Mason as a Living Lab

The Mason Living Labs Initiative encourages and supports students, faculty, and staff to pose questions, experiment, gather data, monitor changes, and propose novel solutions to a range of sustainability challenges associated with the George Mason University campus environment and its socio-environmental systems.


What is Mason as a Living Lab?

With nearly 1,000 acres of land, waterways, forests, and buildings, George Mason University’s campuses are a dynamic, living learning environment. With diverse and growing arrays of buildings, roadways, watercourses, and forests, the Mason campus complex faces the urgent challenge of becoming more sustainable and resilient. In this context, the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Mason faculty, staff, and students are critically important resources. Recent and ongoing experiments in research and learning across campus spaces have included the Innovation Food Forest, the Honeybee Initiative, the Green Studio, and the Mason Arboretum.

Given the convergence of the Strategic Master Planning Cycle with the establishment of the Mason Sustainability Solutions Framework and the development of various action plans, the Living Labs Initiative will enlist the enormous talent and expertise on Mason campuses to help achieve Mason’s sustainability goals. Furthermore, with Mason’s commitment to campus sustainability, the Living Labs Initiative serves as a conduit to engage in sustainability oriented curricular and research development. Consequently, the Living Labs Initiative will propel Mason forward as a regional and national leader in sustainability, with explicit links to Mason’s entrepreneurship efforts so that our innovations can be widely adopted elsewhere. 

Core Functions of the Living Labs Initiative:
– Strategic support with initiatives that are first getting off the ground

– Coordination of sustainability research initiatives taking place on Mason’s campuses

– Web presence and communication to amplify campus research and projects to the Mason community and beyond

– Data catalog for shared learning and understanding of sustainability topics on Mason’s campuses

Benefits of Mason as a Living Lab: There are numerous benefits for participating in the Living Labs Initiative. Projects undergo a review that ensures that project implementation in a living campus environment will be seamless. The projects receive strategic support to help get them started if they are in the inception phase, become part of a dynamic group with other living lab projects, get designated web space and communications support. Opportunities for securing funding or scaling up pilot projects will also be supported.

How to Engage: Submit your project to be part of the Initiative using this form. You can also get in touch via email at

Pilot Living Labs Projects

We want to know what sustainability work is being done at Mason to propose solutions to sustainability challenges! Be one of the first Living Labs projects to assist with testing our procedures and provide your feedback on the support you need to conduct campus centered projects. In doing so, your project will help determine best practices for wider campus implementation of the initiative and showcase your work to a wider campus audience. 

Mason Pond Cherry Tree Bloom Dates

The primary goal of this project is educational. One educational objective is to demonstrate to students how to collect data on the bloom date of cherry trees on the Mason Pond as well as meteorological information like the temperature, humidity, and precipitation. Students gain experience collecting data both in person and by camera to document bloom timing and extracting environmental data from a local weather station. Furthermore, students gain insight from contributing to a long-term dataset by replicating these observations annually. 

A second educational objective is to teach students how data is processed, used in statistical predictive models, and ultimately communicated to scientists and the public. Mason students will gain valuable experience working with climate data and will share their results with the Mason and broader science community. Each year students’ analyses of the data will be disseminated on a public website and uploaded to citizen science websites like the USA National Phenology Network and Project Budburst.

The team comprised of Jamie Roth, Jonathan Auerbach, David Kepplinger, and Daniel Hanley collects meteorological data at the location of the cherry trees year-round. A large hurdle facing sustainability initiatives is a lack of awareness. The project will use the campus environment to raise climate change awareness among Mason students through involvement and visibility. Those collecting and processing the data will see how the bloom dates from local campus trees relate to the large-scale issue of earlier bloom times. Students not directly involved will be able to see the results of the project and how climate change has and continues to impact their very own environment.

Actionable Recommendations for Carbon Neutrality

Leading institutions, including Mason, make commitments to climate action by setting greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction targets to reach carbon neutrality. Deciding on optimal investment alternatives is challenging due to: (1) the complexity of the heterogeneous infrastructures as their components operationally interact with each other;  (2) consideration of trade-offs between performance indicators; (3) investment performance dependency on efficiency of operation, which is transient due to stochastic nature of supply and demand; and (4) rapid changes in infrastructure technologies.

To address this problem, Alex Brodsky‘s team proposed to:

1. Research and develop models, algorithms and GADGET – A Green Assessment and Decision Guidance Tool – used to recommend to stakeholders actionable alternatives on sustainability investment for reaching carbon neutrality.  This will leverage prior work on decision guidance systems and service network optimization to allow stakeholders make informed Pareto-Optimal trade-offs between such priorities as: (1) GHG emission reduction, (2) total cost of ownership and implicit price of GHG reduction, and (3) availability, vulnerability and resilience of the underlying service network.

2. Conduct a case study that provides Actionable recommendations on Pareto-Optimal alternatives to achieve carbon neutrality in support of Mason’s Climate Action group and university leadership.

The George Mason University Honey Bee Initiative

The George Mason University Honey Bee Initiative (HBI) joined the Living Labs Initiative with a set of featured projects that you can engage with or take further. HBI empowers communities through sustainable beekeeping.  The work is community-driven, multi-disciplinary, and responsive to the United Nations Global Goals.

Honey bees are threatened and bee health is critical to human survival. But for reasons including colony collapse disorder, invasive mites (Varroa destructor), and pesticides, honey bees are dying in unprecedented numbers, which has serious implications for our food security. For example, according to research, in 2019, nearly 40 percent of all US honey bee colonies, already in decline, were lost—the highest level reported since survey results were collected in 2005-2006. If bees don’t thrive, neither do we, as the health of pollinators is directly linked to food security. Of the 100 crop varieties that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees. In North America, honey bees alone pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruits, such as almonds, avocados, cranberries and apples, in addition to commodity crops like soy. Pollination services are a core component of global agricultural production, valued at over $125 billion annually. In the U.S. alone, the value of pollination services is estimated to be $20-30 billion annually. No wonder honey bees are called the most important pollinator in the world. In an effort to support bee health, we launched the George Mason University Honey Bee Initiative in 2013. Today, with vibrant public-private partnerships, HBI supports several ongoing innovative teaching and research projects. Learn more about HBI projects!

Add Your Project Here!

We are collecting past and ongoing projects in our clearinghouse! Submit your living lab projects.


Have a new idea? Apply for seed funding! We are accepting proposals for new and ongoing projects!


Ongoing Campus Sustainability Initiatives

Mason Sustainability Council

The Mason Sustainability Council (MSC) is an institution-wide initiative that works to integrate Mason’s research and academic strengths in sustainability with campus operations, enables our campuses to become learning laboratories, and further establishes Mason as an institutional leader in higher-education sustainability. The MSC is currently leading the formulation of Mason’s evolving sustainability and climate action plans.


Campus Partners

Mason Facilities

Mason Facilities ensures a quality physical environment supporting the mission of the University. Facilities works with faculty, staff and students on implementing MaLiLa projects. One of the ways Facilities supports the Mason community is through the University Sustainability office, which provides leadership in environmental, social, and economic stewardship. The Patriot Green Fund, a program of University Sustainability, is an opportunity for the Mason community to improve our sustainable goals and efforts through infrastructure developments and student research projects.

Mason Libraries

The University Libraries forms an intellectual nexus for George Mason University. The University Libraries Research Services promotes and supports excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship. Mason Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Center, the Mason Publishing Group, and subject librarians provide consultations to support the community throughout the research cycle. Mason Libraries provides the Dataverse for data storage and dissemination for MaLiLa projects.


Questions? Contact us at