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Sustainability in our Laboratories

Laboratories are some of the most energy-consuming places at Penn State. As a research university, with scientists and researchers who understand conservation methods, it is important for us to implement energy-saving strategies in the workplace.

Penn State’s lab buildings cost $5 to $10 per square foot for utilities. A classroom or office building consumes less than $2 per square foot. Therefore, our labs cost 3 to 5 times more to operate than other buildings.

A large-scale energy-saving project completed in the chemistry labs reduced our annual operating costs by an estimated $672,722. Future energy-saving projects include the following buildings and departments: Life Sciences, Research East, Agricultural Sciences and Industry, Wartik and Materials Research Institute.


  • Turn off lab equipment when not in use:
    • Centrifuges
    • Water baths
    • Balances
    • Ovens, Etc.
  • Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
  • Power manage your computer and data by activating sleep mode.
  • During off hours, when buildings are unoccupied, lab temperatures should be lowered (in the winter) or raised (in the summer) to save energy.
  • If you are leaving your lab area for a long period of time and it is not in use, please contact Bruce Smith in the Office of Physical Plant so that energy-saving measures can be enacted during your time away.
  • Use task lighting versus overhead lighting. Task lighting gives you full control of the energy being used for your immediate work area.


  • -80°F freezers emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases.
  • Use preservative reagents that do not require cold temperatures for storage of reagents (e.g. DNA and RNA).
  • Before purchasing, evaluate potential freezers on their longevity and their absolute energy use.
  • Share freezers with neighboring labs, if possible.
  • Adopt energy-efficient freezer maintenance procedures:
    • Check freezer door seals: If left open, cold air (energy) escapes.
    • Move the freezer to a cooler location: It has to work harder if it’s placed in sunlight or warm rooms.
    • Minimize frost buildup. Manual defrost and partial automatic defrost freezers should be defrosted regularly. The buildup of ice on the coils means the compressor has to run longer to maintain cooler temperatures, wasting more energy.
    • Manage your storage space. Label items for easy access so that doors are not left open for long periods of time.
    • Encourage your colleagues to clear out any unneeded materials from past research to prevent the purchase of new freezers.


The University Park campus has 966 fume hoods. Commonwealth campuses have 364, bringing Penn State’s total to 1,330 fume hoods.

Fume hoods draw out warmed or cooled air from labs constantly, even when they are not in use. It is important to keep the sashes closed when they are not in use to diminish energy use. Some fume hoods use $4,500 in energy costs annually. This is approximately the energy cost for two households.

It is estimated that closing such hoods at the end of the day could save approximately 10% of the energy costs. With several hundred fume hoods at Penn State, we could save $250,000 to $500,000 in energy costs if the sashes are closed when the fume hoods are not being used.

  • Keep fume hoods free of obstacles (wires, computers, etc.) that will prevent you from lowering the sash, especially when not in use.



    • Alkalines (Non-rechargeable)
    • Re-chargeables


  • ​Plastics not contaminated with hazardous waste


  • Office paper
  • Cardboard boxes




  • Lion Surplus provides a service to donate and/or redistribute scientific materials and equipment.
  • Consider purchasing used equipment if energy efficient models are not available.


  • According to the EPA, there are 12 principles of green chemistry that include the prevention of waste materials, the minimization of toxic materials, and the design of chemicals through energy efficient and environmentally safe methods. For more on green chemistry, you can visit ChemPower.
  • Visit the EPA’s Green Chemistry Expert System, a computer program that can be used to select green chemicals and reactions.