Living Labs

Living Labs* connect science with practice by linking research to social issues nearby. An example of this is the link between the business operations of a university and the content of education and research. Many operational issues are suitable for conducting ‘living research’. By carrying out Living Labs, students are given the opportunity to exert a positive influence on their own organisation. Conversely, the scientific knowledge available, offers a unique opportunity to improve business operations and make them more sustainable.

Green Office Living Labs


In order to measure the connection between business operations with education and research, the number of living lab projects completed annually by the Green Office is tallied. These are projects in which students investigate university related sustainability issues as part of their studies. In addition, this chapter focuses on other sustainable living lab projects that take place independently of the Green Office.

KPIs for measuring the link between education, research and business operations and sustainability.

3.1 Living Lab projects

Students completed sixteen Green Office Living Lab assignments in 2019; six more will be completed in 2020. Unfortunately, the grades awarded to the projects by the lecturers of the subjects in question are missing and will be included in this report again next year.

Independent of the Green office, seven other Living Lab projects were running in 2019, which were not carried out by students. Six of the seven projects will continue in 2020. Five of the seven projects will be carried out under the leadership of the Utrecht Sustainability Institute (USI). This research institute, related to Utrecht University, realizes research and innovation projects aimed at the sustainable use of energy, water and raw materials in the city and the region. More information about these projects can be found on the website.

The project Biodiversity and Climate Variability Experiment (BioCliVe) is an initiative by several biologists and ecologists working at Utrecht University. In the Botanical Gardens they mimic natural grassland and investigate the effect of a changing climate combined with loss of biodiversity.

Activities 2019

  • The Utrecht Sustainability Institute started the Living Lab Smart Solar Charging in 2019. Together with Professor Wilfried van Sark, Robin Berg and ten other parties, they are investigating the implementation possibilities of Smart Solar Charging. In various so-called living labs, locally generated solar energy is stored in electric cars via smart charging poles. This way of generating, storing and returning energy creates flexible storage capacity that reduces peaks on the electricity grid.
  • Based on the results of a Green Office Living Lab, the university is switching to recycled paper for all printers.
  • In September 2019, the Future Food Lab in the Educatorium canteen was opened. For the sake of further development and continuous improvement, various Green Office Living Labs were carried out for the Future Food Lab in 2019. Within the Future Food Lab, students, scientists, staff and the university's caterer jointly explore sustainability issues. This initiative is a collaboration between the caterer, Future Food Utrecht and the Green Office.
  • For the University of Utrecht's  CO2 footprint, students investigated which CO2 emissions were not yet part of the total  CO2 footprint. The results of this Green Office Living Lab show that there are more emissions, particularly on student air travel, which the university now includes in its own footprint.
  • Based on the results of a Green Office Living Lab study on climate-proof buildings, the university is starting a pilot with sustainable building materials.

Outlook 2020

  • A diverse group of scientists, support staff and partners from the university are working on a biodiversity plan for the Utrecht Science Park. Ecological research agency Dactylis will present research results in 2020, on the basis of which the university will plan an approach to protect and strengthen biodiversity in the second half of 2020.
  • The renovation concept 'Inside Out' makes apartment buildings energy supplying instead of energy using. The project owner, the Utrecht Sustainability Institute, works together with Utrecht University, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and social partners such as Bo-Ex and the Municipality of Utrecht for the implementation of this Living Lab. In 2020, the first ‘Inside Out’ renovation of a flat in the Overvecht district of Utrecht will be completed. This flat serves as a prototype. The project partners will keep track of the energy gains achieved in this flat and how residents respond to them. The lessons learned will be considered in the renovation of subsequent flats.
  • Real Estate & Campus has appointed researcher Marvin Spitsbaard of the Copernicus  Institute  to  conduct  research  into  measuring  the  potential  environmental   impact**   avoided   through   the   application   of   circular   renovation  strategies.  He  will  also  examine  how  this  contributes  to  the  Sustainable  Development  Goals.  Within  this  research,  Spitsbaard  will  specifically focus on the Willem C. van Unnik building. This building will be subject to thorough renovation in the coming years.

*Living Labs are projects that are (predominantly) carried out by UU students. Living labs always start with a question from practice/business.

**Environmental impact is the total picture of the impact that a project has on the environment. It includes CO2 emissions, but also looks at the impact on biodiversity, for example.