Shift:Neutral climate action plan

Aerial view of EV3 with solar panels


Shift:Neutral is Waterloo's first institutional climate action plan. It lays out key directions and actions that will be mobilized across campus to enable a shift to carbon neutrality by 2050 and increase the energy efficiency of the University campus.

Core pieces of the plan include:

  • Short and medium-term targets to build momentum:

    • 17.5% reduction by 2025

    • 35% reduction by 2030

  • A long-term roadmap of the types of changes needed to reach carbon neutrality and improve energy efficiency

  • 46 specific actions which can help reach short-term targets and build foundations for long-term achievement

  • A review framework

Roadmap to carbon neutral

There is no silver bullet to reduce emissions across campus. Shift:Neutral describes a multifaceted approach as part of a long-term roadmap.
  1. Net neutral growth is achieved through stringent energy efficiency requirements for all new buildings and major renovations
  2. Systems are aligned to support carbon neutrality, including prioritization, financial support, monitoring and transparency, and capacity
  3. Energy demand from current buildings is reduced through efficiency measures, including behavior change, scheduling, envelope upgrades, recommissioning and environmental monitoring, and lighting and equipment updates
  4. Waterloo’s fleet is decarbonized through optimization and accelerated adoption of low-carbon vehicles
  5. With reduced energy demand, centralized infrastructure is right-sized as part of renewal, including conversion of steam to hot water
  6. Advanced heat recovery fully optimizes district thermal energy between buildings, including management of simultaneous heating and cooling
  7. Energy used on campus comes from low-carbon sources, including renewables and geothermal
  8. In parallel, non-energy/indirect emissions from embodied carbon, business travel, commuting, and waste are reduced
  9. Remaining emissions are offset or sequestered
Line icons representing 9 core steps in Shift:Neutral roadmap


Waterloo's progress will be tracked as part of the annual Environmental Sustainability Report. Waterloo also publishes a detailed breakdown of annual emissions and actions completed to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency.

To see more:

How you can help

Students and employees are a critical part of Waterloo's journey. The plan will involve support through everyday actions like turning off lights and equipment, travelling sustainably, reducing waste, and sustainable purchasing. It will also expand opportunities to be more directly involved, for example through the Green Office, Green Labs, and Green Residence initiatives.

There are many existing initiatives underway already.

Find clubs, programs, training, and resources to get involved on campus.

How many emissions do you produce each year?

Visit the Project Neutral tool and input your information to estimate how many emissions you create and opportunities to reduce.

There are many tools and resources available to reduce emissions.

Check out the Sustainability Guide for tips and resources on and off campus.


Find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Waterloo's Shift:Neutral Climate Action Plan.

What does "carbon neutral" mean?

Carbon neutrality means:

  • reducing actual emissions as far as possible, and
  • purchasing credits that support emissions reductions beyond the campus to address the remaining emissions.

Offset examples include reforestation, agricultural management, renewable energy, or carbon capture projects, among others.

What are other universities doing?

  • Many universities are undertaking a similar process to develop climate action plans, and some have had longstanding climate action plans.
  • All universities in Ontario agreed to develop roadmaps to low-carbon campuses.
  • Many leading institutions are developing ambitious plans toward carbon neutrality.

How does Waterloo compare to other campuses?

It is very difficult to compare directly, given the different size, climate patterns, teaching and research focuses, and other factors that would influence a campus' energy and carbon intensity. For example, institutions in a warmer climate would require less heating, which is a substantial source of emissions, and institutions which conduct less laboratory-based research would generally require less energy.

In addition, emissions from electricity are highly dependent on how that electricity is generated. States and provinces that have clean electricity grids, such as Ontario, have lower emissions, whereas many universities in Canada and the United States may rely on coal-powered electricity grids. Emissions for campuses may vary considerably even if they use the same kilowatt hours of electricity.

If you are interested in comparing with other campuses, you may be interested in using the public database of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. STARS attempts to normalize some of these variables to enable better comparison.

Why are certain emissions excluded?

The first phases of Shift:Neutral focus on emissions from natural gas, fleet fuel, and electricity (refered to as Scope 1 and 2 emissions through the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). While there are many other sources of emissions on campus, the following are some reasons that early emphasis of the plan focuses on these more direct emissions:

  • Natural gas, fleet fuel, and electricity are more directly influenced and controlled by the University and are the majority of the University's carbon footprint
  • Waterloo may not have enough data for detailed tracking and measurement of other emissions sources
  • Separate but related plans to tackle other sources of emissions may be more effective or appropriate

What has been done in the past?

While Waterloo has never had an action plan, the University has completed many projects that reduce energy intensity and emissions from operations. Some examples include:

  • Heat recovery systems and condensate return systems in the district energy network
  • Changes from high-pressure to low-pressure steam for district heating
  • Integration of variable-flow/speed equipment where possible
  • Improving insulation of steam lines
  • Replacement of more energy-efficient computing equipment
  • Small solar energy projects
  • Ongoing LED lighting retrofits

Where can I learn more about climate change?

Climate change is a complex topic, with many different elements. If you'd like to brush up on everything from the science to the solutions, there are an abundance of online and print resources available.

Some suggested locations could include:

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the most widely cited global authority which synthesizes scientific literature on climate science and provides periodic updates for policymakers
  • Sarah Burch. Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. (Available through Library - one of Waterloo's own researchers!)
  • Paul Hawken, ed. Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. New York: Penguin Books, 2017. (Available through Library)
  •  Climate Action Waterloo Region lists information about local climate change reduction efforts
  • Many government agencies post information about climate change, such as through the Region of Waterloo, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.