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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 68.76
Liaison Meghan Chapple
Submission Date Feb. 27, 2015
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

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

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 3.20 / 4.00 Lisa Benton-Short
Director of the Sustainability Academic Program
Department of Geography
"---" 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 Yes
Purchasing ---
Transportation ---
Waste ---
Water Yes
Coordination, Planning & Governance ---
Diversity & Affordability ---
Health, Wellbeing & Work Yes
Investment ---
Public Engagement ---
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:

Professor Houston Miller has been working with researchers in his laboratory and students enrolled in the University Honors Program Science Proseminar course to design, build, and deploy a greenhouse gas sensor network. The project’s goal is to engage the local population in climate science by collecting data from individual sensors on a database server where they will be visualized and deployed on the web. The core of each sensor is a modest cost, carbon dioxide sensor manufactured by SenseAir. A second sensor module measures pressure and temperature. (In our future development we will explore the use of these two parameters to improve the accuracy and precision of the NDIR sensor beyond the manufacturer’s specifications.) Both sensors communicate using serial links with a RaspberryPi microcontroller. The sensor boxes, including a waterproof enclosure, a battery, and material for construction of the interior mounting chassis, and wiring, can be assembled for about $250 each.
This project will be partnered with two DC area start-ups and will have ties to a federal agency. MapBox is a rapidly growing software house located near Logan Circle that is garnering considerable press in their marketing of highly customizable, web-enabled, mapping solutions. MapBox is actively expanding into the education arena and GW has met with them to discuss their participation in visualization of GW's data products. Lahetra is a company started in late 2012 that will market spectral simulation software developed by Professor Miller, but with plans to expand into web-enabled sensor hardware. Many of the ideas for these sensor networks as implemented in the GAZGAGE project are derived from Lahetra UX ideas. The Laser Analytics Lab at GW has a partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for the development of laser-based sensors concentration measurements of carbon dioxide and methane. The group recently was funded through a $980,000 grant from NASA for a project entitled “Characterizing Thawing Permafrost Carbon Emissions: An Integrated Pilot Study in Support of Satellite Evaluation/Design and Earth System Modeling Capabilities.” The team is combining satellite measurements, climate modeling, and ground-level measurements of greenhouse gas concentrations during seasonal permafrost melting seasons. The GW group is developing and deploying a sensor to perform open-path, laser absorption measurements of carbon dioxide and methane - the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gasses - at University of Alaska field sites near Fairbanks. The proposed sensor product is consistent with the educational aims of that collaboration.

Through partnering with other GW stakeholders, the long-term goal of the project is to build 50-100 more units and place them on campus and in DC and metropolitan area elementary schools. In addition to the obvious educational impact of this scheme, a secondary advantage is that elementary schools are widely dispersed across the region that will enable a broad grid for the data visualization product.


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:

The new Milken School of Public Health is a LEED Platinum building, which provides an excellent teaching tool in the Sustainable Energy classes, taught by Professor Peter LaPuma, in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. He and his students gain access to the roof to show the rain water collection system used for bathroom flush water and the heat recovery system for fresh air brought into the building. His students also learn about the many safety and backup systems in a green commercial building.


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:

GW signed the Real Food Campus Commitment in April 2014. Since that time, GW has created an internship opportunity for Sustainability Minor students to serve as the Real Food Challenge (RFC) project lead. These individuals partner with other student food advocates, dining services management, and the Office of Sustainability to guide and monitor the university's efforts around the RFC mission. The RFC information gathered by the students has been used to facilitate discussions around the concept of sustainable foods as it pertains to curriculum addressing carbon footprints, food policy, health, and social equity.


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:

Dr. Ram Fishman, Assistant Professor of Economics and International Affairs, teaches a course on the Economics of Sustainability. A significant portion of the course was turned into a "living lab" in order to study GW students' electricity use and recycling habits on campus. The course introduced students to the methods of social science "field research" so that they could apply this to the research project. a major part of a GW course on the economics of sustainability was turned into a living lab for the study of students' electricity use and recycling habits on campus. The class introduced students to the methods of social science "field research" and had them apply it to the issue at hand. Students collected regular data on energy use and recycling in the dorms, conducted detailed student surveyed, implemented randomized control interventions and analyzed the data. Interventions attempted included an environmental awareness campaign, the provision of practical, personalized energy saving tips, and informing dorm residents of how they rank within the dorm in terms of electricity consumption. Professor Ram Fishman and his students found that most students tend to hold strong pro-environmental positions, but that this ideology does not translate into practical action. Students who had stronger environmental positions were using as much electricity, and were equally ignorant of how much they use or how much various appliances consume. Awareness campaigns had no discernible results on either electricity use or recycling, but informing students of their relative ranking was found to have a significant impact on electricity use. Students collected data on energy use and recycling in the dorms, conducted detailed student surveys, implemented randomized control interventions and analyzed the data. Interventions attempted included an environmental awareness campaign, the provision of practical, personalized energy-saving tips, and informing dorm residents of how they rank within the dorm in terms of electricity consumption.


