Exploring living labs: innovating for water security

Photo by: David Ellis, Future Water

Living labs – where experimentation meets innovation – are sparking a revolution in problem-solving. These real-life environments champion co-creation and open innovation, offering a ground for the birth of novel ideas. Defined by the European Network of Living Labs as user-centric innovation ecosystems, they are the breeding ground for collaborative research and innovation within real communities. Their rising prominence owes to their unique ability to tackle intricate challenges while considering the needs of diverse stakeholders-citizens, governments, industry, and academia.

In the context of addressing the pressing challenge of water security in the 21st century, one proposed solution is water-sensitive design. This approach revolves around diversifying water sources, leveraging both centralized and decentralized infrastructure, nurturing ecosystem services in built and natural environments, and fostering socio-political support for sustainable water-centric decision-making. Water-themed living labs are a tangible manifestation of this vision. These labs serve as dynamic testing grounds, focusing on realizing the objectives of water-sensitive design. They provide a real-world canvas for exploring and refining innovative ideas aimed at ensuring water security.

A student from the Future Water Institute at the University of Cape Town, South Africa is conducting a study that seeks to unravel the key characteristics of living labs honing in on water-sensitive innovations. The study launches with a brief survey, an initial phase in a comprehensive case study. Its findings will guide future engagements, shaping the narrative of water-sensitive innovations in these labs.

If you are actively involved in a water-themed living lab and over 18, we extend our warm invitation to participate in a survey.  The survey is anticipated to take approximately 3 minutes. Your anticipated participation is immensely valued – its key to unlocking innovative solutions for water security!

If you have any questions please email [email protected] and we will forward your request.

University of Zurich publishes third sustainability report

The University of Zurich (UZH) has published its third Sustainability Report. Based for the first time on the goals of UZH’s “Implementation Strategy 2030 for the Sustainability Policy”, adopted in fall 2020, the report tracks the implementation of targets and measures.

UZH has committed itself to becoming climate-neutral by 2030. Over the past two years, the university was able to substantially reduce its overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2022, emissions were 14 % lower than in 2018, and in 2021 a full 38 % lower – although the 2021 decrease is largely attributed to the pandemic.

“The reporting years 2021/2022 were characterized by multiple crises. It is becoming increasingly clear that sustainability requires investment in crisis resilience,”

Prof. Lorenz M. Hilty, Sustainability Delegate at UZH.

GHG emission savings primarily through changes concerning air travel

Compared to the pre-pandemic years 2018 and 2019, UZH was able to reduce air-travel-related GHG emissions. The main goal for 2022 was to not exceed 60% of pre-pandemic levels, and it was achieved.

The goal applied to all faculties, which were tasked with developing their own action plans to reduce air travel or related emissions. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, for example, introduced an internal levy on air travel, charging CHF 130 per tonne of CO2 emitted and a minimum of CHF 130 per flight.

For every CHF 130 raised, CHF 100 is paid into a fund that the faculty can use to finance travel by train and bus instead, doubling the incentive effect. The negotiations for that levy went surprisingly smoothly, as the faculty dean, Prof. Katharina Michaelowa, reports on sustainability.uzh.ch (in German).

Researchers from the Digital Society Initiative (DSI) organized a European hub for the three-day Sunbelt conference that took place in Australia. By following the conference from this hub instead of traveling down under, European academics avoided around 38 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

These examples show that sustainability starts with the engagement of the people involved. More information about air travel at UZH is presented on the UZH sustainability website.

Interdisciplinary research is key to sustainable development

Over 30 research-related groups, centers, collaborations and networks of UZH are presented as contributors to sustainability in the third Sustainability Report.

UZH considers interdisciplinary research to be key to sustainable development. 13 University Research Priority Programs, 25 Centers of Competence and many other research centers or networks serve to strengthen interdisciplinary research at UZH. In addition, individual faculty members and research groups cooperate with each other or with external partners in inter- or transdisciplinary projects.

The Center for Crisis Competence founded in 2021 is one of the interdisciplinary research centers at UZH that contributes to sustainable development. As crises put sustainability measures at risk, crisis resilience is an important factor contributing to a sustainable future. This resilience requires a sound understanding of the nature of crises and ways to deal with them. For this purpose, the Center for Crisis Competence brings together experts from all seven UZH faculties.

More information on sustainability research can be found online or within the Sustainability Report 2021/2022 (in German).

Teaching for a sustainable future

27,895 students were enrolled at UZH, Switzerland’s largest university, in the Fall Semester of 2022. An important part of UZH’s sustainability strategy is anchored in teaching. Because education should prepare people for the profound changes to come, courses at UZH aim to enable students to understand their subject area in the context of sustainable development.

