Living Laboratory

Campus as a Living Laboratory

Harnessing campus systems to create sustainability solutions. 

What is a living laboratory? 

Doctoral students Kristen Aldred Cheek, left, and Casey Franklin demonstrate their Humble Bee app, which rewards students for sustainable behaviors.
Doctoral students Kristen Aldred Cheek, left, and Casey Franklin demonstrate their Humble Bee app, which rewards users for sustainable behaviors.  The app was created as a living laboratory project.

A living laboratory is not one room or one building. Using Cornell campus as a living laboratory means harnessing the resources of our entire campus and community to encourage inspiration and innovation for scalable sustainability solutions to address the challenges in the built, living, and social environment.

Why this approach?

By harnessing the new ideas from our own classrooms, researchers, and campus systems we both rapidly improve our own facilities and shorten the time for major advancements necessary for a sustainable world.

Outcomes from a living laboratory approach:

  • Campus Improvement
    Our campus - including buildings, energy, water, waste, grounds, and transit - are systems for exploration and demonstration of new solutions. By creating a 'revolving door' between new ideas and implementation, we harness cutting-edge research to improve our infrastructure and reduce our carbon footprint. And, when we open the doors of the campus to faculty and students for study, research, and improvement, we provide experiential learning opportunities using real-world systems.

  • Behavior Change 
    Like buildings, human behavior is also be a laboratory for sustainability improvement.  How can we harness communication, information exchange, or behavioral science to create a culture of sustainability? Cornell researchers are seeking to understand how people interact with waste, energy, and climate change information right here on campus to inform better ways of creating sustainable systems, and to improve human health and well-being.

  • Campus Study
    Cornell has over 300+ sustainability sites on our campus.  Our solar farms have open data-platforms to study real-time data, and campus community members can tour and work with staff in the Central Energy Plant, water filtration plant, and more.  By using real-world systems for course study and projects, our students and staff can learn about sustainability innovation on our campus and help improve our systems in real time.

Living Laboratory Resources

Ready to get started on a project of your own?  Living laboratory projects include research which uses campus facilities, research or study which improves the campus, or use of campus systems to enhance teaching.  


Larry Walker in the Biofuels Research Laboratory.

Sustainability Research

Faculty, staff, and students are contributing to research with a global impact in areas like advancing green building, geothermal energy, lifecycle waste assessment, human wellbeing, and more. 

Students in a 2016 Food Justice course.

Sustainability Courses

With over 730+ sustainability courses offered on campus in every unit and department, find your passion with through course opportunities.

Text overlay on image of solar farm: Climate action plan - carbon neutrality by 2035

Climate Action Plan

Explore the plan for opportunities to help Cornell reach neutrality through research, teaching, and more.

Group listens to lecture next to a solar array owned by Cornell

Schedule a Tour

Arrange for your class, department, or unit to tour sustainability sites on campus such as the Central Energy Plant, our solar farms, and more.

Example Living Laboratory Projects

  • Sustainability Living Lab Class 
    Cornell's Leadership for Campus Sustainability class is a 3 credit service-learning course to develop leadership and peer education skills while improving campus sustainability in the residence halls. 
  • Green Buildings
    A class in the College of Human Ecology, DEA 6250 (Human Dimensions of Sustainable Buildings), conducted group projects focusing on Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) Policy & Stakeholder Engagement for Cornell’s Climate Action Plan. There were five groups that looked at different scopes and options for potential EBOM policies.
  • Food Waste
    Dining sustainability student staff in partnership with faculty and staff have been researching the food waste habits of students and designing interventions to reduce food waste.
  • Food Choices
    Applied Economics faculty and students as part of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab have been studying the food choices of students in the cafeterias to enhance our understanding of the psychology of food choices in cafeterias.
  • Dining & Food Purchases
    Undergraduate students are examining the sustainability of Cornell's food purchases by inputting data into the Real Food Calculator.
  • Solar Sheep
    Cornell's Solar Farms are maintained in part by a local farming business which loans its sheep out to mow the grasslands underneath panels.  Research shows solar arrays provide ideal grazing habitat for sheep, and this method allows the campus to eliminate fossil fuel use from grounds' upkeep at the sites.
  • Sustainable Landscapes Trail
    Cornell's Urban Horticulture Institute faculty and students study plant selection and site restoration/modification techniques to create resilient urban ecosystems. They have created more than 25 demonstration gardens which now comprise the Sustainable Landscapes Trail.
  • Campus Compost Research
    The Cornell Waste Management Institute and Farm Services use Cornell's composting facility for ongoing research and teaching collaborations on agricultural waste management and composting. 
  • Social Inequalities
    Prof. Kelly Musick, Sociology has students engage with institutional data on first generation or low income students and the Cornell experience. Prof. Troy Richardson's Intergroup Dialogue class has small groups of students design and carry out interventions with campus or community partners based around the theme of their dialogue sections—race, sexuality, gender, religion, ability, or socio-economic class. 
  • Improving Work Life Balance
    Research on the benefits of flex place and time are being conducted on campus in partnership with the Office of Workplace Diversity and Inclusion and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. This research has been used to improve Cornell's flex program.
  • Green Revolving Loan Fund
    Our student-run Green Revolving Fund invests in energy conservation projects and captures energy cost savings for reinvestment. Its first sponsored project is the replacement of steam pipe insulation in Sage Hall.