Overview | Purpose | Background | Process | Get involved | FAQs
Waterloo is in the process of developing the first ever Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP) for the campus. The University has acknowledged that it has a role to play in addressing the pressing global challenge of climate change, which will impact communities locally and around the world.
Waterloo already mobilizes world-renowned teaching and research related to the development of a sustainable, low-carbon future, including interdisciplinary research institutes, innovative curriculum, and cross-sector partnerships. Some examples include:
The CEAP will form Waterloo's institutional response to the challenge of climate change. It seeks to reduce emissions, optimize operational costs, and improve energy efficiency.
To keep Waterloo's action aligned with a science-based approach, the Climate and Energy Action Plan will seek to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
This will support commitments and requirements that the University has made, including:
- to fulfil objectives of the Environmental Sustainability Strategy
- to fulfil the joint commitment made through the Council of Ontario Universities to develop a roadmap to a low-carbon campus, and
- to support and advance beyond legislative compliance
In addition, the action plan would support the following benefits to the University community:
- Supporting improvements to the indoor quality and comfort of teaching and learning facilities
- Improving outdoor air quality
- Supporting community action to reduce emissions, locally through globally
- Identifying and managing long-term risk exposure
- Managing long-term utility cost exposure
- Optimize investment into facilities renewal
- Enabling further teaching, learning, and research opportunities using the campus as a living laboratory for social change
Waterloo produces carbon emissions from a variety of direct and indirect sources. These include heating and cooling buildings, lab equipment, lighting and computing equipment, travelling to campus, waste generation, purchased products, and food consumed.
Of these sources, energy used in Waterloo's buildings accounts for approximately 75% of all direct and indirect emissions that Waterloo currently measures. Approximately 65% of all emissions come from natural gas, which is primarily used to heat buildings and hot water.
The Climate and Energy Action Plan will focus in its first iteration on building-related emissions from electricity and natural gas, as well as emissions from the University's vehicle fleet (Scope 1 and 2 emissions under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). This area is illustrated in green shading on Figure 1 below.
While transportation and waste produce emissions, they are better managed through separate planning processes, such as the Zero Waste Waterloo Action Plan. Recommendations in the CEAP will reference these as important sources of emissions to measure, monitor, and manage.
Waterloo's Emissions Breakdown by Source
Figure 1: Current Emissions (2017)
As of 2017, the majority of Waterloo's greenhouse gas emissions came from natural gas and electricity used in buildings. Student and employee commuting contributes substantial emissions, while fleet, waste, vehicle-based business travel have a small impact. The green shading shows the focus area for the first phase of the CEAP.
Waterloo does not yet have a tracking process to measure emissions from air travel, nor to calculate emissions embodied within the supply chain of the products and services it purchases. For full methodology, see Waterloo's 2018 Sustainability Report.
Waterloo's Emissions Changes over Time
Figure 2: Historical Emissions: 2010-2017
Waterloo's emissions have stayed relatively flat since 2010, despite the campus adding approximately 1.5 million square feet of additional space. However, this was achieved primarily due to the provincial phase-out of coal power, which made the Ontario's electricity much cleaner. Without this change, Waterloo's emissions would have increased by approximately 30%.
Recent additions are reflective of expanding measurement and monitoring efforts. Annual fluctuation, particularly on natural gas, is primarily attributable to weather.
Business-as-usual emissions growth
As Waterloo continues to grow, the campus' emissions will grow as well. The Climate and Energy Working Group evaluated a number of drivers of future changes, including space growth, increasing energy intensity, building code improvements, changing energy prices, and emissions intensity of energy, to forecast the University's emissions trends without taking additional action.
Figure 3: Business as Usual Emissions
In this "business as usual" scenario:
- Building energy use increases approximately 30%
- Emissions from the three listed sources increases approximately 50%
- Waterloo's energy expenses increase beyond the rate of inflation
The Climate and Energy Working Group has discussed various strategies that would be necessary to shift away from "business as usual," as illustrated in Figure 3 above. While specific recommendations will be further researched and developed as part of the action planning process, for context the following are common high-level directions from many comparable plans at other higher education institutions and which would be reflected to some extent across Waterloo's approach.
