Grounds as a Living Lab

Connecting academics and operations is a unique strength of higher education to lead and innovate sustainability solutions.  At UVA, faculty, students and staff partner on a range of experiential projects in several courses to connect global ideas to local implementation, strengthening both curricula and the stewardship of Grounds.

Decarbonization Academy

In 2022, UVA launched the inaugural Summer Decarbonization Academy for students who want hands-on learning experiences while helping the University achieve its goals of being and carbon-neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel-free by 2050. The Teaching & Research Sub-Committee of the University Sustainability Committee, with support from the Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) designed and launched the program , which provides a robust learning experience for rising third- and fourth-years, and graduate students currently enrolled in any UVA program who are interested in sustainability. 

Global Sustainability

Students in Phoebe Crisman’s Global Sustainability learn about a wide array of issues faced by our planet and humanity, along with innovative strategies for addressing those issues. This integrated and interdisciplinary course prepares students to understand, innovate, and lead efforts to confront these issues. The course also provides foundational knowledge on the multifaceted aspects of both problems and solutions, and challenges participants to deepen their understanding of global sustainability issues through a real-world, Think Global / Act Local project proposal that has the possibility for implementation in the spring semester. To supplement lectures students tour sustainability initiatives on Grounds with Facilities Management, Office for Sustainability, and Dining staff – such as in the main heat plant, a chilled water plant, the recycling sort facility, a dining hall, and LEED buildings. This year Professor Crisman, the Office for Sustainability, and the Robertson Media Center partnered to enhance the course with student-led photovoice assignments and videos. Using knowledge gained from the tours and observations from their photovoice assignments, students craft a pitch for an on-Grounds project that they believed would be most effective in accelerating change while expanding upon the work UVA has already done. 


Sustainability Leadership – From the Grounds Up

Led by the Office for Sustainability is a one-credit – an experiential, workshop-based course in which students develop leadership skills in translating ideas into action, using UVA's Grounds as a living lab for sustainability – the campus as a sustainability classroom. Students gain insight into a process in which individuals can catalyze change to solve global problems and advance strategic goals on a local level through a place-based, project-based, and human-centered approach.


Toward the Resilient City

Using the Living Building Challenge as a framework, Barbara Brown Wilson’s Toward the Resilient City course has partnered with the Office for Sustainability to explore how developing an understanding of sustainability and resilient community development can be enhanced through research and case studies but also through local applications of third-party tools.  Students are working in groups to investigate potentially transformative opportunity to apply Living Building Challenge principles on a Grounds-wide scale.

Additionally, student coursework has been instrumental in advancing strategic sustainability initiatives at UVA. For example, Professor Andres Clarens’ Intro to Green Engineering course evaluated all 500+ rooftops at UVA for the potential for solar panels and Lindsey Ivey Burden’s Solid Waste Management class contributed to the development of a waste action plan. Outside of the classroom, the Environmental Stewardship Subcommittee’s working groups connect students with staff to implement projects across topic areas.  Student-led projects are often funded through the Sustainability Plan, GIFT grants, and the Equity and Environment Fund.



Global Sustainability Course Projects

Environmental Stewardship Subcommittee

Intro to Green Engineering course, Waste Action Plan

Solar Lighting of the Lawn

GIFT Grants

Equity & Environment Fund