that the University has taken to incorporate sustainability into all aspects of campus life, especially research.

In the past decade, ASU has taken unique approaches to integrating sustainable techniques into the research labs on campus, particularly at the Biodesign Institutes and the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Buildings.

“There is a green labs program at ASU to ensure that people have the best sustainable practices as possible in the labs, in various areas such as waste management and recycling," said Michael Ochs, assistant director at ASU Environmental Health and Safety.

The green labs at ASU work not only to reduce the large amount of waste that research labs tend to produce, but also to promote energy efficiency.

“Research buildings, are by their very nature, energy intensive,” said Gerald DaRosa, director of Energy Innovations at ASU. “We monitor the vast majority of buildings at ASU for energy usage, and lab buildings are no exception.”

One of the programs that has been implemented in labs is called the "Ice Box Detox."

“We put together an Ice Box Detox campaign for labs to share minus 80-degree Celsius freezers to promote energy efficiency,” Ochs said.

In addition to this, the ventilation systems at ASU also allow for reduced energy consumption.

“We put together a lab ventilation model that allows for chemical fume hoods to have proximity sensors. These sensors, when you walk away, will lower the air intake to minimum requirements,” Ochs said. “These lab ventilation efficiency models at ASU work very well, and other universities have actually asked for similar models.”

Recycling and waste management also plays a large role in lab maintenance at ASU.

“We work with individual labs to promote recycling programs, especially since labs get a lot of packages that arrive in block Styrofoam or cardboard,” said Alana Levine, assistant director of ASU’s Zero Waste program. “We also work with EH&S on lab glass collection and work with individual labs to recycle equipment such as test tube holders. We make sure to find a way to get lab materials like these into remanufacturing.”

The various steps that ASU has taken to improve lab sustainability have received significant recognition, notably with the LEED certification. The LEED certification is an indicator of excellence in green buildings, and range in rating levels from silver to platinum, the highest level.

“ASU has many LEED certified buildings, including Biodesign B, which was the first LEED platinum building in Arizona. Other research lab buildings that also have this certification are the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Buildings 1, 2, 3, and 4 as well as Biodesign Institute A,” DaRosa said.

ASU, as a model for lab sustainability, has taken various additional steps to educate other institutions and promote lab sustainability outside of ASU as well.

“In 2013, ASU hosted a workshop for 23 other universities on how to generate, develop and implement a green labs program at their institution,” Ochs said. “We practice what we preach, and we are making sure to educate others on how to improve on energy efficiency, waste management and water usage.”

According to researchers, one of the main challenges in beginning to incorporate sustainable lab practices across various institutions in the United States is seamless integration. For this, Ochs, DaRosa, and Levine offer the same line of advice: Collaboration with researchers is key.

"There is certainly a behavior change component when thinking about integrating sustainable techniques into labs," Levine said. "We find that we are most successful when we listen to what the lab is doing and work with our researchers to develop ways to partner experimentation with successful sustainable practices."

Reach the reporter at or follow @esther_sim714.

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