Living Lab

UCC Living laboratory lightbulb graphic overlaid on UCC quad

UCC Living Laboratory

A “Living Laboratory” utilises the knowledge and research capabilities of an Institution’s students and staff to solve issues relating to its infrastructure and practices. In 2019, with thanks to funding from the HEA, UCC Green Campus established the Living Laboratory Seed Fund to research and address real-life problems using UCC campus as a testbed.  A second call for propsals was announced in November 2021, and in July 2023 we launch a third funding round in support of the University's new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (2023-28).

How the Programme Works 

In support of UCC's new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (2023-28), the Office of Sustainability and Climate Action is delighted to launch a third call for proposals under the “UCC Green Campus Living Laboratory Seed Fund”.

A “Living Laboratory” utilises the knowledge and research capabilities of an Institution’s students and staff to solve issues relating to its infrastructure and practices. A Living Laboratory project should aim to:

  • Solve a real-life problem
  • Be based on a partnership among key stakeholders, often crossing disciplinary and/or sectoral boundaries
  • Trial and test ideas in real life settings in order to further refine solutions proposed
  • Share data and findings generated openly

For this call, projects undertaken within the local community are also welcome, provided an appropriate community partner has been identified.


UCC Green Campus Living Laboratory Fund

The UCC Green Campus Living Laboratory Seed Fund will support two types of projects:

  1. Research Masters projects (including fees of €5,770, stipend of €18,500, and associated costs up to a maximum of €26,000). Up to one research masters project will be funded in this round. Due to budget constraints, the masters research must be completed within one year of the project start date. It is expected that the masters would be interdisciplinary in nature.
  2. Demonstration projects up to the value of €10,000. The number of demonstration projects awarded will depend on total value of successful projects. A value for money approach will be taken in determining which projects get funded. An element of learning and/or research must be included in these projects and awardees will be required to complete a case study at the end of the project.

For either project type, proposals must support the goals and objectives outlined in UCC’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (2023-28). Projects that advance our Green Labs and Plastic Free UCC programmes, that aim to reduce carbon emissions, or that embed sustainability within the Connected Curriculum, are particularly welcome.


Who Can Apply for Funds?

Staff from all disciplines and units within the university are encouraged to apply. Cross disciplinary collaborations are particularly welcome. Projects should take a “whole-institution” approach and include at least two of the following: staff, students, community group/charity/NGO/industry. Projects proposed by members of the student community will be welcomed, however they must have been discussed with a potential staff partner/academic supervisor prior to submission. The inclusion of community groups, charities, NGOs or industry partners is encouraged; however, these entities cannot lead projects. Where industry stakeholders are included, resources should be matched by the industry partner.


Application Process

Interested parties are asked to complete the application form and return it to before 5pm on Friday 18th August 2023. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Dr Maria Kirrane, Head of Sustainability and Climate Action Office, in advance of submitting proposals to ensure that their project is suitable. Applicants will be notified if they have been successful in September 2023; projects should start as soon as possible thereafter. The maximum project duration will be 12 months. A Colloquium will be hosted in October 2024, where project results will be presented.

Applications will be reviewed by a Selection Committee based on the criteria and guiding questions outlined below. High scoring projects are not guaranteed to be selected. A value for money approach will be taken. Proposals that demonstrate the potential to become larger funding bids (e.g. EPA or similar) or result in publications and/or conference presentations are encouraged.

Proposals should consider how the project will be implemented and ensure that resources such as staff time, and physical infrastructure are adequately budgeted for.

Application Form and Living Lab Seed Fund Information

For further details regarding the 2023/2024 Living Laboratory Seed Fund Application Process click below:

Applications must be emailed on the official form (download below) to by agreed date.

Previously Funded Projects

Applicant: Rosemarie MacSweeney

Academic Supervisor: Dr Ger Mullally

External Partner: Ruairi O’Mahony (UMASS Lowell)


The Re-UCC project aims to embed reuse within UCC (including Tyndall, ERI, MaREI etc), and initiate pilot projects including a bulky item reuse system, and other re-use initiatives yet to be identified. This will consist of both desktop research, and initiation of pilot projects, building on my previous work with CRNI in developing a draft business model for bulky item reuse in the public sector. The Re-UCC project would contribute to Green Campus initiatives, as well as helping to drive towards increased Green Public Procurement. There would be three phases to this project, the first being primarily desk-based research, the second internal pilot project(s) and the third and final phase, the development of a wider network (local cluster) beyond UCC. The initial phase of the project would be to research existing internal reuse examples from similar organisations, through literature review and stakeholder engagement. This would be followed by a feasibility study into the development of proposals for initiatives that could be carried out within UCC. The next phase of the project would be to carry out a pilot or pilot projects to test their viability, including a bulky item reuse pilot. These would enable UCC to exchange items (resources) internally, as well as for the final phase of the project, developing local cluster with other Cork based organisations with which to trade and share resources.

