Waterloo’s new sustainability initiative


Sustainable Futures, a new initiative aimed at benefiting the environment, economy and society at large, was recently launched by the University of Waterloo. This initiative is a collaboration between the Waterloo Climate Institute, the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, and the Water Institute. It aims to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with a holistic approach of not only focusing on energy, climate and water but also the interconnections between them. More than 100 of Waterloo’s key collaborators, including government, industry partners, community organizations, researchers and students celebrated the launch of the Sustainable Futures initiative on Sept. 19, 2022. 

This initiative also aligns closely with the Futures Framework under Waterloo at 100 — an aspiration of Waterloo’s achievement at its 100th anniversary in 2057. The Futures Framework coordinates and recognizes UW’s efforts in addressing global challenges through education, research, and innovation. 

The Futures Framework, which helps coordinate the university’s efforts in education, research, and innovation to address global challenges, played an instrumental role in launching the Sustainable Futures Initiative. Charmaine B. Dean, vice-president of research and international at UW, advocates for sustainable solutions linkining climate, water, energy, driven by global challenges such as extreme weather events, food insecurity, and poverty. 

Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of UW, has said that Sustainable Futures is not only part of Waterloo’s sustainability ecosystem, but also an emerging culture of environmental action and activism in the neighbouring region. The collective efforts of world-class scholars, students, professors, and faculty will catalyze innovation and sustainable thinking in Ontario, Canada, and the world. 

Along with the launch of the initiative, UW’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability launched the Sustainable Futures Mentorship Program. Virtual sessions on the last Wednesday of every month, joined in by a guest speaker, offer more information on the program.

The program’s goal is to support students in their academic careers by sharing insights and advice from their colleagues, environmental practitioners, and industry professionals. Sessions are open to all UW students and will cover an array of topics including co-op placements, graduate school opportunities, securing entry-level jobs, and career options. Additionally, sessions will present skills and practices to support mental health.

UW’s faculty of environment offers a wide array of sustainability courses which employ the use of insights from the natural and social sciences to help solve some of the world’s biggest environmental and sustainability challenges. From green technology to ecological consulting, the program prepares students for all global challenges and equips them with the necessary technical tools to work in the industry. An example of a unique environmental major offered is the bachelor of sustainability and financial management which uses knowledge of accounting and financial management from UW’s school of accounting and finance with the faculty of environment’s expertise in sustainability to create industry-ready and global citizens. 

Four years ago the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Canada officially launched at UW. The two day event brought together 700 participants to talk about Canada’s challenges and opportunities in progressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The four main SDGs were covered at the launch event — education and training for sustainability, sustainable and inclusive cities, Canada’s energy-climate nexus, and doing justice to life on land and below water. 

In March, 2022, UW held its first Worldwide Teach-in aimed at climate justice. The Worldwide Teach-in on climate justice aimed to recruit 1,000 schools and universities around the globe to engage 500,000 students in learning about climate change and climate justice. This Teach-in was led by the UW Institute for Sustainable Energy and was supported by several student partners and the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change. 

In May and June UW also held a summer school event aimed at climate change and water security in urbanized watersheds. This program offered participants talks and discussion on leading water and climate struggles. Both of these initiatives aligned with the SDGs and despite the world being stopped because of the pandemic, the institute upheld its trajectory in terms of achieving goals.