Resource Flows Examples

Resource Flows is a term coined by David W. Orr of Oberlin College. It refers to the many "flows" of water, energy, food and other resources that go into and out of a college campus.

In 1990 Orr wrote:

"Every educational institution processes not only ideas and students but also resources -- taking in food, energy, water, and materials and discarding organic and solid wastes. The sources (mines, wells, forests, farms, feedlots) and sinks (landfills, toxic dumps, sewage outfalls) are the least discussed places in the contemporary curriculum. For the most part these flows occur out of sight and mind of both students and faculty. Yet they are the most tangible connections between the campus and the world beyond.

"They also provide an extraordinary educational opportunity. The study of resource flows transcends disciplinary boundaries; it connects the foreground of experience with the background of larger issues and more distant places; and it joins empirical research on existing behavior and its consequences with the study of other and more desirable possibilities." - Harvard Educational Review 60(2), p. 213

Not surprisingly, many projects in this area lean toward the conservation of resources needed to operate a modern institution. And often, the prospect of cost-savings is an added incentive. By Orr's definition, wastes are considered part of the resource flow equation, but only wastewater is included in this section. See Solid and Hazardous Wastes for projects related to other wastes.

1. Energy

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Thermostats. Find where residence hall occupants or office staff are opening windows in winter to cool their overheated rooms. Work with the Physical Plant to install better thermostats or repair existing units.
  • Air conditioners. Survey window-mounted units to check for optimum efficiency. Look for dirty filters, insufficient amounts of coolant, faulty thermostats, poor winterization, and other problems. Remove or replace unneeded or faulty units. Develop a maintenance schedule.
  • Computer labs. A roomful of computers not only uses significant amounts of electricity but often generates a lot of waste heat. Work with lab managers to maximize efficiency through energy-saving software, turning off monitors and CPUs when not needed, and balancing heating and cooling options.
  • HVAC upgrades. Every building has a HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) system, and unless it's new or newly remodeled, the system probably has parts that could be made more efficient and cost-effective. Look into fan-motors, fume hoods in labs, air intakes, control systems, waste heat recovery, and so on.
  • Building envelope. The "envelope" of a building is the shell of walls, windows, roof, foundation, doors, vents and other exterior components. Discovering and fixing energy-wasting losses of heated or cooled air can save resources and money. There are dozens of large- and small-scale project possibilities, from installing hi-efficiency windows to weather-stripping door frames.
  • Renewable energy. Work with facilities staff to bring one or more sources of renewable energy to campus. Apply for grants or cost-sharing monies to fund installation. Develop outreach materials to educate the campus about the benefits and challenges associated with both conventional and renewable energy.

B. WEB SITES

C. CASE EXAMPLES

University of California: San Diego - San Diego CA
Green UCSD is a small student group that promotes environmental stewardship and a more sustainable campus at UCSD. Each quarter Green UCSD chooses one area to focus on. For the 1998-1999 year, recycling, organic foods, and renewable energy were chosen. In addition to focusing on one issue each quarter, Green UCSD holds a roundtable meeting where faculty, staff, and students discuss current environmental issues on campus as well as the topic that Green UCSD has chosen for the quarter. This is a great networking opportunity for everyone involved and helps facilitate fast progress towards goals in a bureaucracy. Green UCSD chose to adopt Energy as its issue for the spring quarter 1999. After many great ideas we decided to focus our efforts into three projects:

  1. Hold a Green Energy Fair. The goal was to educate the UCSD community about issues relevant to renewable energy and the importance of energy conservation.
  2. Collect 2000+ signatures for a petition to get the university to use the most advanced energy-efficient technologies and incorporate solar power in all new buildings.
  3. Implement a campus wide ban on halogen lighting in all on-campus housing units.
     

University of Virginia - Charlottesville VA
Student Research Lays the Groundwork for Campus Energy Projects - This project was the main assignment for Dean Marshall's Engineering Design class at the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science. For the project, teams of 3 to 7 students analyzed the energy use of buildings on campus. Their goal was to determine the most cost effective and important upgrades in order to make buildings more energy efficient as a whole.

