Get inspired

Examples of living lab projects

Waterloo has been doing living lab projects for nearly 30 years. Below are some recent examples of projects that took place on campus, for some inspiration.

Campus sustainability challenge creative project

ERS 100 students developed their information literacy and critical thinking skills while addressing sustainability challenges. Students designed a sticker that promotes a specific sustainability initiative on campus. Students were encouraged to research, think critically, and communicate effectively while raising awareness about complex social and ecological issues. Below are samples of students' work.

Eco container with green clips surrounding it to indicate re-use.
Image of a mug with a recycling symbol on it. Flowers and insects are coming out the top of the mug and there is a green clip attached to the mug handle.
Native plants with the words renew, rebalance and restore.
Mother goose holding a green leaf in the shape of a gosling.

Restoration in practice

Students wearing chest waders standing beside the sediment mats they built in Laurel Creek

Students from ERS 341 were tasked with tackling several restoration projects, following the Sustainable Land Care Standard, namely: 

  • Biological control vs mechanical control of common buckthorn
  • Building sediment mats to narrow over-widened sections of Laurel Creek and installing live stakes to reduce erosion
  • Developing planting plans to naturalize lawns and dense patches of invasive species across campus

Future ERS 341 students will do maintenance work on existing projects, as well as continuing to restore natural spaces on campus.

Visualizing UW in 2050

Visualization of a seating area surrounding by plants, with an overhead shade structure.

What might campus look like in 2050? University of Waterloo's goal is to have net zero emissions by then. Waterloo's climate action plan, Shift Neutral, lays out a pathway to achieving those emissions reductions: through upgrades to buildings, through electrification of our heating systems, through greater use of active and sustainable transportation, through clean energy production, etc. Green spaces may also look different as we increasingly value naturalized spaces, green roofs, the services provided by trees, and other forms of biodiversity. But how will those things change the look of our campus? PLAN211 was tasked with producing visualizations of a net zero campus in 2050. Groups selected outdoor sites on campus and visualized what the locations could look like when Waterloo's goals for sustainability and climate resilience have been met.

Re-imagining open spaces

Aerial view of proposed project area, including walking paths, public amenity area, a constructed wetland, and space for a community garden.

Natural areas have the potential to provide a variety of ecosystem services such as habitat, carbon sequestration, storm water management, and supporting important biogeochemical processes. Across University of Waterloo, there are many patches of open spaces ranging from natural, semi-natural to landscaped areas. The EcoMap project categorized and mapped all open spaces across campus at a high resolution. Many open spaces identified on campus are patches of grass that provide minimal ecosystem services, while also requiring maintenance by Plant Operations. PLAN405 students were tasked with developing a plan to re-imagine the existing open spaces within University of Waterloo’s South Campus, and determine which areas should be naturalized, while considering the need for leisure, recreation, and limited capacity for maintenance.

Design of urban water systems

Schematic of information recorded in Campus SWM Master Plan for the area around E2, RCH, and CPH.  Grey shaded area is the approximate drainage basin.

The storm water drainage on campus is the result of many different engineering projects built over the last 50+ years. One current problem is evident from the diagram of pipes (in blue), roads and pathways (black), and building footprints (red).  From maintenance hole M198, a single pipe goes below the hallway that connects different wings of DWE.  Overland drainage from this area is not planned for, and rainfall during an intense storm would result in the courtyards filling up like a bathtub and possibly flowing into the buildings. The quality of water leaving during a flood is also of poor quality due to a lack of treatment to remove salts, suspended solids, and other pollutants.  Civil and environmental engineering students taking a course in Urban Water Systems took this as a challenge and tried to find a way to reduce flood hazard and improve water quality. While there was some uncertainty due to old and unclear drawings, the team of Emeline Wang, Madeleine MacIssac-Sun, Dominique Morrison and Denis Tan found that the system would flood in an approximately 1 in 10 year return period storm and proposed a combination of rooftop storage and bioretention cells in the courtyards to fix the flooding issue while also improving water quality and increasing groundwater recharge. Ongoing research at this site is looking at the interaction between stormwater and trees as part of the Residential Scorecard for the Environment and for a project on the micro-scale assessment of Buildings and Floods.

