The Institute coordinates and promotes various on-going sustainability projects on campus. You can learn more about them by clicking the links on the left.

Campus Food Garden and Compost Program

volunteers in garden

About the Garden

The CSUN food garden was established to educate students about sustainable food gardening techniques and healthy food choices, to promote direct community involvement and provide service-learning opportunities. A food garden working group was started in July 2009. The group met with campus leaders and students to develop the CSUN food garden. The garden is currently managed by Dr. Mario Giraldo. A student assistant helps to maintain the garden with dedicated volunteer students. With over 400 square feet of raised beds, more than a dozen fruit trees, and low-water irrigation, all built and planted by student, faculty, and staff volunteers the garden has grown tremendously and continues to thrive. 

Location: The garden and compost area are located on the North East side of the California State University, Northridge campus between the baseball and softball fields and directly behind Northridge Academy High School. Click to view a map of the campus.

Get Involved!

Join the Organics Working Group. For more information, visit the Working Groups page (under Organics).

If you teach a course related to sustainability or want to bring your class outdoors to learn more about organic food and gardening, please contact us at (818) 677-7710 or to find out how to bring your class to the garden!

Students can complete service learning hours with the Institute for Sustainability. Working in the garden is one of the activities students will be engaged in. Find out more on our Service Learning page.

View the Institute for Sustainability Moodle Page for:

  • Hours when someone is working in the garden area
  • Garden workday schedule
  • Volunteer opportunities and sustainability related events and activities


In 2013-14, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) approached CSUN with a proposal for a partnership between the University and a LACI company, Ecoponex Systems, LLC to site and develop a sustainable urban food production system or Renewable Energy Efficient Farm (REEF). A feasibility study to study this proposal was supported by the Office of the Provost and carried out by a team of CSUN faculty, principals at Ecoponex, and two contracted entities under the management of the Institute for Sustainability.

Ecoponex designed a sustainable closed-loop food and energy production system which connects the technologies of bio-digestion, aquaculture, hydroponics and solar energy to grow organic vegetables, fruits and herbs, raise fish, and cultivate algae in an indoor facility designed for an urban setting. If successful, this revolutionary highly-controlled agricultural production system could be a model of the farming of the future. It is important to note that, although each of these technologies is well-proven individually, no facility yet exists in which these technologies have been successfully integrated together such that the inputs and outputs from each are balanced in a self-sustaining system requiring only green waste and sunlight as inputs and generating no waste output, whilst producing a high volume of fresh produce. This is the ambitious goal of the Ecoponex REEF facility.

The CSUN team, led by Dr. Helen Cox, assessed several components of the Ecoponex system, and participated in research and modelling studies in key areas. Where resources were unavailable at CSUN, external parties were subcontracted to complete parts of the study, including the conceptual architectural design, building energy modelling, financial analyses and implementation strategies.

Based on the research conducted, the CSUN team is highly supportive of the ambitious goals of this project and believes that it is feasible to design, develop and build such a facility. Sustainable closed-loop food production systems such as the one proposed here are the way of the future for farming, particularly in a world of limited resources. This facility is an ideal model for meeting the needs of urban populations in a sustainable manner. The CSUN team believes that although this project has strong potential it is not yet ready for development based on the data and information provided. There are many outstanding challenges in terms of the integration of technologies, including most importantly, the balancing of all chemical, pH, mass and energy flows between individual components. It is not clear how or whether these have been addressed. In addition, the modelling studies conducted are focused on solving engineering problems. It is not clear that the farming issues themselves, such as the maintenance of a healthy fish stock and the prevention of fish egg escape, have been addressed. It is recommended that, if they have not already done so, the Ecoponex team research existing integrated aquaculture and hydroponics facilities that are permitted in the U.S. to learn about potential challenges that lie therein.

The economics of the project look very promising. However, a lack of sensitivity analyses of financial projections on the underlying assumptions should be performed/presented in order for risk to be assessed.

Once such challenges have been successfully addressed, we recommend that pilot or scaled integrated models be constructed to test out the integration strategies. We also recommend that the team investigate the possibility of partnering with an existing aquaculture and hydroponics farm to explore and test the integration of their technologies one at a time. Siting and full-scale development should be postponed until such testing proves conclusive, at which time, CSUN or elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley or Los Angeles basin would present an ideal site location.

Read the full report

Ecoponex team:

Benjamin Brant, President/CEO, Ecoponex Systems LLC

Tim Biehler, Executive VP Business Development, Ecoponex Systems LLC

Richard Story, Chief Financial Officer, Ecoponex Systems LLC


Gary B. Bailey, AIA, Innovative Design

Bae-Won Koh, AIA, Innovative Design

Tim Arick, Community Capital Solutions

CSUN team:

Rais Ahmad, PhD., P.E., Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering & Construction Management

Chhandak Basu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology

Helen Cox, PhD, Director, Institute for Sustainability, Professor, Geography

Vibhav Durgesh, PhD, Assistant Professor, Research fellow, Department of Mechanical Engineering

S. Jimmy Gandhi, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Manufacturing Systems Engineering &  Management, Director, Ernie Schaffer Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Yann Schrodi, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Erica Wohldmann, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

Dev Vrat, AICP, Lecturer, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Sustainable Office Program

Program Overview

At the request of the Provost, the CSUN Sustainable Office Program (SOP) was created in the 2011/12 academic year and piloted during the 2012/13 academic year. The Program is designed to engage students, staff and faculty in implementing sustainable practices in their workspaces. The program provides a method to gauge how sustainable a particular office is and focuses on actions that individuals can practice rather than infrastructure changes, like building retrofits, that individuals have no control over. By making a few simple changes, you can reduce your office’s environmental footprint, help the university save money, and meet campus sustainability goals. To participate in the SOP or to learn more, review the program information and contact the Institute with any questions at

Why Should I Participate?