The project was broken up into 5 stages which included all aspects of the building such as lighting, insulation, HVAC system, and several others which are included in this report as outlined by the EPA's Energy Star Program. Our suggested upgrades will not only save the university money, but they will also be beneficial to the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil fuels which are burned.

Throughout the semester, our teams worked with numerous employees of the facilities management department at UVA along with contacting companies for information on different products. Surveys were conducted, for example, to find out if occupants were satisfied with air-conditioning levels and light intensities. The hands-on work not only introduced us to several fields in engineering but also developed our communication and presentation skills.

Buildings analyzed: Observatory Hill Dining Hall, Mechanical Engineering Building, Aquatic and Fitness Center, Shelbourne, Parking and Transportation Building 1999 Green Lights Education Partner of the Year

"The University of Virginia uses EPA's Energy Star Buildings Manual as the principal course book in the school's Engineering 164: Engineering Design course. Students in the class use the Energy Star buildings guidelines to conduct energy analyses of campus buildings. In turn, the University Energy Program Manager utilizes the students' work to develop energy projects. As a result of these and other energy projects, the University of Virginia reduced its energy use by 23 million kWh, preventing the release of 40 million pounds of carbon dioxide. The University hopes to inspire other colleges and universities to offer similar energy management courses and benefit from the knowledge and savings available through the Energy Star Buildings Partnership."

 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute - Troy NY Variable Speed Drives for Building Ventilation Pumps and Fans - There are many pump and fan motors associated with environmental control and air conditioning for campus buildings. Many of these were designed to be either on or off. The problem with such a system is that these pieces of equipment run at full speed even when they don't have to be, like during days in the Spring and Fall. Variable frequency drives are designed to slow these motors down when it is not necessary to run them at full and therefore tailor the energy consumption to the building load at that time. With drives and controls in effect, a pump motor will run slower on a 70 degree weekend day than a 90 degree day when school is in full session. Rensselaer has installed these where applicable and is now in the process of fine tuning them to building parameters. Annual Savings: $70,000
 

2. Electricity

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Exit signs. Calculate amounts of electricity needed and costs for current exit signs in one building or across campus. Include ongoing costs for replacement bulbs and maintenance. Calculate cost to replace signs with efficient LED units, along with savings in electricity and labor. (see Case a.)
  • De-lamping light fixtures. Use a foot-candle meter to measure light levels in hallways, building lobbies or offices, and calculate electricity and costs required. Make sure fixtures can operate properly with one or more bulbs missing, and test different configurations of bulb removal. Make sure permanent changes conform to legal light levels and building occupant needs.
  • Outdoor lighting. Analyze outdoor lighting practices on campus and find lights that could be eliminated, or replaced with more efficient fixtures. Calculate savings before and after.
  • Office machine management. Use a wattage line-logger to measure electricity used over time for photocopiers, computers, fax machines, printers, other machines. Re-set machines to take full advantage of built-in energy-savings features (like BIOS settings, Energy Star, machine standby). Use line-logger to measure savings attributed to the changes. Post educational notices explaining the changes and savings.
  • Screensaver. Did you know that those moving, 3-dimensional computer monitor screen savers use more electricity than when the computer is in normal operating mode? Set screen savers to either a blank screen or an electricity-saving option. Calculate savings.
  • Lights off. Survey a department or building for unnecessary lighting, and document wasteful practices. Work with occupants on a "lights off" campaign, observe changes in behavior and light-switching habits, and calculate approximate savings.
  • Daylighting. Find places where the use of natural light can be increased, and the need for electric lights decreased.

B. WEB SITES

  • Green Lights U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Schools and universities, which represent 24 percent of EPA's Green Lights participants, are showing they are getting smart by increasing the energy efficiency of their buildings, saving easily between 30-60 percent on their lighting bills.

