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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 Gold
Overall Score 70.78
Liaison Margaret Lo
Submission Date Sept. 1, 2017
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

George Mason University
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Mary Liang
Sustainability Analyst
Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Air & Climate?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Air & Climate:

Research is currently being conducted at George Mason University to build and deploy two hydro-powered micro-turbines in storm water runoff pipes on the Fairfax campus to study the technical, economic, and institutional issues related to storm water management and electricity production. Although this is a faculty led project, the researchers plan to hire student help from the environmental and engineering departments in the future. This research helps George Mason creatively promote storm water management, while also producing green power and reducing the campuses’ greenhouse gas emission. The research around the impacts and benefits of hydro-powered micro-turbines may lead to further infrastructure on campus for community-scale renewable energy.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Buildings?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Buildings:

George Mason University (Mason) has a green fund called the Patriot Green Fund (PGF) which provides funding for student sustainability research and projects that green Mason's campuses. Many of these projects are generated in sustainability classes and use the campus as a living laboratory. Students apply the knowledge learned in their classes and gain professional skills through these experiences. In 2016, a graduate research project on the various benefits of green roofs was funded by George Mason’s PGF and the Dominion Foundation. A green roof with solar panels and various sensors was constructed on top of the Rappahannock Parking Deck on Mason’s main Fairfax campus. The sensors will measure a dozen metrics to quantify the impacts of the green roof on energy and water efficiency. The green roof research will hopefully inform campus decision makers about the costs, benefits, and practical considerations for green roof infrastructure.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Energy?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Energy:

Through funding by the Patriot Green Fund, faculty and students are conducting research using anaerobic digestion of food scraps to produce usable energy. This research is currently underway, and being headed by a faculty member with the help of engineering students. This project is being housed in a building on campus and will be using food waste from the dining halls to create usable energy.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Food & Dining?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Food & Dining:

Through grants from Mason's Patriot Green Fund and Auxiliary Enterprises Management Council, the Office of Sustainability manages a hydroponic food production system at the Presidents Park greenhouse (PPG) on campus. The PPG produces approximately 2,000 pounds of produce each year which is served in Mason's dining halls. Hundreds of students help grow and harvest the food year-round. These students actively learn how to maintain the hydroponic equipment, sow seeds, transplant and harvest plants and food safety procedures.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Grounds?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Grounds:

The Innovation Food Forest was designed by students in George Mason’s Permaculture Design Certificate course, and was funded through the Patriot Green Fund. This project focused on using native edible plants to restore the natural cycles, biodiversity, and habitat of a forest, while providing a sustainable food source. This forest is managed by the Office of Sustainability and student volunteers. Student volunteers get experiential learning working in the food forest, and learn how to maintain an intentionally designed landscape that mimics symbiotic relationships found in nature.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Purchasing?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Purchasing:

Patriot Green Fund provides funding for student sustainability research and projects that green Mason's campuses. Many of these projects are generated in sustainability classes and use the campus as a living laboratory. Students apply the knowledge learned in their classes and gain professional skills through these experiences, such as budget writing and management. In several of these projects, students learn about and work within Mason's state purchasing processes to purchase items for their projects.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Transportation?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Transportation:

In 2015, Mason's Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) Grant program financed a student led project to develop an IOS and Android application to incentivize bike riding. The students used surveys to understand if the Mason community would change their bicycling and commuting habits based on extrinsic awards, and are now currently in the development stage of the project. The app prototype includes certain features that aim to increase bike ridership through a point system, which leads to rewards for bike riders. The app also calculates the amount of carbon dioxide the bikers saved to promote healthier and more eco-friendly habits. The students are currently using the Mason community to gather feedback to adapt the design of the application, and will later use the Mason campus as the initial testing area for the prototype.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Waste?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Waste:

Since 2013, Mason has been installing water bottle refilling stations across campus. In spring 2014, students from the Sustainability Living Learning Community applied for a Patriot Green Fund grant to rapidly expand the amount of water bottle filling stations on Mason's campuses. This grant placed new hydration stations in almost all of the academic buildings. The students believed it was important to implement more hydration stations to reduce the use of disposable water bottles on campus, and indirectly reduce overall waste production on campus. The first phase of the project was completed in August 2016. So far, these hydration stations have been filled over 2.2 million reusable bottles.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Water?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Water:

