Written by Connie Yoon

When thinking about sustainability, there are innumerable factors to take into consideration—many of which can easily fly under the radar. We often forget how much waste we produce in our daily lives, both as individuals and as a larger university. Especially at an institution as large as UC Santa Barbara, where supplies are needed in every office, department, and laboratory.. Two programs on campus, PACES (the Program for the Assessment and Certification for the Environment and Sustainability) and LabRATS (the Laboratory Resources, Advocates, and Teamwork for Sustainability), have been actively working to combat this issue, in-part by developing sustainable procurement lists for supplies used campus-wide. 

PACES offers environmental consulting and certifications for offices and departments, events, and sports teams on campus. They work closely with entities to reduce their environmental impact and increase efficiency by providing sustainability assessments and resources for making improvements. The process typically begins with an interview with a representative from the department seeking sustainability certifications, in order to get a sense of the sustainability policies, practices, and trainings that are already in place. PACES then follows up with a survey to all department staff or team members to gather information about on-site practices, and gauge how effective current  sustainability efforts are. The process also includes a walkthrough of the physical space to look at factors such as waste infrastructure, energy & water using equipment, cleaning chemicals in use, and any other details that are relevant to sustainability. 

LabRATS offers a similar service called LabSYNC, but their assessments are geared specifically towards certifying laboratories on campus. The process for certification is nearly parallel to PACES—scheduling meetings with labs and checking the sustainability practices that are in place. They then provide resources such as presentations on how the laboratories can improve sustainability. What makes LabSYNC unique is that the LabRATS team tailors recommendations for each lab to the unique needs of each research team.  LabRATS proudly takes on the strange and unusual sustainability challenges that arise in laboratory spaces. Once the assessment is complete, the lab is given a ranking along the light spectrum with “Ultra Violet” laboratories being the most sustainable.  

During the 2020-2021 academic year, certifications were put on hold. During that time, both programs expanded their programming in several ways. They both developed bi-weekly virtual educational modules and developed new partnerships. One partnership that was developed in the past year was with the UCSB Procurement Office. PACES developed shopping lists for the OfficeDepot and Amazon punchout catalogs in the Gateway procurement system which highlight products that meet the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices Procurement Guidelines.   With these lists, anyone purchasing materials through UCSB Gateway can easily pinpoint which items have the least negative environmental impact. To find these, log into UCSB Gateway, select OfficeDepot and then look for the “shopping lists” at the top of the page. On Shopping lists, search for “UCSB Green Preferred”. To see items in Amazon that meet the UC Sustainable Procurement Guidelines, open the Amazon punchout in Gateway and then look for “Lists” in the upper-right hand corner.  There you can find the “UC Green Preferred Shopping List.”

Simran Bawa and the LabRATS team have been working on developing the laboratory supplies procurement list since the end of the 2020-21 school year. The PACES program, which began their project for office supplies first, inspired LabRATS to do the same for labs. LabRATS started with three companies with strategic sourcing contracts in the UC system. As the project progresses, we will continue to expand to other companies. Simran and her fellow interns combed through Neta Scientific Procurement’s lab supplies, which encompasses everything from vials and beakers to chemical supplies and equipment. The team spent countless hours sifting through thousands of items and pinpointing sustainable offerings—looking at factors such as whether they are made from recycled content, whether they are recyclable, if they have design features that reduce waste, and their energy and water use. After compiling items into a spreadsheet, the LabRATS team met to talk through what sustainability claims they were seeing. The team talked through the Seven Sins of Greenwashing (https://www.ul.com/insights/sins-greenwashing) to consider whether the claim was well founded.  The interns also worked with representatives from each company to collect more detailed sustainability information than what was available on the sales websites. Once the list is finalized, these lists will be integrated into the UCSB Gateway site. This is an ongoing project and will require more time than was needed for the office supplies. There are fewer third party certifications available for laboratory equipment, less comparable data on products, and a wider range of products to review.

“If even one lab switches over to using more sustainable items, there will be a measurable impact,” says Simran. These lists will allow everyone to easily be mindful about sustainability in any setting on campus.