Transportation demand management planning at UWaterloo

bus, electric vehicle, bike

As part of their Integrated Planning Project, Asphalt Transportation Planning Solutions and Signal Consulting Group independently examined the demographic, geographic, and infrastructural factors that affect University of Waterloo employee transportation mode choices. The works identified key geographical areas with high access to sustainable transportation but low uptake, areas that lack access to sustainable transportation choices, as well as major non-infrastructure barriers to choosing transit and active transportation for commuting to and from campus. The reports made recommendations for how to increase sustainable commuting choices based on UWaterloo’s characteristics and best practices from similar institutions (Signal report, Asphalt report). This work will inform UWaterloo’s upcoming Transportation Demand Management plan. 

Deep energy retrofit proposal for campus Court residences

net zero energy model of Courts residence

As part of their engineering capstone, EMBODY consulting examined options for upgrading the exterior walls, windows, foundation and roof of our campus Court residences to achieve a net zero ready building.  If implemented, these measures would ensure that over the course of a year, on-site solar PV energy production could offset the total energy use by the building.  The report included energy modeling, detailed drawings of the upgrade measures, energy and cost-effectiveness analyses. as well as considerations for embodied emissions from materials and climate resiliency.  

Lug-a-mug public service announcement

lug-a-mug promotional poster

Students in the Knowledge Integration program put together public service announcements promoting sustainable food choices available on campus.  Vegan, vegetarian, locally-sourced, fair trade, MSC certified seafood, re-usable containers - there are lots of sustainable choices available.  Food Services is taking their favourites and using these to develop promotional materials for use on our campus. Shown here is just one of many creative and amazing designs.  

Understanding student intercity transportation choices

ION station

Many Waterloo students travel to and from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and their travel choices have environmental and sustainability consequences for our campus and beyondIndeed, commuting is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at the University of Waterloo (reducing emissions is a goal of SDG 13: Climate change) and the systems that support sustainable transportation are an important part of building Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11).  Yan Yu, as part of his Master of Arts on Planning, used surveys to identify the factors that affected whether students chose personal vehicle-based transportation versus bus or train options.  His results showed that bus and train users were more likely to own a Presto transit card, and less likely to have access to a personal vehicle and they were also more likely to live near campus and be infrequent travelers to the GTHA. The idea of a high-speed rail service to Toronto was also popular among students. The recommendations for how to support a shift to more sustainable transportation choices for travel to and from the GTHA include setting up ticket vending machines closer to campus and encouraging more frequent direct bus or train service to the GTHA.   

Campus waste sorting improvement

standardized waste receptacle

The waste signs we use on campus today are tailored from an evidence-based study done by a graduate student of the University of Waterloo (UW).  The University of Waterloo aims to reach a zero-waste campus status by 2035, echoing Sustainable Development Goal No.12. 
Achieving this goal requires the campus community to reduce total waste generation and cross-contamination in recycling streams of waste collected on campus. Therefore, some waste sorting stations with multiple sorting streams were rolled out on the UW campus in the fall of 2019. 
However, the annual waste audit result showed that additional measures were needed to shift user behaviours. 
To tackle this issue, Shirley (Ya-Han) Yang conducted an action-based study, which later became her master’s thesis of Sustainability Management. Following the framework of Community-Based Social Marketing, she adopted a user survey, onsite observation, and waste audits to address the barriers and boost sorting behaviours to correct sorting. She then integrated her expertise and based on the collected data to design and test a set of new user-friendly and intuitive signage. The result is the colourful and very helpful signs now installed on the waste stations placed at different corners on the UW campus. 

A plan for greater stakeholder engagement by the Sustainability Office


A multi-disciplinary student team from the University of Waterloo Faculty of Environment embarked on a course-based project to develop a stakeholder engagement plan for the Sustainability Office. The objective of the plan was to explore how the Sustainability Office may engage with their stakeholders to measure progress on objectives identified by the University's Climate and Energy Action Plan, Shift: Neutral. The plan was developed by mapping primary stakeholders, analyzing initiatives and engagement strategies being implemented by other leading post-secondary institutions, and discussing strategies that the Sustainability Office can utilize to engage their stakeholders moving forward. The recommendations provided were focused on bridging the gap between collaboration and empowerment with internal stakeholders, with the ultimate goal of student-led initiatives driving climate action on the University of Waterloo campus.   

Campus Ecomap project


The Campus EcoMap is a project that outlines polygons delineating natural, semi-natural and landscaped areas on-campus in order to enhance biodiversity data collection and monitoring. The Sustainability Action Fund supported the hiring of three undergraduate students who conducted stakeholder interviews and document analysis to create the initial map. The EcoMap GIS files will serve as the basis for an on-campus biodiversity report and enable wide-scale collection and presentation of ecological data from coursework and other sources. The project is co-led by Shefaza Esmail and Tim Alamenciak