The Leopold Lab didn't need to implement any new practices or make changes to earn the title of "Greenest Lab" in the College of Arts and Sciences.
"We just did what we normally do," said lab manager Stephanie Zaborac-Reed.
The lab, headed by Emeritus Professor of Biology Estella Leopold, finds it natural to take steps to make sure they're operating in the most sustainable way possible. Whether it's sharing resources with other labs in Johnson Hall to cut down on redundant purchases, seeking out glass containers instead of plastic whenever possible, or just making sure recycling and compost ends up in the correct bin, they find making the environmentally-friendly choice is the easy one.
When the Green Laboratory Certification program ran a competition among all the labs in the College of Arts and Sciences during the 2014-15 school year, the Leopold Lab easily took the top spot with a score of 107 percent (the certification application includes opportunities for bonus points in some areas, which can lead to scores above 100 percent).
For Leopold and Zaborac-Reed, the victory came as a surprise, since they didn't feel as though they were doing anything out of the ordinary.
"Both Estella and I have a strong conservation ethic," Zaborac-Reed said. "It's easier than it seems."
Living as environmentally-friendly as possible is something of a family tradition for Leopold. Her father, Aldo Leopold, was a well-known ecologist and environmentalist, and his book A Sand County Almanac remains one of the most well-known and influential environmental books, even more than 60 years after it was published.
The Leopold Lab's work digs deep into the past to gain knowledge of how the world works. The research uses tiny fossilized pollen grains dating back millions of years to help provide a picture of the ancient environments, including how plants responded to changes in the climate – information which is highly relevant today.
As the lab goes about its research, Leopold, Zaborac-Reed and volunteer assistant Lisa Doely have set up a number of processes to be efficient as well as green.
Leopold remembers working in academia before schools had an environmental infrastructure, when there were no recycling options on campus, much less composting.
"I’m grateful the university has good systems set up," Leopold said.
For Zaborac-Reed, making sure the lab isn't wasteful isn't only important for the environmental benefits.
"My way of thinking about it is of saving," Zaborac-Reed said. "Cost saving, space saving and saving the Earth."
Stephanie Zaborac-Reed and Estella Leopold look at a fossilized pollen grain under a microscope.