Our future must be built on a mindset of sustainability. Every decision we make from the vehicles we purchase, the courses we teach and the food we source should be put through a sustainability lens.

There is no doubt that our daily actions and future plans have been altered due to this global pandemic, but at the same time, the effects of climate change have not gone anywhere. Our need and determination to build a sustainable University and to be an influence for positive change outside of our campus remain extremely important. As the home to Canada’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, we take this responsibility very seriously and it echoes into our overall sustainability efforts.

Environmental Sustainability Strategy

The University of Waterloo is tackling its sustainability efforts as it tackles all complex challenges: holistically. In our time of COVID-19 we have the chance to build back better and in 2017, Waterloo laid an environmental sustainability strategy that is already doing just that. As a global university, the Waterloo community has a significant amount of influence to drive change itself and inspire others. This is why Waterloo’s strategy is centred around four key areas:

  • Academics and Research
  • Operations
  • Engagement
  • Governance

We have extraordinary students and researchers on campus and an important part of our sustainability efforts focus on educating and empowering both groups. This includes the expansion of sustainability-related courses on campus to more than 500 and increasing the number of researchers working to advance the global Sustainable Development Goals to 482. The scope of these efforts will create widespread and lasting impacts on our community and society.

Our own university operations are also put under the microscope from the energy we use, the waste we are able to divert from the landfill, where we source our food from, how our community travels to and from campus, and more. It all makes a difference to track and improve.

Waterloo also has a passionate community of students, faculty and staff who can all aid in our sustainability efforts. We endeavour to engage with our community through ongoing projects and programs, such as the Green Office initiative, annual Eco Summit and Green Residence Ambassadors. Sustainability is strengthened by the many making community engagement essential.

As a large university, we also must ensure we have governance in place to ensure our efforts move beyond this year and this decade and are ingrained in our institutional fabric by implementing internal and external policies, memberships and commitments.

Making carbon neutrality a priority

One of those significant commitments is the University’s Shift: Neutral climate action plan, which has also added important details on how the University will become a carbon neutral campus by 2050.

There is no one single solution that will bring the University of Waterloo to carbon neutrality on its own, just as there is no single way to tackle the climate crisis. Creating a truly carbon neutral campus will set an example that we believe can and should be replicated by our students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners and the broader community.

The global public health crisis has demonstrated that profound change is possible when circumstances demand it. As we continue to navigate through this time of uncertainty due to COVID-19, it is an opportunity to take the important steps needed to build a more sustainable pathway than we have walked before and build back better.