The New Force Greening UT’s Labs

UT Austin’s Green Labs Program started in Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) as a student initiative in 2011. After being housed in the Office of Sustainability for the last five years, the program is back in EHS led by its first* full-time staff member, Lindsey Yazbek. Lindsey—who grew up in the Buda area and has an M.S. from Kent State University—began working on campus in October 2019.

We recently sat down with Lindsey in her spartan office adorned by a large picture window looking straight into the crown of a live oak.

How did you become interested in sustainability?

I grew up in the Austin suburbs, and when I was about ten or eleven, I realized that we did not have recycling. I went to our HOA, and they told me to see what was needed. So I went door to door to see if our neighbors were interested, and we implemented recycling. This was the first time that I realized I was passionate about sustainability.

Can you tell about your laboratory experience? How do you see this helping with Green Labs?

I took a geology course at Trinity University and fell in love with research on geology and water chemistry. I graduated with a double major in Geosciences and Environmental Studies in 2017 and continued studying aqueous geochemistry at Kent State University. For my M.S. thesis, I researched how nearby waterways are affected by abandoned coal mines because of acid mine drainage or rusty water.

I think that my experience working in labs helped me see that a “let’s just change this” approach won’t work. Research is high stress, and I can understand why sustainability is not at the forefront of people’s minds. I would like to weave sustainability into what researchers are already doing so that they don’t have to think about it.

What led you to get involved with UT’s program, and how do you see it?

I wanted some connection to academia and research. When I got the call from UT, I was working for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality modeling water quality. I decided that it would be a great opportunity and am really excited to be back on a campus.

The goal of the Green Labs program at UT is to help UT faculty, staff, and students run more environmentally-friendly labs without interfering with the integrity of their research. The Green Labs program strives to increase the sustainability of labs on campus by broadly focusing on three main efforts: waste minimization, energy conservation and water conservation. Laboratory buildings use more energy than other buildings and therefore have untapped potential in sustainability. I also think that a goal of Green Labs is to train students in skills for future employers. We are thinking of creating a certificate program for students.

What is the first thing you implemented with Green Labs?

I hope to maintain the good things that the Green Labs program is already doing like specialty recycling and then focus on expanding the program in areas like waste minimization and resource conservation. We recently held the first ever Lab Supply Swap on campus. We kept about 460 pounds of usable items from the landfill and had great participation by many departments and graduate students. We hope to hold this event annually.

* The Green Labs Program has certified over 150 lab groups as Green Labs on campus. Initial funding came from UT Austin’s Green Fund, a competitive grant program created by pooling student tuition fees to fund sustainability-related projects on campus. To learn more about the Green Labs Program, please check the website. The new Green Labs Coordinator position was made possible through a collaboration between UT’s Financial and Administrative Services and partner BASF that has matched funds.

Written by Kristin Phillips, Communications Coordinator in the Office of Sustainability