Sustainability Innovation Virtual Lab Launches First Project

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Sustainability Innovation Virtual Lab (SIVL) at The Ohio State University has launched its first project. The project links a business with an Ohio State student with a goal of solving a real-world sustainability business problem. 

SIVL is a joint experiential learning effort by two units in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences: the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) and the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE). Its aim is to connect businesses and students for sustainability problem-solving. The university’s Sustainable and Resilient Economy Discovery Theme is also supporting the program.

Demand for student help ‘the driving force’

Neil Drobny, who leads SIVL, said he gets many requests — more than he can accommodate — from companies and nonprofits seeking student help on sustainability-related projects. 

“This was the driving force behind the creation of SIVL,” said Drobny, who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on sustainable business practices in the university’s Fisher College of Business. He’s affiliated with the Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability (EEDS) undergraduate program at Ohio State, which is offered jointly by SENR and AEDE.

Involves Dublin-based Independent Power USA

The first SIVL project focuses on the sustainability needs of Dublin-based Independent Power USA (IP-USA). The three-year-old organization mainly works in the power generation industry delivering base load renewable cogeneration as an alternative to the fossil fuel industry.

IP-USA is deploying a variety of clean technologies for Ohio manufacturers and service providers, such as universities and health facilities. To enhance its marketing efforts, the company wants to clearly demonstrate that its technology will reduce the carbon footprint of current fossil-fueled furnaces, steam boilers and turbines.

Also involves Canal Winchester’s Resource100

To measure and validate those claims, IP-USA is consulting with Canal Winchester-based Resource100, a nine-year-old sustainability firm that focuses on waste reduction, recycling, and the conversion of waste to products, fuels and energy.

Resource100’s defined project goal is to develop a user-friendly calculator that can compare existing conditions of energy, pollution, and dollar input and output to various IP-USA-owned and -licensed technologies, and that then can display the carbon footprint impact. The calculator will ultimately become a marketing tool used by IP-USA.

‘Fills a void’ for central Ohio businesses

“Ohio State’s SIVL initiative fills a void in central Ohio for talent to work on an ever-expanding set of opportunities for strengthening the sustainable fabric of our community,” said Resource100 President Mike Long.

Assisting Resource100 on the project is Ohio State student Mark Dickerhoof, a second-year student and Eminence Fellow from Akron. Dickerhoof’s job is to apply an Ohio State-developed life cycle assessment model in the real world to find the lowest carbon emissions from a number of possible technology alternatives owned or licensed by IP-USA. 

Boosts student employability

“The opportunity to work on the SIVL project will expand my skill set and my readiness for employment by allowing me to road test ideas and tools I have learned in the classroom,” said Dickerhoof, who is majoring in industrial and systems engineering with a minor in EEDS. 

To ensure that SIVL is built on a foundation of best practices, Drobny said Ohio State will hold a conference on experiential learning in sustainability during which experts from across the U.S. will share their experiences. The conference’s date and location are still to be determined.

For more information on SIVL, including engagement opportunities, contact Drobny at or 614-268-6100.

For more information, contact: 

Neil Drobny