The “Grüne Vorlesungsverzeichnis” (green course catalogue) automatically filters courses that address topics related to sustainable development. The aim is to provide students and other interested parties with a quick overview and access to courses related to sustainability.

During the reporting period of the third Sustainability Report, the UZH Sustainability Team designed the inter- and transdisciplinary study week “Sustainable Development and Transformation” for interested Master’s students. The study week was first implemented in September 2023 and is planned to be repeated annually.

Other examples of teaching in a sustainable context presented in the third Sustainability Report include the public lecture series “Sustainability Now!” and the new biodiversity degree program, which is unique in Switzerland.


UZH is part of many national and international networks to coordinate efforts and commitments to sustainable development. As an example, the third Sustainability Report presents the new networking partner Blue Community, which UZH joined in May 2022. Read more about UZH’s sustainability networks and the four pillars of the Blue Community.

Harvard releases updated Sustainability Action Plan

Harvard University’s updated Sustainability Action Plan, launched in May, provides a holistic framework for Harvard to adopt best practices that not only protect the climate and environment but advance a more equitable society and promote the wellbeing of people on our campus and all over the world now and in the future. The interconnections of climate, equity and health shape this Plan and are essential to sustainability at Harvard.

This high-level vision commits Harvard to reimagining the day-to-day practices and operations at Harvard as we move toward Goal Zero – to be fossil fuel-free by 2050 – as well as our bridging goal to become fossil fuel-neutral by 2026. We are reimagining our energy systems, building standards, campus operations and purchases, and the vast research and teaching opportunities in order to create a sustainable future. Harvard has a responsibility and opportunity to leverage the organization’s resources to address past adverse impacts and accelerate positive action on sustainability.

Harvard is actively advancing sustainability research and piloting solutions on campus that can be scaled globally. Drawing on more than three decades of work to advance sustainability at Harvard, the University will engage its faculty, students, and staff across its Schools, Institutes and Business Units—more than 50,000 people—to continue to leverage Harvard’s campus as a living laboratory: inventing, testing, and validating new systems and practices. The University’s exceptional students and faculty are collaborating across disciplines, through initiatives like the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability, Sustainability Living Lab projects, as well as in classrooms and co-curricular initiatives.

The Sustainability Action Plan was developed collaboratively with the Presidential Committee on Sustainability, the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders, the Office for Sustainability, and hundreds of other community members. The Plan is designed as a living document that will be strengthened over time as the world discovers new technologies, solutions, and strategies. Harvard will track and publicly share its sustainability progress annually, moving toward new goals and bolder timelines whenever possible.

Harvard recognizes its unique responsibility and opportunity to accelerate change. Together, we will reimagine and redefine how we power, how we build, how we operate, and how we lead. We hope you will join us in building a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable community on our campus and beyond.

DTU publishes its first sustainability report

Under the heading 'We develop technologies for people and sustainable change', DTU has published a report on the University's sustainability.

DTU, Technical University of Denmark, has worked with sustainability for a long time – in research as well as in day-to-day operations. But now, for the first time, DTU is publishing a report documenting climate accounts, consumption of resources and recycling, as well as the degree of socially sustainable surroundings and behavior.

The Sustainability Report 2022 is based on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) data, i.e. data on environmental, social, and governance issues, which together provide a status on DTU's sustainability conditions and indicate the direction of DTU's ambitions. The report describes many of the initiatives DTU has taken and will continue to take to create a sustainable university.

DTU, Technical University of Denmark, President Anders Bjarklev

"The World is changing – and so is our perception of sustainability. At DTU, we constantly want to develop in a more sustainable direction. Sustainability is an integral part of how DTU educates engineers as well as in our research and development of new technologies. The sustainable dimension is crucial," says DTU President Anders Bjarklev.

DTU, Technical University of Denmark campus
Photo: Vibeke Hempler

Good start, but we need to go further

The report is based on a review of relevant data, policies, and focus areas with a focus on operational data in the green area, environment data, as well as initiatives within good business conduct and integrity. The report is a snapshot of the current situation, but also sets the direction for the coming years.

Research and development of world-class technology is resource-intensive, as the University relies on laboratories and research infrastructure that consume energy and raw materials. But this does not mean that the University does not have ambitions to reduce resource consumption and create socially sustainable surroundings and behavior.

"At DTU, we believe that openness and transparency are important. This is especially true in work with sustainability. Both students and staff are aware of their habits and want to act sustainably. Therefore, we also try to create a physical environment that allows everyone on campus to minimize their own use of resources. It is a work we have started, but we can go much further," says Anders Bjarklev.

