Living Labs to the rescue

Sustainability in all sectors can sometimes end up sitting in a silo. The language used to communicate what is actually a very simple and sensible premise is typically the biggest barrier. People hear the words ‘environment’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’ and turn off. It is dismissed as a nice idea but not something they have the time or resources to commit to addressing.

If you’re guilty of this, or a struggling sustainability officer trying to get stakeholder buy in to your suggestions – you need a Living Lab.

What are they?

As the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, we have focussed on their use in post-16 education, but their transformative powers are actually transferrable to any sector.

A Living Lab is where real-world institutional problems are addressed in new dynamic partnerships between all the institution's stakeholder groups. It creates a bridge of collaboration and liberates intellectual potential to resolve practical challenges.

Why are they crucial in post-16 education?

In the academic year 2015/16, there were 201,380 academic staff and 208,750 non-academic staff, in addition to 2.2 million students in UK Higher Education. That is a lot of people - all with different objectives – to communicate ideas with. Different stakeholder groups in universities are identifiable, these are: students, academics, professional staff and external stakeholders. It is difficult to find a platform that allows for discussion and directional thinking among all.
The sector wields a significant physical presence, financial impact, resource consumption and human capital. Not to mention their role in educating future workers and leaders from across the world. As such, stakeholders come under a lot of pressure to excel and this requires joined up thinking. This usually means each groups tries to find a solution to challenges in isolation or try to fix only the part of the problem that affects them which creates a huge disconnect. This is where Living Labs come in, with its common set of values and collective action that recognises the overall shared challenge.

How can you create Living Labs?

If you are unsure where to start when organising a Living Lab, there are a couple of things you can do. You can discuss with your institution and find out if anybody else has held one before and could advise you. Some institutions even have a dedicated Living Labs member of staff. If you don’t have these resources, you can book on to an event that outlines the ins and out, such as the workshop the EAUC organised a few months ago, there are resources from the workshop available for free on the Sustainability Exchange. We also have networks and jiscmail groups that members are able to join to get advice from those that have held Living Labs in other institutions. Knowledge exchange is a powerful tool – and only by utilising it will sustainability break out of its global silo.
Most recently, the EAUC has invested into in-depth, world-leading research on Living Labs. They are at the heart of the new EAUC 2021 strategy and provide the practical means to make sustainability not only ‘good business’ but the new norm in how we all work.

Start by reading our overview of this research here:
Living Labs Brief: What are they? And why are they crucial for post-16 education?


If you want to develop your understanding of where the Living Lab sits within a post-16 institution read:
A Revolution for Post-16 Education - Part 1: A Case for the Living Lab


If you want to understand the academic research behind the Living Lab concept read:
A Revolution for Post-16 Education - Part 2: How do Living Labs Work? 

The EAUC represents institutions with over 2 million students and nearly 400,000 staff with a spending budget of over £25 billion. We exist to lead and empower the post-16 education sector to make sustainability 'just good business'. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @TheEAUC
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