Our Vision for a Sustainable University of Waterloo


The need for ecologically sustainable practices, attitudes and technology has never been greater than now as the world nears the end of the twentieth century. Ecological crises involving such issues as waste management, energy use, dwindling resources and pollution exist on both a world-wide scale and at the community level. The University of Waterloo (UW) itself may represent the world as a whole as it is a microcosm of society with all the associated systems, technologies, attitudes and environmental dilemmas. By envisioning a set of desired characteristics the University of Waterloo can lead the greater community in becoming a model for sustainability. Through the identification, evaluation, and resolution of environmental problems within its own boundaries UW can serve as an example for other individuals, businesses, institutions and even countries. Five key guiding principals are central to our concept of a sustainable UW and these appear throughout our vision. They are: Awareness, Efficiency, Equality, Co-operation, and Natural systems. Our vision of sustainability encompasses social, economical, ecological and political issues, all equally important as they are inextricably linked in our everyday lives.

The concepts behind our principles of sustainability are as follows: Natural and sustainable practices will be emphasized at all times to enforce a change in the perception that manicured and formal tools and technologies are more efficient than natural paths. Co-operation will exist between individuals, groups, and the community to provide a greater outlook on all aspects of sustainability. Awareness of sustainability programs and new information systems must be promoted throughout society. The concept of efficiency must be applied to all resource, energy, waste management, and transportation endeavours. Finally, UW must exemplify the principle of equity in all of its initiatives, not alienating individuals or particular class groups be they economical, cultural, physical or social.

As UW embarks on a journey towards a dynamic state of sustainability a guided tour will illustrate our future vision including the various aspects of its physical, social, and educational infrastructure.

The beginning of our tour will look at changes to the UW political environment where the decision-making process is the result of a multi-disciplined body. This body will welcome involvement by students, faculty, staff, and the community. This would function similar to a democratic round table where all impacts of proposed projects, policies, and developments are anticipated and considered. Inter-departmental communication must also be emphasized. Relative to the presence of this management body, a subgroup of student government will be developed to deal with sustainability issues daily. A multi-disciplined background would again solve the problem of a narrow interpretation of sustainability for UW.

Our journey takes a turn toward future social aspects of the campus. Envision a university flourishing with various cultural and outdoor recreation opportunities in which individuals are strongly encouraged to partake. In addition to facilitating physical, mental, and environmental fitness, UW will continue to provide a safe and high quality environment for all its citizens. Such a pleasant and hospitable campus environment would attract members of the immediate and greater community allowing for associated spending and greater economic stability.

The tour will now examine community links at our campus of the future. Envision campus initiatives designed to promote relationships between UW citizens and the community. Communication would be maintained through voluntary participation of students, staff and faculty in community based projects. Participation would provide an educational experience and a positive outcome for all involved.

The next stop on our tour illustrates the various physical components of the university system. Here we can observe solar energy generators designed with the expertise of UW's own students and faculty. Throughout the campus the use of alternative energy sources, and a reduction in energy consumption is promoted. The efficient use of water resources is exemplified by the recent development of a UW water treatment and purification facility on the north campus.

More sustainable management practices as mentioned above has also be implemented in the area of waste control. Waste management initiatives include source reduction activities and the use of reusable materials. The development of an eco-purchase system which promotes sustainable production practices by conducting all university business with environmentally responsible companies plays a significant role in carrying sustainability practices into the community. All non-reusable materials on campus will be recyclable, including organic and inorganic waste.

To ensure the continuation of these programs throughout the cmapus environment, a system of facility auditing has been implemented. Individual buildings and departments are monitored to obtain information on current practices. In the case where there is room for improvement within a particular body, all efforts are made to provide tools to remedy the situation. University bodies will also be encouraged to develop their own concepts of sustainability in order to create site specific programs which cater to individual needs.

A very significant aspect of the new campus is one which links the university and the community. The development of a transportation system which eliminates the use of the combustion engine, and facilitates non-vehicular transportation aids in carrying the ideas of sustainability developed at UW, into the community. Due to the strength of the environmental and engineering faculties, these systems are a promariy focus within the educational setting of the university.

The campus of the future will look remarkably different than it does now. All lawns are replaced by natural landscaping. Native plant species are utilized to encourage the visitation of wildlife to the university grounds. Pesticide use has been completely eliminated as the need for artificial pest control is eliminated along with monoculture grass landscapes. These natural landscapes serve as a refuge from the normal city atmosphere of smog, dust and concrete. The corridor of land surrounding Laurel Creek has also been dramatically altered. A buffer zone of plant species encompasses the creek, stopping erosion and cooling the water. A further reparation of the creek in terms of organisms and health has been undertaken. The number of new buildings will be limited as we seek to grow up instead of contributing to urban sprawl.

The last key in our vision for the university is the importance of ecological education. A basic ecological education for all students, faculty and staff is required. In order for the university to become more sustainable, environmentally responsible practices, attitudes and technologies must be employed by everyone involved and therefore must be understood and supported by the unversity community. Attitudes and understanding must be alterted before behavioral change will follow. Self-directed learning must be emphasised as solving environmental problems requires these skills.Information must also be widely accessible to everyone on campus and in the community. This information exchange will be facilitated by the development of more effective means of communication. Based upon the trend of increasing computer literacy, faculty, students, and community members will utilize such tools as the information highway, electronic mail and textbooks.

In order for the concepts proposed in this paper to come to fruition and become a part of life at UW, a body must be introduced which will facilitate cohesion of all of these projects to ensure that a coherent and interdependant system of sustainability exists on campus. This group proposes the development of an Environmental Audit Team (E.A.T.) which will play a key role in the advancement of knowledge regarding UW's ecological situation. Through an overall assessment of areas including waste management, energy consumption, food issues, and transportation up to date information on pertinent campus environmental issues will be provided. When placed on the World Wide Web this information will be acessible to many. The E.A.T. sees sustainability not as a solitary goal, but rather as a goal which is recognized for its ability to be continually improved upon. Whether or not UW will achieve a state of sustainability can not be determined as our ecological knowledge is incomplete at best. A negative feedback loop will be created as a result of this cyclic information gathering. The environmental audits may be preformed every five years to uncover new problems, update any changes, and to create new goals to aid in our reach for sustainability.

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Created By: The Enviro-Base Team (clussier@cousteau.uwaterloo.ca)
Last Updated: August 8th,1995