C. CASE EXAMPLES

Brown University, Providence RI
Exit Signs: Paying for the Costs of Inaction - Low in profile but high in impact, exit signs can be a surprising source of energy usage and expense. Students at Brown University discovered that fact in 1987 when they conducted a complete inventory of exit signs across campus. Because the signs were illuminated 24 hours a day, it was easy to calculate the annual use of electricity once the wattage of the bulbs was known. There can be thousands of exit signs at a large university, with a high total annual electrical demand. At Brown, the old-fashioned incandescent bulb signs burned out often, requiring new bulbs and considerable staff time for maintenance as well.

At the end of the study, the students recommended replacing all high-watt, short-life incandescent bulbs with low-watt, long-life fluorescent bulbs. At the time, the project would have cost around $60,000. Despite a detailed presentation of the substantial savings over the long run, the scheme fell on deaf ears.

Four years later, with the intervention of the new "Brown is Green" conservation initiative, the physical plant began the changeover to energy efficient bulbs. Had the exit signs been changed when the students first made their recommendations, the project would have saved the university an estimated $300,000 in energy and maintenance costs. The project would have more than paid for itself in its first year.

Source: Excerpt from Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on America's Campuses, 1998, p. 29.

 

Brevard Community College, Cocoa FL
Light Fixtures and Air Conditioning: Two Opportunities for Cutting Electrical Demand - Dubbed the "the energy miracle" by the local utility, Brevard Community College (BCC) has completed a wide variety of energy-conserving projects. One recent effort was the replacement of all fluorescent light fixtures on BCC's four campuses. Energy-efficient T-8 fixtures -- 10,000 in all -- replaced a variety of older less-efficient models. With all fixtures now requiring the same bulbs and ballasts there are even new efficiencies in purchasing and maintenance. Annual savings on the project are around $300,000, with a payback on initial investment of less than three years. Electrical demand for lighting has been cut by 40 percent.

On the Melbourne campus a new chilled-water air conditioning system added another $150,000 a year to the savings total. The college saves money with the new system by chilling water at night when electric rates are lower, then circulating the cold water during the day. The reduction in electrical demand during peak hours not only saves the campus money but also forestalls the need for the utility to build a new power plant to meet spikes in demand.

SIDEBAR: Did You Know? That fluorescent fixtures with older magnetic ballasts still use electricity even if all the bulbs are removed? New electronic ballasts use electricity only when bulbs are in the fixture.

Source: Excerpt from Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on America's Campuses, 1998, p. 23.
 

3. Water

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Showerheads. Research the cost-benefits of replacing showerheads in residence halls and athletic facilities with water-conserving low-flow units. Interview satisfaction levels before and after the installation.
  • Stopping Leaks. Working with facilities staff and the local water utility, locate the "leaks" in water mains, boiler rooms, laboratories, bathrooms and other large water-using locations. Try to calculate the volume of loss, and prioritize repairs and replacements. For a smaller scale project, address the loss due to dripping faucets and leaking toilets in bathrooms, kitchens, and utility rooms.
  • Decorative Fountains. Analyze volume and cost of water used in outdoor and indoor fountains. Does water recirculate, or is it wasted? Can fountains be turned off at night?

B. WEB SITES

C. CASE EXAMPLES

University of Wisconsin: Madison, Madison WI
Source: SHAPE Project (Science Hall Alternative Practices for the Environment), Environmental Management, 1225 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706 (608) 265-3417

Monitoring Water Use in One Restroom

For decades, the four urinals in a basement men's bathroom flushed automatically whether they were used or not. A wall-mounted flush tank filled and emptied several times an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This waste of water was measured by installing a water meter on the inflow pipe to the bathroom.

In August 1999, four new electronic sensor-triggered flusher units were installed and the old tank was removed. Including labor, the installation cost $1,500. The mechanism uses one gallon per flush and the combined savings is about 100 gallons of water per day. At a water cost of $1.40 per hcf (hundred cubic feet), the return on the investment is 4.5%. Most important, the new system reduces the daily water consumption of the restroom by up to 50%.