Lead Applicant: Dr Eoin Lettice (School of BEES)

Co-Applicants: Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich (BEES),  John Murphy (B&E), Gill Weyman (Cork Nature Network), J.P. Quinn (UCC Visitor’s Centre), Siofra Ni Risteard (UCC Envirosoc)


There is an appreciation amongst staff, students and visitors to UCC of the aesthetic value of the UCC tree collection. This collection, originating in 1849, is maintained by the staff of UCC Buildings and Estates. It is a unique natural resource which is under-utilised and ripe for exploitation as a living laboratory, stretching across the entire campus (42 acres; 2,500 trees, >121 different species; Campus Tree Management Strategy, 2010; UCC Green Campus Website). Trees in the urban environment have a range of benefits including: improving human physical and mental health; increasing biodiversity; sequestering carbon and reducing atmospheric pollution; framing and enhancing historically and culturally important buildings; and encouraging engagement with the natural world by adults and children (Mullaney et al., 2015). This project will establish a knowledge platform based on the existing tree collection. The platform will scientifically underpin and demonstrate the use of the collection for teaching, research and as a visitor attraction for the wider city and region. The campus tree collection was previously mapped (UCC Tree Management Strategy, 2009) and this project will build on this work. The proposed project will add depth to our understanding of the different species on campus. Too often, a degree of ‘plant blindness’ (Wandersee and Schussler, 1999) means that our natural environment, and specifically trees and other plants, are seen as background rather than a key feature in a landscape. Trees are an integral part of what makes the UCC campus so popular with staff, students and visitors and adds significantly to its biodiversity value by creating habitats for birds, mammals, insects, epiphytes and other organisms. However, we don’t always drill down into their scientific, historical and cultural significance. This project will rectify this and put the UCC tree collection on centre stage.

Lead Applicant: Professor Edmond Byrne

Co-Applicants: Dr Claire O’Neill (CUBS), Dr Niall Dunphy (CPPU), Dr Ger Mullally (Sociology), Dr Maria Kirrane (B&E)


This MSc builds on existing UCC transdisciplinary capacity, seeks to chart and understand progress (including opportunities, levers, obstacles, difficulties and problematic areas) on the journey towards a single-use plastics free UCC. The work will contribute to the university’s policy of realising a single-use plastics free campus by 2023. As an action research project based within the ‘living laboratory’ of UCC campus, the MSc will seek to fulfil the following roles and responsibilities;

  • Develop a rigorous academic framework seeking to understand the drivers, barriers and issues around a Green Campus (student) driven initiative for a single-use plastics free campus.
  • Provide initiative and human resource capacity to advocating and oversee this transformation.
  • Opportunity for transdisciplinary action research towards a common goal, involving students, academics, retailers, food service providers, and Buildings and Estates Office and UCC Sustainability Officer engagement.
  • Enhance UCC’s Green Campus credentials through research output; connecting academic goals with broader campus and civic goals, while building on the pioneering work underpinned and driven by UCC Buildings and Estates Office.
  • Help consolidate UCC’s position as a leader among peers in this area, and a thought leader in the local community/society.

Lead Applicant: Dr Wesley O’Brien (School of Education)

Co-Applicants: Dr Fiona Chamber, Mr Conor Philpott, Mr Brian Donovan (School of Education),  Dr Tadhg Nagle (BIS), Sylvia Curran (UCC Staff Wellbeing)


As part of UCC’s Sustainability Strategy, one of the identified key areas for implementation includes Food, Health and Well-being. This proposed project will specifically, as part of key area 8.4, seek to ‘enhance the health and wellbeing of the University and wider community through the facilitation and promotion of healthy eating and living as an integral part of sustainable living.’

