UC-Irvine’s “Shut the Sash” Campaign Counts Inches to Save Energy

NWF   |   August 26, 2008

At the University of California-Irvine, an inch or two matters to the Green Campus Program. In fact, the program’s interns and volunteers spend a lot of time canvassing the campus measuring those inches, only to find that they add up to a lot of wasted energy and money.

Members of the Green Campus Program at UC-Irvine are concerned about their campus’s impact on the environment, and one way they monitor their energy usage is by measuring the distance by which laboratory fume hoods are left open when not in use. It’s all part of their award-winning Fume Hood Use campaign, also known as “Shut the Sash.”

“We have 1,041 fume hoods all over campus,” says Courtney Gill, lead intern for the program. “Their purpose is to cycle out the fumes scientists create when working with various pieces of lab equipment. But when they’re left open, the fume hoods continue cycling out all the air in the air-conditioned labs, wasting a lot of energy.” A typical fume hood, operating in a U.S. climate, uses 3.5-times as much energy as a house, according to the accredited Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Fume Hood Model, which Gill used to estimate how much energy was being wasted by the university. In fact, university research laboratories are the major “energy vampires” on college campuses, consuming as much as five to ten times more energy per square foot than a commercial building on campus. One study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that their research laboratories account for 60% of all electricity used on campus.

In order to get the fume hoods, or sashes, closed, the Green Campus Program uses a three-pronged approach. The first method is direct education, asking teaching assistants (TAs) to encourage their students to close the hoods before leaving the labs. The second approach is placing “point-of-decision” reminder stickers on the hoods themselves, explaining that a closed fume hood saves up to 50,000 lbs of CO2 a year.

Their third method, and perhaps the most successful, is organizing an incentive-based competition among three buildings on the UC-Irvine campus that contain fume hoods. This is why inches matter. Volunteers periodically audit the buildings’ fume hoods during the competition, noting the total number of inches each fume hood has been left open. The competition lasts three weeks and pits chemists against biologists, and biologists against physicists. The building with the fewest total number of inches at the end of the competition wins a catered luncheon for its professors and lab users, and an energy-efficiency certificate provided by the Green Campus Program.


The “Shut the Sash” campaign has also earned UC-Irvine some deserved recognition. In 2007, their Fume Hood Use campaign won an award for “Best Practices in Student Energy Efficiency,” given out at the sixth annual Sustainability Conference at UC-Santa Barbara, beating all other Green Campus Programs in the UC system. UC-Irvine’s group also picked up an Anteater Award from its own school for “Best Collaborative Program.”

UC-Irvine’s Green Campus club was officially formed in the fall of 2005, and since then the campus saves over 80,000 lbs of CO2 and $13,000 every quarter through their Fume Hood Use campaign alone. Similar Green Campus Programs are supported in 12 different University of California and California State Universities by the Alliance to Save Energy and California ratepayers under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission. UC-Irvine’s Fume Hood Use campaign has sparked similar successful campaigns on campuses across the United States, from UC-Berkeley to Harvard and Duke Universities.

“UC Irvine’s Green Campus interns were the pioneers of fume hood monitoring,” says Matthew St. Clair, sustainability specialist with the UC Office of the President, “and what they were brilliant at was being able to reach out directly to the students themselves in their own classrooms.”


See More:

Energy Efficient Berkeley Fume Hood Cuts Electricity Use in Half: Berkeley Lab Research News

Fume Hood Study: Tufts University [PDF]

University and utility partnerships in California lower emissions: ClimateEdu