Lab applications for the 2024-25 academic year are still open!

Applications are now open for the next cohort of the Sustainable Labs Program.

The program is seeking 30 eager and qualified labs to join. A recording of a recent info session that provides a comprehensive overview on the program can be found here.

Applications submitted by April 14th will receive priority consideration. Once your application is submitted, a representative from the leadership team will follow-up with you individually with next steps.

APPLY NOW.

Penn State’s Sustainable Lab Program Recognized Internationally

In the fall of 2023, Penn State’s Sustainable Lab Program was recognized for its unique approach to promoting experiential learning and environmental stewardship by The International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) with an Honorable Mention in its Sustainable Laboratory Awards program. The award was given for the approach of developing and operating the Sustainable Lab Ambassador program to support research labs as they shift towards more sustainable practices.

The I2SL Sustainable Laboratory Awards recognize projects, programs, and people that decrease greenhouse gas emissions, improve water and energy efficiency, divert waste from landfills, and promote sustainable best practices.

Program Overview

The Sustainable Lab Program is motivated by the recognition that research itself contributes to sustainability challenges by being naturally energy and resource intensive. Penn State is taking on this challenge by piloting the nonprofit My Green Lab’s (MGL) certification program that assesses 14 target areas for behavioral change.

Each participating lab commits to:

  • appointing a My Green Lab Coordinator (MGLC)
  • taking the MGL survey
  • reviewing the resulting report
  • making some improvements over the course of six months during an academic year (fall and spring semesters)
  • retaking the survey for a final rating by My Green Lab

Educational support and networking opportunities are provided to participating researchers by MGL and the Sustainable Labs Leadership Team guiding the project. Labs have the option of being paired with a paid undergraduate student, a Sustainable Lab Ambassador (SLA), who is trained by Penn State Sustainability staff to support the researchers’ desired improvements. Each MGL Coordinator (MGLC) mentors the undergraduate student.

Since this program’s inception in September 2022, labs have:

  • closed fume hoods
  • replaced hazardous chemicals
  • learned more about sustainable practices
  • turned off and/or unplugged unused equipment
  • turned up ultra-low freezers as part of the MGL Freezer Challenge

These changes not only save money and reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions, but they also improve safety, all while maintaining the integrity of the research. The Leadership Team will be quantifying the impacts of these changes at the end of the program’s first year.

Program Benefits:

This project supports progress towards Penn State’s strategic goals by:

  • enhancing student success by preparing our graduates to be future problem solvers and attractive candidate for jobs
  • growing interdisciplinary research excellence
  • fostering a sense of belonging through creation of a network of students and researchers working on these issues together 
  • maximizing our operational efficiencies and savings

As national granting institutions incorporate sustainability into project applications, this program will enhance Penn State’s competitiveness in grant applications. This program is already producing operational efficiencies through better equipment management practices, product selections, and waste reductions. With a second year of this pilot, a full calculation of the savings will be possible. 

Quick Links

Frequently Asked Questions

Fill out the application above to be considred for the next cohort of labs.

Research labs can apply to participate in the My Green Lab Certification process through Penn State’s Sustainable Lab Program.

Undergraduate students can apply to become a Sustainable Lab Ambassador.

Individuals or units interested in supporting the program financially or programmatically should contact the Sustainable Labs Leadership Team at sustainablelabs@psu.edu

The same email address can be used if you have questions about the program.

For academic institutions, the definition of a lab tends to be straightforward and is typically defined by the space run by and people who work for a particular Principal Investigator (PI)…Our assessment survey asks questions about equipment use, lab practices around purchasing, chemicals and reagents, and waste disposal. Hence, we encourage defining a lab as a group of people occupying a common area, using shared equipment, and doing similar laboratory work. The lab can be made as big or as small as preferred– keeping in mind that the definition of the lab will dictate the granularity of insights into the lab’s behaviors.” (MyGreenLab.org)

For next year’s cohort of SLAs, eligible students will:

  • Have a major or minor in a STEM field
  • Bring foundational knowledge about sustainability gained from active participation in a sustainability-focused club or campus activity and/or successful completion of one or more of the courses listed on this list  
  • Be entering at least their 2nd year of undergraduate study
  • Be willing and able to spend an average of ~3 hours per week working with the program throughout the academic year

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Leadership experience
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

The Leadership Team is seeking funding to cover the MGL certification cost of $400 per lab from Colleges and other sources. There is no additional cost to Labs to host an SLA.

Spread over the course of an academic year (Fall and Spring semesters), it takes an average of 3 hours per month to participate in this program. Each lab also appoints a My Green Lab Coordinator (MGLC) to lead the effort. This person will spend a bit more monthly if an SLA is assigned to their lab due to their mentorship efforts.

No.  There are two tracks for completing the My Green Lab certification program at Penn State – one includes SLA support and the other does not. In both tracks, the lab identifies one person to serve as the My Green Lab Coordinator (MGLC).  The MGLC is the lab’s leader for the certification process and participates in occasional activities designed to provide info, support, and resources.  If an SLA is assigned to assist, then the MGLC also serves as their mentor.

There is no additional cost to a Lab to host an SLA.

