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Shut the Sash - Competing for Sustainability

By Sharon Chen
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Higher ed institutions are taking decisive action when it comes to saving energy and going green. From innovating on clean energy to zero waste initiatives, higher ed is serious about sustainability. One common but overlooked way that universities can save energy is shutting fume hoods, the ventilated enclosures in laboratories that are used to house toxic chemicals, vapors, or dusts.

Fume hoods are found in university laboratories everywhere, and laboratories are one of the most energy-intensive aspects of a research university. It is estimated that fume hoods, used in scientific experiments, can each use the equivalent amount of energy as 3.5 households. By keeping fume hoods shut, electricity use is minimized.

Encouraging this simple behavioral modification can result in significant savings when it comes to energy and utility costs. “Shut the Sash” is a competition that universities compete in to remind researchers and students to keep fume hoods shut. Friendly competition is often more effective – and fun – when it comes to encouraging sustainable behaviors. By keeping things fun (some campuses have asked participants to write and perform songs about fume hoods), setting specific goals (shut the fume hood as often as possible – and collect and analyze energy data), and celebrating success (provide prizes and incentives for meeting goals), changes in behavior are not as intimidating or difficult. Fume hoods are a nice starting point for universities to foster friendly green competition, and a great example of a lighthearted way to approach our climate challenge. 

5 Tips to Maximize Your Shut the Sash Program

Quentin Gilly | LabConscious | November 20, 2015

Laboratories are one of the most energy intensive sectors of research universities.  You can literally hear the equipment humming, and the consumption of electricity everywhere.  This is especially true of fume hoods.  I discovered this shortly after I began working in a lab at Harvard Medical School in 2007.   My manager insisted that we keep the fume hoods shut because they "use so much energy."  Many years later I learned just how true that he really was.  A study I performed for Harvard’s Green Labs program (where I now work) showed that competitions that encourage and reward researchers for closing their fume hoods when not in use can realize big savings in energy and utility costs for laboratories.

1. Build a strong team to help collect and analyze data for benchmarking.  

2. Identify fume hoods with the biggest savings potential. Not all fume hoods are equal!

3. Present data-driven findings to senior leadership indicating the potential for saving, and garner their support.

4. Hype the competition!  Get folks excited.

5. Celebrate their success!  Food and drinks are a HUGE motivator!

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