DMR - 2011839
As research is inherently waste-producing and energy intensive, the Center has spearheaded a sustainability program for the university research community now includes 25 labs across multiple colleges and campuses. Each lab appoints a My Green Lab Coordinator (MGLC) to lead the process.
A community of sustainability-minded scientists is a primary educational and behavioral goal. To this end, five labs were paired with an undergraduate Sustainable Lab Ambassador (SLA) who assisted their lab’s efforts using content learned through weekly SLA training and educational activities,.
The development of skills and knowledge about sustainable lab practices is critical for future scientific leadership in the workforce. Partnership with the Penn State Sustainability Institute has been key to ensuring institutional impact.
What Has Been Achieved: The Center has successfully implemented its proposed goal of creating a sustainable lab program at Penn State. Initiated by the MRSEC, but in essential partnership with Penn State’s Sustainability Institute from the start, a June 2021 kick-off meeting with many stakeholders across the university landscape resulted in a year-long task-force to determine what a sustainable lab program might look like at Penn State. Benchmarking of similar efforts by other top-tier R1 institutions provided helpful guidance for comparison, but none appeared to have an impactful model for Penn State to follow. Penn State envisions a strong action-oriented, educational, engaged scholarship program with an experiential, workforce development focus that has the power to influence cultural change across the research community, as well as quantifiable savings and improvements in operational activities. The behavioral change focus of the My Green Lab certification process and the logistical structures provided by the added Sustainable Lab Ambassador option provides unique scaffolding to foster new positive connections between researchers and important operational entities such as Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant, Environment Health & Safety, and Purchasing. The design of this program has the potential for scalability, longevity, and impact, and its success thus far has already garnered much of the financial support needed for a second-year pilot effort in 2023-2024.
Importance of the Achievement: Without compromising research quality or excellence, scientists should practice sustainability through their daily actions in the lab in addition to focusing their research questions on solving important global and scientific problems. Just because research is inherently energy consuming and wasteful doesn’t mean researchers should give themselves a pass on their own daily decisions, behaviors, habits and choices in the laboratory setting. The non-profit My Green Lab sees great value in training early career scientists and students about sustainability for leading future trends in scientific pursuits and applications. As a result, they are eager to work with Penn State’s coordinated effort and expand their reach to the academy. As leaders of technology advancements, innovation, and the discovery of new knowledge, the work of scientists and engineers will impact society in monumental ways. Therefore, it is imperative that they approach each research question with an awareness and concern for sustainability and practice it in their daily activities. This program has the potential to help researchers make this sustainability connection in real, actionable ways.
How is the achievement related to the IRG, and how does it help it achieve its goals? This effort aligns directly with the Center’s focus on sustainability as its proposed education, outreach, and human resource development theme.