The team at the conference in MalaysiaThe recent collaboration between the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), the Design School (DAB) and Facilities Management Operations has led to winning an international award for best paper at the recent World Symposium of Sustainable Development at Universities in Malaysia. Based on two years of research and curriculum development, myself (ISF) and Dr Alexandra Crosby (DAB) have developed a unique model of a Living Lab at UTS which takes a transdisciplinary approach to learning, incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and concept of Planetary Boundaries into curriculum while utilising the university campus as a living laboratory.

The approach taken in the Transdisciplinary Living Lab (TDLL) was to integrate critical skills including collaboration, communication and knowledge integration with design specific competencies to generate a system-sensitive design curriculum. The TDLL not only required students to develop design interventions/improvements to complex challenges (such as food waste) but also consider the broader impact of their designs in regard to the SDGs and planetary boundaries. The TDLL model was developed and iterated as a third-year design studio (2016, 2017) closely involving students, industry, government, facilities management experts and design and sustainability academics who collaboratively worked toward more effectively managing food waste on-campus, with the long-term goal of processing 100% of the food waste for productive reuse within the Sydney precinct.
a venn diagram with three stages. the first stage is '1. entering the living lab', with 'systems thinking' and 'team building' overlapping it. the second stage is '2. the living lab', with 'university', 'government' and 'industry' overlapping it. the third stage is '3. global context', with 'sustainable development goals' and 'planetary boundaries' overlapping it.

Bringing the Living Lab to life

The practice-based nature of the Living Lab was supported by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency which was involved in not only funding the installation, research and evaluation of food waste management technology on-campus, but also participating as expert panel members.

As a publicly accessible output, the TDLL adopted a continuous online class blog, Wealth from Waste and Instagram feed, where students and educators share research, ideas, reflections and feedback on designs in a dynamic open forum. The blog created an archive of on-going learning with consecutive cohorts of students, challenging the idea that a problem, such as food waste management, can be solved within a set period of time. The TDLL proposes that sustainability-oriented challenges are an on-going process of learning and adaptation, rather than an end goal. In addition, the TDLL blog encouraged students to build on previous iterations and learning of the project, rather than ‘reinventing the wheel’ each time the subject is offered.

The next stage of development of the TDLL is to expand the boundaries of the studio to include a farm in Western Sydney who has recently agreed to take 100% of the processed food waste to UTS for composting onsite. The next stage of the Living Lab (2019-2020) will therefore focus on the ‘circular economy’ food waste provides as a nutrient resource to farmers.

To find out more:

Fam D., Mellick Lopes A., Crosby A. and Ross K. (Forthcoming 2018). The Transdisciplinary Living Lab Model (TDLL), Universities as Living Labs for Sustainable Development: Supporting the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Springer World Sustainability Series.

Read more about how the Transdiciplinary Living Lab works here: The university campus as a transdisciplinary living laboratory,

  • I am interested to work along these lines in my own institute /University . Would like to know why food waste management was explored first and what are other areas identified for sustainability solutions

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