By 2020, celebrate sustainability research as a core thematic strength of Waterloo’s reputation and identity
Progress: Somewhat complete
Description: Waterloo continues efforts to strengthen identification of sustainability research as a foundational step to help better communicate the wide breadth of researchers who are conducting related research, whether from a technical, natural sciences, or human systems perspective.
Actions and accomplishments
- Office of Research hired a co-op student to further compile information on research strengths, outputs, and funding related to sustainability.
- The 2018 Global Impact Report prominently featured research on climate change adaptation and resilience.
By 2025, become a world leader for research excellence in 5 sustainability related themes
Progress: Somewhat complete
Description: Waterloo has a wide breadth and depth of sustainability-related research across all six faculties. Key focus areas and clusters of research exist on water, energy, climate change, and various aspects of sustainable transportation.
While global benchmarking on specific themes (instead of disciplines) is still maturing, some early indexes are placing Waterloo quite highly.
Further data collection on bibliometrics and funding is underway, and will help Waterloo benchmark its research inputs and outputs related to sustainability.
Research related to environmental themes
Research advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals
Actions and accomplishments
- Waterloo’s Office of Research began developing a report on more detailed bibliometric data across a number of sustainability issue areas and themes
- Waterloo’s Sustainability Office worked with the Office of Research to help analyse faculty research using the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Information was gathered from a scan of public research descriptions listed on each department’s website. It was attempted to search for keywords or concepts focused on environmental sustainability or research that addressed a particular environmental sustainability thematic areas, such as biodiversity, climate change, and energy. Some faculty had research spanning a number of thematic areas and using multiple approaches, so the categories are not mutually exclusive. For 2017 data, the Office of Research also scanned through relevant research institute profiles and uncovered applications of research that had not been immediately apparent from their departmental profile.
In this report, faculty members were also identified based on whether their research interests mapped onto the global UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to more holistically outline how faculty research was contributing towards a sustainable society. Because the goals themselves are quite broad, efforts were made to ensure that research focus areas were linked specifically to the 169 targets and over 240 indicators within the SDGs to see where there was significant activity. This methodology was repeated for the 2018 SDG assessment.
Limitations and Exclusions:
- The scan only included permanent faculty, and did not include Adjunct faculty or Lecturers.
- The scan did not include Masters or PhD research.
- In some cases, faculty members did not have a link to their research areas, making it impossible to identify whether research was related to environmental sustainability.
- In several cases, there was difficulty distinguishing research that had multiple applications. In such cases, the faculty member was included if their profile specifically referenced applications to environmental sustainability or sustainability thematic areas, or that application was included within their affiliated research as part of a centre or institute. It is possible that some research was excluded because this reference was not made explicit, and there was insufficient disciplinary knowledge to make an implicit connection.
- Terminology varied considerably across disciplines. It is possible that research topics were included or excluded from misinterpretation of language.
By 2025, establish Waterloo as a “go-to” hub for knowledge and expertise on sustainability challenges
Progress: Mostly completed
Description: Waterloo mobilizes its sustainability research expertise far beyond the academy. Forthcoming reports will identify the various sustainability-related partnerships and efforts. Waterloo gained significant momentum on this objective in early 2018 with the launch of SDSN Canada, hosted within the Faculty of Environment. This will strongly position Waterloo as a Canadian hub of expertise and catalyze further partnerships and research on sustainable development priorities within Canada and internationally.
Waterloo placed very prominently nationally and internationally on the THE Global Impact ranking in 2020. This reflects a combination of traditional research, but also community partnership, knowledge mobilization, and campus stewardship.
Actions and accomplishments
- Waterloo launched and agreed to co-host the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Canada, a national collaboration of academic institutions supporting Canada’s advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals
- Dr. Blair Feltmate, from the School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development, was named as chair of the Government of Canada’s expert panel on adapting to climate change
By 2018, implement 3 new sustainability-related projects annually on campus using faculty and student expertise; by 2025, implement at least 8 new projects annually
Progress: Started (2025 objective)
Completed (2018 objective)
Waterloo has engaged multiple student project teams in hands-on and real-world projects using campus data and challenges. To scale up efforts, the Sustainability Office will be establishing a platform to identify ongoing collaboration opportunities between academic and operational groups on campus, in order to assist in co-creation of impactful projects.
Actions and Accomplishments
- Multiple interviews with undergraduate student groups to integrate sustainability within course assignments and reports, as well as masters and PhD research projects
- With support through the Sustainability Action Fund, faculty members and graduate students partnered to install new technology for temporary submetering to better understand energy consumption of several campus buildings
- A student project team in ARTS 490 – The Future of Nature used the campus as an imagination tool for how to integrate nature into buildings and infrastructure. The team developed mockups of campus spaces and facilitated discussion.
- When the David Johnston R&T Park started thinking about a new vision and master plan, they turned to the most innovative place they could think of – our own University. The Park engaged 12 student teams across 3 courses in the School of Planning for an intensive 3 month dive into everything from infrastructure to biodiversity, and are looking ahead to bring the best of their ideas to life.
- An Environment master’s student developed new waste sorting signs and piloted them at 9 receptacles on campus to evaluate their effectiveness at improving recycling and reducing contamination, and conducted before/after audits
- An Engineering student group conducted a study and design proposal for Plant Operations on how to reduce the energy costs of the Environment 1 building without negatively impacting the user experience
- An Environment student group conducted a plug load audit of Environment 1, 2, and 3 to evaluate energy draw from appliances and equipment, as well as opportunities to encourage energy efficient behaviours
- The Sustainability Office designed a preliminary framework to identify and match project and collaboration opportunities
- A student team from the Environment and Business 402 capstone course completed an 8 month project to analyse Waterloo’s travel survey data and evaluate infrastructure availability to support walking, cycling, and transit to campus
- Three teams of students from the Geography 452 course collected data and provided analysis on campus sustainability challenges, including clothing waste/reuse, benchmarking faculty and staff air travel emissions, and creating a plug load inventory for Environment 1
- Many classes use Waterloo’s natural assets as a teaching tool for species surveys, water and soil quality sampling, invasive species monitoring and remediation, and more. The Sustainability Office has started conversations on drawing the outcomes of these projects into a larger ongoing campus biodiversity/ecosystem assessment project