NIEHS Sustainability Report Marks Progress in Reducing Waste, Energy Use
NIEHS recently released its 2019 Sustainability Report, with details on sustainable operations and goals related to further reducing energy use, improving recycling, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and more. NIEHS and National Toxicology Program acting director Dr. Rick Woychik highlighted significant findings of the report.
- Reduced energy intensity by nearly 12 percent over the last 4 years. Energy intensity is a measure of efficiency across sources, accounting for both cost and energy units.
- Increased solar energy generation.
- Diverted 80 percent of solid nonhazardous waste from landfills between 2010 and 2018.
- Decreased volume of wastewater discharge by 32 percent.
- Decreased carbon dioxide emissions from the vehicle fleet by nearly 30 percent.
"The report demonstrates how our operations align with our mission to protect and enhance human health and the environment," said Paul Johnson, manager of Environmental Protection and Stewardship Programs. NIEHS is the only institute or center at NIH to regularly publish a sustainability report about its operations, he noted. "It’s an example of our leadership in sustainability."
"I am especially proud of our Net-Zero Energy (NZE) warehouse and its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] Platinum certification," Woychik said. "It saved the equivalent of 20 metric tons of CO2 emissions."
Statistics that did not show improvement were influenced by factors beyond the control of NIEHS. Hazardous waste production increased by more than 9,000 pounds between 2017 and 2018, in large part due to a change in waste management practices. "Certain liquids that were once permitted to be disposed to the drain began to be collected and shipped off-site for disposal in 2018, such as aqueous liquids from laboratories and rinsate from imaging processers," said Johnson.
On-site C02 emissions remained below the EPA reporting threshold. The downward trend was interrupted in 2018 when emission levels returned to 2008 levels. The data suggest the increase resulted from extreme temperatures that year, leading to higher fuel oil use in winter and electricity demand in summer. Installation of more efficient chillers, which provide cooling, in 2013 and 2018 at the Central Utility Plant kept electricity demand from being even higher.
"NIEHS still faces a major challenge in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Woychik. "We must look for every opportunity to limit our energy consumption and shift to renewable power."
He highlighted action items that are key to future gains.
- Further modernize the data center to lower energy demands.
- Add electric fleet vehicles to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
- Install a condensate capture and reuse system to decrease water demand.
"Biomedical research is resource- and energy-intensive. We understand that we face environmental challenges even as we try to find environmental solutions," Johnson said. "This report says: Here’s what we’re doing about it."—John Yewell