Sustainability Action Fund

QNC pathway


The Sustainability Action Fund (SAF) supports projects and initiatives that improve sustainability at the University of Waterloo. Project funds are distributed based on a call for applications, with successful applications determined by the President’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (PACES).

Projects should be directly aligned with at least one of the objectives of the University of Waterloo's Environmental Sustainability Strategy or any of its connected action plans.

Application timelines

Applications to the SAF are accepted on an ongoing basis, and will be reviewed as part of two intake rounds:

Milestone Spring 2023 Intake Fall 2023 Intake
Application deadline* June 30, 2023 (at 5pm) October 13, 2023 (at 5pm)
PACES review period July 4-14, 2023 October 2023
Corrections deadline July 21, 2023 (at 5pm) November 10, 2023 (at 5pm)
Project approvals Early August 2023 Early December 2023

*Any applications received beyond the application deadline will be considered as part of the next intake round.

Funding will be allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the amount of available funding will be lower in the Fall intake round. Leftover funding may be allocated in a winter 2024 application round, if applicable.


To ensure effective and efficient review of all applications, the following process will be followed:

  1. Request an application form: Anyone interested in applying to SAF will need to request an application form with a high-level summary of the project. The Sustainability Office will reply with the application form.
  2. Submit your application: Fully complete the application and send to the Sustainability Office ( before the application deadline noted above.
  3. PACES initial review: A working group of PACES will provide initial review to ensure completeness, clarity, and appropriateness. This may involve email correspondence or a virtual discussion with the applicant. 
  4. Corrections: Any corrections or modifications requested by the PACES working group will need to be completed and the updated Application Form sent to the Sustainability Office by the deadline noted above.
  5. PACES approval: PACES will make a final determination on project funding and notify successful and unsuccessful applicants.


Eligible applicants: Any University of Waterloo student, staff, or faculty member can submit a project proposal.

Project reports: All successful applicants will be required to maintain a project management document and submit a project completion report to PACES at the culmination of the project, detailing the project outcomes, including successes, challenges, and how funds were spent. 

Funding criteria

Based on the information received during the applications, the President’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability will utilize the following criteria to determine which projects will receive funding. Please note that projects do not need to meet all criteria to receive funding, but projects that meet a broad variety of criteria are more likely to be successful.

Feasibility & logistics

  1. Does the project support effort in the focus areas listed above?
  2. To what degree does the project have the potential to reduce environmental impact, directly or indirectly?
  3. Is the project technically feasible in the identified timelines?
  4. Is the project scalable and/or replicable?
  5. Does the funding request reasonably match the project outcomes?
  6. Does the project have the potential to reduce operational costs or create efficiencies?
  7. Does the project have clear ownership and a long-term maintenance or business plan?
  8. How will the project generate positive social impact on campus or in the community (i.e. procuring equipment from responsible vendors, or improvements on campus such as physical and mental wellbeing, inclusivity, and diversity)?
  9. Have alternative options been identified that would generate similar impact?


  1. How many members of the campus community will the project engage?
  2. Will the project encourage more sustainable behaviours on campus?
  3. Will the project increase awareness of campus sustainability issues?
  4. Will the project increase the University’s reputation or demonstrate community leadership?


  1. Will information and statistics about the project be available to enable future evaluation, study, and research?

Other notes and considerations:

  • Waste receptacles: As of Fall 2020, projects requesting funding for standardized waste receptacles will be required to demonstrate matching departmental funding. Plant Operations continues to implement roll-out of the standardized receptacles, and while departments are able to accellerate deployment in their spaces, PACES has indicated that this should be on a shared resources basis.
  • Capstone projects: Capstone projects focused on objectives of the Sustainability Strategy may be eligible for funding. However, as the intent of the SAF is to support lasting change, the project must be standalone or have an identified partner to maintain the project outcome after the capstone is completed.
  • Entrepreneurship projects: While Waterloo encourages innovative ways of thinking to solve broad sustainability challenges, the purpose of the SAF is intended to support on-campus efforts. Applicants looking to start a company/social venture may be better supported by other University of Waterloo programs, including GreenHouseVelocity, and Waterloo Climate Institute's Climate Change Fund.
  • Curriculum development: PACES is not in a position to consider the merits of curriculum, and will not fund projects on core curriculum development, for which there are already established programs through Center for Teaching Excellence and other channels. However, instructors or departments who have projects that integrate sustainability across Teaching and Learning (formal and informal), can apply for SAF funding.
  • Research: PACES is not in a position to consider the merits of research, and will not fund broad research projects. Research focused specifically on campus sustainability, and that has costs focused specifically on campus application, may be eligible for SAF support based on how directly the research activities/findings would support the University's Environmental Sustainability Strategy objectives.

Eligible expenses

Eligible expenses can include:

  • Staffing costs (i.e. co-op students, part-time staff, etc.)
  • Capital expenses (i.e. renovations, equipment, site improvements)
  • General supplies (i.e. workshop materials, paper)
  • Marketing (i.e. printing, advertising)
  • Incentives (i.e. prizes, giveaways)
  • Information technology (i.e. computers, software)
  • Event expenses (i.e. food, venue rental, audio-visual, speaker gifts)

Ineligible expenses include:

  • Ongoing operational costs (i.e. staffing/wages for a pre-existing position)
  • Alcohol
  • Donations
  • Hospitality for project staff and volunteers (i.e. food, drink, gifts other than for event expenses)
  • Any project costs that would normally be covered by other University of Waterloo departmental budgets
  • Consulting fees
  • Conference attendance (i.e. airfaire, conference fees)

Please note that all expenses must comply with existing University of Waterloo policies and procedures, available on the websites of the Secretariat of the University and/or Finance. In particular:

  • Policy 17 – Quotations and Tenders
  • Policy 22 – Regulations Governing the Installation of Equipment in University Buildings
  • Policy 31 – Travel
  • Policy 53 – Environmental Sustainability
  • Guideline re: Eligible Hospitality Expenses
  • Guideline re: Travel Expenses
  • Procedures re: University Contracts

Distribution of funds

Successful applicants will receive notice from the President’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability regarding approved funding for the project, as well as any considerations or exclusions for funding at the Committee’s discretion.

To submit project expenses:

  • Whenever possible, please send all invoices for approved project expenses to the Sustainability Office.
  • For any approved expenses paid personally, please retain all original itemized receipts from registered businesses.
    • For faculty and staff: Contact Sustainability Office for instructions on processing through Concur
    • For students: Contact the Sustainability Office to complete a digital expense claim form
  • For any approved compensation expenses, please have the department leading the project submit appropriate forms to the Sustainability Office to add account information on appropriate hiring or reimbursement forms.
  • For any internal payments between University of Waterloo departments (i.e. ordering from Catering Services), please retain proof of expenses and submit them to the Sustainability Office alongside a memo requesting the transfer of funds.
  • For any expenses not covered by the above cases, please contact the Sustainability Office to discuss before making payments.

The President’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability will not reimburse costs above those outlined in the application. However, the Committee recognizes that projects can sometimes incur unexpected costs. If there are substantial changes in the project, please contact the Sustainability Office to discuss the reason for the changes prior to incurring additional expenses.

Applicants are responsible for any and all approvals from relevant University departments required for project implementation.

Active projects

There are a number of projects actively underway, including:

Pile of 3D printer waste


This project will support an ongoing project with equipment for collecting, grinding, and re-filamenting scrap from 3D printers across campus, which is a growing source of waste. Led by 3Cycle (fall 2022)

Repairers fixing items at repair workshop


Building off historical pilots of repair cafes, this project will restart efforts to offer repair services for personal items across campus. SAF funding will support tools and materials to host repair services and education events throughout 2022/23. Led by 4RepairKW (winter 2022)

Lecture from Alt. Protein Project team

Alt. Protein Project

This project will support the student-led Alt. Protein Project in a series of workshops and educational activities to generate excitement and awareness around alternative proteins, empower student entrepreneurs, and promote open-access research.

Table of household items (kitchenware, pots) at Campus Housing upcycle

Campus Housing Waste Diversion

This project will build off historical efforts to encourage waste diversion in move-out and move-in programming, pulling together supplies, small appliances, dishware, and other household items during move-out that can be given away for free to incoming students. Led by Campus Housing (spring 2022)

Whipper snipper cutting tall grass

Electric Landscaping Equipment Pilot

This project will support the purchase of new electric hedge trimmers and line trimmers for use in campus operations, reducing emissions, noise, and other air pollutants. Learnings from the pilot will inform future purchasing decisions for Plant Operations. Led by Grounds (fall 2022)

Pile of bedding

Exchange Student Used Goods Exchange

This project will support collection of household items from outgoing exchange students that would otherwise be thrown into the garbage, with those items being donated to incoming students. The project will reduce significant amounts of waste and improve student affordability. Led by student in Faculty of Engineering (winter 2023)

Dashboard with information about fleet

Fleet Telematics Pilot 

This project will pilot the installation of telematics devices and software in a subset of campus fleet vehicles. These will help identify opportunities for driver behaviour changes to improve fleet efficiency and reduce fuel consumption, highlight opportunity and business cases for conversion to electric vehicles, and assist with general fleet management. Led by Grounds, with support from the Sustainability Office (fall 2020)

Green Office employees with newly potted plants

Healthy and Green Office Plant Project

This project will run a workshop for office participants to learn about potting and caring for plants in office and household settings. Led by Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Dean of Engineering Office, the project will improve indoor greenery and serve as a pilot to demonstrate benefits and how similar events could be run on other teams. Led by employees in the Faculty of Engineering (winter 2023)

Group sitting around blanket at Land Skills workshop

Land Skills for Wellness and Sustainability

This project will offer a series of experiential learning opportunities where students, staff, and faculty engage in direct experience of land skills nature and engagement, including green woodworking, basket weaving, scything, nature weaving, herbal tea making, and nature walks. The workshop series is currently underway. Led by PhD student in the Faculty of Environment (winter 2023)

Water refill station

RAC Hydration Station

This project will support the installation of a water bottle refill station in RAC to support waste reduction for employees on North Campus. (Fall 2022)

Poster for reusable containers reading: It costs to waste. $1.00 fee for single-use containers. Plates are free.

Reusable Containers Marketing

This project will expand marketing and communication in promotion of the existing eco-container and eco-mug programs, in collaboration with Housing and Food Services. These programs are well established but not utilized to their full potential, and this will increase understanding and uptake of the existing service. Led by Plant Operations - Custodial Services (fall 2022)

Salt brining tank at Bauer

Salt Brining Pilot Project

This project will pilot the installation of a new brining tank and dispersal system to reduce the amount of salt applied across campus. The project will install the equipment for vehicles as well as a station to create the brine, and will allow for more even distribution of a de-icing solution that uses less salt overall. Led by Grounds (fall 2021)

Lightbulb graphic with different sustainability icons

Status of Sustainability Infosheets

This project will support development of a series of fact sheets and background materials about ways in which sustainability topics and issues are connected to Civil and Environmental Engingeering. It will identify best practices on how these are being built into curriculum and to inspire both instructor sand students to integrate in learning opportunities. (Fall 2022)

Students grabbing eco container in residence caf

Supporting Eco Containers in Residence

This project will expand the eco-container program in residences by providing on incoming students on a traditional meal plan with a reusable container. Led by Food Services (winter 2023)

Students from Theatre and Performance in environmental performance

Theatre and Performance Sustainability Action Plan Workshops

This project will host workshops and guest speakers to develop an action plan for improving sustainability in the Theatre and Performance department. The project will aim to tackle waste generation and other unsustainable practices in the theatre industry while increasing awareness for students. (Winter 2023) Led by faculty in the Faculty of Arts (winter 2023)

Group of people holding hands in a circle with dirt and seedlings


The Waterloo Environment Climate Action Now (WE CAN) project will engage students in the Department of Geography and the School of Planning in classroom projects to design materials and digital content for campus climate action. Led by faculty from the Geography and Planning departments, the project will challenge students in design thinking processes to create resources that will expand climate action engagement on campus. Led by faculty members in the Faculty of Environment (winter 2023)

Completed projects

More than 30 projects have been completed since the Sustainability Action Fund launched in 2017, including:

Group of students bird watching at BioBlitz


This project supported a 24-hour BioBlitz event to conduct a biodiversity assessment on Waterloo's south campus. The event included 9 guided hikes on a variety of species, as well as opening ceremonies and booths from campus and community partners. Over 300 species were identified and close to 900 observations made on the iNaturalist platform. Led by the Sustainability Office (winter 2023)

Two students at poster display at Climate Students conference

Climate Students Conference

This project supported the inaugural Climate Students conference in April 2023, a student-focused conference to spark cross-disciplinary solutions and collaborations to tackle climate change. The conference offered a ‘green’ knowledge-exchange hub through keynote speakers and oral and poster presentations. Led by Climate Students (winter 2023)

Black eyed susan in Conrad Grebel pollinator garden

Conrad Grebel Pollinator Garden

This project supported the planting of an 850 square foot garden at Conrad Grebel College, consisting of plants native to Ontario’s tallgrass prairies. The project engaged over 70 campus community members and serves as a community-building feature. Led by Conrad Grebel employees (winter 2023)

Employees planting trees by Health Services

Green Office Tree Planting

This project supported the planting of a variety of 200 native trees/shrubs and 200 native perennials along Laurel Creek on main campus and North campus, engaging many employees from the Green Office program and other employee/student volunteers. Led by Grounds and the Sustainability Office (winter 2023)

Community gardens aerial view

North Campus Garden Supports

This project supported the replacement of a shed and additional tools for community gardens that are located on North Campus near the Columbia Lake greenhouse. The gardens supported a wide range of student, employee, and broader community gardeners to grow food on campus. Led by student in the Faculty of Health (spring 2022)

Community garden at Balsillie School, taken by Ryan Durante

BSIA Community Garden

This project supported the design and installation of a food garden plot at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Uptown Waterloo. The garden gives students and members of the BSIA community access to land where they can grow fresh produce and reconnect with nature. Led by Balsillie School Climate Action Committee (winter 2022)

Attendees listening to lecture at Sustainability Literacy conference

Sustainability Literacy Conference

This project supported a student-led and focused conference in fall 2022 on how to embed sustainability literacy throughout the curriculum, in order to support all students in being prepared for and contributing toward a sustainable future. Led by Sustainability Literacy Initiative (winter 2022)

Trees and mulch path outside EV1

Assessing Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health 

Building off the Eco-Maps project, this Living Lab project engaged students and other stakeholders in conducting species inventory to better understand, centralize, and communicate Waterloo's natural diversity and areas in need of further support. This is the second phase of a long-term and ongoing monitoring project. Led by instructors in the Faculty of Environment (fall 2021)

Blocks of SDGs piled high

SDG Impact Challenge

Led by the Impact Alliance, this hackathon engaged youth in designing solutions to real, meaningful challenges related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Building off a successful project in 2021, the hackathon explored different sustainability challenges and gave over 70 participants an opportunity to learn more about the SDGs and connect with others who are passionate about solving social, economic, and environmental problems. Led by Impact Alliance(fall 2021, completed winter 2022)

Researcher examining plant growing in growth chamber

Biology Growth Chamber

This project supported more efficient LED lighting integrated into the design and fit-out of a new growth chamber in biology. The walk-in chamber supports student learning and research, and the lighting will significantly reduce power consumption. Led by Faculty of Science (spring 2021)

4 stream receptacle in Dana Porter library

Library Waste Receptacles 2 

This project continued the deployment of standardized waste receptacles across the Dana Porter Library and completed the retrofit of the new bins. Led by the Library (fall 2020)

PPE recycling box in Health building

PPE Zero Waste Program

This project diverted significant amounts of personal protective equipment generated by University of Waterloo clinics. Recognizing the impact of COVID-19 in generating significantly more disposable masks and gloves in clinical settings across campus, a program was established to properly recycle these materials and divert them from landfill. Led by Plant Operations - Custodial Services (fall 2020)

Blocks of SDGs piled high

SDG Impact Challenge

This project supported a hackathon based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As a student-led project, it engaged peers across campus in efforts to education on the SDGs and provided partnerships and opportunities to critically engage with SDG related challenges. Led by Impact Alliance (fall 2020)

Asters in constructed wetland outside EV3

Stewardship UW: Campus EcoMap

This Living Lab project engaged students in an exercise to develop a baseline of plant species in major ecosystems across the University of Waterloo's grounds. This will feed into the development of Waterloo's landscaping standard and biodiversity assessment, and became an open access inventory and database which can be embedded into coursework and research over time. (fall 2020, first phase completed spring 2021)

Plant based noodle dish made at Sustainable Food Workshop

Sustainable Cooking in Residences Workshop

This project supported a series of student-led workshops aimed at building sustainable cooking skills throughout winter 2021. These targeted students living in residences and focused on peer-peer knowledge sharing on making healthy, sustainable meal choices. Led by Campus Housing don (fall 2020)

Store manager in front of WUSA Thrift store

WUSA Secondhand Store

This project supported the purchase and installation for a washing machine and dryer as part of the launch of a secondhand clothing store by WUSA. The store expanded on the ad-hoc successful clothing sales and provides a permanent space in the SLC for used clothing to reduce waste and provide access to affordable clothing options. Led by WUSA (fall 2020)

Mechanical room in Plant Operations

Campus Energy Audit

This project engaged an external energy services firm to complete a comprehensive audit of all University of Waterloo facilities. As part of the Shift: Neutral climate action plan, this built a more complete understanding of energy distribution across the campus and compiled a list of renovation and operational projects to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Led by Plant Operations (fall 2019)

Plants growing under growth chamber light

Biology Growth Chamber Retrofit

This project improved the teaching environment while substantially reducing energy consumption within 2 of the growth chambers used by the Department of Biology. Major retrofits to LED lighting and a building-integrated cooling system reduced the energy consumption and chemicals needed to operate the facilities, and was used as a demonstration project for students completing their studies. Led by Faculty of Science (fall 2018)

Close up of new organics and recycling signage

Campus Waste Sorting Improvement

This Living Lab project worked with student researchers to complete applied research to identify the most efficient combination of messaging and signage to encourage proper waste sorting. The project piloted signage and various normative messages at several waste sorting stations and completed before/after waste audits to determine recycling behaviours and contamination. The signage designs and findings will be standardized across campus. Led by faculty and students within SEED (fall 2018, completed winter 2019)

Three stream waste receptacle in Engineering 5 lobby

Engineering Waste Receptacles

This project supports expansion of standardized recycling infrastructure to hallways and common spaces throughout Engineering 5, 6, and 7. Partial funding is provided from the Sustainability Action Fund, with Engineering providing funding support as well. Led by Faculty of Engineering (fall 2018, completed spring 2019) 

Waste receptacles in lobby

Lobby Waste Receptacles

This project expanded the standardized waste infrastructure to hallways and lobbies across campus. As part of an ongoing update to the waste stations, the standardized bins ensure proper sorting and waste separation. Led by Plant Operations - Custodial Services (fall 2018)