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:

Led by Program Director and Associate Dean Adele Ashkar, GW faculty members Lauren Wheeler, Barb Neal and Joan Honeyman are employing a working/teaching approach with graduate students in Sustainable Landscapes to produce a Sustainable Landscape Guidelines document for the Foggy Bottom campus. Students are currently conducting an in-depth site inventory and analysis of the campus landscape, including the physical condition of the campus as well as social and behavioral aspects of the use of campus outdoor space by students, faculty, staff and neighbors. The project will identify opportunities for introducing Low Impact Development features (LIDs) on the campus, such as on-site stormwater infiltration and bio-retention systems, pollinator gardens, green streets, edible gardens, and enhanced tree canopy.

In spring 2015, the design team will collaborate across multiple disciplines to build a regenerative design approach for the campus landscape. We define ‘regenerative design’ as one that provides ecosystem services and improves in performance as it grows and matures. Utilizing expertise in landscape architecture, engineering, ecology, horticulture, arboriculture, urban agriculture, rainwater harvesting, soils, as well as benchmarks from the LEED, SITES and LBC rating systems, our design team will create a living system landscape that insures function and beauty and plays a prominent part in GW’s commitment to being a model of sustainability.


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:
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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:
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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:

Assistant Professor of Geography Melissa Keeley teaches a “Field Methods in Geography” course, which has served as a required senior level class for Environmental Studies Majors. Over the past four years, students in this class have gathered longitudinal data, particularly as it relates to water quality, in Rock Creek Park, a U.S. National Park in D.C. adjacent to the Mt. Vernon campus of GW. This data is shared with Park staff. Each week, students practice “methods” in the Park: monitoring vegetation in the restoration area, examining water quality and stream geomorphology in the nearby Foundry Creek, and undertaking social science research to understand trends in Park use and user behavior. The class culminates in students presenting their own research topic using the Park. Environmental Studies Students have a hands-on practical experience that would otherwise not be easily available at an urban university such as GW.


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:
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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:

Melissa Perry, Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, worked with an MPH student to study construction safety practices during construction of the new Public Health building. The study focused on learning more about fall risks over the course of building construction, in order to develop targeted fall-prevention programs. The student reviewed existing tools for auditing fall safety and elements of fall-safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). GW developed an assessment tool, the George Washington Audit of Fall Risks (GAFR), with input from safety experts, and refined it following a pilot. After the student attended an OSHA construction-safety course, she began conducting regular site observations to see how different potential hazards arise and how safety practices are used at the various stages of building construction, learning that seemingly minute details actually save lives. The student visited the building over 35 times to observe if OSHA requirements were adhered to. Researchers are rarely able to have this kind of access to a worksite for a prolonged period of time, so it provided a unique opportunity to contribute to construction-safety research. Preliminary findings suggest that the study pinpointed jobs and situations that may pose the greatest risks to construction workers.


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:
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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:

Environmental and Resource Management
Assistant Professor of Geography Melissa Keeley teaches an introductory class in the Environmental Studies Major “Geog 1003 Society and Environment,” in which students investigate Rock Creek Park, a U.S. National Park in D.C. that is adjacent to the GW’s Mt. Vernon campus. Students study issues such as how to manage invasive species, collect trash, and maintain trees planted (classes planted trees in 2010 and 2014). Prof. Keeley also teaches an upper division level course “Environmental Quality and Management” as a service learning class in which students engage intensively with the Park. Students examine environmental management issues first hand and often are guided by a National Park Service biologist. They then write a paper summarizing the science surrounding current best management practices for challenges that are selected by the Park Rangers. This is a new type of writing and analysis for students, and provides a valuable input for over-stretched Park staff. The students, in groups, also plan an environmental management project that will engage the GWU and wider community in Park management.


The website URL where information about the institution’s campus as a living laboratory program or projects is available:
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Living laboratories merge academics and campus facilities management to provide students with real-world skills, and for GW, an opportunity to meet its sustainability goals with enhanced student and faculty engagement. The Sustainability Collaborative sees tremendous potential in the campus living lab concept, since it breaks through the current curricular and operational paradigms to add a new model for both education and sustainability action. In theory, a living lab is a given place where problem-based teaching, research and applied work combine to develop actionable solutions that make that place more sustainable. Living Labs have the potential to engage students, staff and faculty in citizenship, leadership in sustainability, and to provide a service that benefits the GW campus. The Living Labs concept speaks powerfully to both sustainability and the GW Strategic Plan and allows us to further enhance our commitment to service and sustainability.

We are currently in the process of developing a training guide and workshop for faculty interested in designing a course/course module using the GW campus as a Living Lab.

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.