Explore Our Research

Sustainability research at the University of Virginia is vibrant and growing. Faculty and researchers from all schools are involved in research on a myriad of sustainability topics. Many of these efforts bear the hallmarks of sustainability research: interdisciplinary teams, unique partnerships, and projects that turn ideas into action. A handful of these innovative research efforts are showcased below.
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Featured Research: Nitrogen Footprint

U.Va. researchers are studying the effect of personal and institution-level consumption patterns on nitrogen footprints. Nitrogen has emerged as a major environmental problem, and U.Va. is a world leader in the field. Once inert nitrogen (which makes up 78% of the atmosphere) is converted into its reactive form (all other types of nitrogen), a single molecule may contribute to a host of environmental and human health problems.

U.Va. researchers have developed N-Print, a suite of nitrogen footprint calculators, which people and institutions can use to connect their actions to reactive nitrogen losses to the environment. There are currently ten country-specific calculators in progress or completed for the US, Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, China, Tanzania, and more. These models have now been used to calculate U.Va.’s nitrogen footprint and see how it could change in the future. The U.Va. Board of Visitors has adopted the world’s first institutional nitrogen footprint reduction goal, of 25% by 2025. The N-Print project is working to extend this research to other countries, institutions, and to help U.Va. achieve its new nitrogen footprint reduction goal.

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UVA Bay Game

Developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty and student team, the UVA Bay Game is a large-scale agent-based simulation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Players take on the roles of stakeholders, such as farmers, local policy-makers, watermen, and land developers, and to make decisions about their livelihoods and regulatory authority. Through this interaction, players are encouraged to generate innovative solutions for environmental and economic sustainability. The solutions may be applicable to the non-virtual Chesapeake Bay watershed as well. Publicly launched on Earth Day 2009, The UVA Bay Game has been hailed by federal and state agencies, NGOs, and corporate and education leaders as an important breakthrough, “the first of its kind.” It has been used in classes throughout the University – in Architecture, the College of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Law School, and the McIntire School of Commerce – and soon will be shared through a regional university consortium.
University of Virginia researchers are working with Azure Worldwide and the Virginia Department of Education to bring the UVA Bay Game to K-12 teachers and to develop a K-12 version for use in schools in all six watershed states and the District of Columbia.
The UVA Bay Game is also expanding to watersheds beyond the Chesapeake. Researchers are partnering with local catchment managers and university colleagues in Australia to develop a similar game for the Murray-Darling Basin. In September 2010, IBM named the UVA Bay Game as one of three projects (along with one each in Brazil and China) for a new World Community Grid research program that provides massive computing power for the development of techniques to produce cleaner and safer water.

Smart Building Energy Systems

In 2010, an interdisciplinary team of UVA researchers was awarded a four-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop “smart building” energy systems for residential and commercial buildings. The team consists of faculty from the Departments of Computer Science, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Systems Engineering, as well as those from the School of Architecture and Darden School of Business. The research is focused on reducing energy consumption by making building energy systems, particularly buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, more responsive to occupant behavior. Ultimately, the researchers hope to reduce HVAC energy use by 30 percent to 50 percent with a startup cost of less than $500 per home and a return on investment for homeowners within two years. To meet the energy-reduction target, the researchers are developing a wide range of technologies, including wireless sensors, HVAC equipment, building envelope designs, and human-computer interfaces. They will use sensors to monitor electric and water loads, occupant motion in buildings, door and window positions, light, temperature, and humidity. The team is plans to prototype the system in Charlottesville-area homes, a disaster recovery home built through the School of Architecture’s “Initiative reCOVER,” and the Engineering School’s Rice Hall Information Technology Engineering Building.

Jefferson Public CitizenJPC

The Jefferson Public Citizens (JPC) program inspires University of Virginia students to put their learning into action. It offers opportunities for U.Va. undergraduates, in collaboration with faculty and graduate student mentors, to design hands-on research projects that serve the public while advancing students’ understanding of today’s complex world.  Projects span the disciplines, from helping a Nicaraguan town convert garbage to burnable gas to creating a transitional relief shelter for disaster victims to improving water filtration systems in South Africa. For more information see our Web site at


The Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS) is a partnership among academic institutions created to provide data and networking opportunities to facilitate research on corporate sustainability. ARCS  was launched in January 2009 and is housed at the Darden School of Business. The consortium also includes: Dartmouth College, Duke, Harvard, University of Michigan, and University of Western Ontario.

Harrison Awards

The Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards provide funding for students to pursue independent research projects during the summer. While the $3,000 grants can be used for projects of any topic, in the past years several grants have been awarded to students pursuing sustainability-related research projects. Research projects have covered edible rain gardens, regional agriculture support systems, bioremediation to create drinking water, and storage of solar energy. The Harrison Awards can provide valuable support to extend course-initiated sustainability research projects and may serve as a model for programs targeting project implementation.

UVA Ride Forward

RideForward is an interdisciplinary research project at UVA focusing on sustainable transportation. The project’s focus is the conversion of conventional vehicles to electric drive, the installation of solar panel systems to offset the electricity usage of vehicles, the construction of charging stations, and educational awareness initiatives in the community. Converted vehicles are used by the University and local government in place of standard internal combustion vehicles. In February 2010, RideForward installed a 1.2 kW solar panel charging system at the Emmet/Ivy Garage bus shelter. In July 2012, the RideForward team installed a Level 2 electric vehicle charger in the Central Grounds Garage along with an additional solar panel charging system on the roof of the UVA Bookstore.
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