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  • AASHE-STARS

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

Overall Rating Silver
Overall Score 53.62
Liaison Michael Kensler
Submission Date Jan. 11, 2016
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Auburn University
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Nanette Chadwick
Director, Academic Sustainability Programs
Biological Sciences
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Is the institution utilizing the campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in the following areas?:
Yes or No
Air & Climate Yes
Buildings Yes
Dining Services/Food Yes
Energy Yes
Grounds No
Purchasing No
Transportation Yes
Waste Yes
Water Yes
Coordination, Planning & Governance Yes
Diversity & Affordability No
Health, Wellbeing & Work Yes
Investment No
Public Engagement Yes
Other Yes

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Air & Climate and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Students in a Forestry course conducted a complete Nitrogen budget analysis for the campus, and published their findings in a major professional journal.

The published report is:
Brodbeck AB, et al. 2015. Evaluating a campus nitrogen budget for Auburn University, Alabama, USA. Urban Ecosystems (published online).

Positives outcomes: the Office of Sustainability is examining this report and coordinating with the Academic Sustainability Programs to determine how this Nitrogen Budget information can be used to reduce the nitrogen emissions and pollution created on campus.

During Fall 2015, students in HONR 1027 Sustainability in the Modern World (= Honors Introduction to Sustainability course) analyzed each strategy in Auburn University’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), as part of their graded projects for the course. Their final project reports assessed the current status of the University in relation to achieving each strategy, provided background research for possible solutions, and made recommendations for how to make progress on the strategy and overall CAP goals.

Positive Outcome: The Office of Sustainability will utilize the results of these student projects, as the Office begins to develop CAP 2.0 prior to 2018.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Buildings and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

During each of the past three years (2013-2015), students in MECH 4240/4250 Comprehensive Design, which is the Mechanical Engineering Senior Design course, worked with the Utilities and Energy Department of Auburn University, to complete comprehensive retro-commissioning studies on selected campus buildings. The student projects included a complete analysis of all utility and energy data from these buildings, a comprehensive assessment of current mechanical systems, interviews with building occupants, and recommendations for improvements to those systems, complete with estimated utility, cost, and greenhouse gas savings.

Positive Outcome: The Utilities and Energy Department incorporated the students’ recommended projects into their list of projects to implement for building improvements, as funding becomes available. In addition, a handful of small, low-cost changes that were recommended by the students have already been undertaken.

Auburn has several LEED-certifiable buildings, and these are used as educational tools in formal student exercises in classes on campus.

Gorie Center for Building Science Tours:
http://cadc.auburn.edu/construction/construction-facilities
The LEED features in this building, including waterless urinals, shower and changing facilities for bicyclists, and many natural lighting and energy-saving features, are used for organized class tours in various programs on campus, including Biosystems Engineering, Sustainability Studies, and Architecture.
Positive outcomes: Students from a wide variety of classes learn about the first LEED building on Auburn's campus, and see first-hand examples of sustainable building design, as part of their coursework.

Recreation and Wellness Center Tours:
The new, student-funded Recreation and Wellness Center has many LEED features, such as a courtyard landscaped with native plant communities, 2 green roof areas, and natural lighting features and materials throughout.
Website: http://www.campusrec.auburn.edu/facilities
The Recreation and Wellness Center is used for organized class tours in SUST 2000 Introduction to Sustainability, and in HONR 1027 Sustainability and the Modern World. Students participate in a group guided tour of the center during their class meeting time, view the various LEED features, and then integrate these observations with related class lectures and discussions about sustainable building practices.
Positive outcomes: Student use of campus facilities to gain information from their immediate environment on how to design buildings for sustainability.

Office of Information Technology (OIT) New LEED Building Tours:
Staff in this building give organized tours on demand, of the building features, to show off various aspects including innovative cooling and heat-use in the mainframe computer server rooms. These rooms vent their generated heat to the outdoors during summer to reduce AC costs, then keep the heat in during winter to heat the building. The website link describes some of these features, for which OIT won a Spirit of Sustainability Award in 2015.
Website: http://wp.auburn.edu/sustainability/oit-building-project/
Positive outcomes: Increased public awareness of building energy saving methods through outreach tours, as well as miscellaneous tours given to students and staff on campus.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Dining Services/Food and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Tiger Dining funded a graduate research assistantship (GRA) position through the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences (SFAAS), to both operate and research a combined aquaculture, vegetable, and biofuel system that they have established in partnership with the SFAAS. This integrative aquaculture system provides harvest-on-demand Tilapia fish, as well as cucumbers, for on-campus dining operations.

