39 'Green' Offices and Growing

Hundreds of employees work in sustainable spaces

Part of the Sustainable Duke Series
Randy Smith, left, worked with Debra Murray to earn a gold level Green Lab Certification for the Magwene Lab in the Department of Biology. Photo by Bryan Roth.
Randy Smith, left, worked with Debra Murray to earn a gold level Green Lab Certification for the Magwene Lab in the Department of Biology. Photo by Bryan Roth.

Since September 2011, 39 offices and departments at Duke have pledged their commitment to sustainability by adopting sustainable practices and earning a Green Workplace Certification.

That number will grow.

Starting this winter, Sustainable Duke added more "green" certifications that now include laboratories, dorm rooms, classrooms and events. The goal of certification is to train and foster student and employee sustainability leaders to help Duke reduce its environmental footprint.

"Duke's commitment to carbon neutrality relies on grassroots efforts, so it's exciting that more students and employees can now get involved," said Casey Roe, outreach coordinator for Sustainable Duke. "Our certifications can now recognize steps being taken everywhere on campus."

Randy Smith, departmental manager in the Department of Biology, helped create a checklist used for the new Green Lab Certification, which was available last year in a pilot phase. Smith worked with Sustainable Duke to design the certification to address distinct functions of lab spaces as compared to offices.

The biggest issue labs face, Smith said, is being energy-intensive because labs must run fume hoods to suck out hazardous air during research, storage or experiments. On a per square foot basis, research labs can require five times more energy to operate than classrooms and office spaces.

"We're already paying to condition, humidify or dehumidify the air, but then it just gets sucked out the chimney, so to speak, and has to be replaced," Smith said. "So we're using up energy and money to then replace that air."

By installing fume hoods with multi-speed fans, Duke labs can use less energy and even save money, Smith said. The average fume hood costs about $5,000 a year to run, while a multi-speed fan that can slow down and use less electricity throughout the day uses about $2,000 a year, he said. That difference can add up fast in a single building like the French Family Science Center with 275 fume hoods in labs.

Labs earn points for how many sustainable actions they take, earning bronze, silver or gold certifications. Along with fume hoods, steps include installing recirculating water systems to avoid waste, buying and installing energy efficient appliances, recycling all applicable plastics, glass, aluminum batteries and more. So far, the Department of Biology has 10 green certified labs - all earned gold.

"I have grandchildren, and the bottom line for me is to make sure the environment is not worse for them when they're grown up," Smith said. "I think a lot of people at Duke share the same passion."

Among those likeminded Duke employees is Marilyn Weisz, who led an effort in Duke's Fetal Diagnostic Center to earn a Green Workplace Certification. Weisz, an ultrasonographer, pushed to change drinking cups from Styrofoam to paper cups made from recycled content, among other initiatives.

"Duke is a leader in so many things, so it makes total sense we should strive to be a leader in sustainability," Weisz said. "We should always look at how we can become more efficient and more sustainable."