A view of greenery on University of Waterloo campus in the fall

CEE's commitment to sustainability

At CEE, we commit to advancing the University of Waterloo’s Sustainability Strategy. We do so through the development and implementation of the Sustainability Impact Framework.

We work to develop talent that is equipped to help address the global challenges outlined in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals [UN SDGs]. We do so through our leading-edge research, work-integrated learning initiatives, co-operative education program, and partnerships with employers and industry experts. We focus on preparing students to be global citizens who advocate for sustainable futures and help to operationalize those futures.

Waterloo at 100, a long-term visioning exercise, integrates the SDGs in all five of the Futures Framework. The frameworks propose actions Waterloo can take to create a better world. For us at CEE, that means integrating the SDGs with the concept of purpose. We focus on preparing students to be global citizens who advocate for sustainable futures and help to operationalize those futures.

back to top

Educational institutions and students all play a vital role in taking on global challenges and ensuring a sustainable future. It is imperative that we leverage our co-operative and experiential education programs to understand how we can further engage our students to work towards advancing the SDGs.

Dr. Norah McRae, Associate Provost,
Co-operative and Experiential Education, University of Waterloo

Line divider

Sustainability Impact Framework

The Sustainability Impact Framework (SIF) aims to develop talent through work-integrated learning (WIL) and co-op experiences that is well-equipped to address global challenges.

Sustainability Impact Framework

The aims of the SIF include building sustainability awareness and increasing sustainability literacy, engagement with sustainability actions, and measurement of impact of this engagement. Currently, sustainability is viewed from the perspective of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The desire is to achieve the following through the SIF:

  • Connecting sustainability-related knowledge and skills to industry needs
  • Pathways for students to make value-added impact at their employing organizations
  • Enhancing the value of co-op / WIL beyond the traditional measures of employability and employer gains
  • Engaging with the campus community

These aims and achievements are actioned by participation in the SDGs at Work activity.

gold divider line

What are the SDGs?

The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. The SDGs are an urgent call for action by all countries to partner towards “ending poverty and other deprivations hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests” by 2030.

The 17 SDGs recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability. They are goals created on a global scale for all societies to work towards fostering innovation through technology, creativity and financial resources to achieve the SDGs. At the University of Waterloo, and in Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE), we have a responsibility to advance and prioritize the SDGs as the incubator for the next generation of professionals and leaders.  

United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals logo
Line divider

Employer and student impact

Perceived impact on the SDGs

CEE offers a voluntary SDGs at Work activity to students and supervisors. The activity supports learning more about the SDGs and how to engage with them. The offering includes an introductory webinar, activity package and experience debrief to wrap up the activity. Students and supervisors who participate gain a deeper understanding of the SDGs while forming a strong working relationship. At the end of the experience students and supervisors are asked an optional question about which SDG did the student’s work advance.

Employer impact

Table 1. Employer SDG Responses from Student Performance Evaluations (Spring and Fall 2023)

Bar chart showing which UN Sustainable Development Goals employers believe they have impacted
Total count of respondents who selected one or more SDG: 15,900
Total count of organizations: ~3,100

Supervisors were asked to select the main SDGs they believe their student impacted during their work term. Multiple SDGs could be selected.

Student impact

Table 2. Student SDG responses from Work Term Recap form (Spring and Fall 2023)

Bar graph showing how many students believe they made an impact on each UN SDG during their work term.
Total count of respondents who selected one or more SDG: 8,100+

Students were asked to select the SDGs they believe they impacted during their work term. Multiple SDGs could be selected.

Ripple Therapeutics

Ripple Therapeutics works to improve the treatment of diseases or conditions of the eye through ophthalmic therapeutics. The company’s work prioritizes the well-being of patients by creating and implementing groundbreaking technologies. Students support the company in research and development scientist roles.

Ripple Therapeutics’s work supports SDG 5 gender equality and SDG 10 reduced inequalities.

Putri Cullinane

Cullinane worked with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Boundary Water Issues unit as a water research assistant. She investigated the socio-economic and environmental impacts of beach closures. Cullinane's work also focused on the extreme water levels in the Great Lakes. During her work term, she found her passion for water research and hopes to pursue a career in the field.

Cullinane's work supports SDG 13 climate action and SDG 11 life below water.

ICON Talent Partners

ICON Talent Partners supports Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) talent. The non-profit organization helps young professionals and mid-career students. Their work focuses on building skills around job searches and career development.

ICON Talent Partners' work supports SDG 4 quality education and SDG 8 decent work and economic growth.

Aryaman Chaturani

Chaturani worked for an Indian non-profit, Avani Kuamon. Avani aims to improve the livelihoods of people in rural communities in India. Chaturani helped to develop on-site power plants distributing energy generated by harvesting pine needles. The pine needles fall during shedding months. While in India, Chaturani also gave back to the community by helping to organize local events and teach elementary school kids.

Chaturani's work supported SDG 7 affordable and clean energy and SDG 12 responsible consumption and production.

Line divider

Ways to get involved

Student opportunities

 Employer opportunities

Staff and faculty opportunities

This was a chance to exchange knowledge and skills both ways. I directed a weekly class where the children learned about musical instruments such as the piano and guitar. Community living gave me the opportunity to bond with many of the locals and full-time staff and gave me a unique insight into their culture, language, and way of living.

Line divider

What's new

Work-integrated learning (WIL) and economic recovery were key themes at the recent (World Association of Co-operative Education (WACE) Conference in Waterloo. A panel of employers shared insights about the potential impact that future-ready talent, like co-op students, can have on the economy. Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), Manulife and Deloitte shared their experiences with WIL and how it can help contribute to economic recovery. The University of Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) unit hosted the conference on June 28-30, 2023.

Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) unit has once again displayed innovation in sustainability with another award-winning project. CEE’s focus on sustainability through international work terms has earned the unit the Sustainability Education Award - Silver at Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Reimagine Education Conference and Awards.

Associate Provost, Co-operative and Experiential Education, Dr. Norah McRae (she/her) and Director of International Strategic Initiatives, Shabnam Ivković were awarded best paper at WACE’s 4th International Research Symposium on Cooperative and Work-Integrated Education in September, 2022.

New study finds that 13 per cent of students in the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment carried out work related to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Waterloo created a pilot program to help increase both co-op student and employer awareness of SDGs.

There is growing focus on graduating global citizens who can advocate for and operationalize sustainable futures. In this paper, researchers conducted a pilot study to classify a sample of international internships in terms of their impact on one or more of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.