In terms of sustainable living, physical activity participation across the lifespan is recognised as a key determinant in the prevention of ill-health. Furthermore, there is now a widely established association between physical inactivity, and the incidence of major health risk factors (obesity, elevated blood pressure, and type II diabetes etc). Aligned with UCC’s Sustainability Strategy, this project will specifically seek to ‘facilitate, and encourage physical activity as a normal component of University everyday life’ (objectives 8.4.2).  

This proposed entitled ‘Activity to Longevity’ (A2L) project will develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a 10-week tailored ‘Physical Literacy’ intervention for UCC’s academic, research, and administrative staff. In terms of sustainable development, this project will target UCC staff through structured, environmentally led physical literacy episodes, specifically for those in pursuit of living a physically active life, with a cost-neutral outcome (for greater health and wellbeing).

The relevance of this ‘A2L’ project is cohesively connected to three of the identified priority actions within the ‘The National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development in Ireland, 2014-2020’, namely the priority actions 2, 4, and 7: ‘Data collection and baseline measurement; Professional development; Promoting participation by young people.’

Overall, the A2L project will seek to gather baseline, and 10-week follow up data on UCC staff’s levels of physical literacy, physical activity, wellbeing, and health. From the baseline data gathered, the research team will develop and evaluate a sustainable physical literacy intervention participation programme for UCC staff.



Lead Applicant: Niall Dunphy (CPPU)

Co-Applicant: Voice Ireland

Partner Organisation: KSG


This project aims to develop and demonstrate a tailored deposit-return scheme for reusable lunch boxes for takeaway food. Working with campus food services and other relevant stakeholders, this project will work to transfer the model of the successful Swiss ReCircle social enterprise (Ferran, 2018) to the UCC campus.

The scheme will introduce purpose-designed reusable boxes that can be used as alternatives to the single use plastic containers or wrap currently provided. Boxes will be subject to a deposit or loyalty card system, with the deposits returned or accounts released on return of the box. This is an approach that has been successfully deployed elsewhere (e.g., Switzerland, Germany) and this project offers a chance to build on previous experiences and deploy a system tailored to the Irish context and the specific needs of UCC.

Reducing plastic waste is a critical issue for Ireland, the largest generator of such waste in Europe producing almost twice the EU average at 61kg per person (Munir, 2018). Takeaway food packaging is not only associated with large quantities of waste plastic, but also inherently results in the contamination of the material – e.g., currently one-third of kerbside recycling bins are contaminated (Thompson, 2018), which reduces the recyclability of the material.

UCC represents an ideal living lab to trial reusable lunchbox system, due to the number and variety of food services on campus, the ability to track and analyse the uptake of such a scheme, and also the relatively closed system of catering and consuming on campus.   The demonstration will be documented in a case study outlining the experiences of designing and implementing the system on campus. This report will detail lessons learned – on both the consumer and service side – that will allow a broader scale roll-out of such services, on the UCC campus and wider afield.

Lead Applicants: Natalie O’Byrne, Suzanne Buckley (UCC International Office)

Partner Organisations: CARL, UCC.

Solving a Real Life Problem:

In today’s world of consumerism and disposable fashion there is a growing waste mountain.  In UCC International Office we witness this first hand annually. Twice yearly visiting international students who stay for just one semester, produce unwarranted waste.   On arrival students purchase duvets, pillows, cosmetics, toiletries, canned food, rain gear, towels, bed linen, stationary, storage boxes, travel books, etc. Given airport security measures and suitcase weight restrictions, after just 15 short weeks of use many items go to landfill, when students return home.   


Inspired by UCC’s commitments to the sustainable agenda, outlined in UCC Sustainability Strategy, Natalie O’ Byrne initiated “Swap Shop”.  The project meets several objectives – reduce waste, reuse, recycle and repurpose not to mention helping students who may be under pressure financially.  


Homebound students were invited to donate unwanted items destined for the rubbish tip, which would be offered to incoming international students in the second semester.     The pilot was highly successful and very well received by both incoming and outgoing international students as well as accommodation providers who are often responsible for disposing of waste.

Partnership with key stakeholders/disciplinary/sectoral boundaries:

This was a collaborative effort, first and foremost amongst staff and students, but also within the wider community of accommodation providers.  Additionally, international students returned to their home universities promising to promote the concept at home, thereby ensuring we had some global reach and influence with our sustainability agenda.  


