On Earth Day 2022: Reflections on Internationalization and Sustainability

Friday, April 22, 2022

Today on Earth Day, we at Waterloo International celebrate the connections between internationalization and sustainability in higher education generally and more specifically at the University of Waterloo. In honour of Earth Day, we are looking back at past activities from the last year, while also looking forward to the year ahead.

The year past

Motivated in part by the fact that many aspects of the International Strategic Direction and the Strategic Plan at the University of Waterloo prioritize sustainability, Waterloo International undertook a number of activities that aimed to advance sustainability in the work that we do at the University of Waterloo.[1]

Among the many ongoing projects at Waterloo International are two that have been recently completed, and that demonstrate the intersection of internationalization and sustainability in the strategic priorities of the University of Waterloo:

  1. We investigated ‘virtual, hybrid, and in-person delegations’ in discussions with the International Operations Council where the focus was primarily on learning from the experience of the pandemic, specifically the ways in which we aim to engage with universities around the world in more sustainable ways. Motivated by considerations of carbon impact, activity efficiency, cost calculations, and relationship lifecycles, we developed a framework for examining different kinds of contributions (virtual, in-person; live, recorded; data-only) from both ourselves and our visitors when international delegations occur.  We are now operationalizing this framework in our work across the University.
  2. We investigated ‘virtual internationalization’ by utilizing information and communications technologies to advance higher education’s traditional international, intercultural, and global activities. During the past year, we explored ways to advance sustainability by continuing to use the best of our pandemic-era, online learnings going forward. We developed and presented a report on the topic to the International Operations Council. We used the American Council on Education’s Model for Comprehensive Internationalization as a way of organizing over 100 Canadian and global weblinks that we made available in a toolkit for the University of Waterloo community. We also identified two projects from our 2018 Internationalization Fund that continue to serve as valuable resources for those who want to virtually connect classrooms internationally. We also invited the community to continue the conversation with us.

We helped to foreground Waterloo’s sustainability strengths on the global stage in a variety of ways:

  1. In June 2021, we worked with the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE) to secure a session entitled, ‘Practical tools for leaders to better engage with SDGs’, on the program of Going Global 2021 (convened by the British Council).
  2. In September 2021, we worked with the Sustainability Office to deliver a session entitled, ‘Mapping Global Climate Networks’, during the annual conference of the University Global Coalition.
  3. In October 2021, we worked with the Water Institute to deliver a session entitled, ‘Advancing Water Security Through Innovative, International, Interdisciplinary Experiential Learning: A Brazil-Canada Case-study’, as part of the Conference of the Americas on International Education
  4. In October 2021, our Associate Vice-President, International, Prof. Ian Rowlands, gave a presentation entitled, ‘International, Inter-university Collaboration on Global Climate Change’, as part of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom’s series of global webinars on climate action.
  5. In November 2021, we worked with the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change, to highlight Waterloo’s engagement with COP26 (the annual climate change conference)
  6. In February 2022, we worked with the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology to develop an article on the ways in which nanotechnology expertise in higher education can advance the UN SDGs.
  7. Over the past year, we not only published news articles highlighting the above, but we also used our Twitter account to draw attention to the same. Our two tweets associated with the Going Global session noted above, for instance (one before and one after), generated more than 1,000 impressions each.

The year ahead

Sustainability will continue to be a priority in our work going forward, both near-term and longer-term.

Most immediately, we have a number of activities planned:

  1. Today on Earth Day, our colleagues in the University of Waterloo’s Sustainability Office are releasing a report that, among other contributions, highlights the University of Waterloo’s connections with other global universities across the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We will use this as a resource and a guide for our work connecting with global universities going forward.
  2. At the 26 May 2022 meeting of the International Operations Council, Waterloo International and the Sustainability Office, supported by the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change and the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics, will facilitate a discussion on how the University of Waterloo can minimize its greenhouse gas emissions from its members’ air travel (as part of the university’s broader goal of carbon neutrality by 2050).
  3. Additionally at the 26 May 2022 meeting of the International Operations Council,  Waterloo International will offer to all constituencies on the Council options to partner with us to advance shared communication goals.  Drawing upon our sustainability practices and other experiences from 2021 and 2022, we will present three principal means of engaging with others on campus: ‘Amplification’, ‘Collaboration’, and ‘Joint Presentation’. This may be acted upon in order to communicate and promote current and upcoming projects that connect sustainability with internationalization. An associated tool-kit will also be launched at this time.

In the longer-term, we will continue to investigate the ways in which sustainability and internationalization intersect. Be it using the 17 SDGs, the traditional ‘three pillars’ of sustainable development, more-recent sustainability principles, or other methods, we are keen to engage in both thought leadership and successful implementation of issues such as: equitable international partnerships; alternatives to air travel in the internationalization of higher education; advancing equity and inclusion in student participation in international educational activities; reflecting upon a university international office’s standard operating procedures; and more.  Please feel free to reach out to us to discuss further.


[1] The third goal in our ‘Strengthening Sustainable and Diverse Communities’ theme – what we often refer to as ‘C3’ – states: ‘Continue to leverage our resources to engage, develop and build our capacity and infrastructure to create a sustainable and effective institution.’

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