Entrepreneurial solutions to environmental challenges

At Waterloo, we pride ourselves on our determination to take on the world’s biggest problems, and no challenge is more urgent than climate resiliency. As one of the world’s top innovation universities, we can have a positive impact on the planet’s survival.

In fact, our Faculty of Environment was selected to take on a challenging new role as host of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) National Network for Canada, with its launch scheduled for summer 2018. Waterloo will share knowledge, activate research and help solve the interconnected economic, social, and environmental challenges confronting the world.

The SDSN works closely with United Nations agencies, multilateral financing institutions, the private sector, and civil society. In turn, this will open exciting new collaboration opportunities for Waterloo.

With Canada’s largest Faculty of Environment, we are a natural host for the SDSN. Encouraged by a distinctly entrepreneurial culture, Waterloo students, alumni and researchers are widely known for coming up with big ideas, creating products that solve problems and making the world a better place.

We have created an opportunity for Environment students that want to transform their sustainable business and social venture ideas into reality. The Faculty of Environment recently hired an Entrepreneur in Residence, former MDB Insight CEO Brock Dickenson, to guide and mentor students with transformative environmental ideas.

Our Faculty of Environment has joined forces with the entrepreneurial expertise of Velocity, the largest free incubator in the world, to create Velocity Start@Environment, which has its kick-off event tonight (Oct. 25). Environment is also supporting opportunities for students that want to bring green ideas to life by working with partners at St. Paul’s GreenHouse, Accelerator Centre, Communitech and EvolvGREEN.

Of course, no one aspect of climate change has dominated recent news like the catastrophic damage caused by wind and rain from hurricanes. Waterloo’s Blair Feltmate, head of our Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, is working to protect Canadians and their homes from floods. His efforts led to the Home Flood Protection Program and he is working on national standards for designing new flood-resilient communities. 

In another great initiative, graduate student Melanie Goodchild created an Indigenous-led social innovation through the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience. The Turtle Island Institute aims to solve our most wicked social-ecological problems – challenges like food security and climate change – using Indigenous ways of knowing.

People meeting and sharing ideas on chart paper

Turtle Island Institute Wayfinders retreat in Montreal, 2017

Waterloo’s commitment to the environment is interdisciplinary, with two of our Engineering professors receiving 2017 Royal Society of Canada medals for outstanding research achievements.

Keith Hipel is the recipient of the 2017 Miroslaw Romanowski Medal. He is renowned for his pioneering contributions to environmental systems engineering.

Zhongwei Chen is the recipient of the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry. He is also the Canada Research Chair in Advanced Materials for Clean Energy.

In addition to impacting the outside world, Waterloo’s commitment to environmentalism drives our day-to-day work to make our campuses more sustainable. Tomorrow (Oct. 26) our annual Sustainability Report will be released. It documents our successes in making Waterloo more green.

As well, in the coming weeks, look for our Sustainability Strategy from the President’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability with its plan to improve our environmental performance in the years ahead.

At Waterloo, our innovative spirit constantly drives us to answer the global challenges facing our planet.

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