Read more in the report: https://www.dtu.dk/english/about/strategy-policy/sustainability-report

Technical University of Munich appoints VP Sustainable Transformation and publishes sustainability strategy

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) has anchored the topic of sustainability in university leadership to ensure robust realization of its Sustainable Futures Strategy. Werner Lang, TUM Professor of Energy Efficient and Sustainable Design and Building, is the new TUM Vice President Sustainable Transformation after already winning the TUM Sustainability Award 2022.

TUM has declared sustainability to be an integral guiding vision for its plan of action. President Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann recently presented the TUM Sustainable Futures Strategy 2030 at the first TUM Sustainability Day in October 2022. With six action fields, it addresses the challenges of the sustainable transformation of the university and society with a “whole-institution-approach”.

Research: TUM encourages and supports research activities that contribute to the sustainable transformation of society. To this end, the university provides targeted support for the digitalization and scaling of developed solution strategies while taking ecological, political and societal aspects into account.

Education and Lifelong Learning: TUM helps students, employees and alumni as well as external expert and management staff develop their own understanding of sustainability. Above and beyond the spectrum of university teaching and continuing education, TUM conveys competencies in data-based and evidence-based sustainable behaviors.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation: TUM promotes and empowers founders in leveraging their own entrepreneurial opportunities to accelerate sustainable transformation. In the future, innovative technologies, products and services as well as new business models are to unite economic success with ecological and social responsibility.

Campus Operations and Resource Management: As an organization, the university itself is to serve as an exemplary model for the deployment of a sustainable and resilient society. The university's tasks include reducing consumption of energy and resources, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy and resource efficiency and reduced-emission mobility as well as improving equality, diversity, inclusion and providing healthy working and studying conditions.

Governance and University Community: TUM intends to motivate its students and members of the university community to actively participate by strategically anchoring the Sustainability Strategy at the General Management level and by implementing open, participatory decision-making processes.

Communication and Global Engagement: TUM intends to create an even greater societal awareness of sustainability with transparent and self-critical communication and to take on a proactive role in the transformation process. To this ends, the university combines its research and teaching agenda with entrepreneurial drive in the fight against climate change and pollution, poverty and inequality as well as against the lack of access to proper health care and education.

With the its Sustainable Futures Strategy 2030, TUM is making the university an innovative place for sustainable transformation – on its campuses and beyond.

"We intend to secure the resilience of our university and shape the sustainable transformation of society with responsibility, talented individuals, scientific excellence and innovative power. We are making TUM a catalyst for the tremendous changes inevitably emerging in our pursuit of sustainable development, taking ecological limitations, economic constancy and social justice into account." – TUM President Thomas F. Hofmann

Photo copyright: Andreas Heddergott /TUM

McGill launches new Sustainable Labs Guide to help researchers implement greener practices

Online resource suggests actionable steps to improve water and energy conservation, procurement, waste management, and more.

At a research-intensive university like McGill, laboratories play a critical role both in advancing solutions for a sustainable future and making its campuses environmentally responsible places to study and work. In fact, McGill cannot hope to reach its goals of becoming zero-waste by 2035 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 without collaboration from the faculty, staff, and students who use these spaces. This is why the University released an updated version of its Sustainable Labs Guide to support lab users interested in adopting more sustainable practices.

"We hope the guide will become a go-to resource for lab users at McGill, whether they are new to sustainability or looking for ideas and support as they take their green lab habits to the next level,” says Sustainability Officer Kimberly John, who joined the Office of Sustainability in 2022 to lead the development of a Sustainable Labs Certification program.

Divided into eight categories ranging from green chemistry to animal research, the Sustainable Labs Guide suggests roughly 75 actions that lab users can implement to make their operations more sustainable. These tips will be continually updated based on feedback from the McGill community and as the University implements more sustainable lab initiatives in areas such as waste management and energy conservation.

“This new version of the Sustainable Labs Guide brings together the most up-to-date information and resources that lab users need to know in order to make their operations more sustainable, without compromising the quality of their research or the safety of their labs,” says George Lazaris, Director of the McGill Department of Buildings and Grounds, one of the units that helped develop the guide.

In addition to reducing the negative environmental impacts of research, the suggested actions and additional resources provided in the Sustainable Labs Guide can help lab users promote health and safety practices, as well as utilize their supplies, equipment, and funding more efficiently.

A collective push toward greener labs

The actions outlined in the updated guide were developed by the Sustainable Labs Working Group, which was established in 2014 to bring together members of the McGill community looking to incorporate sustainability into the operation and design of labs. The working group includes people from the Office of the Vice-Principal of Research and Innovation, Procurement Services, McGill’s Green Labs Initiative, Facilities Management and Ancillary Services, and others.

