Campus as a Living Laboratory

The Duke University campus offers many living laboratories for diverse educational experiences in sustainability.  Below, find a list of potential client-based projects for students on campus and highlighted living laboratories for sustainability.  Also below are highlights from past projects and courses that have utilized the campus and university departments as clients for sustainability education.

Duke University as a Sustainability Client

Sustainable Duke maintains a list of ideas for on-campus, client-based student and group projects in areas like energy, water, recycling, transportation and carbon offsets. Download the complete project list.  If you are interested in pursuing one of these projects, please send an e-mail expressing your interest to

A few current project examples include:

  • Evaluating the new solar thermal system on the Bryan Center;
  • Researching disposal of non-traditional recyclables; and
  • Creating a competition between graduate schools to encourage alternative commuting.

Past Project Highlights

Nicholas School Master’s Projects regularly use the University as a client for sustainability research topics.  Examples of recent projects include:

  • “A Protocol for Co-digestion Systems as a Source of Carbon Offsets for the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative”
  • “Duke Forest Carbon Assessment”
  • “Evaluating Carbon Offset Opportunities at the Duke University Health System (DUHS)”
  • “Sustainability Strategic Planning at Duke University”

Many courses utilize Duke’s campus and departments as clients for project-based learning.  Some examples include:

  • Biology 222L - Entomology - Students in this course catalogue insects of the Duke Campus
  • Environment 171 - Food and Energy: Applying research and theory to local dining practice - Client-based groups have examined bottled water consumption on campus, strategies for reducing food waste, a campus farmstand to sell fresh produce, the creation of a campus farm, and more.

Highlighted Sustainability Living Laboratories

  • Home Depot Smart Home – Students living in the home use and develop “smart technology”, courses are offered on sustainable living topics such as “Smart Home Technology Development” and “Sustainable Structures”
  • Duke Campus Farm – Courses in law, marketing and food issues have used the farm as a research client, students can propose projects in their particular areas of interest
  • Duke Forest – The Forest hosts up to 50 research projects at a time, with topics like the effects of elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on forest ecosystems
  • Duke Lemur Center – Research by faculty and students in areas like cognition, behavior, and communication furthers Lemur conservation
  • SWAMP – Outdoor classroom and field laboratory for wetland restoration
  • Duke Marine Lab – Students and faculty at the Marine Lab are engaged in research, education, and service to understand marine systems, including the human component, and to develop approaches for marine conservation and restoration
  • Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative – The Loyd Ray Farms swine waste-to-energy offsets project in nearby Yadkin County, NC, has benefited from collaboration with Pratt Engineering professors to develop innovative waste management technologies for methane capture