Campus as a Living Lab

The Environmental Stewardship office is committed to facilitating opportunities for the campus to serve as a living lab, where students play an active role to research, present and/or drive forward solutions to address on-campus sustainability challenges. We collaborate with our partners in Facilities and Operations and the schools to mentor and support students in academic capstone courses, and show them new technologies that expand awareness of campus sustainability programs under way.

Read about how Columbia students have made a positive impact in recent years:

Break the Ice

This project assists in regular defrosting and maintenance of Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) freezers by providing knowledge, equipment, labor and temporary safe storage of samples during defrosting. The team quantifies the impact of the program by measuring electricity consumption of every freezer before and after defrosting. The keystone purchase of this entire project is a ULT freezer that will be made available to researchers on a rotating weekly schedule for storage of samples while they defrost and maintain their own freezer.  

Status: The group is currently conducting a freezer survey in select labs on the Morningside campus to create a preventative maintenance progrma to maximize freezer performance. 

Read more about Break the Ice.

SIPA Zero Waste & Sustain-a-Bottle

SIPA Zero Waste encourages students to recycle properly by performing waste audits and marketing campaigns. They also capture data to support the possible startup of a composting pilot in an academic building. Utilizing composting bins to dispose of their food waste, which will reduce the overall waste that is sent to landfills, and help convert a portion of this waste into useful product that can be utilized in organic farms, parks and gardens. The team will also perform waste audits and check vending machine sales to see the rebound effect that composting/recycling properly has on other services. 

Status: The team will be meeting with Columbia Facilities Operations to coordinate waste audits to capture data to support the need for recycling education and organics collection in the building. 

Sustain-a-Bottle, a project managed by the same team as SIPA Zero Waste, aims to purchase and install Bottle Filling Stations in the International Affairs (SIPA) Building. The Bottle Filling Stations, which have already been installed in other areas of the Columbia campus such as the Dodge Gym, The Law School, The School of Engineering, Undergraduate Housing and Lerner Hall, will provide convenient hydration while minimizing plastic bottle waste in the environment. The units feature sanitary, no-touch sensor activation with automatic 20-second shut-off timer and a digital visual interface that displays the quantity of bottles saved from landfills. The Bottle Filling Stations project will be accompanied by an educational campaign and corresponding signage to promote the use of refillable bottles. The stations will remain as permanent facility upgrades to SIPA in common use locations. The team will also perform waste audits and check vending machine sales to see the rebound effect that composting/recycling properly has on other services.

Status: The team is planning to work in the near future with SIPA administrators to collect data on totals of bottled beverages dispensed in vending machines in support of bottles eliminated from landfill by utilizing bottle filling stations. 

Read more about SIPA Zero Waste & Sustain-a-Bottle.

Cup It

The Cup It team seeks to analyze and improve upon current recycling behaviors on Columbia’s campus.  This group will use regular waste audits and a focused education campaign to gather metrics which will then be used to inform students about how to properly dispose of their trash. The Cup It team has recruited volunteers from SIPA’s graduate programs, as well as undergraduate EcoRep members to help them conduct these waste audits around campus.  Thus far, the team has audited in International Affairs, some undergraduate residence halls and other outdoor highly visible spaces on campus. The team will continue to conduct their waste audits on a bi-weekly basis to track behavior and frame their educational approach.

Read more about Cup It. 

A group of MPA students in Environmental Science and Policy program are doing trash audits in two continuing semesters to see the accuracy of people's recycling behaviors and what factors influence them.

Pedal 2 Power

The Pedal 2 Power group looks to harness energy generated by people! The group will capture the energy used to ride a stationary bike via a connected battery that will be stationed in undergraduate residence halls.  This project will increase awareness about how much human energy it takes to charge a battery, and also brings to light how this energy, often wasted, is a perfectly viable and renewable source of power.  By learning how many hours of pedaling it might take to complete a simple task such as charging a cell phone, individuals might learn to think twice about their energy usage habits and the availability of alternative power sources.

Read more about Pedal 2 Power.

Columbia Watermark Initiative

The Columbia Water Mark Initiative focuses on University water savings by analyzing water use in Furnald Residence Hall. The team has partnered with the Aquanauts to conduct an audit of water fixtures and flow rates in the building to insure the fixtures are water efficient and low flow.  They also partnered with facilities to install a flow-meter to be able to measure flow moving forward.  The team will use the information gathered from this audit as a “before” snapshot, which will inform an education campaign around water conservation.  The flow-meter will then enable the group to collect an “after” snapshot, and measure relative success after the campaign is launched.

Read more about Columbia Watermark Initiative.