Campus as a Living Lab program brings sustainability research close to home

Johns Hopkins researchers, instructors, and students can receive grants of up to $50,000 for sustainability research utilizing the university's campuses

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Rose Weeks was among the tens of millions of Americans who suddenly found themselves working from home. With travel ceasing practically overnight, the conferences and scientific talks Weeks frequented were moved online to platforms like Zoom and Teams, allowing participants to listen in from their own bedrooms.

Weeks found herself fascinated by this new normal. Hosting conferences online allowed for larger crowds from more diverse backgrounds, many of whom wouldn't have been able to afford travel for an in-person event. Additionally, by cutting out attendees' need for airplanes and cars, conferences could reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with normal transportation.

Weeks did not forget these observations after in-person events resumed. Now, as a research associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and DrPH student in Implementation Science, she's spearheading an initiative to understand how universities track their travel emissions and what can be done to mitigate climate-related impacts.

"We are tapping into the insight of some of our most brilliant faculty and most talented and committed administrative leaders to understand potential strategies," said Weeks. "These are people who understand the science, the existential threat that we are faced with, but also the continued need for business travel."

"There are countless ways research and teaching can support JHU's goal to advance healthy, just, and sustainable environments in our communities and around the world."
Tanvi Gadhia
Sustainability Program Manger

Weeks' work is one of the university's first Campus as a Living Lab initiatives. Launched by the Sustainability Leadership Council and the Office of Sustainability, the new program enables Johns Hopkins researchers and instructors to test scalable sustainability solutions within the context of university infrastructure, operations, and administration.

"Solutions tested at JHU can then be replicated elsewhere," explained Tanvi Gadhia, a sustainability program manager who helps run the Campus as a Living Lab program. "Whether through innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, address climate resilience, establish new zero waste approaches, or influence consumer purchasing and transportation, there are countless ways research and teaching can support JHU's goal to advance healthy, just, and sustainable environments in our communities and around the world."

The Campus as a Living Lab program is accepting applications for grants in three categories:

  • Researcher grants up to $50,000 to support JHU-led research projects that yield outcomes relevant to advancing campus sustainability solutions

  • Instructor grants up to $12,000 to support course instructors integrating applied campus sustainability projects into new or existing courses 

  • Student grants up to $10,000 to fund undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students conducting research projects focused on improving campus sustainability 

The inaugural round of annual grant applications will be open through May 31. Proposals should include descriptions of project deliverables, a detailed project timeline, an intended budget, and clear next-step goals. They should also clearly describe how the research would help to inform and/or advance Hopkins' sustainability priorities.

"As the university finalizes its draft Climate Action and Sustainability Plan, there are a new set of ambitious priorities that we are working towards," Gadhia said. "Researchers, instructors, and students can use the program to advance learning outcomes that help inform or guide university sustainability strategies while supporting our academic mission."

To learn more about applying for a Campus as a Living Lab grant, visit the program's website or attend their interactive webinar on March 5. Grant applicants are also encouraged to submit an expression of interest form before April 10, so the program team can help connect them with university partners on a rolling basis.