Research Sustainability

Partner with the Office of Research and fellow investigators who are working to create a culture of environmental sustainability at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Research Impact on the Climate

  • Research labs have a carbon-footprint that is 4-10x that of office space, and often create large amounts of plastic waste

  • In the U.S., the healthcare sector is responsible for 8.5-10% of the country’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

  • Reducing the environmental impact of research provides a broad range of benefits and opportunities:
    • Cost savings
    • Grant opportunities
    • Process efficiency
    • Impact on vendors and supply chain
    • Employee morale and recruitment
    • Reduced CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions

Did you know? A conventional -80C freezer uses as much energy as an average U.S. household! (via  U.S. DoE)

Featured Opportunities for Action

Optimize Your Cold Storage (& Win Prizes) freezerchallenge

The I2SL + My Green Lab Freezer Challenge promotes best practices in cold storage to promote energy efficiency, sample integrity, and sample access. Awards given to individual labs (multiple size categories) & institutions with the most “best practice actions.” Join us to help Vanderbilt make a collective impact! Vanderbilt labs and cores who participate in the 2023 Freezer Challenge also have opportunities for internal prizes and recognition.

Earn points for: clearing out old samples, tuning temperatures, using high-density storage, cleaning filters and coils, clearing frost, barcoding inventories, recruiting another lab to participate, and many more.

To participate:
1.    Sign up at 
2.    Record and submit any new/recent actions taken to optimize your lab’s cold storage practices (retroactive to 8/1/22)
3.    Sign up here to also participate in the Vanderbilt challenge:

The benefits: Improved cold storage operations and energy use. You’ll receive a summary of your score and the estimated energy savings in August. Awards given to individual labs & institutions with the most "best practice actions." The top-scoring Vanderbilt laboratory will be recognized with an official announcement and a group lunch! 

The Challenge is open to Cores and individual laboratories from both VU and VUMC.

Not one for competition? You can still adopt the cold storage best practices to improve sample integrity and energy use in your laboratory.

Apply for a Climate Action and Sustainability Pilot Grant

Applications due May 18

Green thinkers and dreamers are encouraged to apply for a Climate Action and Sustainability Pilot Grant from the Department of Radiology (funded by WM Inc.). All VUMC staff, trainees, and faculty are eligible for the pilot grants. 

The goal is to support projects and early-stage ideas from any division or department to make the VUMC community greener and more sustainable. Radiology will provide 7 pilot grants of up to $2,000 in direct costs for 4 months. There are no limitations, if it focuses on how to make VUMC more climate focused, or ways that demonstrate the potential to reduce the Medical Center’s carbon footprint. Apply for a pilot grant by May 18.

Attend the My Green Lab Global Summit

FREE virtual event held June 8

The 2023 My Green Lab Global will be held virtually on Thursday, June 8, 2023. There is no cost to attendees from academic and non-profit organizations. We encourage you to participate and help Vanderbilt build a culture of sustainability in science. 

About the Summit: The Summit aims to explore practical tools and strategies for engaging scientists in a process that lead to lasting and measurable impact. The event will feature experts from multiple fields working together to transform the scientific industry through sustainability.

This virtual summit provides a unique opportunity for leaders and experts in the scientific community to discuss the latest developments, challenges, and opportunities to drive change in the lab. In an interactive format, we will explore practical tools and engagement strategies that can lead to lasting and measurable impact with a clear return on investment. 

Learn more and register here:

Shared Resources & SustainabilityRRT

Vanderbilt Cores & Shared Resources (aka "cores") are key partners in environmentally sustainable research. Cores offer expertise and economies of scale that guarantee effective resource use, which also decreases user costs. For example, samples from multiple lab groups can be "batched" on the same flow cell for DNA sequencing and only processed once all the lanes are full. A single microscope or flow cytometer can serve many investigators, saving space and money and reducing the environmental impact of shipping, building, and maintaining multiple instruments. By having dedicated experts manage instrumentation, cores often extend the lifespan of shared equipment well beyond manufacturer expectations.

Cores also address the environmental impact of science through a more rigorous, reproducible, and sustainable conduct of research, as described in the Journal of Biomolecular Techniques. Cores maintain standardized research procedures, validated reagents, well-calibrated equipment, and other practices that support rigorous research. These core practices help ensure that experiments are well-documented and can be trusted as the basis for further discovery. Read more about Vanderbilt's efforts toward rigor, reproducibility, and transparency (RR&T). A FASEB report on Establishing a national strategy for shared research resources in biomedical sciences outlines a high level framework for incorporating sustainable practices into RR&T and core lab programs.  

In total, Vanderbilt has more than 80 cores that support rigorous, sustainable research practices. Browse core services here.

    Getting Started with Sustainable Research Practices

    • Take the "How green is your lab?" quiz from Nature and scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder. The quiz will help you identify ways your lab is making an impact and provide new ideas for promoting sustainable practices.

    • Consider these guiding questions for research labs

      • Can I reduce the carbon footprint of my lab?
      • Can I support others in making these changes?
      • What does the institution have in place to support this work?
      • What can I do to assist with institutional change?
      • How can we as an institution support change in the larger community?
    • Save resources, time, and money (and increase rigor & reproducibility!) by using Vanderbilt Cores & Shared Resources

    • Participate in the Freezer Challenge to increase the energy efficiency of your lab's cold storage. You can adopt the cold storage best practices without officially joining the challenge. 

    • Learn "How to Green Lab" with monthly tips:

    • Use the Top 9 checklist below to improve lab energy efficiency:

    top 9

    Additional Resources

    Vanderbilt Efforts

    External Resources