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Living Lab

Advancing sustainability in education and operations

At Portland State University, we have ambitious plans to curb our carbon emissions, improve the way our campus works, and continue to shine as an exemplary institution with a multi-faceted commitment to sustainability in both education and operations. 

To achieve these goals and uncover opportunities for new partnerships, we believe it is important to treat the PSU campus as a robust living laboratory. The Living Lab is a place where sustainability challenges are met with new ideas, where students can gain valuable experiences, and where educational and operational goals are achieved simultaneously.  

The Living Lab is a partnership between the PSU Campus Sustainability Office and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. The program matches motivated faculty and students with University staff, meeting operational needs while providing students with hands-on educational opportunities. 

What makes a Living Lab project?

 A Living Lab project involves some combination of PSU staff, students, and faculty—ideally all three—coming together to solve a problem, answer a question, or ignite an initiative that assists the University in achieving one or more of its sustainability goals. 

All Living Lab projects meet the following criteria: 

  • Sustainability: The work aligns with PSU’s vision for sustainability as lasting change to make a given place more resource-efficient, equitable, and ecologically balanced, while acknowledging a resource-finite world. 
  • Fit: The project advances campus sustainability priorities and metrics.
  • Context: The project is designed with an awareness of the unique characteristics and history of the PSU campus.
  • Scale: Project outcomes are useful and applicable to other contexts and locations. 
  • Collaborative action: Projects foster deep engagement with partners, focusing on establishing an environment of co-learning.
  • Monitoring, evaluation, and continuous improvement: Mechanisms are established to monitor progress and evaluate project impacts over time. 
  • Educational design: The project is designed with clear learning outcomes for students in mind.

Sample Living Lab projects

  • WALL-E: One of the greatest ongoing needs of the Campus Sustainability Office is data. The Waste Audit Living Lab Experience, WALL-E for short, is designed to create new sources of data while simultaneously helping students make connections between their own behaviors and the campus waste stream. WALL-E works with classes to perform waste audits of buildings across campus. Read more about WALL-E here.
  • Trash Talk Videos: How can Portland State create a pervasive culture of reuse and waste minimization on campus? The Waste Reduction Task Force has some ideas and they’re working with a student videographer to produce video shorts to bring the programs and people working in reuse on campus alive. 

How Living Lab projects happen 

The Living Lab Project Team works regularly with facilities, planning, and sustainability staff at PSU to identify potential Living Lab projects, match staff needs with faculty expertise and provide students with the opportunity to take on campus challenges. If you have an idea for a project or want to get involved, please contact the Institute for Sustainable Solutions,