As part of the SHAPE project's educational outreach, a sign was mounted on the wall over the urinals describing the new flushers and the savings they achieve. Outside the door to the restroom is a five-panel display created by SHAPE that explains water use in the building -- including its source and where it goes. There are also two water meters in the display: one showing water-use in the whole building and one for just the restroom.

Brown University - Providence RI
Campus Water Audit - A complete audit of water meter quantity, accuracy, and locations was recently completed by the Plant Operations Department. There are 292 meters for 252 buildings. A student study investigated other campus audit efforts and explored opportunities to conduct a comprehensive audit with the local sewerage authority. The study included estimates of the potential savings that could result from comprehensive retrofit measures. On the basis of the students' estimate that 34% savings are possible by continuing the types of conservation measures Brown has been implementing, the university could save approximately 120 million gallons of water, or 160,000 hcf (hundred cubic feet) annually after all measures are completed. This could equate to annual savings of nearly $300,000.

Bates College, Lewiston ME (back to water)
Source: Dining Services Environmental Initiatives
Plate Scrapings System Saves Water

An innovation that saves money is a strainer system on the scrim line (where students put plate scrapings). The scrim line consists of a steady stream of water flowing down a conveyor belt. Food is take off the belt via the water where it is carried to the end of the line. The strainer catches all of the postconsumer waste, which is sent to a local pig farmer. The system requires two gallons a minute (compared to 5 or 6 gallons of water previously used) which is continually recycled by pumping the water back through the scrim line. This has reduced water usage from 25,000 gallons per day -- when the garbage disposal was in operation -- down to 10,000 gallons per day.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY (back to water)
Source: Web site

Water-Cooling Loop System Installed in Lab Building

Like most lab buildings, the Materials Research Center (MRC) has a lot of lab equipment that requires cooling during operation. In the past, this equipment was cooled with municipal water, simply by hooking it up to a tap, running the water through the equipment, and then running it down the drain. Adding up all the lab equipment in the building, this resulted in a significant amount of water wasted. With the new process cooling loop, this water is recycled within the building. After cooling the lab equipment, the water in the closed loop goes up to the roof to be cooled for free in the winter. In the summer, when the air outside is too hot to cool the water, cooling water from a chiller is used instead.

4. Wastewater

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Excess BOD. The greater the BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) the harder a treatment plant has to work to clean the water. Organic materials such as discarded whey (from cheese-making), ground-up food scraps from food service grinders, animal wastes, and other large volume wastes increase BOD.
  • Excess clean water. Some machines -- such as water-cooled air conditioners -- use large volumes of clean tapwater as a coolant. The water makes one pass through the unit and is sent down the drain, in nearly pure condition. While it would be best to replace such machines with water-conserving equipment, the water could be routed into the rainwater storm-sewer system, cutting the volume sent to the treatment plant.
  • Chemical dumping. Especially in student chemistry labs, unsafe types and quantities of chemicals are often dumped down the sink. Reducing or eliminating this dumping into the wastewater system would keep water cleaner when it is discharged back into the environment after treatment.
  • Living machine. To demonstrate nature's methods of purifying water, install a Living Machine which uses plants, animals and microorganisms in a sequenced treatment process.

B. WEB SITES

C. CASE EXAMPLES

Bates College, Lewiston, ME (back to wastewater)

Food Waste Disposal Improvements Reduces Wastewater Volume and BOD

At Bates, food waste used to be collected in bins and went into the sewer after going through a garbage disposal. The garbage disposal was running an average of ten hours a day. This adds up to 3300 gallons of water a day (using an average of 5.5 gallons a minute). In one week during short term, about 4,000 pounds of food is wasted, or about 4.4 ounces per meal. This food waste is believed to be the cause of high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) which is an indicator of biological activity and oxygen uptake. If the BOD level is too high in a river, the result may be the depletion of dissolved oxygen and loss of river life and water quality.