Faculty and staff are highly encouraged to participate because this program serves as an important educational tool and the actions taken by each individual office will create large-scale changes overall. This is especially true in an area like office purchases, where general supplies and IT equipment add up to large amounts at the university-scale. Over time, our departments can become more sustainable and serve as an example for other institutions.

Your participation in the program also provides valuable service-learning opportunities for students who will be conducting the program.

Department staff are encouraged to participate on behalf of their department offices.  Assessments of the office as a whole will be made so we encourage you to identify at least two people in the office who are willing.

Individual faculty are also encouraged to participate.  The individual office assessment is shorter than that of department offices.

Get free stuff! Just for participating in the program, faculty and each staff member in a department will receive a reusable mug, water bottle, or canvas bag.

How It Works

The program consists of:

  1. An educational program that will provide information to CSUN employees about best practices in sustainability
  2. A visit to department and faculty offices by trained students, who will talk to designated staff about the program and about the kinds of sustainable practices that are encouraged in the workplace.
  3. An assessment of existing practices in the office by the students using the SOP Checklist. This will include conversations between the students and the staff to understand how and why current practices exist.
  4. The preparation, by students, of a report on current practices, campus resources, and any recommendations for changes.

Checklist Categories

1. Waste Minimization and Purchasing

2. Energy Use and Carbon Emissions

3. Water Conservation

4. Environmental Quality

5. Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Within each category, you will be asked questions regarding your office practices. We recommend that the department provide one contact person to serve as the program representative. Through your participation you will learn how to make your office more sustainable, and provide us feedback that will enable Facilities personnel to make your office and the campus more sustainable.

There are two SOP checklists. One is designed for use by department offices. The other is for individual faculty offices. You can preview the checklists via these links:

Department Checklist

Faculty Checklist

If you would like a student sustainability ambassador to perform an assessment of your office, please email

For help in finding campus resources that will improve your office sustainability score please visit our Resources page.

To participate in the SOP or to learn more, review the program information and contact Associated Students with questions at:

Sustainability Knowledge Assessment

Background and Purpose of the Study

Colleges and universities across the globe are increasingly focusing their efforts on campus sustainability and related educational curricula. In conjunction with the Institute for Sustainability and the university sustainability curriculum committee, California State University, Northridge has made steps in recent years to improve the sustainability-related course offerings available to undergraduate students. In particular, a minor in Sustainability was added in 2011 and a GE path in sustainability was added in 2012, which offer courses intended to bolster the sustainability understanding of students.

This study will assess the effectiveness of the Sustainability GE path and Sustainability minor by administering questionnaires to students. In particular, we plan to conduct a longitudinal assessment by administering a sustainability questionnaire to students at the beginning and end of semesters in which they take a SUST-designated course and annually to students enrolled in the GE Sustainability path while they are in the program.

Additionally, we plan to conduct a latitudinal assessment of the general student body by administering the same questionnaire to a representative sample of the student body. This will allow us to assess general sustainability knowledge among students at CSUN and the effectiveness of the sustainability curricula at increasing that knowledge. The questionnaire consists of 17 questions developed by The Ohio State University’s Environmental and Social Sustainability Lab, which have been analyzed through Item Response Theory, together with 8 questions generated by CSUN faculty.

The survey takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. If you are a faculty member teaching a class which you would be willing to volunteer for this assessment, please contact Kristy Michaud. We appreciate your assistance with this project.

Student Consent Form.pdf
Human Subject Approval.pdf

Tree Walks and Mapping

In 2009, the Institute for Sustainability initiated an extensive project: to quantify the carbon footprint of the CSUN campus. Part of the project included the mapping and identification of close to 4,000 trees in order to calculate their environmental benefits, which include offsetting carbon emissions in our atmosphere.

The tree mapping project, published as the CSUN Plant Atlas, was actually started in 1989 by Robert Gohstand, geography professor, but had not been updated since its inception. The passage of 20 years, and the destruction caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake and resulting major campus construction, prompted the Institute to update the atlas and make it available to CSUN students and the local community. To download the Map, click Campus Tree Map (Caution Large File).

If you would like to spend more time among these giant natural carbon sequesters, and do good at the same time, then consider volunteering with TreePeople, a local non-profit. Volunteer opportunities range from taking care of tree saplings in the nursery to helping low-income communities plant fruit trees, or consider becoming a leader on some of TreePeople’s many projects. You will learn about tree care, water conservation, and the numerous benefits of planting more trees.