South Africa (University of South Africa) Multidisciplinary collaborations important for sustainability

Themed “The journey has become a race against time”, Unisa held a Sustainability Indaba on 30 November 2022, with the purpose of sharing with its community and stakeholders its sustainability journey since the establishment of its Sustainability Office in 2013. Among others, the indaba highlighted Unisa’s commitment to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) locally and nationally, considering the aim of the Sustainability Framework 2020-2030 to localise and promote the relevant SDGs in its operations and on the continent.

In his opening and welcoming address, Matsiababa Motebele, Unisa’s Vice-Principal of Operations and Facilities, said that climate change is a reality and its impact is felt globally; therefore, there needs to be solutions to combat it. Motebele reiterated the importance of prioritising and implementing sustainability.

Energy management and engaged scholarship

Focusing on Energy management initiatives for Unisa, Thulani Mpontshane, Unisa’s Director of Maintenance: Department of Facilities Management, said: “We have collaborated with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to focus on sustainability issues within Unisa.” He added: “The sustainability project was initiated to address the university’s high utility bill, lack of continuous power supply due to load shedding, and to improve the condition of learning.”

For Unisa, the CSIR proposed, among others, replacing traditional globes with more energy-efficient ones, replacing mechanical pumps with energy-efficient ones, and installing motion sensors in different buildings. Each building is equipped with smart meters to monitor water and energy consumption in strategic areas.

CSIR’S Principal Researcher: Solar Photovoltaic (PV), Lawrence Pratt, focused on PV performance at the CSIR. Among others, Pratt provided an overview of the organisation and its Energy Centre, which is a fairly new research group. The centre’s foci are energy supply and demand, electro-chemical energy technologies, energy systems and energy industry. Pratt also shared their historical generation and savings, indicating that they had saved about R17.4 million from a reduced electricity bill through October 2022.

Unisa College of Science Engineering and Technology’s Professor Baraka Sempunga presented on Energy sustainable for Africa, indicating that about 3.5 million South African households are energy poor. He remarked: “Firewood and paraffin are predominantly used in energy-poor communities. Paraffin-related fires have resulted in approximately 200 000 injuries or property loss, and about 80 000 children accidentally ingest paraffin.”

Sempunga also touched on engaged scholarship at the Institute for Catalysis and Energy Systems (ICES) to promote ready-to-use energy technologies to communities. The engaged scholarship includes educational projects with school learners and setting up demonstration sites at specific Unisa areas. Additionally, he shared multidisciplinary collaborations between ICES and the Institute for Social and Health Sciences to ensure successful sustainability intervention in communities.

Sustainability reflections

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Director of Environmental Sustainability, Manfred Braune, shared UCT’s journey towards a more sustainable campus. He stated that they are in the process of ensuring that their new buildings are net-zero carbon by 2030 and existing buildings by 2050. Speaking on the institution’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy, Braune maintained that key learning threads would apply sustainability strategy to provide basic understanding of each student.

Unisa’s Sustainability Officer in the Sustainability, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate, Rendani Nematandani, provided a review of Unisa’s implementation status of the various campus masterplans – “Leeto la Sustainability”. Unpacking what masterplans are, Nematandani explained that their primary aim is to improve efficiencies in waste, water, energy, as well as alternative energy. He said: “The benefits of implementing masterplans include legislative compliance, effective management of resources and improved reputation and image.”

University of Pretoria’s Dr Yolande Steenkamp, Network Manager: Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) South Africa, presented on The role of higher education institutions in sustainable developments. She remarked that the SDSN promotes integrated approaches to implement the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change through, among others, research and global cooperation. “The SDSN pursues its mission by working with member institutions in countries around the world, organised into networks at the national and regional level,” she said.

During the question-and-answer sessions, comments and responses were provided around issues of, among others, what the university is doing to leverage on the infrastructure at their disposal regarding water harvesting, and the universities’ engagement with local authorities to ensure the effective integration and implementation of sustainability projects.

In closing, Feresane Sibeko, Unisa’s Acting Executive Director of University Estates, expressed his appreciation for the sustainability partnership between Unisa and the CSIR. He encouraged intensive collaborations between universities to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of the SDGs.