At Duke we strive for excellence in our research and teaching labs. Part of that effort is directed toward putting into practice the sustainability concepts that we teach in our classrooms. This portion of the website is dedicated to helping you implement sustainable practices in your research or teaching laboratory.

The five primary areas of concern for sustainable laboratories are: energy conservation, water conservation, hazardous chemical usage, green purchasing and recycling.

Three Steps To Take Now

  1. Shut the Fume Hood Sash
    Fume hoods are the energy hogs of the lab. Shutting the sash reduces their energy use and provides a safety barrier between you and the contents of the hood.
  2. Turn Off the Water
    A single pass water cooled apparatus uses a tremendous volume of this precious resource over time. Look into using a recirculating loop in a water bath.
  3. Handle Chemical Waste with Care
    Follow proper waste handling procedures and minimize hazardous chemical use.

Energy Conservation

The amount of energy we consume and the way that energy is generated are directly linked to our carbon footprint and climate change. Currently the utility company supplying electricity to Duke University uses coal as the primary fuel source for electrical generation. By implementing some of the suggestion below, you can help reduce the carbon footprint of your lab.

Take Action

  • Shut the fume hood sash. Fume hoods consume more energy than anything else in the lab and they are the easiest and cheapest to control. Energy is consumed by the fan motor that pulls the air through the front of the hood and out the stack. This amount of energy pales when compared to the energy investment to heat, cool, humidify or dehumidify that volume of air that is being discharged into the atmosphere. If the sash is left open, a fume hood can consume the same amount of energy as 3.5 average sized houses, costing $5,000 per year. Shutting the sash will reduce the volume of air being drawn through the hood, even on the single speed drive hoods. On the newer variable speed drive hoods, the air volume will be reduced by 60-80% if the sash is closed.
  • Select EnergyStar rated equipment. Where possible, purchase the most energy efficient lab equipment and appliances possible. Look for the EnergyStar rating. Ask your vendor rep to supply information on energy usage. Duke Procurement can help.
  • Unplug or install timers on unused equipment. Most equipment such as ovens and heating blocks reach operating temperature fairly quickly, so turn them off if you are not using them. Need a piece of equipment ready to go early each day? Install a 24 hour timer between it and the outlet and set it so the equipment is ready to go when you arrive but shuts down later.
  • Keep freezers and refrigerators in good working order. Defrost them on a regular basis and vacuum the condenser coils.
  • Refrigerate the centrifuge rotors. Put them in a refrigerator that is already necessary to run. Then turn off the centrifuge. The rotors will still be ready for immediate use.
  • Hibernate unneeded fume hoods and snorkels. If you have a fume hood or snorkel in your lab that is no longer used, talk to FMD and OESO about getting it shut off. If the hood remains in place, be sure to post a sign indicating that it is not functional and should not be used.
  • Adjust your lab thermostat to save energy.
  • Close the windows and turn out the lights when you leave the lab.

Water Conservation

Humans are consuming our supply of fresh water faster than it can be replaced naturally.  The suggestions below can help you reduce water consumption in your lab.

Take Action

  • Reduce single pass cooling. Many instruments and processes require water for cooling. Consider running a recirculating loop through a cold water bath as an alternative to running water down the drain.
  • Eliminate vacuum aspirators. Use a vacuum pump instead.
  • Reduce DI water usage. Depending on the system used, it can take a surprising amount of water to make DI water. Do not use DI water where tap water will do.
  • Report leaks. Contact your maintenance department (see numbers below) to report dripping faucets in the lab or wherever else you see them. Do not assume someone else will make the call.

Read more about other efforts to save water at Duke.


Scientific research and teaching often involves the use of chemicals which, if not handled properly, could be damaging to our environment and to our health.  Several tools are listed below to help you reduce your need for hazardous chemicals and meet your obligations for proper disposal of waste.

Take Action

  • Reduce the quantity of hazardous materials that come into your lab by purchasing only needed amounts of chemicals and/or by using less hazardous alternatives. MIT has developed a Green Chemical Wizard for helping you select less hazardous alternatives.
  • Follow proper chemical waste handling procedures.  These procedures have been established by Duke OESO in accordance with EPA standards. 
  • Never pour anything down the sink without consulting these guidelines first.

Green Purchasing

Green purchasing encompasses selecting products that have a minimal impact on the environment.  There are a variety of environmentally preferable characteristics that a product can have, including recycled content, energy efficient operation or biodegradable disposal.  The suggestions below will help reduce the environmental impact of products purchased for your lab.

Take Action

  • Buy EnergyStar appliances where available.
  • Minimize hazardous chemical purchasing.  Go to MIT's Green Chemical Wizard for ideas.
  • Consider using biodegradable plastics for consumable supplies.
  • Buy products with recycled content and /or packaging.
  • Save up to make a larger purchase of supplies at one time, which uses less packing and transportation than many smaller deliveries.

Duke Procurement has a Green Purchasing program with a wealth of information about buying green.


Living by the mantra, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", can get your lab a long way down the sustainability path and save money too.

Take Action

Reduce your waste stream.

  • Order only what you can use before the expiration date. 
  • Seek out vendors that use reduced or recyclable packaging materials. 
  • Seek out vendors that will take their styrofoam shipping containers back and pipette tip suppliers that will pick up their tip boxes.

Reuse items and materials to extend their useful life. 

  • Contact Duke Surplus to see if they have furniture or equipment that you can use. 
  • Start a freecycling system in your department to swap unused equipment or supplies.

Recycle materials.

  • Help keep cardboard out of the dumpsters.  Break down the boxes and place in the hallway for pick up.
  • View a list of items collected by Duke Recycles.