Bates, as a significant wastewater discharger and the largest "restaurant" in the area, has its sewage monitored. The treatment plant has to pay for costs associated with using ammonia and phosphorous along with the addition of oxygen in the treatment of wastewater to reduce BOD levels. Bates and other major dischargers are now paying for high BOD levels to off set the costs incurred by the treatment plant.

Recently, Bates Dining installed the Collector S914, an industrial sized strainer that collects food instead of letting it go down the garbage disposal, thereby greatly reducing the amount of organic matter going into the sewer system. This has greatly lowered the BOD that the college releases into the sewers. The collector will also greatly reduce the amount of water used to rinse off the dishes.

Humboldt State University, Arcata CA (back to wastewater)
Source: Ecodemia, National Wildlife Federation, 1995, p. 197.
Eliminating Selected Wastewater Flows

One of the more advanced "green" student residences on a U.S. campus is the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology at Humbolt. Along with energy-saving strategies are several water-conserving systems. The Center has composting toilets -- which are a waterless way to manage human waste. In addition, systems to capture "greywater" (lightly contaminated water from sinks, showers, bathtubs) route it into an outdoor marshlike setting where it is filtered and cleaned by natural processes. The water coming out of the marsh is used to water the fruit trees and vegetables in the Center's organic garden.

Oberlin College, Oberlin OH (back to wastewater)
Source: Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies Web site
Living Machine to Treat Wastewater from Building


Oberlin College will soon complete one of the most advance green buildings anywhere -- the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. Designed to have minimal impact on the environment, the building contains a Living Machine to handle all wastewater from its bathrooms, kitchens and labs. Here are some facts.

LIVING MACHINE

  • Natural wastewater treatment system, powered by sunlight
  • Serves as research and teaching tool
  • Designed to handle 2,000 gallons per day, the Living Machine is a resilient system due to its mechanical simplicity and biological complexity
  • Replicates and accelerates the natural purification processes of ponds and marshes
  • Diverse communities of bacteria, algae, microorganisms, plants, trees, snails, fish interact as whole ecologies in tanks and living bio-filters
  • Recycles water for non-potable "graywater" use throughout the building.

A Living Machine is a contained ecosystem which is designed to accomplish a specific task or series of tasks. Waste water is guided through a series of cylinders -- each one with a different ecosystem, each with a different combination of microbes, plants, and animals. As the water passes through the various systems, different contaminants from bacteria to heavy metals to industrial waste are removed. As you move along in the process, toward the mid-section of the series, you begin to introduce higher plants, snails, and fish. In the final tanks, the water is sufficiently restored to grow fish. The algae and plankton used to clean the water also feed the fish.

5. Paper

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Double-sided copying. In one course, at one machine, in a single department, or across an entire college, promote photocopying that uses both sides of the sheet as often as possible.
  • Communicate electronically. Look on bulletin boards and elsewhere for newsletters, catalogs, calendars and other printed materials, especially those that are produced in large quantities. Explore (with the staff persons who produce them) ways to cut down on the number of copies needed by using email and the web to post their contents. In courses, use email to distribute handouts to students.
  • Sharing. Explore ways that the sharing of printed resources to help eliminate the need for everyone to have their own copy. For courses, post copies of the syllabus, assignments, and calendars in a central location. Develop routing slips to circulate printed items among classmates or staff.
  • Buy recycled. While buying recycled paper may not cut the amount of paper used, it reduces the number of trees and other resources needed to created virgin paper. Find opportunities and cost incentives to initiate or increase the use of recycled paper on campus. Explore ways to maximize the recycled-fiber content in the paper that is purchased.

B. WEB SITES

  • University of Buffalo (State University of New York). Information on buying recycled paper
  • University of Vermont Environmentally Safe Printing. Covers the environmentally preferable choices for paper, ink, coatings, binding, design/layout, production, and distribution.