Sustainable Lab Ambassadors

The Penn State Sustainable Lab Ambassador (SLA) program is an engaged scholarship approach to creating a more sustainable research lab culture and operation, while preparing researchers to build a more sustainable world in their future careers.    

Recognizing the educational value of offering undergraduate students hands-on experiential learning, the SLAs receive formal educational training about sustainable research practices and behavior change approaches. Each student is paired with a research laboratory and provided a $1200 stipend in exchange for working approximately 3 hours a week throughout the academic year.

The SLAs familiarize themselves with the lab’s research, instruments, and members as well as Penn State and My Green Lab resources. They engage with a structured training curriculum to learn about sustainability concepts, effective communication strategies, project management approaches, and behavior change motivators. Throughout the year, they put their knowledge and skill sets into action to inform, support, and augment desired improvements in research practices determined by the members of their lab.

For the 2023-24 academic year, the program is expanding the SLA cohort to 15 undergraduate students.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Have a major or minor in a STEM field
  • Foundational knowledge about sustainability gained from active participation in a sustainability-focused club or campus activity and/or successful completion of one or more of the courses on this list  
  • Entering at least their 2nd year of undergraduate study
  • Willing and able to spend an average of ~3 hours per week working with the program throughout the academic year

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Leadership experience
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

Students can apply through this form.

I feel like the most common misconception about sustainability is that it is only about material things….sustainability is much more than that. Sustainability is composed of having a mindset geared to the future rather than the present.

(A Sustainable Lab Ambassador)

My Green Lab Certification

Penn State is piloting My Green Lab’s (MGL) Certification program to determine whether it should be the core upon which to base our University’s Sustainable Lab program. They are seen as the gold standard in this area, endorsed by the UN Race to Zero Campaign. About fifty percent of their clients are pharmaceutical and chemical companies, but they are interested in expanding their work with universities. Unlike some common sustainability checklists, MGL’s program emphasizes  behavior changes and nurturing discussions among researchers about opportunities for improvements in the following fourteen categories:

Participating labs are supported with networking opportunities, connections to existing Penn State sustainability resources, and other educational materials supplied by the Leadership Team and MGL.  Each participating research group is expected to appoint a lead coordinator (MGLC) to be the liaison between their members, the MGL manager, and the Leadership Team.

Throughout the initial six-to-eight-month process, which takes place during an academic year beginning in the fall semester, the participating labs attend a program orientation and complete the MGL survey of research practices for which the group will receive a detailed report, based on their submissions, of sustainability strengths and opportunities for improvements.

The second phase of the project is where the fun begins: identifying which changes the researchers want to implement over a six-month period, after which the members retake the assessment and receive a certification rating that is valid for two years. After two years, labs may choose to recertify. The process is illustrated below.

Because Penn State is still evaluating the suitability of the MGL program, all labs will be participating in focus groups each spring to learn from their experiences to fold into plans for the next year’s program. The program is seeking 25 labs to join the pilot’s second year.

The MGL program is well suited for research labs that conduct their research using cold storage, fume hoods, chemicals, and consumables.

For more information, contact sustainablelabs@psu.edu

Program History

Penn State, a Tier 1 Research University with over $1 billion in annual research expenditures, is proud of its interdisciplinary approaches to solving local and global problems, many of which address sustainability challenges. The research lab environment has its own sustainability challenges. For example, Penn State research represents 45% of the University’s energy consumption, yet only 21% of the space. This environment also provides a strong training ground for learning about sustainable research practices.

The Sustainable Lab Program was launched to improve daily behaviors and decisions by researchers without compromising research quality and productivity while reducing negative impacts.  

In 2022-23, the first year, the project was implemented in 25 labs and involved over 200 researchers across five colleges and two Commonwealth campuses. Five of these labs were each paired with a paid undergraduate student, a Sustainable Lab Ambassador (SLA), who were trained by Penn State Sustainability staff to support the lab members’ desired improvements.  

Recognizing the educational value of offering undergraduate students hands-on experiential learning, the University’s Sustainable Labs Leadership Team created a formal educational training curriculum introducing a cohort of five selected Sustainable Lab Ambassador (SLA) students to sustainable research practices and behavior change approaches. In 2022-23, each student was paired with an Engineering lab because their stipend was funded by a grant from the College of Engineering’s Leonhard Center.

The anticipated financial savings, energy and waste reduction, and lower environmental impact, were accompanied by education and training of the researchers for conducting tasks in more sustainability-minded ways. For the student researchers, the training makes their skills highly valuable for future career opportunities in academia and industry.

Penn State is planning a second pilot year for the 2023-24 academic year. It will expand the cohort of SLA students to 15 and 25 new labs.  

The Leadership Team

Managing this effort is a Leadership Team of six people from a variety of Colleges and units: Krista Bailey, Sustainable Campus Strategist, Jack Rumery, Sustainability Education and Engagement Specialist, and David Jones, Sustainable Lab Operations Consultant, from Penn State Sustainability; Kristin Dreyer, Program Director for Education & Outreach at the Center for Nanoscale Science (a NSF MRSEC); David Vandenbergh, a Biobehavioral Health faculty member; Sarah Potter, Education Program Coordinator with the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute; and Tim White, a faculty member in the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences.