See below for more information about how UC Santa Barbara is using its campus as a living laboratory in the following areas:


  • Air and Climate: In spring quarter of 2015, Geography Ph.D. student Maximilian Stiefel drafted a report entitled, “Best Practices for Carbon Neutrality,” on behalf of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative. The goal of this report was to propose initiatives, actions, and practices that the University could take in order to decrease carbon emissions and achieve carbon neutrality. Mr. Stiefel considered behavioral changes, carbon pricing mechanisms, Compressed Air Energy Storage, and utilization of local methane steeps. In the appendix of his report he highlights and describes a multitude of particular technologies and practices that would lead to a reduction of carbon emissions by reducing the amount of energy taken from the university’s power grid and through other methods. Mr. Stiefel’s report has the potential to directly reduce energy usage and carbon emissions for the UCSB campus.
  • Buildings: The Environmental Studies department at UCSB created a specialized pilot class called LEED Lab for graduate and undergraduate students to learn about and collaborate on green building best practices on campus. Supported by the USGBC Center for Green Schools, LEED Lab was developed to further expand LEED Certification goals at UCSB while developing a hands-on sustainability experience for students. LEED Lab is a interdisciplinary engagement course that utilizes UCSB’s built environment to educate and prepare students to become green building leaders and sustainability-focused citizens. Students assess the performance of existing facilities on campus and choose one building where they execute the LEED for Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O+M) process with the goal of certifying the facility. LEED Lab meets the demands of industry by equipping students with career-ready skills and knowledge that can be quickly deployed upon completion of the course. Click here for more information.
  • Dining Services/Food: As part of the Global Food Initiative, several UCSB students undertook a research project to determine: 1) if signage in the Dining Halls has an affect on the amount of food waste and 2) If environmental or  “social validation” signage has a bigger effect on the quantity of food waste. Data for this experiment was collected by weighing the waste bins at two dining halls.  A waste baseline was determined by measuring food waste at Portola Dining Hall every weekend for twelve weeks. For the treatment portion of this experiment, measurements were taken at Portola Dining Hall and DLG Dining Hall every weekend for four weeks and each dining hall was given either environmental signage or “social validation” signage. At the end of this four week period, the type of signage at each dining hall was swapped and data was then recorded for another four weekends. Their conclusion was mixed; while food waste was reduced by both forms of signage at DLG Dining Hall, food waste was not reduced by either form of signage at Portola Dining Hall. Lack of data from a third dining hall as a true control and lack of knowledge of more subtle differences between dining halls, both largely a result of limited time, may have contributed to their unclear results. However, an important outcome of this research is that there is the potential to affect food waste at campus dining halls with effective signage.
  • EnergyA UC-wide Carbon Neutrality Initiative was established in 2013 by UC President Janet Napolitano. A project proposal was created by Dave Auston, Executive Director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency at UCSB, and UCSB graduate student Anjana Krishnan.The objective of this project is to create strategic relationships on campus, identify opportunities and roadblocks, build a strategic investment strategy by improving decision-making as it pertains to capitally intensive energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. By developing a Life Cycle Cost Analysis tool, this group project will create a framework for achieving carbon neutrality at UCSB that is timely and effective. Included in the development of this tool, UCSB’s carbon neutrality group will:
    • Assess the efficacy of various technologies including, but not limited to: energy efficiency; on-site and off-site renewable electricity generation; alternatives to natural gas for heating such as heat pumps and bio-methane generation from organic waste; system integration and load balancing, including the need for electrical and/or thermal energy storage;
    • Estimate the costs and developing financial models that account for up-front capital investments, the costs of borrowing, and the savings and payback time due to reduced utility expenses. Where appropriate, the project should also weigh the pros and cons of UCSB funded investments versus the use of third party providers who will build and operate a facility (e.g. a solar array) and lease the power to UCSB;
    • Assess the impact of UCSB, local, state and federal policies such as the limitations on borrowing by UCSB, and the current lack of direct access to wholesale electricity markets;
    • Estimate the optimal balance between on-site investments and off-site investments in collaboration with University of California, Office of the President (UCOP) and other campuses;
    • Estimate the optimal balance and deployment schedule of various technologies, systems & behavioral approaches necessary to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2025. This should include the projected evolution of technologies & costs, anticipated changes in state & federal policies, planned growth of the campus, and the possible need to purchase offsets.  Due to uncertainties, it may be necessary to develop more than one scenario.

    At this point, the project group has developed an understanding of the campus environment, identified the feasible and effective technologies, built campus-wide relationships and created a UCSB-specific Life Cycle Cost Analysis tool. In addition, they intend to run several projects through the LCCA tool and write a report that explains all of the initiatives described above in addition to the results from running select projects through the LCCA tool. When the project is complete, UCSB will have an understanding as to which technologies are feasible and effective in the short run and will have a tool to help make long-term decisions as they pertain to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

  • Grounds: The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) runs a course entitled Environmental Studies 95: Introduction to Ecological Restoration Field Skills. Each week, students focus on a specific restoration theme such as project planning, water quality, and plant identification and propagation. This work occurs on different areas of the UCSB campus such as CCBER, our campus greenhouse, and student housing, and teaches UCSB students skills that are highly applicable to sustainability-related programs and initiatives. Throughout the course, students make a physical and visible impact on UCSB’s campus. Click here for more information.
  • PurchasingAs a group masters project for UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, four graduate students sought to develop a framework to access and reduce environmental impacts from UCSB procurement. The group utilized several different forms of assessment and survey to identify and track expenditures, including Economic Input-Output LCA (EIO-LCA). EIO-LCA  uses an organization’s expenditures along with data from national economic and environmental databases to determine the environmental impacts of the products it purchases.  UCSB spends $70 million on good and services. In 2013 UCSB switched to a centralized online purchasing system called Gateway. Gateway is an exceptional source of purchasing data, and also allows for opportunities to easily affect purchasing habits and the accessibility of sustainable products. Additionally, the group gathered information regarding the percentage of purchasers whose purchasing decisions are influenced by sustainability; of respondents, 81% reported that sustainability influences their decisions. This suggests that higher accessibility to sustainable purchasing options through Gateway could lead to more sustainable purchasing.
    This project led to several major recommendations for UCSB to increase sustainable purchasing, including recommendations to: track and monitor all campus purchases, use EIO-LCA to identify target product categories, use gateway as a tool to optimize sustainable purchasing, and administer follow-up surveys to improve the procurement process. See the following document to find out more: Sustainable Supply Chain Management. Authors: Alex Dragos, Sarah Richman, Katy Sartorius, and Eric Sutherlin.
  • Transportation: This field is currently being investigated!
  • Waste: During the 2013-2014 academic year, several UCSB undergraduate students collaborated with faculty for a project entitled “Behavioral Economics of Waste Management: Identifying Factors That Influence Personal Waste Sorting Practrices.” This project involved identifying factors that influence the waste sorting of individuals. This project was initiated to improve waste diversion practices and help UCSB work towards achieving “Zero Waste” status by 2020, a system-wide goal of the University of California. While infrastructure was in place for improving waste management practices, it was noted that poor personal waste sorting practices where having a negative effect on the overall effectiveness of waste programs. The project was undertaken in collaboration with the Refuse and Recycling Center at UCSB, and partially consisted of a study of 1,300 individual’s interactions with waste materials, receptacles, and signage. Upon analysis of common trends, it was observed that initial signage was inhibiting individuals from correctly sorting their waste. New signage was developed and implemented, resulting in an overall 10% increase in the waste diversion rate.