C. CASE EXAMPLES

Brown University, Providence, RI

Experiments in the Use of Recycled Copy Paper

  • Green Purchasing. In order for Brown and other businesses and organizations to be able to continue receiving recycling revenues and avoid disposal costs, the end markets for recycled materials must improve. Brown will increase the amount of materials purchased that contain recycled material to encourage this trend.
  • Recycled Paper. Brown's initial attempt at stocking recycled paper in 1991 failed because contamination in the recycled fiber caused damage to some printing equipment. Testing is currently taking place on paper with 25 percent post-consumer waste, and 75 percent virgin content that is competitively priced. This report (now on the web) is printed on that paper. Brown's Graphic Services Department has also been running a 50 percent recycled sheet with 10 percent post-consumer waste in the student copy center.

University of Wisconsin: Madison, Madison, WI

Closing the Loop: Recycled Paper Purchasing and Office Paper Recycling at UW-Madison

As part of an environmental studies capstone course in 1992, a group of 16 students studied both the inflow (purchasing) and outflow (disposal) of paper in two buildings on campus. The "inflow" part of the study examined purchasing practices and paper-use in two administrative offices and one academic department. Findings revealed many opportunities both for purchasing more recycled-content paper and for using less paper overall. Recommendations to overcome technical problems, cost disincentives, and confusion in the paper ordering process were made.

Duke University, Durham NC (back to paper)
Source: Sustainability and University Life, Chapter 15 - "Greening Campuses," p. 235 An overview of student activism and progressive administration, by Scott Cole, 1999

Student Task Force Hopes to Convince Campus to Buy Recycled

As a student with an interest in getting Duke to buy more recycled paper, Scott Cole became part of a task force to research paper purchasing and use on campus. It took interviewing four key campus staff persons before the complex picture became clear. Even though Duke procures some paper by contract, departments are free to buy paper "outside the contract, seeking the lowest price. This works against buying recycled paper which is typically more expensive than virgin paper. Because of budget cuts, departments are always looking for ways to save money.

With paper recycling an active part of the campus recycling program, the task force hopes to convince the university to "close the loop" eventually and make recycled paper available at the same price as virgin. One way to balance the costs could be to subsidize paper prices by contracting for higher selling prices for its recycled paper. This option is being explored.

6. Food

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Food sources. Do you know where your food comes from? Track the actual farms and feedlots that supply the vendors who bring food to your campus. If possible, visit those places. Display labels, signs and educational materials in the cafeteria to share what you learn.
  • Locally-grown meal. Work with food service directors in student residence halls to plan a meal made from as much locally-produced food as possible. Milk, meat, cheese, vegetables, beans, root crops, and more should all be available within an hour's drive of campus. Use this opportunity to connect campus food-buyers with small, local growers. Create accompanying educational materials to go with the meal.
  • Food economics. Where does a food-service dollar go? Does most of it go to brokers and suppliers, with little left for the farmer? Can you find ways to add higher-priced organic foods to the menu while cutting costs elsewhere to keep budgets the same?
  • Consume less food. Encourage dining services to make it easy and economical for diners to take only what they care to eat. Taking samples of new foods and getting smaller portions but being able to go back for seconds are two possibilities. This will cut the amount of food wasted.

B. CASE EXAMPLES

Tufts University, Medford, MA

Source: Excerpt from Ecodemia, National Wildlife Federation, 1995, page 96.

Locally-Grown Meal

Starting with a single locally-produced, organic meal is the approach taken by a number of campuses. In Spring 1994, Boston area Tufts University hosted such a meal. The students in Professor Molly Anderson's graduate-level nutrition class conducted research on locally-grown organic foods. They found growers who could supply the food for a meal, and worked with dining service director Patricia Lee on the logistics of menu, purchasing, preparation, and diner education.

Without student involvement and legwork, the project would never have occurred. Student support, noted Lee, "moved what would have been an issue on the back burner to the front burner."

Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges, Northfield, MN (back to food)
Source: The Campus and Environmental Responsibility, Chapter 9, by Eugene Bakko and John Woodwell, 1992

The Campus and the Biosphere Initiative at Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges


In 1989, with support from a regional foundation, these two colleges began a study of their food supply and explored ways that it could be shifted toward locally-produced agricultural products. They had a special interest in finding growers who used sustainable practices: low-chemical input, non-energy intensive and with minimal processing. It was reasoned that the combined food budgets of the two schools ($2.5 million) might be large enough to make a substantial market for local growers. Several students were hired to do the legwork and their first task was to find out what the colleges purchased, how much, from where, and at what prices. Surprisingly, they found that 80 percent of the food came from out of state -- and Minnesota is a major agricultural producer.

Despite the many challenges to finding local foods -- such as a short, northern growing season -- one product that worked out well was apples. A local grower who practices integrated pest management was located and his apples were rated quite favorably in a taste test. As anticipated, providing locally-grown foods proved more expensive than buying from large national food conglomerates, and a creative solution to the cost difference was used. Students devised a plan to replace inefficient light fixtures with efficient ones, which ultimately reduced electric bills on each campus by several thousand dollars. Part of this financial savings was used to help finance the local-buying initiative.

7. Lab Chemicals

(back to top)

A. PROJECT IDEAS

  • Chemical tracking. Develop a tracking system to follow one or more chemicals from purchase to use to disposal. Use physical measurements, interviews, observations. Analyze data to see if chemical is being handled and disposed of in a proper, safe manner.
  • Microscale. Look for opportunities to convert lab-course experiments from conventional-scale to microscale (using tiny quantities of chemicals). Work on converting a single experiment or as many as possible from an entire course. Document the savings in purchasing and disposal costs, and the impact on the wastewater system.
  • Chemical exchange. Develop or improve the exchange of chemicals, solvents and other lab materials among labs on campus. Possibly design a web-based inventory so researchers can easily scan it for the chemicals they need.

C. CASE EXAMPLES

University of Washington, Seattle, WA (back to lab chemicals)
Source: Excerpt from Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on America's Campuses, 1998, p. 47.

Second Time Around for Chemicals

In compliance with University of Washington regulations, when research labs have unwanted chemicals, they list them as surplus in an inventory maintained by the Environmental Health and Safety Department. Unopened or otherwise uncontaminated containers are offered free to other researchers. In 1996, more than 1,000 pounds of chemicals were exchanged under this program, avoiding an estimated $3,000 in disposal costs. Computerizing the inventory -- thereby making the list more accessible -- resulted in a big jump in the amount of chemicals exchanged.

UW also re-distills xylene, a widely-used laboratory solvent, and sells it back to campus laboratories. By avoiding disposal costs and undercutting the retail purchase rate, over $11,000 was saved in 1996.

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME (back to lab chemicals)
Source: Ecodemia, National Wildlife Federation, 1995, p. 160.

Converting Chemistry Teaching Labs to Microscale Experiments

An outdated ventilation system, a fast-growing undergraduate chemistry enrollment, and one particularly vocal student inspired some creative problem solving by Bowdoin's chemistry faculty. So did the fact that $300,000 would be required to upgrade chemistry labs if conventional quantities of chemicals would continue to be used. Professor Dana Mayo, who had developed small-quantity techniques for his own research lab, looked into ways that undergraduate organic chemistry teaching labs could be similarly redesigned to use radically smaller amounts of chemicals yet still achieve the same learning goals. Not only would this save money in chemical purchases, it would also avoid costly lab renovations.

A recent Bowdoin graduate spent a year helping redesign the experiments, using a group of volunteers to test the new formulas and equipment. The monetary savings were dramatic, particularly due to reducing the amounts of materials that had to be disposed of as hazardous waste. A textbook resulted and the idea spread to labs across the country. But there are still many schools where substituting microscale experiments for conventional ones could yield significant savings.

Sign up for our email newsletter
Emerging Leaders Initiative
  • Young Girl LeaderThe Emerging Leaders Initiative (ELI) is National Wildlife Federation’s premier young professional leadership program for post-graduates in the conservation field. Learn more here >>
Connecting...
Shop now!