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Green Labs Action Plan

Green Labs 2023 Action Plan

The Green Lab Action Plan aims to provide a framework for Caltech to achieve climate and sustainability goals. The Institute has committed to supporting sustainable practices, including facilitating the Green Labs in their endeavour to make labs more sustainable and efficient.

Green Labs supports Caltech's sustainability commitments. As labs are estimated to produce over 5.5 million tons of plastic waste a year, it is increasingly important for labs to become more sustainable. To meet this goal, Green Labs is promoting reduction, reuse, and recycle programs for plastics and other types of waste in labs on campus, as well as green chemistry to reduce the hazardous waste production in the Institute. Green Labs also supports Caltech's goals to reduce emissions from fossil fuel combustion, commuters, and travel. Further, Green Labs supports efforts to reduce water usage on campus by recycling water where possible, changing flora on campus to be more water-friendly, and reducing lab burden on water through actions like only running autoclaves when loads are full. Other actions Green Labs aims to support include sustainable purchasing, encouraging all of Caltech to purchase items such as 100% recycled office supplies, and working with vendors to reduce the cost of sustainable consumables and equipment such as ultra-low-temperature freezers.

Green Labs aims to focus on developing behavioural changes throughout campus by providing resources and Guides with helpful and targeted information in six key areas: 1. Energy Efficiency, 2. Water Conservation, 3. Waste Reduction, 4. Sustainable Procurement, 5. Communications and Outreach, and 6. Resource Development. As this is the first Action Plan developed for Green Labs, this document will help serve as a guide for Caltech to develop sustainable laboratory practices without compromising scientific integrity. Implementation will require engagement of the entire campus, and will bridge work done by the Biosafety Offices, Health and Safety Offices, Facilities, Sustainability, and the Resnick Institute. This allows normalization of sustainable practices while increasing the safety, efficiency, and sustainability throughout the entire campus.

As biologists, we are challenged to protect our environment and advocate for sustainable practices to protect the very thing we study: life on Earth. Caltech Green Labs aims to meet this challenge by proposing lab practices that are energy efficient and resource efficient, without compromising research objectives. This group aims to create an equitable and inclusive space, where we can incentivise a discussion among staff, students, and faculty, and utilize their talents to promote innovation and normalization of sustainable laboratory practices. The Caltech Green Labs group ultimately aspires to be a resource for sustainable lab practices including energy efficiency, water conservation, green chemistry, waste management, sustainable purchasing, and sustainable education. These resources will strengthen the Caltech community and further the Institute's goal to positively impact the community at large.


  • Demonstrate Caltech's commitment to promote sustainable and inclusive environment
  • Work with BBE and Caltech to better integrate and adopt sustainable practices, especially in research groups
  • Improve general knowledge and transparency of existing campus sustainable practices and resources
  • Increase awareness, advocacy, and education about sustainable initiatives and best practices
  • Participate in sustainable events held on Caltech campus
  • Establish a Green Labs website
  • Develop a Green Labs Guide
  • Pilot sustainable initiatives within appropriate research groups and report findings
  • Decrease energy and water usage
  • Reduce waste production, especially of single-use plastics in labs
  • Decrease hazardous waste production and promote innovation by engaging in green chemistry
  • Encourage sustainable purchasing

Green Labs encourages all labs to participate and be recognized as champions of sustainability. In this way, participants will not only be benefiting the environment, but will also be making their labs more innovative, efficient, cost-effective, and safe. Participating labs will gain greater access to resources and networks dedicated to sustainability. Green Labs members will also be able to assess their labs with comprehensive tools that provide greater understanding of how your lab works, evaluate where your lab is already achieving sustainability goals, and assess areas where your lab has the potential to become more efficient and sustainable.

Interested labs are assessed through an easy survey, with points given for sustainable practices. This informs your lab's initial Green Lab Score. After various categories are assessed for strength or weakness, labs are encouraged to make adjustments. Once adjustments have been completed, labs are scored again, and this final assessment informs your final Green Labs Certification Score. When you submit your final assessment, your lab is given a "Certified Green Lab" plaque!

As of January 2023, there are three labs at Caltech that are Green Lab Certified!

