Katherine Mackey (top), Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Earth System Science, consults with doctoral researcher Raisha Lovindeer, who spearheaded energy-saving efforts that earned the Mackey lab gold-level UCI Green Labs certification. Steve Zylius / UCI

The thermostat on the giant freezer in Earth system scientist Katherine Mackey’s Croul Hall laboratory reads a frosty minus 70 degrees Celsius – that’s up from minus 80 C a year ago. By raising the temperature just 10 clicks, her team is saving large amounts of electricity while still safely preserving their marine plankton samples. It’s one of the energy-saving measures that have garnered them gold-level Green Labs certification.

“We are really proud to earn that recognition,” says doctoral student Raisha Lovindeer, who volunteered to coordinate the effort on top of her research duties.

Laboratories account for only 20 percent of UCI’s building space, but they’re outfitted with fume hoods, special refrigeration units and other sophisticated equipment that gobbles up almost two-thirds of total campus energy. Following a University of California initiative, UCI sustainability staff launched a Green Labs pilot program last fall, collaborating with select faculty and their lab students to implement and test a six-month process.

Facilities such as the Mackey lab that meet platinum, gold, silver, bronze or green standards are recognized on the UCI Green Labs website and receive a certificate and special door decal. Steve Zylius / UCI

Now certification will be available to a wide range of campus and medical center laboratories. The facilities hold great opportunities for energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and sustainable purchasing. Reducing electricity also helps slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other sources.

“Many of the UCI scientists who participated in the pilot program are already leaders in this type of research and teaching,” says Wendell Brase, associate chancellor for sustainability. “Not surprisingly, their labs performed very well in the assessment and certification process, reflecting their commitment to UC carbon neutrality goals.”

UCI’s requirements include a comprehensive self-assessment of energy and water use, green chemistry and fieldwork practices, and waste management. Lab teams then work with experts to identify and implement improvements. For this, UCI partnered with My Green Lab, a nonprofit that has helped develop similar programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, UC San Diego and other campuses.

Mackey says that in addition to Lovindeer’s hard work, her lab performed well because it’s just a few years old and already contains modern, efficient equipment. My Green Lab personnel helped her group ferret out even more energy savings. For instance, matching arrows on the fixed side and pull-down piece of fume hoods help researchers open them to just the right spot now, keeping them protected from chemical releases while minimizing power-hogging air exhaust from the lab.

“Working together to assess and improve our green practices was a really positive experience for our lab,” says Mackey, UCI’s Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Earth System Science. “I recommend it.”

Facilities that meet platinum, gold, silver, bronze or green standards are recognized on the UCI Green Labs website and receive a certificate and special door decal. In addition to reducing a lab’s carbon footprint, benefits include being able to claim the designation on grant applications, prolonging equipment life, decreasing purchasing costs and strengthening team building.

Campus or medical center labs interested in participating can contact Richard Demerjian, assistant vice chancellor of environmental planning & sustainability, at rgdemerji@uci.edu or visit the UCI Green Labs website.

“We are looking forward to expanding the program this spring to serve more labs and assist them in the certification process,” says Demerjian, whose staff oversees the effort.

Green labs are just part of UCI’s commitment to sustainability. For more information and a schedule of Earth Week activities, click here.