UK User Led Environmental Lab Excellence; UKULELE

UK User Led Environmental Lab Excellence (UKULELE) is a newly proposed initiative that will focus on ensuring the safety of lab environments while also minimizing their environmental impacts. UKULELE is a collaborative project that will include partners such as UK Facilities Management, UK Sustainability, UK Utilities and Energy Management, and UK Occupational Health and Safety.

Research labs are essential to meeting the university’s mission of expanding knowledge through research, scholarship and creative activity. Lab spaces are also very energy intensive and tend to produce a lot of waste. Therefore, in support of the University of Kentucky Sustainability Strategic Plan, UKULELE will work towards implementing more sustainable lab practices while also promoting excellence in teaching and research.

UK has five guiding principles in guiding sustainability:

  1. Make the pursuit of these goals an integral part of the UK student experience
  2. Decarbonize campus operations
  3. Become a zero-waste campus
  4. Model environmental excellence
  5. Reinforce the University’s commitment to our people

According to preliminary research done in the development of UKULELE, labs use between five and ten times more energy per square foot than office spaces. There are extra measures that must be taken to ensure the safe conditions of lab occupants, such as ventilation in fume hoods, that lead to the use of more energy. Some of the main areas of concern we may see in our labs here at UK include air circulation, cold storage in refrigerators or freezers, water usage, chemical management, and equipment sourcing.

A UKULELE working group is currently forming ideas on how to engage occupants and implement the program into lab environments on campus. Spreading awareness is huge step in generating the most efficient lab practices and compiling resources for lab personnel. Another idea would be to incentivize personnel to purchase more efficient equipment compared to a cheaper version with high energy consumption.

The main goal of UKULELE is to engage a variety of stakeholders in the process of improving the sustainability of UK’s lab environments. Specifically, the User Led component of the name emphasizes the hope for the improvements to come directly from the researchers working in labs. To be able to see what issues lab users identify in safety with correspondence to sustainability practices is invaluable information needed to further UKULELE goals. Working to make lab spaces operate as efficiently and effectively as possible is an effort this program is pushing not just to UK officials, but students as well. A key foundational principle of UKULELE stresses sustainability is not something that should come at the cost of safety of lab personnel or the accuracy and precision of their work.

UKULELE is currently gathering feedback through the linked survey below, including lab occupants who may be interested in participating. Any students, faculty, and researchers at the University who are interested are encouraged to respond!

Katherine Johnson

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