Space utilization is focused on the efficient and optimized use of existing research space to help to prevent the need for additional spaces.
“With shrinking state budgets and challenges winning more federal research funding, we’re having to think about more efficient utilization of the lab space we’ve got. That means recognizing that we don’t always need new buildings to accommodate growth—there are times when someone just needs to give up some underutilized space.”
"The most energy efficient building is the building we do not build" - University of Colorado Boulder leadership. This is particularly important when considering that laboratory space is not only expensive to build and maintain, but is also energy intensive, especially due to ventilation needs of labs.
Unfortunately, efficient use of space has not typically been front and center for the US research enterprise. In fact, even the overhead rate calculation in the US (also known as the Indirect Cost Rate (ICR) or Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Rate) neglects to promote space efficiency. As a result, huge opportunities for efficient use of taxpayer dollars and a reduced environmental footprint for research are missed. There is need for a cultural shift and actions that benefit maximizing the use and impact of research spaces and infrastructure. Efficient use of research spaces will both save funding and reduce the negative impacts of research on the environment.
TOPICS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PROPOSAL
While space utilization is associated with overhead costs rather than the direct costs of research, more efficient use of research space (especially laboratory space) is one of the most impactful actions that can be taken to reduce the environmental footprint of research and to prevent overhead costs from increasing. The more funding that needs to be paid from granting agencies program budgets for overhead costs, the less that is available for direct costs of research. As a result, space utilization is certainly a topic worthy of attention.
1. Describe how your institution ensures access to space for sponsored research when needed through efficient, optimized use of research space and re-allocation, such as through:
Institutional policy on space allocation and the existence of a space optimization office or space allocation committee with a diverse set of stakeholders that routinely and fairly evaluates researcher needs for space and re-allocates space to match present research needs.
Establishing a campus culture where space is seen as a community asset rather than an individual asset. For example, including language in offer letters, new faculty/staff orientations, and in memorandums of understanding setting the expectation that research space is a community asset that is not “owned” by individuals.
2. Describe the culture of space efficiency that you will bring to science (in biosketches, training plans and broader impacts)
Highlight how you will set an example for other researchers and lay a cultural foundation for the next generation of scientists in your lab, department, and at your institution.
Consider including the importance of research space efficiency due the large energy consumption of laboratory buildings in the face of climate change.
Benefits of Efficient Research Space Use and Reducing the Need for More
1. Large avoided energy use and carbon footprint- Laboratory buildings are energy intensive (particularly due to ventilation needs) and thus the more that can be done to maximize the impact of existing laboratory space and minimize the need to expand, the better for avoiding added energy use that will come from the day to day consumption of more laboratory space and its associated carbon footprint. Avoiding the need to build also avoids the large energy use and carbon footprint associated with the manufacturing/transport of building materials and construction of a new building often referred to as the embodied carbon of the building. 2. Large avoided costs - Building laboratory space is expensive. Thus avoiding the need for more space also avoids the need to spend significant funds on construction and ongoing costs/support of that lab space. Those funds can then be used elsewhere on items such as renovating existing laboratory space and making it more energy efficient. It varies from location to location, but as an example, at the University of Colorado Boulder the cost of new laboratory space in a new laboratory building is on the order of US$1 million per 1000 square feet. 3. Re-envisioning science operations - Where possible, incentivizing scientists to make cultural shifts to utilize space more efficiently (such as consolidating and migrating towards more shared equipment) will be much more cost effective than constructing additional laboratory space that also requires ongoing costs and support. Such opportunities also present a chance to improve research conditions for scientists, etc. 4. Efficient use of overhead means less of a need for overhead rates (ICR/F&A) to increase - Research space use connected with sponsor funded research is one of the most critical components of determining the Facilities rate portion of the Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Rate calculation (also known as the Indirect Cost Recovery (ICR) Rate) for large research institutions in the US. The more space, the more the overhead costs to support research, and thus the higher the overhead rate (specifically the Facilities rate). From a national level perspective, the more funding needed to support overhead costs means less funding from research sponsor budgets available to support the direct costs of research. Scientists in general would like to keep the overhead rates down and efficient space utilization is one of the most important actions to take to achieve that goal. 5. Better attention to existing spaces and deferred maintenance - Institutions across the US often have a backlog of deferred maintenance on existing buildings. Some backlogs are very large. Construction of new buildings can pull attention away from existing buildings and adds to the square footage of space that an institution needs to take care of. Avoiding the need for new laboratory space through efficient use of space helps keeps an institution's resources and focus on existing building in need of repair and upgrading. 6. Responsible use of taxpayer dollars: Efficient space utilization is the right thing to do because it leads to optimized use of taxpayer dollars.