Research data

Objective A4

By 2020, celebrate sustainability research as a core thematic strength of Waterloo’s reputation and identity

Progress: Completed


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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

Objective A5

By 2025, become a world leader for research excellence in 5 sustainability related themes

Progress: Somewhat complete


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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.


Beginning in 2022, the Sustainability Office worked with the Library to better align its approach for measuring SDG-related research with emerging benchmarks and enable comparison across campuses over time. Previously, estimates of the extent and focus of environmental sustainability and SDG-related research were extracted from public faculty biographies on relevant department webpages. This year, Waterloo used the Elsevier data sets and keyword search strings to identify publications related to the SDGs with affiliation to Waterloo’s faculty members. To be included, a researcher had to have at least three publications on any single SDG between 2016-2020. This has certain limitations, including multiple publications across different SDGs, research that is active but not yet published, and applied research that may have translated into a non-academic output. It is, however, an emerging standard and removes the subjective analysis required to interpret faculty biographies.

Search strings and details on the Elsevier methodologies can be accessed on the Elsevier SDG Mapping Initiative website.

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An accessible version of the data can be downloaded here: Researchers Conducting Research Related to the UN SDGs 2022 (Excel) 

Actions and accomplishments

Historic actions and accomplishments


  • The Office of Research began developing a report on more detailed bibliometric data across a number of sustainability issue areas and themes
  • The Waterloo Climate Institute (formerly the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change) was approved to shift from a Research Centre to a University Research Centre
  • The Sustainability Office worked with the Office of Research to help analyze faculty research using the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

By 2025, establish Waterloo as a “go-to” hub for knowledge and expertise on sustainability challenges

Progress: Mostly completed

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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 was awarded nearly $10 million in federal funding today for a major initiative to rebuild Canada's pandemic-battered aeronautics sector and position it for a more sustainable future


  • The Government of Canada's Environmental Damages Fund, administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada, allocated $15.8 million to six University of Waterloo research projects to identify solutions to environmental challenges
  • $15 million in funding for the Faculties of Mathematics and Environment to work with Indonesian partners on climate-change adaptation and mitigation strategies in the country
  • University of Waterloo is leading an interdisciplinary team to detect, identify and treat per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – better known as forever chemicals – in water systems affecting more than 2.5 million Canadians

Historic actions and accomplishments


  • Several researchers from the Faculty of Environment received funding through Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund; in total, six major projects were approved for funding of $15.5M, representing over one-quarter of the projects funded across Canada


  • Waterloo joined and was a founding partner of the University Global Coalition, a key network of global research institutions committed to taking action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals


  • 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


Complete (2018 objective)

Mostly complete (2025 objective)

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Description: 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


  • The Sustainability Living Lab worked with courses from Faculties of Health, Environment, and Engineering on topics including food, waste, reporting, engagement, procurement, naturalization, and energy


  • The Sustainability Living Lab was launched to link academic expertise and capacity with these operational needs, building on a long history of using the campus as a living lab back to the early 1990s; the new iteration will more tightly link operational sustainability initiatives to the University’s academic mission

Historic actions and accomplishments


  • Waterloo launched the Mapping Campus Grounds project, to work with instructors and students to lay out a framework for analyzing biodiversity and various species assessments across the University's 1200 acres of grounds


  • Multiple interviews with undergraduate student groups to integrate sustainability within course assignments and reports, as well as masters and PhD research projects
  • Faculty members and graduate students partnered to install new technology for temporary submetering to better understand energy consumption of several campus buildings, with support from the Sustainability Action Fund
  • 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, developing mockups of campus spaces to facilitate discussion
  • The David Johnston R&T Park engaged 12 student teams across three courses in the School of Planning to integrate sustainability into the development of their new master plan


  • An Environment master’s student developed new waste sorting signs and piloted them at nine 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 ENBUS 402 capstone course completed an 8 month project to analyze Waterloo’s travel survey data and evaluate infrastructure availability to support walking, cycling, and transit to campus
  • Three teams of students from the GEOG 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

Related links

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