University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Living laboratory” for sustainability comes to a national conference

(Pictured: Tim Lindstrom and Tom Bryan)

In June, the 2017 Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) Conference was held in Tucson, AZ. The national conference brought together faculty, students and staff of interdisciplinary environmental programs to strengthen teaching, research and service in environmental studies and sciences.

UW-Madison doctoral students Tom Bryan and Tim Lindstrom, together with their faculty advisor Cathy Middlecamp, shared their ongoing work with the conference participants. For the past five years, they have designed activities that use the campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability.

Lindstrom spoke about how the UW-Madison lowered electricity use by replacing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient fluorescents and LEDs. His students used data from campus workers to calculate energy savings in Union South.

Bryan spoke about a lab activity in which students ate a meal at Ginger Root and estimated the carbon footprint of their meal. Students found that vegetarian meals were both tasty and had lower carbon footprints.  In 2016, Bryan won a national award from Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for this work.

Middlecamp notes that both Bryan and Lindstrom recently published their classroom activities in Sustainability: The Journal of Record [1], [2]. “These two papers highlight how we are using UW-Madison as a living laboratory for sustainability.”

(Pictured: Tom Bryan)

Bryan also moderated a panel called Waste Opportunities: Utilizing Campus Waste Streams for Sustainability Teaching and Learning in the Environmental Studies Curriculum. As a presenter on the panel, Lindstrom focused on campus trash audits from a laboratory activity in an undergraduate course that taught for the past five years. Each year, students in this course audit several hundred pounds of trash from Dejope Residence Hall. Students then measure the amount of improperly recycled items and calculate the contamination rate. He explained how this information helps to improve campus trash and recycling systems.

For instructors at other institutions interested in conducting their own trash audits, Lindstrom stressed safety protocols for students to properly sort through the trash.

(Pictured: Tim Lindstrom)

“For graduate students like Tom and me, the biggest benefit we derive from this kind of conference is being able to meet and network with other people that are actually practicing in the field we hope to go into. Most of the people who present at this conference are faculty members, directors of programs or deans in environmental studies and sciences, so it’s really valuable to meet with them and learn about what they’re doing at their own universities,” Lindstrom says.

“As an instructor, I welcomed the chance to bring our work at UW-Madison to a larger audience,” Bryan says.

Overall, the conference gave Bryan and Lindstrom opportunities to learn more about how their work at UW-Madison contributes to curriculum innovations in environmental studies.

[1] Thomas W. Bryan and Catherine Middlecamp, Learning through eating: Bringing campus dining operations into an environmental science course, Sustainability: J of Record, Volume 10(1) February 2017.

[2]  Timothy Lindstrom, Faramarz Vakili, and Catherine Middlecamp, Light Bulbs: A Bright Idea for Teaching and Learning Sustainability, Sustainability: J of Record, Volume 8(2) April 2015.

By: Trina La Susa