Energy Efficiency: Reducing the amount of energy needed to operate new and existing infrastructure through retrofits, better insulation, and high-efficiency equipment.
Optimizing Systems: Improving scheduling, monitoring, and distribution to only use energy when and where it is needed, and recovering energy waste whenever possible.
Behaviour Change: Empowering students and employees with tools, training, incentives, and programs to reduce energy use.
Low-Carbon Energy: Integrating renewable and other low-carbon sources of energy where possible.
Policy and Governance: Aligning policies and processes, tracking and measuring, and purchasing offsets for emissions that are difficult to eliminate.
Key dates and milestones throughout the CEAP development process include:
- Fall 2017: Released Environmental Sustainability Strategy and signed Council of Ontario Universities commitment
- Winter 2018: Formed the Climate and Energy Working Group of the President's Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability
- Spring 2018: Conducted interviews with other campuses and researched sector approaches and best practices
- Fall 2018: Developed baseline and business as usual information, updated emissions inventory, and identified important technical pathways to reach carbon neutral
- Winter 2019: Began discussions with key stakeholders, including an afternoon workshop in January with faculty and administrators to gain input on background materials and directions. Launched five public open house events in March to enable public comment, and opened online comment opportunity in April.
- Spring 2019:
- Will continue public consultations to generate further stakeholder input
- Will initiate more detailed technical feasibility studies to identify emission and energy reduction opportunities
- Will begin drafting of core plan components and recommendations iteratively alongside feedback
- Fall 2019:
- Will complete feasibility studies and complete a draft CEAP based on feasibility study input and campus feedback.
- Will refine draft and initiate approval processes.
- 2020+: Will begin implementation of the first phases of the Climate and Energy Action Plan
Advancing climate action on campus will take involvement of all students and employees. Consultations will be conducted at various stages through the process to provide an opportunity for input and feedback. We encourage you to share your ideas.
We want to hear from you.
Please share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions to help shape the CEAP.
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.
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 climate action plans for over a decade.
- All universities in Ontario agreed to develop roadmaps to low-carbon campuses by the end of 2019.
- Many campuses are developing ambitious plans, with an emphasis on carbon neutrality among leading institutions
How does Waterloo compare to other campuses?
It is very difficult to compare directly, given the different size, climate patterns, energy intensity, 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 from the plan's focus?
The Climate and Energy Working Group has recommended focusing the first version of the CEAP on emissions from natural gas, fleet fuel, and electricity. While there are many other sources of emissions on campus:
- Natural gas, fleet fuel, and electricity are "direct" emissions on which the University has a higher degree of control and form the majority of measured emissions
- Waterloo may not have enough data to track and measure other emissions sources
- Separate but related plans to tackle other sources of emissions may be more effective or appropriate
Who is developing the action plan?
The Climate and Energy Working Group of the President's Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability has been leading the development of the action plan. The working group consists of representatives from Plant Operations, the Sustainability Office, Space Planning, Housing and Residences, and the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, as we as a network of faculty and staff advisors.
What will the CEAP cost?
The feasibility studies scheduled for Spring 2019 are necessary to gain more information on the costs and benefits of implementation.
It is important to include cost savings from energy efficiency, alignment with existing facility renewal needs, funding opportunities, and other maintenance benefits that create important financial considerations.
What are the timelines for the CEAP?
2050 is a long way away. The CEAP will outline a roadmap of directions necessary to reach the 2050 target, and increase the level of detail for shorter term actions and milestones.
Specific timelines and interim milestones will be determined after further evaluation, and aligned with the CEAP review process to split implementation into smaller steps (for example, 5-year plans).
What has been done in the past?
While Waterloo has never had an action plan before, it has completed projects that reduce energy intensity and emissions. 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.
- For a "3 minute thesis" summary, check out the Climate Change 101 video with Bill Nye