Managers look at simple, practical ways to build and implement a "green" lab.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) software systems are utilized across a wide range of new construction facilities, including research labs, to coordinate the implementation of sustainable designs. BIM systems incorporate information from various sources into a single integrated database that is available to all participants (architects, engineers, consultants, building owners and construction managers) in the design and construction process. The 3-D computer-based BIM system has become the glue that ties together the initial design, the facility construction and the completed building operation and performance modeling. Changes at any step in this process can be tracked and coordinated continuously, with overall plans adjusted appropriately. Being a primarily visual tool (3-D modeling), the BIM system clearly communicates the client’s requirements, containing parametric information and up-to-date amendments. Materials tracking and construction scheduling can all be integrated into the detailed designs.

The Do's and Don't's of Sustainable Lab Design and Construction


Start with the low-hanging “fruit” Use unusual or designed items—too expensive
Involve all parties that are affected Employ extra bells and whistles that are not essential
Use as much natural lighting as possible Sacrifice or compromise on safety
Reduce generated waste Spend uncontrolled
Do everything possible to facilitate use of mass transit Have too short of a payback expectation
Ask users what they need Increase waste
Safety first Reduce private spaces
Cost-effective evaluations Yield to popular opinion
Have an overall strategy in the beginning Make choices without consulting “green” experts
Rewrite procedures that don’t comply with “green” Jeopardize quality of daily operations
Recover solvents Use closed-mind attitudes
Reduce demand first Ignore building codes
Recycle Overly limit utilities
Accept change in what your lab can become Cut corners on critical specifications
Keep things simple and flexible Use complex systems that will be abandoned later
Provide infrastructe appropriate for occupants Force standards that don’t relate to the science

BIM systems can also be used to directly feed information on the facility’s structural analysis, environmental performance, energy use, thermal comfort analysis and daylighting and lighting analyses. From a sustainability standpoint, these modeling systems can calculate the building thermal properties and ensure that the structure isn’t compromised by any sustainability issues. It also can track that the required energy and comfort targets created in the initial design are maintained throughout the construction process. To obtain these wide-ranging calculations, basic architectural BIMs are integrated with a structural BIM and a mechanical-electrical BIM system.


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During the construction phase, these BIM systems have the ability to detect inconsistency (clashes) ahead of time and create an appropriate resolution. These clash detection and clash resolution events are generally undertaken with specialist software systems integrated into the BIM model. Detailed interrogations by the project participants can be made with appropriate clash detection reports created.

Passive Design Concepts
One of the comments from a survey respondent for this sustainability noted that their recommendation in creating a sustainable research lab was to go after the “low-hanging fruit” first. These are generally the lowest cost options, and generally the most successful. They’re also generally passive design concepts. They often don’t require any additional equipment or system support, include no mechanical systems, need little or no maintenance and often have long service lifetimes.

For energy, passive solar designs refer to the use of solar energy for the heating and cooling of lab workspaces. In these approaches, the building itself takes advantage of natural energy characteristics in construction materials and air created by exposure to the sun. Passive energy systems for labs include operable windows, thermal mass, thermal chimneys, shading devices, super-insulation and wing walls. Designs that take advantage of these concepts are based on an understanding of the building site’s wind patterns, terrain, vegetation and solar exposure.


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Lab Equipment Concepts
While a research lab is being built, lab planners should take into account the impact that the lab equipment and instrumentation have on the overall sustainability of the lab once they are installed. There are a number of instruments, equipment and materials that can impact the sustainability of the lab. From an energy-efficiency standpoint, the purchase of energy-efficient equipment is the most logical choice, just like the purchase of Energy Star consumer appliances is the logical choice to reduce electrical energy usage in the home. Large consumers of energy in the lab—outside of the large energy hog fume hoods—include heating and chilling systems, such as freezers, refrigerators, liquid handling chillers, ovens and furnaces. These are the most logical choices to consider first when looking to minimize electrical energy use, while reducing their heat-generating sources as well. Energy savings seen on new systems in these areas will outperform the energy savings realized from smaller energy-consuming devices, such as spectrometers and chromatography systems.

Looking at systems that researchers have already installed in their labs for energy conservation and sustainability programs, nearly two-thirds of the respondents to a recent Advantage Business Media survey indicated that they had installed Energy Star equipment, heat pumps and advanced glazing systems. About half of the respondents indicated that they had already installed active lab monitoring systems, low occupancy sensors, advanced boiler systems and external sun shades. Relatively few survey respondents had installed vegetated “green” roof systems (20%) and co-generation systems (14%). The level of cost savings from these energy sustainability programs was estimated to average about 7%, with about 6% of the survey respondents stating that they saw more than 15% cost savings.

The use of non-toxic chemicals in the research lab is also a strong pro-sustainability application. This is especially relevant in easily changeable areas such as for cleaning, washing and sterilization applications. This may not always be a simple option for established chemical procedures where the desired chemical reactions rely on specific chemicals and compounds.

