UTD labs launch green initiative

The Green Labs initiative was introduced to students at the Earth Fair on April 19. Photo courtesy of UTD Office of Research.

A new on-campus initiative could make laboratories more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The Office of Research Lab Safety introduced the Green Labs initiative on April 19 at the 2018 Earth Fair during UTD Earth Week. The initiative will bring sustainability to both teaching and research laboratories on campus including the Bioengineering Science Building through measures such as waste management and energy conservation. Lab safety director Shane Solis said UT Austin has a similar program and UTD could benefit from bringing it to campus.

“It helps us operate better and be better stewards of the environment,” Solis said. “We want to be competitive — a university that looks to the future.”

Green Labs initiative will be a combination of implementing new procedures in labs and educating faculty and students on environmentally friendly lab practices. Gary Cocke, UTD’s director for sustainability and energy conservation, joined the Office of Sustainability in February and saw the Green Labs initiative presentation at the fair, which led to a partnership between the two offices for the initiative.

“For now, we are targeting the teaching labs, and the first deliverable we are working towards is education and outreach such as website materials, posters and flyers,” Cocke said. “The topics I anticipate we will be dealing with are waste management, energy conservation and using the best practices related to green chemistry.”

Cocke added that students can get involved with the project by becoming eco-reps in the Office of Sustainability, where they can help gather research and educate their peers about ongoing green initiatives.

“I really see students as the driving force to make UTD sustainable,” Cocke said. “I really take pride in working with students to make our efforts reflect what they want sustainability at UTD to be.”

Solis said the program is still in the early stages. So far, the Department of Research Safety and the Department of Sustainability have had preliminary meetings to create a timeline of operation for the program.

“We’re hoping, at the very least, to have some information available for the fall semester,” Solis said. “I hope that with the fall semester we can at least have something about what the program entails and how we’d like for the UTD campus to participate, primarily with the students.”

Cocke said while the initiative aims to improve sustainability, learning and research in the labs are the team’s priorities. He added that the difficulty is with implementing measures that help sustainability without getting the way of teaching assistants and professors who teach the labs.

“What we need to do is make sure that the solutions we’re coming up with make sense to the people that are working in those settings, and make sure that we’re never sacrificing the learning or the research for sustainability,” Cocke said. “We need to complement what they’re doing, not hinder it.”

Solis said the Green Labs initiative will not only make UTD more sustainable, it will also make the university more competitive and attractive for incoming students. Cocke added that since UTD is a young university and constantly expanding by building news labs, the administration can surpass other schools by making their buildings environmentally friendly from the beginning rather than revamping existing structures.

“I think we’re setting ourselves up to be a leader in sustainability in the state of Texas. We are a young school, we are an innovative school, we have a student body that clearly is engaged with sustainability,” Cocke said. “I think we have the opportunity to really weave it into the culture of what we’re doing here, and as a young school, we have the benefit of doing things right the first time through.”

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