Green Labs pilot program ends with significant energy savings

Participating Brauer Hall lab energy usage can be viewed real-time online

The pilot Danforth Campus Green Labs Initiative in Brauer Hall, held in October, November and December 2011, resulted in a significant savings in carbon emissions and money, announced the Office of Sustainability.

The program, modeled after a similar initiative at the School of Medicine begun in 2010, aims to spread energy awareness and conservation among the 850 labs on the Danforth Campus.

Equipment in these labs use large amounts of energy and contribute significantly to the university’s carbon footprint, which the university committed to reducing by 27 percent below 2009 levels by 2020 in its 2010 Strategic Plan for Environmentally Sustainable Operations. The primary focus of this plan is energy conservation, and reducing energy use in campus laboratories is a major priority, says Phil Valko, director of sustainability.

The initiative included 16 labs. If its results are projected over the course of a year, the initiative would prevent approximately 80,000 pounds of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere and save nearly $2,000 in energy bills.

“The pathway to decrease Washington University’s energy consumption requires a combination of cutting-edge building design and operations, as well as a strong university culture of energy conservation,” Valko says.

“Labs are highly energy-intensive. The Green Labs pilot program was a great success, demonstrating the potential for significant energy savings in our lab environments simply by increasing awareness.”

Last fall, meters installed in Brauer Hall labs began to measure the amount of energy used by lights and “plug-load” equipment such as computers, centrifuges and fridges. Energy consumption baselines for each lab were measured in August and September.

Each lab’s principal investigator appointed a Green Lab representative to audit the lab for energy usage using an online tool and work with fellow labmates to set energy reduction goals, promote energy conservation and in-lab recycling.

Each Green Lab representative attended a training session to learn about the program and received a manual of best practices for energy conservation, recycling and green chemical usage as well as stickers to remind labmates which pieces of equipment were safe to turn off. Each lab also received a recycling bin with accompanying educational material.

From October through December, lab members put computers into sleep mode at night, closed the sashes of fume hoods, unplugged unneeded equipment and switched off lights.

Yi Xiao, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in energy, environmental and chemical engineering, says, “In our lab, everyone makes it a habit to turn off equipment when an experiment is done. Our group will get more experimental machines soon, and this habit will help us save energy.”

Actual energy usage October through December was monitored and compared with the baseline set in August and September to calculate energy savings.

The result was a “plug-load” energy savings of an average of 11 percent relative to the baseline, with some labs as high as 25 percent.

Projected over the course of a year, the energy saved is equivalent to 16,396 pounds of coal and 27,695 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Estimated energy savings through lighting was 33 percent, the equivalent of 31,470 pounds of coal and 53,157 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over the course of a year.

Not only were the results good news for the environment, but it also was good news for bottom lines: The pilot program resulted in a projected $1,963 annual savings.

The Green Labs Initiative pilot program was implemented in LEED Gold-certified Brauer Hall by the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in collaboration with the Office of Sustainability. Valko projects that energy and financial savings in older, less efficient laboratory buildings will be significantly higher.

As a next step, the Office of Sustainability is working with the Sustainability Action Team at the School of Medicine to convene a cross-campus Green Labs Task Force to guide the expansion of the program across the university. To get involved in the task force, email

Real-time energy usage of participating labs in Brauer Hall is available at