Since 2015, George Mason has had a continuing wetland project conducted at one of the ponds on campus. An Environmental Science and Policy class designed and launched the “Rain Project”, a 1,700-plant floating wetland on Mason Pond in May 2015. The year-long project brings together art, science and engineering students and is designed to spur ecological awareness and literacy as well as research methods to effectively clean stormwater management ponds.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Coordination & Planning?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Coordination & Planning:

In 2016, George Mason students, through an action research project, created an Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR). The ACIR was composed of faculty, staff, and students from George Mason University. Their mission is to support, develop, and recommend the adoption of a sustainable investment policy and advocate for responsible investment strategies that incorporate consideration for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. The ACIR worked with Mason's Human Resources and Payroll to add financial services provider TIAA's Social Choice Low Equity Fund option for faculty and staff retirement accounts. This now gives faulty and staff the option to divest their retirement funds from fossil fuels, and into more socially responsible companies. This project allowed students to understand the logistics of investment policy on campus and what tools are needed to give additional investment choices to employees.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Diversity & Affordability?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Diversity & Affordability:

The Campus Kitchen Project is an organization, which empowers students to be involved in hunger relief in their community. In 2015, the campus kitchen project came to George Mason University, and remains a student-run program on campus. The students work with dining services and uses leftover food that would otherwise be thrown away. They transform these leftovers into meals and deliver them to local shelters. Students work with the Mason Dining staff and the dining halls as living learning laboratory to effectively eliminate food waste and help families in the local area have access to food.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Investment & Finance?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Investment & Finance:

In 2016, George Mason University students through an action research project, created an Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR). The ACIR was composed of faculty, staff, and students from George Mason University. Their mission is to support, develop, and recommend the adoption of a sustainable investment policy and advocate for responsible investment strategies that incorporate consideration for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. The ACIR worked with Mason's Human Resources and Payroll to add financial services provider TIAA's Social Choice Low Equity Fund option for faculty and staff retirement accounts. This now gives faulty and staff the option to divest their retirement funds from fossil fuels, and into a more socially responsible companies.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Public Engagement?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Public Engagement:

In Spring 2016, George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication (4Cs) conducted research to understand and test the efficacy of canvassing. This is done by educating residents about scientific consensus that climate change is human caused and mobilizing residents to learn more about the issue. The 4Cs used undergraduate student interns to help conduct the canvassing of the area. While canvassing, students asked various questions before and after giving the community information about scientific consensus to assess the transformation in perspective on climate change. After having a conversation with the local community, students gave residents an invitation to an event on Mason’s campus called “Let’s Talk About Climate Change”. This event attempted to engage the public on the effects of climate change on the local Fairfax area and measure behavioral outcomes of messaging.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to Wellbeing & Work?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to Wellbeing & Work:

As part of Mason's strategic goals, the university strives to be a model well-being university. In order to achieve that goal, the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) conducts much of its research on Mason students, staff, and faculty. The CWB analyzes post and pre assessments from students in their well-being courses to evaluate well-being improvements and knowledge of well-being material. Also, faculty members at the CWB are currently conducting a resilience study of freshmen in University 100 course. The study uses the intervention stories from seniors about their struggle with belonging and resilience during their first year of college and how they personally overcame those obstacles. After the intervention, the researchers gauge the GPA and wellness of the freshmen with the intervention and compare it to the control group. The purpose of this study is to increase sense of belongingness in college freshmen, which has been proven to improve GPA and overall well-being.


Is the institution utilizing its campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in relation to other areas (e.g. arts & culture or technology)?:
Yes

A brief description of the student/faculty projects and how they contribute to understanding campus sustainability challenges or advancing sustainability on campus in relation to other areas:

Starting in 2015, the Patriot Green Fund supported several Mason art and music students along with faculty and staff advisors with the Instruments in the Attic program. Instruments in the Attic collects used musical instruments donated from members of the community and gives these instruments a second life. The donated instruments are repaired and loaned to Mason students in need in classes and in bands. Instruments that are beyond repair are used as materials for instrument based art sculpture projects. The program raises awareness of the benefits of re-use in the music scene, which wasn't commonly considered.


The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
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Additional documentation to support the submission:
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Research was conducted during FY 15, 16, & 17

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.