Positive Outcome: The student’s graduate work as part of this project has provided the operational support necessary for the production of fish and vegetables for on-campus consumption, and also contributes to understanding the science behind the aquaculture system. This primary understanding will allow Tiger Dining to scale up the system, with the ultimate goal of meeting 100% of campus Tilapia fish needs for food consumption on campus, as well as utilizing the university’s Cooperative Extension unit, to spread the technology to commercial operations and applications within food deserts in Alabama.

Food Tour:
On-campus systems for sustainability in food production (Horticulture), food consumption (Tiger Dining) and food waste (Campus Kitchens) are visited during organized class tours in SUST 2000 Introduction to Sustainability, and in HONR 1027 Sustainability and the Modern World. Students participate in a group guided tour of these 3 aspects of the campus food system, during a class meeting time. They visit the Old Rotation on campus, which is the oldest continuous cotton experiment in the world, begun in 1896.
Website: http://www.ag.auburn.edu/agrn/cotton.htm
They view the effects of using sustainable methods of rotating legumes, cotton, and corn in demonstration plots. They then walk over to the adjacent horticultural fields and orchards, where they identify, sample and taste local and seasonal crops. They end up at one of the campus Tiger Dining facilities, where head chef Emil Topel demonstrates various sustainability initiatives such as recycled and re-use food containers, food-waste-reducing practices, use of local and on-campus foods in the dining system, etc. They end up learning about the Campus Kitchens project which funnels leftover campus foods each week to the local Food Bank.
Tiger Dining sustainability website: http://www.dineoncampus.com/auburn/show.cfm?cmd=sustainability

Campus Kitchens project:
This is an outreach project of the university, and is run by student volunteers. Each week, students package food waste leftover from the campus dining programs, and deliver it to local organizations who serve the hungry in our community. This project uses the food waste generated on campus, as a living laboratory to teach students about how to reduce waste, how to use leftover food items, and how to engage with social justice issues around hunger and food insecurity, in the surrounding community. This program has won several awards.
Website: http://www.auburn.edu/outreach/campuskitchen/

Positive outcomes: In the Food Tour, students view (and taste!) several types of campus food products, facilities and programs, to gain information from their immediate environment on how to design sustainable food systems. They also learn about healthy eating and sustainable food choices on campus. The Campus Kitchens project allows student volunteers to transform food waste from the campus dining system, into nutritious packaged meals that enrich the lives of city residents who are food-insecure, and provides the students with hands-on learning about how to reduce food waste in our system, as well as how to engage with the surrounding community.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Energy and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

For the past few years, the Utilities and Energy Department of Auburn University has employed engineering students through the Provost’s Co-Op program. In this program, undergraduate engineering students gain hands-on work experience as part of earning their degrees. During their Co-Op semester, each student works as a regular, full-time employee within the Energy Engineering division of the department, participating in projects alongside the campus Energy Engineers. They work with building occupants, conduct project analyses, attend meetings with on- and off-campus stakeholders, and assist with day-to-day operations.

Positive Outcome: The work undertaken by the Co-Op students provides direct, relevant support to the campus’s Utilities and Energy Department. In particular, their efforts have helped the department achieve its energy reduction goals, prioritized projects for implementation, and met stakeholder demands. This program has also allowed the students used campus as a living laboratory to gain work experience related to issues of energy efficiency.

Energy Tour:
On-campus systems for energy production and use are visited during organized class tours in SUST 2000 Introduction to Sustainability, and in HONR 1027 Sustainability and the Modern World. Students participate in a group guided tour of a power substation, where cooling and heating systems are demonstrated that pump water for temperature control in campus buildings. An engineer from the Facilities department on campus describes the opportunities and challenges involved in increasing energy efficiency, using water vs. steam-based systems for heating and cooling, and in purchasing electricity from Alabama Power.
Positive outcomes: Students learn about energy issues through understanding the advances and setbacks, as well as the complexities involved in working toward energy efficiency on campus. They see first-hand how buildings are heated and cooled on campus, and where the energy comes from to power that process.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Grounds and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Purchasing and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Transportation and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

During Fall Semester 2014, a graduate student in the College of Engineering worked in conjunction with his academic advisor, Parking Services, Campus Planning, and the Office of Sustainability to complete a Transportation Survey for Campus Users. The student helped to design the survey instrument, create the platform, collect and analyze the data, and author the comprehensive report, complete with recommendations.

Positive Outcome: The campus departments who requested the survey have utilized the student-generated data to help complete their application to become a Bicycle Friendly Campus, the current STARS assessment for AASHE, greenhouse gas inventory, and for general campus planning in terms of parking, bicycle facilities, mass transit, and other amenities related to transportation modes.

Transportation tour:
On-campus systems for sustainable transportation are visited during organized class tours in SUST 2000 Introduction to Sustainability, and in HONR 1027 Sustainability and the Modern World. Students participate in a group guided tour of a solar panel pilot project on top of a campus parking garage, which is linked to electric vehicle charging stations inside the garage. This project has won awards:
Website: http://wireeagle.auburn.edu/news/4423
They also tour stations of the Tiger Transit bus system on campus:
website: http://www.auburn.edu/administration/parking_transit/transit/index.php
As well as view and discuss the bicycle pathways, racks system, and other features of the bike transport system:
website: http://auburn.edu/administration/parking/bicycle_info.php
and finally, they visit the experimental solar cars project in the Engineering Department, which has also won award competitions:
website: http://wp.auburn.edu/soa/

Walkability Tour:
This tour leads students through campus to adjacent downtown Auburn, and shows them features related to pedestrian transportation, such as sidewalk features, design of street crossings, traffic calming features, relation to on-street buildings and business access, nearby residential street features for walkability, intersection issues, as well as linked on-campus features for pedestrian use such as pedestrian-only concourses. Students see examples of best practices for walkability, as well as areas and features with low walkability in which the city and campus infrastructure have been built mainly to support automobile-only transportation.

Positive outcomes: Students view first-hand examples of alternative transportation systems such as electric vehicles, solar-powered experimental cars, public transit, and bicycle and pedestrian systems, all as alternatives to automobile use. They use campus and adjacent city features to understand the complexity of the transportation system and the possible options for more sustainable transportation.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Waste and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Waste Tour:
On-campus systems for waste reduction and recycling are visited, mostly in and around the Student Center, during organized class tours in SUST 2000 Introduction to Sustainability, and in HONR 1027 Sustainability and the Modern World. Students participate in a group guided tour led by a staff person from the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department. They "follow the waste stream", by visiting solar-power waste compression receptacles outside the Student Center, recycling sorting bins inside the center, behind-the-scenes recycling activities of the dining system inside the center, and then exit the building to see how cardboard, cooking oil, and other materials are sorted and packaged for transport. They then walk across campus to the Recycling Center to see where the separated materials are prepared for transport to off-campus recycling facilities.
waste reduction and recycling website:
http://www.auburn.edu/administration/facilities/organization/operations/building-services/recycling/

Positive outcomes: Students gain a first-hand understanding of the challenges of materials sorting and collection in the waste stream, they witness efforts "back of the house" in the dining system to recycle and reuse materials and packaging for food items, and they experience the Recycling Center office and the sheer volume and personnel issues with managing a major waste reduction operation in the large institution that is their campus.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Water and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In Spring semester 2013, students in SUST 5000 Senior Capstone in Sustainability created the initial draft of a stormwater best practices tour for the Donald E. Davis Arboretum on campus. They worked with Arboretum staff and faculty members to gather information on each of the best practices employed at the Arboretum, map the various project locations, create a tour route, and create educational language on signage to accompany each location.

Positive Outcome: University faculty and staff utilized this student course project to create a working draft of the tour. They then refined it, and went on to publish the tour, complete with signage at each location. The tour is now utilized by students in other courses at the university (in the programs for Sustainability Studies, Landscape Architecture, Bioengineering, etc.), as well as members of the general public who visit the Arboretum, elementary schoolchildren, and both private and public developers.

On-campus water systems related are visited during organized class tours in SUST 2000 Introduction to Sustainability, and in HONR 1027 Sustainability and the Modern World. Students participate in a group guided Stormwater Tour at the Campus Arboretum, led by arboretum staff. They visit rain barrels, pervious concrete pathways, rain gardens, restored stream areas, floodplain areas, a bog garden, and other stormwater management features in the arboretum. Then they proceed downstream to see bioswales where rainwater collects near the LEED Gorie Center, a cistern and rain garden at the Architecture Building, and then follow the stream bed of the undergrounded Parkerson Mill Creek that runs through campus. Students listen to the stream through drain pipes and manhole covers, following it until it daylights at a restored stream area adjacent to the Sports Coliseum. They also visit degraded and restored stream branches behind the Forestry Building, to compare how they appear and function.
Arboretum stormwater website: http://www.auburn.edu/academic/cosam/arboretum/pdf/stormwater_brochure.pdf

Positive outcomes: Students gain direct observational experience with best management practices for stormwater control, as well as unsustainable practices related to the water system on campus.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Coordination, Planning & Governance and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Each academic year, the Office of Sustainability recruits and supervises approximately six student interns. These students assist with daily office operations, special programs, student outreach, research, grant writing, communications, and policy development. In addition to assisting in these areas, the students participate in a sustainability practitioner curriculum {clarify: is this curriculum they receive, as in lessons you give them? Or is it curriculum that they develop to teach to others? To who?]. The student interns also receive an expense-paid trip to the annual, national-level AASHE conference with Office staff.

Positive Outcomes: The assistance provided by the student interns helps the Office of Sustainability meet its mission. The work produced by the interns greatly augments the efforts of the 3-person Office of Sustainability. Their efforts have enabled the creation and execution of a number of programs, as well as providing a direct connection to the perspective and needs of the student body. The student interns, in turn, receive valuable hands-on experience with addressing issues of sustainability planning and coordination on campus.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Diversity & Affordability and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Health, Wellbeing & Work and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The campus’s TigerFit health and fitness assessment program provides students with hands-on experience in a state-of-the-art fitness clinic, as well as participation in outreach efforts by the School of Kinesiology. The program offers quality health and fitness screenings at an affordable price to the Auburn University community, while giving students valuable hands-on experience in applied exercise technology, exercise physiology, and adult fitness programming. TigerFit offers appointments to students, faculty, OLLI members (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), alumni, and the general public during academic semesters.

Positive Outcome: The work of students in the Tiger Fit program provides direct benefit to the Tiger Fit assessment participants. Each person who participates receives a thorough fitness assessment, and receives a comprehensive report covering cardiovascular disease risk, aerobic fitness, body composition, muscular fitness, balance, and flexibility. This work not only helps clients, but in coordination with local health professionals can help improve prevention strategies for cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, hypertension, and other metabolic diseases. The participating students gain experience with all of these issues related to health and well-being, as they apply to the campus community.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Investment and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Public Engagement and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

During the Summer and Fall semesters in 2014, the Office of Sustainability hosted a School of Communication and Journalism undergraduate intern. This student worked closely with the Office staff to frame, draft, edit, and create the 2014 Auburn University Sustainability Story, a Prezi presentation that serves as the official sustainability report for the university.

In addition, the Office of Sustainability also hosted a graduate student from the College of Liberal Arts in the Spring semester 2015. The student worked with office staff to create an office brand and marketing materials, as well as both hardcopy and digital files for transportation, resident packing, and sustainable action guides, which were then distributed to students at tabling events on campus.

Positive Outcomes: The Office of Sustainability now has a cohesive brand to build identity and awareness for the university’s sustainability commitment with both internal, as well as external, stakeholders. In addition, the Office has been able to create an overarching narrative for current sustainability efforts, and has usable templates to work from as it develops additional educational materials for the campus community.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory in Other areas and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Several of the above campus sustainability tours are also offered to the public during No Impact Week each spring, and so serve as an outreach activity to educate the general public. University staff and faculty also sign up for these tours, and faculty gain ideas on how to incorporate Campus-As-a-Lab activities into their various courses.


The website URL where information about the institution’s campus as a living laboratory program or projects is available:
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The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.