Start a Project

Man in white lab coat adjusts lab equipment

Your research could change the world! Start an action-oriented research project with the guidance and support of the Sustainability Council.

We will help you connect to other students, faculty and staff in order to conduct research or experiential learning that uses the university as a testing bed for innovation. Potential projects could address university operations, ecological footprint, supply chains, the built and natural environment, teaching and public education, research practices, or university culture.

Whatever your approach, Campus as a Living Lab research is a step toward finding the solutions and generating the data that we need to build a better world—the work that University of Alberta academics are doing every day.

Give us a call

This page is meant to help guide you through the process of starting a sustainability research project. But if you don’t want to get into the weeds just yet, don’t hesitate to simply give us a call. We’re always happy to chat about your research ideas!

Behn Jang
Program Team Lead, Energy & Climate Action (formerly, EMSO)


Understanding our goals

Before we start, it might be helpful to understand our goals. We aim to bridge the gap between academics and operations by creating research-based partnerships. Additionally, we leverage existing programs, encouraging the uptake of Campus as a Living Lab projects through existing funding and academic programs.

The process outlined below will help you develop these partnerships and guide you toward appropriate programs to get your project off the ground.

What counts as sustainability

Sustainability touches on so many different aspects of the university. You could focus on buildings, classrooms, curriculum, dining services, governance, groundskeeping, labs, public engagement campaigns, purchasing systems, residences, transportation, utilities or waste management.

As for topics, sustainability issues you address could include biodiversity, climate resilience (clean tech, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy), economics (including finances, investments and alternative models), food (including local, organic and fair trade), pollution, resource use (including plastic waste and recycling), transportation (including low-carbon and active transportation), and water conservation.

Keep in mind too that sustainability includes affordability, accessibility, culture, equity, diversity and inclusion, health and well-being, peace, justice and human rights and Indigenous reconciliation.

Identifying a research project

What’s been tried already? You’re probably here because you already have an idea of what you want to do. Or maybe you have passion, but aren’t sure where to turn. Either way, it’s important to know what has already been tried. That way, we avoid duplicating efforts, and you can build off of past work most productively. Please check out the following document to see what campus sustainability projects have been funded in the past.

Past Projects 

Do you need a contact within the university’s operations side? We know of many staff members in various departments who have expressed an interest in supporting student research. Additionally, Facilities and Operations has data sets and background information on many campus sustainability topics (including utility data, recycling, and greenhouse gas emissions) that can be made available to support Campus as a Living Lab projects. We can help make these connections to ensure your project is a success. Get in touch with Energy Management and Sustainable Operations to find out what collaborations may be possible.

Contact Energy & Climate Action

What are you already involved in? We find that some of the best research projects spring from a student’s existing passions and interests. If you are already volunteering with a community organization or student group, is there a challenge that your group is facing that could be solved with a research project? Is there an issue that you’ve been concerned about, and would relish the opportunity to do some deep investigation? Are you involved in a social enterprise, local-sustainable business or cleantech startup and think you can take it further with a research project?

The qualities of a good project

There’s no formula here, all kinds of research projects can be valuable. But please consider the following:

  • The problems you address should be place-based, rooted in the conditions here on a university campus.
  • The solution you are testing should be practical and produce a tangible impact.
  • We encourage innovation through leveraging new approaches, strategies, methods and technologies.
  • Aligning your project with one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will create a stronger application for many of these programs.

Also, it’s got to have systems-thinking: The heart of a sustainability research project is the recognition of interrelated environmental, social, economic, cultural and political dimensions within the problem and the solution. A sustainability approach must therefore consider multiple perspectives, ways of knowing and of evaluating success. A systems-thinking approach keeps the big picture in view, allowing for multiple actors to be engaged and points of leverage to be discovered. At the same time, side effects and the potential for unintended consequences are better accounted for.

Finding a supervisor or mentor

Campus as a Living Lab research projects require mentorship and supervision from an academic staff member (primarily faculty members, but could also include adjunct instructors, librarians, post-docs, etc.). 

Many professors are willing to take on an undergraduate research project, and might have ideas of their own. If you’ve taken a class with a prof that you really admired, that would be a good place to start. Send them a professionally-written email and ask if they would be interested in discussing a project with you.

The Undergraduate Research Initiative has many more tips to share about finding a good supervisor or mentor. Read the tips

The Sustainability Council’s network includes academic staff in a wide range of disciplines across multiple faculties and schools. Check out the listing below of potential mentors within our affiliate network. If you are still having trouble finding a supervisor, we can help you reach out to see if someone else is interested.

Sustainability Council prospective mentors

Applying for funding

Passion is at the root of your project, but depending on the project, you might need financial or other support. We can help direct you to resources. We’ve listed some of our favourites below, but the process for applying to each one is distinct. Reach out to us, and we can help guide you through the process.

Campus Sustainability Grants

Funded through energy savings, Campus Sustainability Grants can be awarded to support research with a campus-focused lens. Research should improve operations and practices, advance the stewardship of our natural environment, conduct collaborative research in sustainability, encourage integrated and collaborative solutions to sustainability problems, or advance a culture of sustainability on our campuses.

  • You can apply for a micro grant at any time for up to $2,000.
  • Major projects can receive up to $50,000, but these have set application deadlines. The next intake for major grants is due May 15, 2022.

Learn more

Undergraduate Researcher Stipend

The Undergraduate Researcher Stipend enables undergraduate students to carry out mentored, interdisciplinary research projects. Students in any year and any discipline can propose find a supervisor and apply for funding. Stipends of $6,000 are reserved for:

  • campus-based sustainability research
  • projects conducted by women, students with disabilities, or First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students and supervised by a Future Energy Systems researcher
  • projects supervised by a Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences researcher
  • dissemination funding to support social justice research

The deadline for applications to the URI Stipend for the 2022 cycle has now passed. Watch for updates in Fall 2022 regarding the 2023 application cycle.

Learn more

Unfunded avenues

SUST 410 - Directed Study in Sustainability

If you would like to pursue your project for academic credit, you can take on a directo study course with a supervising instructor. SUST 410 is one such course.

Learn more

Community Service-Learning

In courses with a community service-learning component, students are paired with campus or community partners where they contribute in real ways to the organizations and gain valuable working experience. Students interested in conducting research with a particular organization can bring their project forward to Community Service-Learning, and receive course credit for their work.

The following courses and/or instructors have been frequent supporters of campus sustainability in the past:

  • AREC 173 Plate, Planet and Society with Brent Swallow 
  • MARK 455/655 Sustainable and Responsible Marketing with Webb Dussome

Discuss your project ideas or questions

Do you have a project idea or questions about the program? Please contact:

Behn Jang
Program Team Lead, Energy & Climate Action (formerly, EMSO)