To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

The case for sustainable laboratories: first steps at Harvard University

Jessica Woolliams (Harvard Green Campus Initiative, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Matthew Lloyd (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Arlington, Virginia, USA)
John D. Spengler (Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Health & Human Habitation, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 1 December 2005




Laboratories typically consume 4‐5 times more energy than similarly‐sized commercial space. This paper adds to a growing dialogue about how to “green” a laboratory's design and operations.


The paper is divided into three sections. The first section reviews the background and theoretical issues. A case is made for sustainable laboratories, introduce the Harvard Green Campus Initiative's (HGCIs) study of potential energy reduction in Harvard's research laboratories and examine other issues including: behavioral change, technical change, and the required codes and suggested standards that influence laboratory design and operations. Next, a survey conducted through a partnership between HGCI, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Laboratories for the twenty‐first century (Labs21) to clarify issues surrounding use of codes and standards in high‐performance laboratory design and maintenance is introduced.


Survey findings highlight the confusion among survey participants surrounding the applications and interpretations of current lab guidelines, codes and standards, particularly addressing sustainable performance. The findings suggest that confusion has financial, environmental, and human health consequences, and that more research is needed to define the operational risks to laboratory workers. Findings indicate that many energy efficient technologies and strategies are not routinely specified in lab design, perhaps in part due to confusion concerning the guidelines, standards and codes.

Research limitations/implications

Although the survey sample size is too small to be statistically significant, it does provide valuable insight into the general confusion surrounding the applications and interpretations of current codes and guidelines, especially those addressing sustainable performance.

Practical implications

The practical implications of this research are many, including that there are many opportunities for technical and behavior improvements within modern university laboratories that yield great energy savings. This is critical as laboratories are one of the most energy‐intense building types on a university campus.


The critical originality of the paper is provided in the analysis of the obstacles to achieving the great potential energy savings that exist within the university laboratory context.



Woolliams, J., Lloyd, M. and Spengler, J.D. (2005), "The case for sustainable laboratories: first steps at Harvard University", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 363-382.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles