Growing Up With the Environment

Dr. Jean Andrey, Professor and Acting Dean, Faculty of Environment.

Founded in 1957, the University of Waterloo was built primarily on the foundation of business, mathematics and engineering. However, less than a decade later in 1969, the university became one of the first in Canada to initiate an Environmental Studies program. It was a brave move at the time, occurring just as the environmental movement was finding its voice, and positioned University of Waterloo as a pioneer in advancing Canadian and global environmental concerns.

"It took a lot of foresight and savvy to convince the leaders at the time to take a gamble on a small social science experiment," says Jean Andrey, Professor and Acting Dean, Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo.

Back in 1969, environmental championship was typically the domain of activists and 'tree-huggers.' Environmental sustainability was not even a recognized phrase, let alone considered a topic to be taken seriously by citizens, government and corporations.

But over the next 40+ years, the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo has led the way in environmental research and in raising our collective understanding, helping the environmental movement move mainstream.

"Environmental science has become a legitimate area of study. The world now realizes the importance of understanding our ecosystem and the changes that are happening within our world," says Dr. Andrey. "Environmental concerns are now topics of discussion amongst world leaders, and top of the agenda at global conferences. We have come a long way in a relatively short period of time."

Initially, environmental researchers at the University of Waterloo focused their energy on understanding environmental problems. That focus has now shifted away from understanding toward the more ambitious goal of solving environmental concerns such as climate change, water and land use and the health implications of environmental change. "We are now taking our research and our understanding of the issues and adopting a pro-active approach in the way we interact with our communities, both locally and globally," says Dr. Andrey.

As the environmental discussion goes mainstream, the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment is looking to collaborate more, working with other partners in academia as well as government and industry partners to craft real workable solutions to our current and future environmental challenges. Jean Andrey, explains that a truly collaborative approach is what is going to create real change.

"Environmental experts are no longer activists at the door, they are sitting at the table and active participants in the discussion."

With more than 12,000 alumni located in 80 countries, 2000+ undergrads, 500+ grad students, 125 faculty and staff and $7.6 in total research support, the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment has a vision for change and the motivation to lead by example.

"The University is hoping to be a better leader," explains Dr. Andrey. "Most schools focus on the science and governance side of environmental studies. We now have a business element that we are very proud of. We have long understood that business has to be at the table, and I think we are doing it better now than we've ever done, and in my opinion, we're doing it better than anyone else to be honest." In an effort to lead by example, the Faculty of Environment has recently appointed a new sustainability coordinator to oversee sustainability initiatives across the University of Waterloo campus, and the Faculty's EV3 Building is certified LEED Platinum and one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the world. University of Waterloo was also the first university in Canada to adopt Greening the Campus, a philosophy that university campuses should reflect the world students seek to create.

Andrey note that while her faculty has made great strides over the last 40 years in understanding the environment and in researching solutions, there is still much to be done to create a truly sustainable environment, here in Canada and around the world. "In a number of ways Canada has done very well. We have seen great things done in terms of policy reform and water protection. I think we've kept pace with the developed world in these areas. But we are an affluent nation, and how that connects to our consumption is still an issue."

University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment plans to continue to lead the way in helping Canada and the world solve the most pressing environmental issues of the day. "It can't be done by a single person, we need to collaborate," says Dr. Andrey. "We are lucky to have a faculty with global experience, by reaching out to these connections and creating partnerships we will make a difference. We were pioneers in this movement and we will continue to inspire change and lead by example as we grow up with the environment."