Can Social Marketing Save Campus as a Living Lab?

Although the University is considered a global leader in sustainability initiatives, there is a lack of engagement with the newly refined Campus as a Living Lab program—but why?

Campus as a Living Lab

Information is everywhere and the University is no different. With nearly 800 university programs, 400 student clubs, and 300 research opportunities, it can be overwhelming to decide what to pay attention to. This is a problem for social marketers and has been a problem for the Office of Sustainability’s Campus as a Living Lab program operating at 50% capacity.

Wait… What is it again?

Campus as a Living Lab was launched by the Office of Sustainability to provide students and academic staff with the platform to actively pursue sustainability and research goals on campus. This program is a framework through which undergraduate students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field of sustainability as it relates to their discipline. Students are funneled to Campus as a Living Lab through engagement with two different programs separate to the Office of Sustainability: the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI) and the Community Service Learning (CSL) programs.

With limited access to information about how to apply to the program, funding availability, and what types of projects fall under the umbrella for Campus as a Living Lab there is some confusion around how to get involved. Strangely enough, there was information on all the good the program can provide for the campus, but no individual point of contact for questions about Campus as a Living Lab. While there was information on the benefits of the program, there was no point of contact for students with questions about Campus as a Living Lab.

Introducing: Webb Dussome

Professor Dussome is the Alberta School of Business’ sole member who includes a CSL component in his courses, and his Social Marketing class provided an opportunity to explore this program to provide insight and strategies to improve engagement. As a primary stream for the program, further CSL engagement could push more Campus as a Living Lab projects through and improve the program’s success.

With a team of 5 students, we researched the perceived barriers, benefits, and motivators experienced by University faculty with regards to the inclusion of CSL course components. We held one-on-one interviews with academic faculty members from several programs and backgrounds to understand the absence of involvement. A semi-structured interview method was used, whereby a set series of questions was presented to each participant with appropriate follow-up questions as necessary for clarification or to develop a deeper understanding of the behavior or viewpoint. Seven instructors were interviewed at length to develop a comprehensive understanding as to the reasons for including or not including a CSL course component in their classes. Instructors who lead classes which could be adapted for CSL to ensure relevance were chosen. Data was collected via an audio recording device and transcribed.


The Response

The majority of instructors were unfamiliar with the Office of Sustainability, Campus as a Living Lab, and the CSL programs. Some instructors were unsure of whether or not a certificate was given in accordance with CSL, and others were confused about whether the work students would do would be valuable to their experience. Overall, instructors seemed enthusiastic about the program and all agreed that further connection to the community should be included in the classroom.

In fact, instructors were unaware of any other academic faculty who incorporated a CSL component, but the majority of respondents asked for more access to information through the Office of Sustainability and through program streams to determine if and how sustainability elements could be made relevant.

A Recommendation?

Social Marketing’s goal is to make the desired behavior easy, fun, and popular.

Reduce the Perceived Barriers, For instructors, the main barrier is that they are not aware of CSL programming, but this lack of awareness ties this barrier to the lack of engagement of students. Since instructors simply do not know about the program, the message cannot be passed on to students. Some instructors who are aware of CSL and Campus as a Living Lab still do not incorporate a CSL component in their courses because they believe that it will be irrelevant to the course material.

Increase the Perceived Benefits. Instructors must know that adding a CSL component will allow them to feel more fulfilled in their role while developing their professional network through engaging the broader community. Knowing that their students can use the experience towards their CSL certificate is also rewarding; instructors are wary of including material that doesn’t serve an academic purpose. Educating instructors on the resources available and providing the support to mitigate any ethical complications and applicability questions will be important factors to consider in marketing the CSL program to academic faculty.

What about URI? Students are missing the information they require to engage with Campus as a Living Lab as well—our team had to receive this information directly from the Office of Sustainability as it wasn’t posted on the website. It was our recommendation that the Campus as a Living Lab team should publish guidelines and requirements of what a project should look like. The guidelines could highlight the necessary criteria required to qualify, appropriate paperwork and documentation needed. At the time of this study, no information could be found on the websites of either Campus as a Living Lab or the Office of Sustainability. Students may not know whether or not they are eligible to conduct research alongside their undergraduate degree.


Everyone Loves a Happy Ending

Significant improvements to the Campus as a Living Lab program page have been made in the time since this study was conducted. Clarifications on how Campus as a Living Lab integrates through CSL and URI programming, project criteria, application links, and a single point of contact. Having the right web content might seem like a limited result given the arduous interview process and ~35-page paper that followed, but this action is sure to set the program up for success by making it easy to understand.

Further internal marketing strategies must be used to engage instructors through the CSL program and reduce barriers to entry. Creating an ambassador program for each faculty could provide the required information from peer groups and increase the popularity of integrating CSL in the classroom. Student testimonials and greater optics around the success of the program and available funding should inform students about how fun and rewarding the program is.

Web clipping

Learn More!

This project will be presented at Sustainability Awareness Week on October 24 in ECHA 2-140 at 2:00PM, so come out and get the full scoop! Additional information about the ethics or methodology of this study can be directed to

The full study can be read at:

Images courtesy of the University of Alberta.

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