University of Wisconsin–Madison

Research highlights role of physical campus in driving sustainability

May 26, 2015 | by Office of Sustainability staff

The Office of Sustainability is working with numerous partners to make UW–Madison a living model of sustainability by aligning research, education, and campus operations to advance sustainability principles on and beyond campus.

Here we highlight two recent research publications that exemplify the integration of operations and academics. The full text of each is available at the links below.

Leveraging Campus Facilities to Advance Sustainability in Academics

published in the March/April 2015 issue of Facilities Manager, pp. 18-23

by Daniel Aragon, Bill Elvey, and Alfonso Morales

In 2010, the UW–Madison Sustainability Initiative Task Force published a report recommending the integration of sustainability research and education with campus operations to improve sustainability outcomes and create a comprehensive path toward a sustainable campus.

Blil Elvey headshot
Bill Elvey

Shortly after arriving on campus as the associate vice chancellor of facilities, planning and management, Bill Elvey began documenting current and future opportunities to link sustainability in campus facilities with campus academics and research. He undertook a year-long survey with help from graduate student Daniel Aragon and urban and regional planning professor Alfonso Morales.

Through interviews with people in facilities, academic units, and sustainability-related student organizations to learn about individual projects and partnerships, the researchers made two conclusions: 1) sustainability efforts can start anywhere in the organization of the university; and 2) sustainability projects begin with interdisciplinary partnerships.

They also found that facilities units were creating many successful sustainability projects but often not adequately communicating the outcomes to other groups on campus. As a result, Elvey and his team determined that there is a large potential to infuse operational concerns into existing educational practice. Tapping into this potential will improve the ability to translate campus sustainability gains into the primary academic mission of the university.

One example of such a partnership is described in the following article.

Light Bulbs: A Bright Idea For Teaching and Learning Sustainability

published in the April 2015 issue of Sustainability, the Journal of Record, vol 8, pp. 61-69

by Timothy Lindstrom, Faramarz Vakilizadeh, and Catherine H. Middlecamp

In 2006, the UW–Madison Physical Plant and WE CONSERVE program began giving the campus a lighting makeover, with the goal of reducing energy use and saving money. With lighting accounting for 10 to 30 percent of a building’s energy use, upgrades to more efficient lighting technologies seemed a natural way to achieve these goals.

The effort, led by Faramarz Vakili, replaced thousands of bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent lights and light emitting diodes (LEDs). From 2006-2013, the university invested $10 million in lighting upgrades for more than 50 campus buildings, resulting in a 19 percent energy reduction from 2006 levels and a 2013 energy bill $8 million less than in 2006.

In 2012, Cathy Middlecamp was conducting a makeover of her own, redesigning the “Principles of Environmental Science” course to fit the curriculum requirements of the new undergraduate sustainability certificate. Middlecamp, a professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, recognized the opportunity to integrate the campus lighting project into the course.

Discovery Building lit up at night.Working with physical plant staff, she and graduate student Tim Lindstrom created lighting-themed lectures and laboratory activities that connected the real-life campus experiences to the classroom. Students in the course now learn to equate efficiency with energy use, calculate economic and environmental impacts of the lighting changes, and critique the efficacy of the university’s approach to the upgrades.

The authors conclude that academic-operational collaborations can help establish a campus as a living-learning laboratory for sustainability, an integrated teaching and learning approach that is currently gaining national momentum.