Sunday 23 April 2023

5 Reasons to Prioritize Sustainable Lab Design


Sustainable lab design can lead to healthier lab environments, reduced operating expenses, lower construction costs and valuable green building certifications. When facility managers and owners adopt sustainable design principles in new labs, they can save money and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time. Learn more about the benefits of designing environmentally-friendly labs.


By Emily Newton.


1. Improved Indoor Air Quality

Sustainable lab design can ensure that lab workers are breathing clean air on the job while also meeting projects’ environmental control needs. According to the U.S. EPA, poor indoor air quality can cause numerous serious illnesses, including respiratory disease, heart disease and lung cancer. Even if lab employees do not experience these serious conditions, smaller conditions like headaches or dizziness can pose a risk.


Sustainable lab design can improve air quality by changing the way HVAC systems are designed. Sustainable HVAC design takes a whole-building approach and prioritizes energy efficiency to achieve the level of air cleanliness labs need in a cost-effective, low-carbon way.


Energy-efficient HVAC systems minimize the amount of electricity needed for temperature control, reducing carbon emissions. Technology is often a key part of accomplishing this, involving tools like smart thermostats and automated temperature control. Additionally, a whole-building approach to HVAC design is more likely to identify building envelope leaks that pose a risk to lab processes, employees and high-efficiency heating and cooling.

2. Lower Energy Expenses

One of the top benefits of sustainable lab design is a reduction in energy expenses. Energy efficiency is a cornerstone of sustainable design, along with access to renewables. When labs consider efficient electricity use in the design process, they can save on energy costs for years to come.


Energy-efficient designs don’t need to be complicated. For example, all of the rooms in a lab facility could use LED motion-activated lights. Since many labs operate on and off 24/7, this allows employees to work at any time without leaving all the lights on around the clock. Similarly, when choosing equipment, lab managers could opt for water-cooled models instead of air-cooled. Water-cooled equipment may be a bit more expensive, but it is often more energy-efficient.


In fact, sustainable lab design can even help labs become more energy independent. Lab designers can integrate renewable energy collection into their buildings, such as roof or window solar panels. These renewables can help offset energy costs and reduce a lab’s carbon footprint. Plus, they offer some resilience against unpredictable power grid performance. Access to a backup power supply can help labs protect important assets, such as sensitive experiments or equipment.

3. Lab Materials Savings

Vital supplies like water, plastic tools and paper are essential for any lab to operate. The way these materials are used has a major impact on expenses and sustainability. Sustainable lab design goes beyond the building itself to include the design of the operating structure and everyday processes. Lab managers can use sustainability principles to reduce their materials costs.


For example, even a small lab can use tens of thousands of gallons of water every year. Making a single gallon of deionized water can require up to three gallons of water. Additionally, studies estimate that research labs dispose of over 5.5 million metric tons of plastic waste every year. Single-use plastics remain highly common in the industry in 2023.


Whenever possible, lab managers should save plastic tools and clean them for reuse or recycling. This may not always be possible when working with toxic or dangerous materials. However, sustainable labs can reduce their waste and the amount they spend on equipment by safely reusing or recycling whatever they can.


Likewise, sustainable lab designs can include water recycling systems to reduce the amount of freshwater needed. Cleaning water whenever possible also reduces the likelihood of causing water pollution in local ecosystems.

4. Lower Construction Costs

Sustainable lab design can lower the cost required to build a new lab facility and make it more appealing to potential tenants. Creating environmentally friendly buildings doesn’t have to be expensive. A growing number of design initiatives are highlighting opportunities to save money on new construction while also reducing environmental impact.


For example, the Living Building Challenge design framework encourages using reclaimed and recycled materials in new construction. This reduces local waste and allows labs to save money on expensive building materials. For instance, the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech, the state’s first certified Living Building, used thousands of feet of reclaimed lumber from Atlanta’s film sets.


Lab designers can also source reclaimed materials from buildings scheduled for demolition or from local temporary construction. Utilizing recycled and renewable building materials is another great way to pursue sustainable building while reducing construction costs.

5. Benefiting From Tax Incentives

Sustainable lab design can allow building designers, construction companies and lab managers to take advantage of a growing number of tax incentives. For example, commercial building owners can save up to $5 per square foot for investing in energy efficiency upgrades. 


Numerous frameworks and certifications exist today to help building owners, construction companies and tenants benefit from these tax incentives. One of the most prominent is LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a leading green building certification system. Getting a LEED certification is a great way to indicate a lab’s commitment to sustainability and streamline the process of qualifying for tax incentives.


To get a LEED certification, a new lab building will need to meet strict design requirements. Lab designers can consult with a green building expert, known as a LEED Green Associate, who is certified to have a thorough knowledge of LEED principles. The guidance of a Green Associate will ensure a lab adopts as many sustainable design elements as possible, gaining the many benefits of a LEED certification, such as tax credits.

Embracing Sustainable Lab Design

Sustainable lab design allows scientific research spaces to benefit people and the environment. Adopting sustainable design practices saves money and resources. Labs can even improve their energy independence by installing renewable energy collection systems. Sustainable design also opens up doors to valuable green building certifications, which offer prestige alongside tax credits and construction savings.


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