The Shut the Sash Competition at Harvard Univ. is considered one of the most effective behavior change programs on campus for reducing energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The engagement program started in 2005 and now includes 19 labs spread throughout the Dept. of Chemistry & Chemical Biology and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Compared to baseline measurements, the competition is estimated to save over $200,000/year.
Over the past 10 years, a number of labs have entered and left the competition, and several renovations of lab space have taken place. During this time the structure of the competition has changed very little, with monthly pizza parties for winning labs, and occasional wine and cheese parties for labs that consistently meet their goals.
In 2014, the Green Labs Program conducted a study to determine if the Shut the Sash Competition is still effective at reducing energy and utility costs by reminding and motivating lab employees to shut their fume hood sashes when not in use. By accessing Siemens building data in lab buildings around campus, a comparison was performed between labs in the competition and labs that have automatic sash closers. As a control, these fume hoods were also compared to those in labs that have neither sash closers nor an active competition, only passive stickers as reminders to “Shut the Sash”. To assure necessary sash openings for research was not factored into the study, the study focused on sash openings exceeding five consecutive hours, which experience indicated as poor sash management.
After reviewing nearly three months of data from 237 fume hoods at Harvard, the results show labs participating in the competition closed their sashes with nearly equal regularity as labs with automatic sash closers. In addition, fume hoods in labs that were part of the competition outperformed the control fume hoods substantially, by an estimated 159 cfm estimated average per year. With an annual cost of $7.43/cfm/year to Harvard, this proves the 178 fume hoods in the Shut the Sash Competition are saving $210,218 to Harvard, including 300+ MTCDE of greenhouse gas emissions (p < 0.05). This also confirms the competition is indeed functioning as expected. With a program budget of $4,200/year for celebration supplies and 10 to 20 hrs of labor per month, the return on investment is quite significant relative to the cost of automatic sash closers, and can be financial justified and maintained indefinitely.
The results of this research study allowed the Green Labs Program to make the case to senior administrators to expand the Shut the Sash competition to an additional 20 labs, with expected savings of $1,181 per additional variable-air-volume fume hood or a total of $48,421 in savings through 2016. It also provides a model for research universities and businesses around the world to replicate. After the first year of the expanded competition, a follow-up study will be done to determine if the expected savings were found.
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Quentin Gilly is the Senior Coordinator for the Green Labs Program at the Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences where he partners with scientists, staff and students to develop innovative solutions for reducing energy and waste in the lab environment.