Increasing Lug-a-Mug Use in the Engineering Coffee and Donut Shop

What Does Sustainability Mean on Campus?

Table of Contents


In 1987, the Bruntland Commission Report "Our Common Future" defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The words 'development' and 'needs' in this definition have led to confusion about what exactly sustainable development really means. Needs are not the same in every country and community because of geographical, cultural, traditional, and religious differences. Many people believe development means economic development that keeps within the limits of natural carrying capacity while others think that it simply means economic growth that can continue indefinitely. In our opinion, sustainable development should mean environmentally friendly economic development. This includes considering human well-being and the effects of human activities on the natural, biophysical environment.

Sustainability on the University of Waterloo campus requires working at the community level. This involves looking at the community as a human ecosystem where all components are closely interrelated. People, their natural environment (climate, land, water, biota), and their built environment (buildings, streets) form a complex network where each component is dependent on the others. In order to turn the University of Waterloo into a sustainable community, students and staff must join together to bring about long-term environmental and social change on the campus.

Sustainability at the University of Waterloo

Creating a sustainable University of Waterloo requires first the realization of the major subsystems on campus. The campus, as shown in "Diagram 1: UW Today" is an open system. The box or systems boundary around the campus separates the University from other external systems on which it is dependent: landscaping, energy, transportation, and water systems. These systems bring inputs to the campus ecosystem with which it could not operate. After inputs have passed through the campus, waste and pollutants are produced. These outputs rely on garbage collection and waste treatment systems for proper disposal.

This open system means that outputs are not currently being recycled or re-used at high enough levels. Without efforts directed at reduction, recycling, and reuse, achieving sustainability will not be possible.

At present, the University of Waterloo campus is not sustainable. It would be wrong however, not to acknowledge efforts that have been made to increase sustainability on campus. Some initiatives have been recycling, waste reduction and the elimination of hazardous cleaning products just to name a few. There is however, a long way to go to achieving sustainability.

Diagram 1 - UW Today

Vision Statement for a Sustainable University of Waterloo

Creating a sustainable Campus requires next the development of a vision statement of how we would like to see the campus in the future. Simply stated, our vision of a sustainable U of W is a campus that operates in a more closed off style as shown in " Diagram 2: UW Tomorrow". In such a system, the campus is viewed as a system and a subsystem within larger systems (the city, country, world). The university's role within the city and larger systems still could be changed from one of energy use and waste producer to a more benign member. There are ways in which the campus could reduce it's input needs and create less output. This would put less strain on the outside community, as well as increase the campus' self sufficiency. In short, in addition to viewing the campus as a collection of subsystems, it is essential to recognize the campus as a subsystem of a larger set of systems. To recognize this interconnectedness, "A Link with Community" subsystem could be implemented to monitor the effects of the inflows and outflows on the larger systems.

Diagram 2 - UW Tomorrow

In order to attain our vision statement, a number of changes need to made to landscape design and maintenance, energy efficiency, transportation, waste management, water conservation and education systems. These changes are a part of our vision of sustainability and are outlined below.

Landscape Design and Maintenance

To achieve sustainability in this area, the University of Waterloo needs to employ architects experienced with efficient water and energy saving systems. The use of turf should be limited to areas that are specifically designed for social use e.g. picnic / lunch areas. Only soil capable of retaining high levels of water and plants that consume low levels of water should be used on non-turf areas to ensure that large quantities of water are not being used wastefully. Switching from exotic plant forms to native species that can survive on little more than the precipitation provided by nature would help with this goal. Automatic irrigation systems using moisture sensors could also be installed to monitor the quantity of water being used. Designing a dual watering system can save vast quantities of water used for plants and turf. Sprinklers can be used for turf while plants receive a low watering irrigation system. The water being used should be properly treated waste water and/or storm runoff. Furthermore, by substituting pesticides and/or herbicides with natural fertilizers, the University's sewer treatment plant could be used to its full potential.

Using permeable/porous paving instead of asphalt for roads, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, and landscape areas redirects water back into the ground. This minimizes runoff into storm drains. The installation of a storm retention pond could supply cooling water for air conditioning units, thus eliminating the need to use potable water.

The projects described above could be presented to engineering, environmental, and architectural students at the University of Waterloo. This would present opportunities to educate tomorrow's designers with efficiency in mind.

Energy Efficiency

Steps that could be taken to increase energy efficiency would be the installation of sky lights, solar energy, solar water heating and wind energy. Energy losses could be reduced by weather stripping, caulking, and insulating. Tuning up heating and cooling systems, upgrading hot water heating system, buying the most energy efficient appliances and lighting, and planting trees for shading and wind protection are other measures that could be taken. We recognize, of course that such changes are often expensive and require a number of years to be implemented.


Increasing the number of car pools would decrease the need for the number of cars that occupy parking lots. Parking lots could then be made into parks or ice rinks. U of W school buses that drive up and down Columbia and University Ave. to transport UofW staff and/or students to and from the campus could be rerouted to be more efficient. This system would be similar to the present day yellow school buses. For those with exercise and the environment in mind, bicycles can be used. Bicycles are a cost effective device and eliminate the need for fossil fuels, car repairs, insurance, and other car related expenses. One half of Columbia and University Ave. could be converted into a bicycle path that would ensure cyclists greater safety. This would in turn encourage a greater number of students and staff to use bicycles as a form of transport.

Waste Management

Proper waste management techniques rely solely on habits. With waste in mind, the students and staff on campus can change their habits so that fewer disposable materials are used. By using lug-a-mugs and reusable dishes, wastes can be greatly reduced in cafeterias. Composting food scraps is also an efficient practice which ensures the availability of organic soil which can be used around plants on campus.

Decreasing the need for paper / hard copy throughout departments and eliminating the practice of printing on one side of paper reduces the amount of paper to be recycled. A recycling facility could be built on campus to recycle all the university's paper.

Water Conservation

Making water use more sustainable can be achieved through water saving habits, repairing and replacing bathroom fixtures with water saving devices, using faucet aerators on faucets and shower heads, installing tap and shower head sensors and through toilet replacement or the use of toilet dams. Another possibility would be to install closed circulation systems in every building to cool equipment. On-site treatment of sewage would result in the reuse of water and would at the same time produce fertilizer.


To bring about any change requires changing peoples' habits and this in turn requires educating and making students and staff aware about environmental sustainability and the part they play. Empowerment on campus is essential to achieving any of our visions described thus far. An important step forward would be requiring that each faculty insist that every student take a compulsory environment course to obtain their degree.


In order to achieve sustainability, a lot of work needs to be done. It is important to realize, however, that sustainability is a dynamic process and that our visions will change with time. As such, a sustainable community is a flexible community that recognizes our limited ability to predict the future. In a sustainable campus, as with any ecosystem, we must be able to change, evolve, reorganize and improve over time.


Gershon, D., Gilman, R. Household Ecoteam Workbook: A Sixth-Month Program to Bring Your Household Into Environmental Balance Global Action Plan for the Earth: Canada, 1990.

Sustainable Communities Resource Package Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy, April 1995.

Our Common Future Bruntland Commission, 1987.