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

United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

What are the UN 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

At CEE, we commit to advancing the University of Waterloo’s Sustainability Strategy. We do so by integrating the SDGs in all areas of the unit. We work to develop talent equipped to help address the global challenges outlined in the SDGs. We do so through our leading-edge research, work-integrated learning initiatives, co-operative education program, and partnerships with employers and industry experts.

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.

CEE is a proud participant of the WACE global challenge program, which won a PIEoneer award in 2022 for helping to advance the SDGs.

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

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 operationalize them. The offering includes an introductory webinar, activity package and an 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.

Employer impact

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

SDG chart showing which SDGs were most impacted during a work term based on the supervisor's perspective
Total count of respondents who selected one or more SDG: 5,701
Total count of organizations: 2,392

Supervisors were asked to select the main SDGs they believe their student impacted during their work term. Multiple SDGs could be selected. The most SDGs selected were SDG 3 good health and well-being, SDG 8 decent work and economic growth, and SDG 9 industry, innovation and infrastructure.

Student impact

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

SDG chart showing which SDGs were most impacted during a work term based on the student's perspective
Total count of respondents who selected one or more SDG: 2,946

Students were asked to select the SDGs they believe they impacted during their work term. Multiple SDGs could be selected. The most SDGs selected were SDG 9 industry, innovation and infrastructure, SDG 10 reduced inequalities, and SDG 15 life on land.


Loopio received the 2022 Employer Impact Award for diversity, equity and inclusion. The remote-first company works to ensure its staff have safe workplaces. Employees from all backgrounds and identities feel respected and valued. Loopio offers resources and opportunities for staff to grow and develop.

Loopio’s inclusion work supports SDG 5 gender equality and SDG 10 reduced inequalities.

Sofiya (Sonya) Romantso

Through the University's Powering Change program, Romantso worked in the Dominican Republic. The experience revealed her passion for international development. She worked as a teaching assistant for the Esperanza Project. In her role, she created STEM-based workshops for children of all ages.

Her work supported SDG 4 quality education and SDG 10 reduced inequalities.


GHD uses top engineering talent from Waterloo to help address environmental challenges. The company is committed to making water, energy and communities sustainable. Employees use technology and engineering to help tackle infrastructure challenges.  

GHD’s work supports SDG 9 industry, innovation and infrastructure and SDG 11 sustainable cities and communities.

Ashley Ferreira

One of Ashley’s co-op work terms was dedicated to working with a team to find solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by finding alternatives for diesel use in remote locations. Based on her work, her employer CanmetEnergy-Ottawa received increased funding for renewable energy programs for remote communities.

Her work supported SDG 7 affordable and clean energy and SDG 13 climate action.

Line divider

Ways to get involved

Student opportunities

  • Register for one of the Centre for Career Development’s SDG workshops through WaterlooWorks.

  • Get involved with Waterloo’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) through SDSN Youth.

 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.