Benefits of voluntary participation:

  • Reduce overhead costs
  • Increase research efficiency
  • Reduce carbon footprint and pollution
  • Recognition for sustainability efforts on grants
  • Strengthen team building and community
  • Prolong equipment life
  • Greater access to sustainability resources and funding
  • Recognition as lab sustainability champion
  • Increase scientific innovation
  • Enhance lab visibility and attractiveness to students

Green Labs aims to outline an Action Plan for each of the following six areas of interest:

  1. Energy Efficiency
  2. Water Conservation
  3. Waste Reduction
  4. Sustainable Procurement
  5. Outreach and Recruitment, and 6. Resource Development.

This plan establishes achievable Action Items, Implementation Strategies, and Targeted Goals for each area of interest.

In setting out goals for 2023, Green Labs seeks to better provide actionable ways for Caltech labs to improve their sustainable practices. By focusing on simple, often inexpensive, behavioural changes or practices, Green Labs aims to increase innovation, safety, and efficiency, all without compromising research goals.

Each strategy outlined in this Action Plan will be implemented and monitored by Green Labs. This group is focused on changing behaviour in laboratories on campus to encourage normalization of eco-friendly lab practices and culture at Caltech. Each data-driven Action Item will be assessed and reported to the Caltech community.

Progress and updates will be reported annually to the Sustainability Office. Each Action Item will be evaluated for success, and advice will be given as needed, in future years as to how to improve.

Energy Efficiency - Freezer 2
Energy Efficiency Action Items

1. Develop "stop sign" signage for equipment to indicate if equipment should never be turned off (red), if someone should ask before turning off the equipment (yellow), or if equipment should turned off when done (green)
2. Develop ULT freezer information to encourage adjustment from -80°C to -70°C
3. Investigate usefulness of outlet timers to reduce energy usage during times when equipment may be turned off (for example: a timer would turn off water baths at night and turn them on again at a time designated the following morning that ensures an ample warming up period before people arrive)

Poppy with Bee
Water Conservation Action Items

1. Investigate autoclave usage behaviours and identify areas where labs could be encouraged to use autoclaves only when full, only once a week instead of multiple times, and/or share an autoclave with another lab
2. Collect resources about autoclave retrofits including costs, energy and water usage before and after installation, and strategize about implementation of retrofits
3. Investigate utilization of water restrictors for taps in lab spaces

Green Lab Action Shot - Recycling Bins for Guide
Waste Reduction Action Items

1. Develop a styrofoam and tip box recycling program including investigations into where recycling/share points are most needed
2. Ask researchers about interest in an ice pack recycling program
3. Develop consistent, lab-specific recycling signage for lab recycling bins
4. Develop an online Recycling Guide that will inform what can be recycled, as well as indicate what procedures need to be followed to recycle items safely
5. Encourage sustainable food options at BBE and other lab functions, including production of a Guide with sustainable and vegetarian restaurants, and coordinate with vendors to get discounts from these restaurants

Sustainable Purchasing - Office Supplies 5
Sustainable Procurement Action Items

1. Develop a Sustainable Purchasing Guide based on lab needs for eco-friendly purchasing, and work with Purchasing for implementation
2. Vendor outreach and event(s) with vendors known for sustainable products
3. Investigate vendor incentive programs and opportunities for sustainable purchasing (including of products that may be more expensive than traditional products)
4. Develop equipment and chemical share program, perhaps in the form of an email listserv similar to Marketplace

Red Tree
Communications and Outreach Action Items

1. Work on outreach, including writing newsletters for the BBE quarterly email, IonCaltech, and Caltech Weekly, posting newsletters and resources on the Green Labs Website, and investigate other outreach avenues
2. Promote Green Labs Certification Program by encouraging the submission of the quick assessment scorecard, and assess the scorecard tool to improve follow-through of submissions

resources 3
Resource Development Action Items

1. Develop a website including the consolidation of relevant resources that is user-friendly and easily accessible to everyone at Caltech
2. Develop an Action Plan including relevant areas of interest and our plans for implementing such plans
3. Develop a Green Labs Guide to inform researchers of (often free!) simple tips and tricks to make their labs more sustainable
4. Develop Recycling Signage for labs
5. Hire a full-time Green Labs Coordinator by 2024 by asking BBE and other Divisions to set aside funding for such a role, as this employee would work with all Divisions, EHS, security, procurement, new faculty etc., to encourage the growth and staying power of Green Labs initiatives