“This guide is the result of a collaborative effort between key stakeholders at McGill, including staff, students, and researchers,” says Christian Bouchard, who manages McGill’s Hazardous Waste Management unit and co-authored the first edition of the guide back in 2017.

“We want to provide a tool for researchers where they can find several different ways to improve the sustainability of their lab with minimal effort, all in one place, and without distracting from the main goals of scientific research, which is to make breakthrough discoveries using the best tools available and to minimize the factors that affect the consistency of results.”

To help your lab implement more sustainable practices, consult the Sustainable Labs Guide

Photo by Siddhi Aubeeluck.

Job ad: Associate Director for Outreach and Advancement - UPenn

Overview: Reporting to the Senior Director, the Associate Director for Outreach and Advancement is responsible for developing and delivering on a set of outputs designed to enhance the visibility of the Initiative, elevate Penn’s collective impact, and position the Initiative to grow through partnerships and fundraising. The Initiative’s team is highly collaborative, so this work provides ample opportunity to lead and to share work.

Location: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Hybrid Eligible - This position is eligible for a hybrid work schedule with a work week divided between working onsite and working remotely.

Reporting To: Melissa Brown Goodall, Senior Director, Environmental Innovations Initiative

More information: Opportunities | UPenn Environmental Innovations Initiative

Climate neutrality for universities: invitation to share

Eddi Omrcen, sustainability strategist at University of Gothenburg, is assisting with a student masters thesis project in collaboration with the university’s Environmental Management team.

The goal of the thesis project is to investigate and evaluate opportunities for the University of Gothenburg to become climate neutral, as well as consequences and repercussions that may follow.

  • What are the implications for University of Gothenburg if it were to attain climate neutrality?
  • What challenges and outcomes would there be for the University of Gothenburg?

The project includes a benchmarking exercise to identify and learn from other universities that are struggling with the same challenge and that have initiated work or processes to become climate neutral.

The results from the thesis will be shared amongst the participating universities and in the ISCN network.

If you are interested to participate and exchange experiences, please email Eddi Omrcen [email protected] with:

  1. Information and/or documents on your climate targets and ambitions.
  2. A contact person at your university that is responsible for the process.

Job ad: Data Engineer - MIT

Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Reporting To: Director of Sustainability, Julie Newman

Hours: Full time, 40 hours

Schedule: Hybrid office/remote

Position overview: The Data Engineer is responsible for updating and building the data architecture needed to track and report out on all campus sustainability activities, prioritizing the climate mitigation and resiliency, waste and food goals outlined in Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade. More specifically, this position will initially be responsible for formalizing the data acquisition and analytical structure, policies and procedures.  This individual will curate and organize data from multiple sources and upload for access on the Sustainability Data Pool, a first of its kind centralized data repository available to all members of the MIT community.  The time periods and units of measurement of the data will be topic and data dependent.

More information: MIT - Data Engineer - Cambridge MA 02139 (peopleclick.com)



EPFLeaders4impact – A new postdoctoral fellowship programme for the next generation of sustainable science leaders

3rd call for the EPFLeaders4impact programme (deadline 1 March 2023) providing grants to postdoctoral researchers working on innovative solutions to global challenges.

EPFLeaders4impact is a new postdoctoral fellowship programme funding talented researchers who have the ambition to provide innovative solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

EPFLeaders4impact fellows will be able to take steps towards starting a company based on their own research or to have their proposed innovative solution implemented through a technology transfer to an existing company/organisation.

EPFLeaders4impact has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101034260.

What: 12, 18, 24, or 36-month postdoctoral fellowships. The EPFLeaders4impact fellowship consists of a monthly contribution to the salary of the postdoctoral researcher of EUR 2’740. The remaining part of the salary as well as associated costs are covered by the EPFL hosting laboratory.

Where: research funded by the EPFLeaders4impact programme must be conducted at one of the EPFL campuses in Lausanne, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Valais, or Fribourg.

  • Applicants must be Experienced Researchers (ER); they must hold a doctoral degree or have at least 4 years of full-time equivalent research experience by at the latest the date of recruitment.
  • Applicants must fulfil the MSCA transnational mobility rules and must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Switzerland for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the call deadline.
  • Applicants must be able to carry out full-time research during the fellowship period. Parental leave, sick leave, care leave, and military leave are nevertheless permitted.

Application deadline: 1 March 2023 (17:00 CEST)

Start of the fellowship: at the earliest: 1 July 2023, at the latest: 1 November 2023

Current fellows and their projects: here

More details: please, visit the EPFLeaders4impact website

Contact: [email protected]