People lounge on a green lawn with a glass and red brick building at the far end.

Campus as a Living Lab

The Campus as a Living Lab program is a collection of experiential learning opportunities linking learning, teaching, and research to the campus and broader community through sustainability-focused “living lab” projects. Living lab projects create opportunities for problem-based teaching, research, and hands on experiences. They use the natural, social, and built environment of the campus as a testing ground to develop solutions to address sustainability goals on campus and beyond.

Living Lab projects see the campus and the community as a living laboratory, making connections between the classroom and “real life.” Campus as Living Lab focuses on three main activities:

  1. Providing information about experiential learning opportunities through the Undergraduate Research Initiative and the Community Service Learning Program. 
  2. Facilitating and supporting living lab projects that target independent study classes, practicum placements, thesis projects, and/or capstone projects. 
  3. Connecting staff and faculty on campus that have a sustainability challenge with students who want to help with the challenge. 

What does Campus as a Living Lab mean for me?

Do you have an idea to start something new for campus sustainability? Do you want to do research or create a project to advance the sustainability performance of our campus? The Living Lab program promotes several funding options and guidance for student research and initiatives.

If you are an undergraduate student and have a research idea, you can apply for funding (sponsored by the Office of Sustainability) through the Undergraduate Research Initiative. Or, if you can go through Community Service-Learning to take a course that includes a placement with a community partner related to sustainability. The Office of Sustainability also makes funding available for projects through Green Grants and the Sustainability Enhancement Fund.

Learn more about all of these options below under How To Apply.

If you are student with project ideas or questions please email Kurt Borth or call 780-492-9289.

Are you a professor or lecturer looking for real world examples, facilities or data to use in your classes or capstone projects? Do you want to supervise and help students researching sustainability at the university? Staff at the Office of Sustainability will connect you to data, people and information to help you. The Living Lab also provides funding for curricular and research ideas that advance campus sustainability.

Are you a staff member with useful projects for students to carry out in your building or department (e.g. waste audits or staff engagement campaigns)? Would you like to share your needs with faculty researchers? The Living Lab program collates your project ideas and promotes them to students and faculty members. Funding is available to support selected projects.

Project criteria

Living Lab projects affect the “hearts and minds” of participants and enhance UAlberta’s sustainability performance. This means that living lab projects and participants will be carefully chosen with the following criteria in mind:

  • Place-Based. Projects aligns with UAlberta’s vision for sustainability and addresses campus sustainability challenges that have a strong connection to alumni, the city, and the province.  
  • Shared Responsibility. Projects are complex and involve people sharing responsibly for the outcome through a commitment to collaboration and co-learning.
  • Positive Impact Projects will address real world problems, be rooted in practicality, and address two core questions: What real world problem does it fix? How can the project track and report on measurable impact?
  • System Thinking. Projects demonstrate an understanding that sustainability challenges do not exist in vacuum and seek to build connections between environmental, social, economic, cultural, and political dimensions of sustainability. 
  • Continuous Improvement. Projects monitor their progress and show a commitment to continuously adapting to ensure that there is sustainability impact over time, and that living lab projects are high quality learning experiences for all participants. 

Living Lab projects need to address campus sustainability and should address at least one of the following outcomes:

  • Outreach & Engagement. Sharing knowledge, expertise, best practices and lessons learned so all members of the University and the local and global community has the knowledge and tools needed to promote a culture of sustainability.
  • Teaching. Building opportunities for engaging and educating students, faculty and staff so that everyone has the opportunity to participate in formal learning about sustainability. 
  • Research. Supporting innovative research and inquiry that improves understanding related to sustainability, leading to real-world solutions and problem-solving. 
  • Facilities & Operations. Developing strategies and objectives that conserve resources, decrease the production of waste, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, minimize ecological footprints, and build sustainable supply chains.

Examples of projects 

View current projects & ideas

In addition Facilities and Operations has data sets on campus utilities (including water, electricity, natural gas). Data is available on request for student and faculty-lead projects. Please email Energy Management & Sustainable Operations to learn more.

How to apply

Students and faculty are eligible to apply. Getting started is easy:

1. Review past projects

2. Identify a project that interests you that is connected to campus sustainability

3. Select a program that best fits your needs

Undergraduate Research Initiative

This program supports the involvement of University of Alberta undergraduate students in research activities. Several research stipends focusing on the Living Lab are available each year. URI offers individual consultations with students to explore their interests and needs.

Apply to URI

Community Service-Learning

This program integrates service-learning into existing courses in diverse subjects and disciplines. Students are paired with campus and community partners where they contribute in real ways to the organizations and gain valuable working experience. Students and faculty can integrate sustainability into this learning experience with the collaboration of the partner organizations.

Additional project funding may be available through Green Grants and the Sustainability Enhancement Fund.

Apply to CSL

Green Grants

This program generally supports volunteer-led initiatives focused on curricular efforts. Funding could be used to explore sustainability in capstone projects, create demonstration sites, enable office green teams or develop behaviour change pilots. Grants range up to $2,000.

Apply to Green Grants

Sustainability Enhancement Fund

This fund is made possible by the savings generated from energy efficiency projects at UAlberta. The program supports collaborative projects that improve the university's operational performance and demonstrate the viability of best practices and technologies.

Letters of Interest from teams including students, faculty and/or staff are accepted twice a year. Awards range from $2,000 up to $50,000 per project. Projects requiring additional funds will be considered where there is a tangible payback to our institution.

Apply to SEF

4. Submit your proposal

Quick Start

Students, faculty and staff are eligible to get involved in Campus as Living Lab projects. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Select a project that is related to campus sustainability. Your project could be from the list of current projects & ideas or a new idea
  2. Select a program that best fits your needs
  3. Submit your proposal

More information

Office of Sustainability