We will impact on sustainability by upscaling “Swap Shop”, from local UCC International Office, to University wide, community wide and beyond.  In doing so we will deliver on UCC’s sustainability strategy and the HEI’s education for sustainability agenda.

In the long term we believe “Swap Shop” will become self-sustaining through donations, involvement of student societies such as the Green Society and possible accreditation for students through UCC Works Programme.  Any income generated would be reinvested in sustainable projects. E.g. community garden.

Lead Applicant: Barbara Doyle Prestwich, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Partner Organisations: MaREI, Green Towers

Globally and nationally we face many challenges. One major challenge, the main focus of this demonstration project (FTC),  is the production of nutritious food, with a low carbon footprint  for a rapidly expanding population. Urbanisation is on the increase throughout the world. Ireland is no different. The Government’s climate action plan (2021) has committed to halving emissions by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050.   Ireland’s horticultural sector faces an additional emerging crisis with the cessation of peat harvesting. So alternative substrate(s) have to be found to grow horticultural crops.  Other issues that face food production in this country and abroad, include land use/availability, water, energy, chemical fertiliser use (where approx 40 % of nitrous oxide emissions on Irish farms come from chemical nitrogen, which has a knock-on effect on water quality).  So, what are our options?  There is no ONE solution.  However, by tackling the problem on many fronts, we might be just be able to manage the impending crisis. Food waste is another major issue facing us all. Globally, it is estimated that ~ ¼ of food produced is wasted which is thought to contribute to ~ 10 % of global anthropogenic emissions.  The Government’s climate action plan also highlighted food waste as a priority waste stream and is seeking a 50 % reduction.   The focus of this FTC project is on urban farms to address many of the problems identifed above i.e reduced land use, more efficient use of resources including water, non-peat based growing substrates, low food miles, nutritious food, no chemical fertilisers, no run-off affecting water quality.  The ultimate goal of FTC, is to raise awareness of the possibilities of growing nutritious food within the confines of the urban environ where the emphasis is on reimagining food chains for the benefit of all.

Lead Applicant: Eimear Ní Mhaoldomnaigh, School of Microbiology UCC

Partner Organisations: Cork Urban Soil Project, UCC Environmental Society, UCC Community Garden

The Cork Urban Soil Project (CUSP) is a community-based project that models a community-scale circular food system. CUSP demonstrates the circular flows of food, from compost to an urban farm to the table, back to compost in an urban community. The project aims to reduce food waste, educate and inspire, and be a pathfinder project encouraging replication of the model in communities across Ireland and beyond. As part of their ongoing work is the proposed; University College Cork Urban Soil Project, drawing together staff and students from buildings and estates, the community gardens, department of BEES, department of microbiology and the environmental society with the following goals; Ongoing assessment of the quality of compost produced in the Joraform monitoring input combinations : nutrient levels and availability (the aim is to create nutrient rich compost / soil amendment), the Impact of high microbe input (fermented foods) on the microbial load of compost and the plants subsequently grown in that

Lead Applicant: Ruth Ramsay, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Partner Organisations:  School of Applied Psychology, Local Schools.

Global biodiversity loss and climate change have reached unprecedented levels. Engaged citizens have a responsibility to act now to correct this, while also educating future generations about the collective environmental problems that the world faces. University College Cork, with its Green Flag status, sustainability strategy and recognition as an open arboretum, as well as city-centre location, is strategically placed to be a leader in community engagement and environmental education. While community outreach and environmental engagement projects have increased on campus, there is scope to further engage local primary school students and inspire children towards conservation action. The proposed research project is an investigation into using the UCC campus as an outdoor classroom, to educate and inspire local primary school children about conservation. The project will utilise a classic survey-based, repeated measures experimental design to evaluate learning. Additionally, as part of the project, a purposefully designed, hands-on educational intervention, focusing on climate and biodiversity awareness, will be developed for local primary school children. It is anticipated that this project will establish long-term community connections for UCC, further integrating “the gown with the town” and that the research and results found can expanded and built upon in the future. This research will further enhance UCC’s reputation as an engaged community and environmental leader. 

Office of Sustainability and Climate Action

An Oifig um Inbhuanaitheacht agus Gníomhú ar son na hAeráide

G.08 North Wing, Main Quadrangle, University College Cork, Western Road, Cork T12 K8AF,