  • Water: Environmental studies student Rachel Scarlett conducted a research project that considered the impacts of long-term use of reclaimed water on the viability of soils to support turfgrass growth. Recycled water has been used to irrigate areas of the UCSB campus since 1993, and has expanded recently due to the drought. Ms. Scarlett’s project consisted of soil samples and data analysis of several sites on campus that have been irrigated with reclaimed water for anywhere from the last six months to the last twenty-plus years. The topic of this investigation was to determine if using reclaimed water affects the levels of soil salinity. Accumulation of salts has adverse effects on the soil and can lead to a restriction of plant growth; considering the current use and expansion of recycled water on UCSB’s campus, this is an important research topic. Ms. Scarlett’s data suggests there is a link between long-term use of reclaimed water and soil salinity. Additionally, she concluded that several studied areas on campus are at safe soil salinity levels, but some will need active management or rehabilitation.
  • Coordination, Planning, & Governance: Operational Effectiveness: Energy Management Initiative: The Energy Management Initiative is a project by four graduate students from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. The goal of their project is to provide a recommendation to UCSB on how to reduce campus-wide energy consumption by influencing the way occupants interact within their built environment. The project was designed around the following research questions: Which behaviors can be changed to reduce energy? How can these behaviors be changed? How will the behavior change be measured? And how to scale/adapt for a campus-wide rollout? To answer these questions, the group conducted a pilot program in three buildings on campus. During this time they experimented with different strategies such as a strategic messaging campaign and an energy reduction competition
    that addressed both individual behaviors and building-wide inefficiencies. As a result of the pilot, the group
    observed a 4.5% average energy reduction over a five-month time frame. A cost-benefit analysis of a campus-wide program indicates that the campus will only need to reduce energy use by 2.5% for this program to be financially beneficial. Based on the success of the pilot program, the group is presenting UCSB Utility and Energy Services with a timeline and framework that can be used to implement a behavior-based energy conservation program campus wide.
  • Diversity & AffordabilityUCSB graduate student Corrie Ellis is currently conducting research that includes an analysis of youth/student activists at UCSB. As part of this project, Corrie conducted a project detailing comprehensive ideas that would enhance the focus on environmental and climate justice within sustainability initiatives at UCSB. This work proposes specific steps that can be taken to increase the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives on campus, as well as modifications of currently existing structures that would enhance participation of more diverse student demographics. Her research takes a particular focus on promoting an interaction between campus sustainability and social justice movements, an interaction that has the potential to increase the effectiveness of these sustainability initiatives by exposing them to a diverse segment of the student body
  • Health, Wellbeing, & WorkThis field is currently being investigated!
  • InvestmentThis field is currently being investigated!
  • Public EngagementTwo undergraduate fellows for UCSB’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) worked on increasing public engagement in the CNI. To help prepare them for this task, they received one on one mentorship on effective models of community organizing and outreach.  They received background readings on climate change and participated in several meetings where they learned about the current carbon impact of UCSB and ways that are being considered to reduce this impact.  One of the students also participated on a field trip to another campus to learn about their solutions to address climate change.  The fellows raised awareness and engagement of students through several public discussions including a “Pizza for Carbon Neutrality” event and a public forum on the climate, energy, and transportation sections of the Campus Sustainability Plan. In these spaces, they both had opportunities to share their knowledge and to engage in thoughtful discussions about climate challenges and solutions with students from many diverse backgrounds.  The fellows also developed a climate wheel, similar to the real food challenge wheel, which represents the different areas of concern that students are paying attention to about climate change.  This allowed the students to think critically about what parts of climate change are being discussed and what aspects of climate change are being left out of the debate.  This wheel was then used in discussions with other students across campus.  As a result of the fellows’ work, students are more informed about UCSB’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative and we received feedback from more students on the climate, energy, and transportation sections of UCSB Campus Sustainability Plan than we have received in any prior year.
  • Other: We offer an internship program called PACES (Program for the Assessment and Certification for the Environment and Sustainability) which also doubles as our Green Office Certification Program. Students in the program receive mentorship through weekly meetings with their staff adviser and additional meetings as necessary. They are able to attend a focused retreat where they receive formal trainings. During the program, they learn energy auditing, environmental consulting, waste auditing, professionalism, and more. Through this program, campus departments identify ways that they can conserve resources in their offices and gain knowledge of campus sustainability policies and resources. This is an ongoing program.