Do Sustainable Technologies Affect Lab Research?
Yes - 41%

No - 59%

Requires purchase of new equipment Only initally for training
Budgetary adjustments need to be made May require adjustment of lab procedures
Funds are now required elsewhere Not much if you get buy-in
Increased daylighting can affect lab productivity Not if we can move from section to section during construction
Only if the design has compromises Complicated lighting control yes, but not the research
New technology not accepted that compromises the research Might improve research with loss of electrical “noise”
Have to change lab protocols Improved marketing procedures
Can affect all lab systems Involved in sustainable materials research

The use of automation systems within research labs can also be considered as a sustainability operation from a number of different aspects. First, it reduces the manpower required to perform a specific operation, making these operations more repeatable, more reliable and less prone to repeatability concerns. The use of automated systems also controls more precisely the amount of chemicals and materials used in a procedure and can reduce the overall amount used. The energy used for each manual lab operation can also be minimized with automated systems, but mostly is minor.

The use of a laboratory information management system (LIMS), like its design and construction counterpart, BIM, can also be considered a sustainable operation due to the optimization processes and procedures it provides for lab researchers. LIMS software gives researchers the ability to track and control the flow of samples and materials through the lab and identify areas where that may not be optimized from an energy-usage or chemical optimization standpoint.

Waste Management
The new LEED v4 guidelines specifically require that construction and demolition waste management plans be established for a new construction lab facility. There also are additional LEED credits provided for the implementation of those plans. Once again, the actual operation of the sustainable research lab should have plans established beforehand for managing the waste generated within the lab. This should include systems for recycling solids and chemicals, utilization of green cleaners and solvents, acceptable and safe waste treatment processes, sustainable washing systems and non-polluting incineration techniques and systems.

Studies on the effect of implementing mostly simple sustainable waste management systems within the research lab have found that overall waste can be reduced by up to 50%, with an associated 40% reduction of the required energy use. Operating costs from these systems can also be reduced by up to a third, however, in some cases, the operating costs can be increased by more than 10% with their use. The studies also found that researcher productivity can be improved by up to 20% for waste management issues.

What Budget Trade-offs Can You Consider in Designing a "Green" Lab?
New fume hood controls mean downtime for R&D, which will reduce worker efficiency for a while.
Up-front cost increase in exchange for lower operating costs.
More automated systems to reduce in situ lab personnel and hence lighting, heating, etc.
Not putting fume hoods in every lab.
Smaller infrastructure for better technology.
Across the company commitment to save money in all aspects of business operations.
Reduce lab size to increase sustainability.
Scale back on purchasing timelines.
Smaller chemical purchases resulting in less waste.
Purchase washable glassware instead of disposable plasticware.
Increase operational efficiency with reduced employee hours.

New versus Renovated
So what are the sustainability-based differences between building a new “green” research lab and renovating an existing lab to “green” status? We asked the readers of R&D Magazine and Laboratory Design Newsletter with the following responses.

“Building a new ‘green’ research lab allows architects and engineers to design and customize the lab to whatever level they desire,” says one lab manager. “However, renovating an existing research lab to a ‘green’ lab status allows them to improve their lab energy efficiency and usage without moving to a new work location, while reducing the waste created by tearing down the existing building for the sake of building a new ‘green’ lab.”

The downtime associated with renovations was noted by several respondents, which introduces critical productivity and overall product development issues. The comparatively short time required to move to a new facility would be much preferred.

“Ground-up construction of a new facility allows for better flexibility for building a high-performance envelope and integrating new MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) systems,” says another lab manager. “Renovation to a ‘green’ status is, of course, sustainable too, but it’s not as flexible for incorporating ‘green’ initiatives.”

What's Involved in Designing and Building a "Green" Lab?
Review specs of lab equipment, appliances and resources to minimize energy use and generation of environmentally undesirable chemicals.
Proper assessment of lab needs, while planning for different possible uses in the future. Maximum sustainability designs can make changing the space nearly impossible for future inhabitants.
“Green” starts from the first day of planning, how the building is oriented on the site, meeting all the codes and standards and balancing that with lab safety and functionality.
Keeping building costs down, creating a safe and pleasant place to work, making sure that the building is in compliance with work standards and reliable products are used.
It needs to be a holistic approach, not just hitting items on a LEED checklist; all systems need to be studied and related to each other.
We've taken steps to eliminate bulk chemicals and reagents and manage projects so that testing and production are done with advanced planning on the amount of chemicals required, which has cut lab packs and disposal costs significantly.
An understanding of specific lab needs that can be matched to appropriate “green” solutions. Scientific labs for biology and chemistry don’t have the same requirements.

Differences in costs between the two choices was also noted with many stating that they might not be able to reach the goals of a “green” lab without considerable costs and work disruptions—these would be easier to achieve when starting from scratch.

New construction can be a lower cost choice, they commented, as energy efficiency can be built into the structure—if appropriate architects and engineers are employed. “This is like buying a new car equipped with air conditioning, as opposed to adding those devices to your old car,” says a respondent. Renovations may be constrained by an existing building infrastructure that can’t be easily changed, so that you might not be able to make your plan as “green” as you would like.

Renovation constraints focus the mind and the designer, says one respondent. “We review at a finer detail all the decisions in a renovation and then balance them with the payback."