The Wolfson College Living Lab

The Wolfson College Living Lab platforms and supports projects that have an actionable or demonstrable ‘green’ impact to the College estate, its community or its wider network.

Living Lab Projects 2020-2021

 Waste to Art - Santiago Sottil


An interview with Santiago on his project can be read here.

      President Jane Clarke opening the exhibition  Santiago presenting one of his artworks

Exhibition information panel 1. Text copied belowExhibition information panel 2. Text copied belowExhibition information panel 3. Text copied belowExhibition information panel 1. Text copied below

     President Jane Clarke and Dr Stephen Hoath presenting Santiago his Living Lab Award         Santiago and Anna Dempster after Santiago receives his Living Lab Award

A word from Santiago: "Wolfson’s Living Lab has allowed me to follow my passions and contribute to the sustainability of the College, even during the pandemic. I have been very fortunate to meet many Fellows and students involved in art and sustainability through the Living Lab, and its support has been essential in getting the Waste to Art project off the ground. I would absolutely repeat the process and encourage any member of the College to join the Living Lab!"


Transcript of text in images:

You are what you [don’t] eat.

Globally, one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted: over 1.4 billion tonnes of food is lost every year.[1] At the same time, 690 million people go hungry everyday.[2] The global food chain, and wasted food which is part of it, is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, responsible for up to one quarter of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions.[3]. When we waste food, we also waste the resources that go into growing, making, packaging and distributing it. The average UK household throws away some 270 kg of food every year. And yet, most adults do not believe they waste much food at all nor do they think of it is an environmental problem.[4]

Food waste is also a stark measure of inequality. In low-income countries, the vast majority of food waste occurs during production, handling and storage. In developed countries, more than 40% of food is thrown away by the consumer.[1]

What can you do?

In the cafeteria:

  • Don’t take more than you can eat or ask for smaller portions

At home:

  • Check your cupboards/fridge/freezer and make a list before you go shopping
  • Avoid going grocery shopping while hungry
  • Get to know your date labels: use-by is the one that counts
  • Leave the packaging on: fresh food lasts up to 2 weeks longer if stored in its original pack
  • Plan your portions/meals: not cooking more than you need saves food, money, and time
  • Use your leftovers: fruit can be transformed into smoothies; wilted vegetables into soup!

About the Exhibition

The Waste to Art project and exhibition aims to draw attention to the food waste taking place every day; in almost every household or community, big or small. A massive environmental problem, it goes nearly un-noticed. A problem which is by definition ‘thrown away’ – ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

In these works, Santiago Sottil draws on the visual language of 17th Century Dutch still life, with all their trappings of the desirable, exotic and luxurious, but turning the idea on its head.

Each still-life is created using leftovers from the cafeteria, food destined to be discarded, thrown away. Data on how many plates of food are used in each image, and the impact on the environment is carefully recorded and presented in the labels.

The works are carefully presented in the style of Old Masters paintings, gilt and dark wood frames underscore their significance. At first glance, you might think this is just another display of establishment tradition. Yet, in the context of a dynamic modern College, each artwork represents an urgent call to action, a challenge to re-think what we have and what we throw away.

From Henri Matisse’s anthropomorphic chair which, looks like it might just walk away, to Marcel Duchamp notorious urinal or ready- made bottle-rack turned upside down and declared a sculpture, finding beauty in the discarded, unwanted or everyday, is a long- standing pre-occupation for artists. Inspired by leading contemporary artists such as Mat Collishaw, who draws on traditional genres to explore difficult debates like the death penalty, this exhibition also challenges us to look and look again, considering a different perspective, an alternative hypotheses.

In a project that has taken the better part of a remarkable and challenging year, this exhibition also inadvertently tracks the changing season of academic Terms – each with its own distinctive colours, scents and flavours. Each object – borrowed, found or salvaged from College – is made more poignant and meaningful as it represents not only what we have, but what we have been denied. Using the medium and language of art, we ask: – what do we need? what do we waste? and, what do we treasure?

Anna M. Dempster, Cambridge, May 2021

About the Artist

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Santiago Sottil started drawing from a very early age, often exploring themes related to nature, architecture and the environment and inspired by his grandmother – who is an artist.

Increasingly conscious of the devastating economic and social impact of climate change, Santiago became curious about how these new and extreme environmental changes affect the natural world and how they might be explored, explained and communicated in a way that transcends language, borders and cultures.

After 18 years, Santiago swapped sub-tropical climates for the continental summers and very cold winters of Montreal, Quebec, Canada where he completed a Bachelors in Bioresource Engineering at McGill University, also working in sustainability consulting and as an Environment Specialist at Nestlé – where they make more than chocolate.

Santiago came to the UK in September 2020 to pursue an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge, enjoying the support and community of Wolfson College during the remarkable year of 2020-2021.

With a long-standing interest in the way our world can prepare, recover from, or adapt to extreme environmental shocks and increasing uncertainty, his MPhil dissertation explores climate change resilience. At the start of the pandemic he was painting more and more as way to explore the world, even in lockdown.

The Waste to Art project is a direct response to a challenge set by his professors – how to make the invisible visible?

In his free time, he enjoys cycling the trails around Cambridge, gardening, and painting. His parents, and grandmother (who is 94 in 2021) is planning to visit the exhibition in Cambridge this year.

Special Thanks

In a year when the world has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, many amazing people have made this project possible. This exhibition is a testimony to their friendship, support and creativity. A special thanks (in no particular order) to:

Wolfson Sustainability & Conservation Research Hub

  • Charlie Barty King, Richard Fenner, Steve Evans, Rae Scarlet White and Sian Cook for the introduction and ongoing support
  • Dario Illari, Nick Terry & Adam Bridgland and talented team at Jealous Gallery & Print Studio, London
  • Susie and Neville Bidwell @ Framing Talent
  • Karen and Derek Amery @ Brampton Framing
  • Charles Correa, Sam Frost, Darren Smith, and Wolfson’s remarkable Food Services Staff
  • Neil Newman & Wolfson Maintenance ‘All Stars’, Alan and Josh
  • Andrew Fowles & Wolfson’s perfect Porters
  • Wolfson Fine Arts Committee, past and present
  • Oscar Holgate and the amazing Garden’s team, rain or shine
  • Karam Alkatlabe, Michael Villaverde, Charlotte Callaghan

and President Jane Clarke, for believing in this project, start... to finish!


  1. FAO (2011) Global Food Losses and Food Waste.
  2. FAO (2020) The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020.
  3. Ritchie, H. (2019) Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, Our World in Data.
  4. WRAP (2009) Household Waste Prevention Evidence Review: Impact of Household Waste Prevention Interventions and Campaigns.
  5. My Emissions (2021) Food carbon footprint calculator.
  6. Water Footprint
Sustainability and Conservation Hub logo

Wolfson Living Lab Details

All Wolfson Living Lab projects benefit from mentorship and support from the Sustainability & Conservation (S&C) Hub, with approved submissions receiving an honorarium of £50. Additional banded funds of £100, £250 or £500 are available for projects that require specific resources. 

Examples of Living Lab project areas might include (these are as a guide only, compelling ideas welcome!):

  • Humanities through a ‘green’ lens
  • Art eco-projects e.g. Waste to Art
  • Content Creation
  • Sustainable Living
  • Policy
  • Wolfson Utilities Research (heating, lighting, electricity)
  • Recycling and Food
  • Mental health and sustainability
  • Biodiversity and wilding the Wolfson site
  • Technological Solutions
  • Economics and Entrepreneurialism
  • Methods and Demonstration of Outcome and Impact

Submissions are welcome from individuals or groups from any member of Wolfson College past or present. Students are particularly encouraged to apply and can be linked to academic study if desired. Non-Wolfson affiliated individuals may apply as part of a group where at least one Wolfson member is leading or co-leading the project.  

All submissions must be made in consultation with the S&C Hub, with final approval from the College’s Domestic Bursar.

Fill out the submission form and email it to to arrange a meeting, or contact us to discuss an idea.


Wolfson College Living Lab Award

The Wolfson College Living Lab Award is a mark of excellence that recognises the training and outcomes of a Living Lab project.

Awards are made on successful completion of a project. Criteria for completion will be decided on a case-by-case basis in discussion with the Sustainability & Conservation Hub. Examples of completion might be being accepted and presenting at the annual Wolfson Research Event, hosting an exhibition or formal closure event, completing a piece of academic work using your Living Lab project, or producing a non-academic project report for the Sustainability & Conservation Hub that details the work, outcomes or recommendations. 

Where completion criteria is not met, or changes made in agreement with the S&C Hub, a Wolfson College Living Lab Award can still be received. In these cases, Awards will be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

All projects will be asked to fill out a S&C Stories submission on completion of the project to disseminate the work, outcomes and impacts. All S&C Stories are record into the Sustainability & Conservation Hub Collection of the Wolfson Library. This is so we can fully celebrate a projects achievements, with it acknowledged into the Wolfson collective memory for years to come! 



An initial fund of £3600 is available for all Living Lab Awards collectively. 

The Living Lab Awards are made possible by a donation from the Hoath family “to stimulate the early development of Wolfson College’s Interdisciplinary Research Hub in Sustainability and Conservation; to encourage students, alumni and members to be involved in the Hub’s activities.” Read an interview with Dr. Steve Hoath here.

If you would like to support the Living Lab and the S&C Hub's activities, you can make a donation through Wolfson's Annual Giving page - choose "Other" in Designation and type "S&C Hub Fund".

Alternatively, you can discuss your gift with Sian, our Development Director:

Donations of every size, together, make a huge difference. All S&C Hub activities, costs and awards are funded through generous philanthropy.

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