Cover of In Your Palm documentary

Palm Oil Project 

This student-led documentary was filmed in Indonesia to educate on the health and environmental impacts of palm oil production, and efforts underway to produce palm oil more sustainably. A virtual screening took place at the University of Waterloo after completion in fall 2020. Led by student filmmaker from Faculty of Environment (fall 2018)

Booths at SCI Day


This student-led conference engaged more than 100 students from across campus on a series of sustainable living workshops and presentations, encouraging involvement on campus and in their personal lives. The conference had a theme around career pathways in sustainability, and featured speakers from local non-profits, entrepreneurs, government agencies, research institutes, and the Indigenous Student Association. Led by Sustainable Campus Initiative (fall 2018, completed winter 2019)

Attendees from Global Solutions conference holding up SDGs

SDG Youth Training

This student-led conference engaged students from across campus on the role that youth can and do play in achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With partnerships on-campus and in the community, attendees participate in a day-long series of panels and workshops to encourage action and provide skills and resources to enable change to accelerate the global SDGs. Information about the conference is available on the conference website, as well as the video summaryLed by Impact Alliance, and supported by the Sustainability Office (fall 2018, completed winter 2019)

Booth to promote waste management

Waste Management Promotional Campaign

This project supported efforts to educate users on proper waste sorting on campus. It included a mix of promotional signage, posters, video production, events, and other activities to improve recycling and composting, while reducing contamination. Led by Plant Operations - Custodial Services (fall 2018)

Woodland Fern Garden signage in Arts/Environment gardens

Arts/Environment Gardens Signage

This project educated users on the unique naturalized and native species features of the Arts-Environment Gardens in between PAS, HH, and EV1. The gardens feature native and non-invasive species across seven themed plots, and the new signage creates interactive information to inform users of the space about sustainable landscaping practices. Led by Faculty of Arts, Ecology Lab (spring 2018)

3 stream waste receptacle in Dana Porter library

Library Waste Receptacles

This project supported expansion of Waterloo's new universal waste standard into Library locations in Davis Centre and Dana Porter. As a major traffic area for students, the libraries offer a strong opportunity to support waste reduction efforts. Led by the Library (spring 2018, completed winter 2019)

Sustainability Guide cover page, with two students walking beside QNC

Sustainability Guide

This project ensured all incoming students had the opportunity to receive information about sustainability as part of their orientation kits. All first-year students received postcards linking to the online Sustainability Guide, which lists programs, services, and tips to support sustainable living. Led by the Sustainability Office (spring 2018, completed fall 2018)

Small e-waste bin in basement of SLC

E-Waste Collection Stations

This project launched three new collection stations to make it easier for employees and students to properly recycle their electronic waste. The SAF covered the purchase of the new stations, which are serviced by Waterloo's Central Stores team. Led by Sustainable Campus Initiative (fall 2017, completed winter 2018)

Bike cage at ML/EV3

Secure Bike Cage

This project developed a bike cage with secure access near the motorcycle parking beside EV3 and ML. The cage holds over 50 bikes and was launched in Fall 2021. SAF funding built momentum for project development. Led by students from the Faculty of Environment (fall 2017)

4 stream bin with organics stream

Waste Station Expansion

This project supported the launch of standardized waste receptacles at Food Service locations across campus as the foundation for user-friendly, attractive, and well-designed waste stations across campus. The program also facilitated public organics collection in key areas. SAF funding supported a portion of implementation costs. Led by Plant Operations - Custodial Services (fall 2017, completed spring 2018).

Water refill station

Water Bottle Refill Stations

This project launched a new water bottle refill station in the Columbia Icefield gym to encourage reusable water bottle use and provide feedback by tracking usage. The SAF covered the station and installation costs. Led by Sustainable Campus Initiative (fall 2017, completed winter 2018)