Biomed Lab on a Green Streak

April 26, 2022 at 3:09 PM

In 2019, the Peirce-Cottler Lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering was one of the first labs at UVA to become certified as a Green Lab. Now, it's the first lab to be recertified, and the longest continuously UVA certified lab thanks to their leadership and commitment to sustainability.

"We are proud of this accomplishment," says Principal Investigator Dr. Shayn Peirce-Cottler. "Going through the certification and then recertification process were bonding experiences that we are grateful for. Our lab generates a lot of waste, as do many labs, and knowing that we can do something about it to lessen our environmental footprint is empowering and motivating. 

lab group
The Peirce-Cottler Lab researchers - back row, l-r: Kuba Lipowski, David Csordas, Paul DeCostanza,, Rachel Bour, Julie Leonard-Duke. Front row, l-r: Nikita Sivakumar, Anthony Bruce, Shayn Peirce-Cottler, Ramon Castellanos, Kareem El-Ghazawi.

As part of UVA's Department of Biomedical Engineering, the Peirce-Cottler Lab studies microcirculation and new ways to treat cardiovascular disease, diabetes and fibrotic lung disease, which can all be linked to environmental factors like pollution. The Peirce-Cottler researchers recognize that being as green as possible gives them even more of an opportunity to positively impact human health. (Lean more about the Peirce-Cottler Lab.)

This group first was certified as a Gold Green Lab back in 2019 as part of the first group of certified labs here at UVA. A signature change they made was switching the set point on their ultra-low freezers from -80C to -70C, which makes a huge difference in the energy consumption of those units while still effectively preserving research samples. 

Recertification is necessary every three years, and this year, the lab revisited their sustainability practices, maintained equipment, shared equipment, got involved with the Green Labs Working Group and more. This effort was led in large part by Lab Manager of 12 years and Senior Research Technician, Anthony Bruce, and his leadership served as the foundation of the lab's commitment. 

“If everyone was more like Anthony, our world would be a better place, and we should all follow his lead,” boasts Dr. Peirce-Cottler. 

Anthony is motivated to think more deeply about sustainability because he’s passionate about the environment and climate action. "I think that if everyone would take some action to promote sustainability, the collective impact would be huge," he says. "I'm personally motivated to contribute to these efforts because I dislike waste and I find that certain sustainability efforts in labs can promote work efficiency and ease. I also care about preserving ecosystems and biodiversity, so minimizing the environmental impact related to our research through practical means is important." 

The Peirce-Cottler's commitment to sustainability and preeminent research has been evident throughout this process and we're proud to share that they've been awarded Gold for their 2022 Green Lab Certification - congratulations!

If you'd like to get certified as a UVA Green Lab, contact [email protected]

Sitting down with the researchers 

We had a chance to sit down and ask Dr. Peirce-Cottler and Anthony more about their thoughts on Green Labs. 

Peirce-Cottler and Bruce with Fiona Hogan (right), the Green Labs Specialist with UVA's Office for Sustainability.

What have been some of the noticeable impacts resulting from engaging with Green Labs?

Shayn Peirce-Cottler: We learned that we have more control over how we conduct our research in terms of energy conservation and waste mitigation. We also became empowered to use our buying power to impact producers' and suppliers' decisions that are upstream of our lab. 

What motivates you to explore the connection between research and sustainability more deeply?

SP: Put simply, "research" is figuring things out and finding ways to make things better - and doing both activities in ways that are ethical and responsible to society. Working with the UVA Office for Sustainability gives us a guided way to continually research how we can be more sustainable as a lab - for example, by reducing the negative impacts of our work on the natural world and on human health. 

Do you have any words of wisdom or inspiration for other labs thinking of going through the certification process?

Anthony Bruce: I would advise others considering certification to not be intimidated by the process. I think many will find that they are already performing some of the actions, and the other certification requirements are simply to implement. Some of these, such as the freezer maintenance actions, can make your lab run more smoothly in addition to saving energy. I found that getting certified was simpler and took less time than I initially expected. 

SP: It's easy to get certified as a Green Lab. And, when you go through the process you learn that little changes make a big difference. Simple actions, like defrosting and adjusting the temperature on your -80C freezers, can save a tremendous amount of energy. Every lab wants to make positive impacts on society through their research - often the impacts of research are realized over years and decades. Becoming a Green Lab, in contrast, offers instant impact and instant gratification - you don't have to wait any amount of time to know that they way you are conducting your work as a Green Lab is already making the world a better place. Beyond these feel-good reasons, we're saving money for the University, and we're saving money for our own lab's research endeavors by making smarter choices about reduction, recycling and conservation.