Sustainability Guide


How to live, work, and study sustainably at Waterloo

The Sustainability Guide provides practical tips and resources to live, work, and study sustainably at Waterloo. These tips and resources are organized under four key considerations to help guide more sustainable choices.

Our impacts can vary a lot based on many factors. To get started, tools like Project Neutral or Footprint Calculator can help you identify your largest impacts, which can help you prioritize which of the following actions below may be most important to take. It’s important to remember, though, that individual action is only part of the solution. We can also make an incredible difference by contributing to, and advocating for, collective efforts that will help us shift to a more sustainable future.

We all have a role to play in building a more sustainable campus, and we hope you'll join our efforts.

Clean energy + efficiency

Energy use is a leading cause of carbon pollution. While it's hard to see, we consume energy all around us – heating and cooling our spaces, running appliances and electronics, powering our vehicles, and more. Reducing wasted energy, using energy more efficiently, and prioritizing cleaner sources of energy are all important steps that can save money while also reducing carbon emissions and other negative environmental impacts.

  • Drive less. Group trips together and carpool whenever possible. Eliminate trips altogether with virtual meetings when appropriate.
  • Try active transportation. Bike, walk, skateboard, or rollerblade. Try incorporating active commuting into your schedule, even occasionally, for a boost in health and wellbeing.
  • Choose public transit. Take advantage of buses, light rail, trains, and subways. Students have unlimited access to the ION and GRT busses with their UPass, while employees have access to a discounted monthly or day-pass rate.
  • Electrify everything: Choose heat pumps, induction stoves, and electric yard equipment over gas options.
  • Adjust your thermostat: Cool less in the summer, heat less in the winter. Windows and blinds can be used to regulate temperature too.
  • Unplug and power down: Plugged-in devices still use power when not in use. Unplug devices or use a smart power bar to reduce unnecessary energy use.
  • Do laundry sustainably: Wash your clothes in cold water and air dry instead of using a dryer. Worried about wrinkles? Ten minutes in the dryer should do the trick.
  • Charge overnight or off-peak: Use power during off-peak times and/or overnight; electricity is cheaper and sourced from renewables during these times.
  • Take shorter showers: It uses a lot of energy to make hot water, so keeping a shower to five minutes is a simple way to save energy.
  • Prioritize efficiency: Look for efficient options, like ENERGYSTAR certified appliances. Switch to LED lighting instead of incandescent lightbulbs.
  • Invest in insulation: Insulating attics, basements, and walls reduces the need for heating and cooling. Seal up drafty doors and windows. 
  • Explore electric or hybrid vehicle options. When looking to purchase a new vehicle, electric and hybrid vehicles are great alternatives to reduce your impact and long-term operating costs. For traditional fuel or diesel-powered vehicles, pay close attention to the fuel economy rating.
  • Drive efficiently. Rapid acceleration and braking consume most of your car’s energy, so accelerate smoothly. If your car has been idle for more than 10 seconds, turn off your engine.


Our ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy results in significant waste and pollution. Single-use products and materials are a particular problem, as only a fraction is recycled. Shifting to a more circular economy that consumes much less, prioritizes reusable and repairable products, repurposes items no longer in need, and recycles as a last resort can use considerably fewer resources.  

  • Buy less. Before buying new, wait a few days to see if you really want or need it. Remember, the most sustainable items are the ones you already have! Then consider whether you can borrow or rent first.
  • Reduce food waste. Make a list and buy only what you need. Learn how to store food properly and cook with scraps to prevent waste, and freeze or share leftovers.
  • Avoid flying. If necessary, choose direct and shorter flights.
  • Choose timeless and durable. Prioritize products that are durable and reusable over single-use, disposable options. Invest in timeless, quality pieces.  
  • Carry reusables. Carry a reusable bag, water bottle, mug, container and/or cutlery to avoid waste when dining out.
  • Repair and repurpose. Find creative ways to extend the life of items by repairing and mending them, or repurposing them into something new, instead of throwing them away.
  • Buy secondhand. When you need to buy something, check out campus and community secondhand options, Facebook Marketplace, or other local buy/sell or free groups. Donate items you no longer need.
  • Buy conscientiously. Look for third-party eco-labels, local, and ethically made products.
  • Be mindful of swag. Choose options such as experiences, consumables, or items that are useful. Avoid items that are branded (e.g. event name or year).
  • Print less. Opt for digital materials and communications. If necessary, print double-sided.
  • Recycle properly. Recycle or compost what you cannot reuse or repurpose as a last resort. Make sure to closely follow recycling guidelines so you do not contaminate the recycling and compost bins. Remember – sorting guidelines can change depending on where you are.


Overconsumption, pollution, and habitat loss are all contributing to significant biodiversity declines around the world. From green spaces to food choices, protection and restoration are vital components in maintaining a thriving and balanced Earth.

  • Eat more plant-based. Meat has a disproportionately negative impact on the environment, especially red meats. Add more plant-based meals to reduce carbon pollution, waste use, and damage to ecosystems.
  • Choose local and certified foods. Eat what is in season and try to buy directly from farmers when possible. Choose eco-certified options, such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, or Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), when possible.
  • Get outside and reconnect with nature. Spend more time outside. Study, host meetings and events, or simply eat your lunch outdoors when possible.
  • Bring the outside in. Bring plants into your dorm room, office space, or common area to brighten your space.
  • Naturalize with native species. Research ecologically appropriate plants for your garden. Choose drought tolerant and pollinator-friendly plants to save water and support local wildlife.
  • Reduce pesticide and fertilizer use. Use organic or natural options instead and pull weeds out the old-fashioned way.
  • Capture and reuse water creatively. Water your plants with the water you use to wash fruits and vegetables. Use a rain barrel to capture rainwater for your garden. Plant a rain garden to capture stormwater.
  • Prevent pollution. Consider (safely) picking up litter you see on walks. Use road salt appropriately and try alternative options. Do not pour chemicals down the drain.
  • Do not spread invasive species. Be careful of seeds stuck to clothes, transferring water between lakes, and firewood that may transfer invasive insects.
  • Support conservation efforts with your time or money.


Sustainability refers to maintaining the integrated health of the environment, society, and economy for today and into the future. The decisions we make and actions we take as individuals have ripple effects on our communities in many ways – creating opportunities for health benefits, social belonging, and a more prosperous and equitable future if we approach environmental issues with these goals in mind.

  • Learn more and get informed. Complete the Sustainability Diploma as an undergrad student, the Sustainability Certificate as an employee, or connect sustainability to coursework through the Sustainability Living Lab program.
  • Talk about sustainability. Bring sustainability ideas to your peers, colleagues, and managers. Encourage others to participate in sustainability initiatives and events.
  • Get involved in peer leadership. For students, the Green Residence program and other sustainability student clubs are great places to start.
  • Become a sustainability ambassador. For staff and faculty, consider becoming an ambassador with the Green Office or Green Labs programs on behalf of your department or lab group, or join an existing green team.
  • Pursue advocacy opportunities through existing organizations. For students, get involved with WUSA or the GSA. For staff and faculty, go to your respective association. 
  • Explore connections to Indigenization and EDI-R efforts. Consider how decisions and actions intersect with other goals, including Indigenization, equity, diversity, inclusivity, and anti-racism. 
  • Buy conscientiously. Consider sustainability through the supply chain by prioritizing purchases that support communities and demonstrate leadership to peers.
  • Contact your local politicians. Sign petitions or send emails to pressure your politicians to take more action on climate change.