Reducing UCT's environmental impact

17 July 2014

Monitoring carbon emissions and producing an annual carbon footprint report is one of the ways UCT is promoting sustainability on campus. What is the university's impact on the environment, and what can be done about it?

In 2012, Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price signed the ISCN-GULF Sustainable Campus Charter, which binds the university to three principles:

  • Making sustainability considerations an integral part of planning, construction, renovation, and operation of buildings on campus
  • Incorporating environmental and social goals into long-term, sustainable campus development, campus-wide master planning, and target-setting
  • Aligning the university's core mission with sustainable development, facilities, and research; and linking with education to create a "living laboratory" for sustainability.

UCT's carbon footprint in 2013Click on the image to the left to view a larger version.

According to the charter, signatory institutions commit themselves to implementing these principles, setting and measuring goals related to them, and reporting regularly and publicly on their progress.

Measuring the university's carbon footprint is one step towards this commitment, and UCT has just completed its carbon footprint report for 2013.

Cutting electricity

Electricity remains the major contributor to the university's carbon footprint, making up 76% of total emissions. While the lighting retrofitting programme is ongoing, the university also plans to install a digital meter to monitor usage in every building (similar monitoring of water consumption is also being considered). According to sustainability consultant Sandra Rippon, author of the 2013 report, other positive developments on campus are improved equipment maintenance and an end-of-life equipment upgrading scheme – in which the university's old equipment that no longer performs efficiently is replaced with the latest technology.

While electricity emissions have increased for off-campus residences, there are initiatives to make them more sustainable. Students, staff and service providers are being encouraged to sign a Green Residence Pledge, in which they commit to making small changes in their behaviour to promote sustainability, such as taking shorter showers, switching off lights and computers when they are not needed, and eating fresh food.

Disposing of e-waste

Another initiative that's little known but making a positive impact is the e-waste project, launched in 2010 by Properties & Services in collaboration with Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS), through which redundant equipment containing electronic components is removed. This initiative runs in partnership with the Southern African e-Waste Alliance, a non-profit one-stop shop that "helps to coordinate the responsible management" of electronic waste.

At UCT, each building or department identifies an e-waste champion, who organises the collection and short-term storage of unneeded or outdated equipment. When the time arrives for the e-waste to be collected, the champion contacts UCT's Environmental Risk Officer, Brett Roden, who liaises with the e-Waste Alliance to remove it. Items that are removed in this way include computers older than five years, keyboards, mouse devices, printers, and any other electronic equipment such as redundant laboratory equipment, as well as domestic appliances.

Electronic waste collected by ICTS, through their helpdesk, includes computers, printers and LCD screens that are not older than five years. Rippon reports that about 10 200kg of e-waste was collected from UCT last year and diverted from landfill.

Moving in tune with the environment

Travelling and commuting are notable contributors to the university's carbon footprint. In one year, air travel has increased by 13.5%. Rippon suggests that disincentives would help to make air travel less attractive and its cheaper alternative, video conferencing, more appealing. Furthermore, the report recommends that the university should consider an appropriate off-set approach, such as tree planting.

Cars remain a significant contributor to UCT's commuting emissions. A survey conducted as part of the carbon footprint report found that 74% of all commuting emissions are caused by privately owned vehicles. Aside from recommending that an annual traffic survey be conducted, the report suggests that a questionnaire on transport modes for commuting should be completed by students upon registration, as a way to monitor commuting emissions' contribution to the university's carbon footprint.

The university offers a number of services to wean the UCT community off its dependence on private vehicles. The latest, in addition to the carpooling scheme (see sidebar), is the pilot bicycle leasing service, Jammie Bikes. This joint initiative between Properties & Services and the Green Campus Initiative makes 200 branded bikes available for annual rental at R1 800 each, of which R800 is refundable upon the bike's return.

As a first phase, clearly marked cycling routes have been developed on main campus and bike parking stations are planned, mainly at Jammie shuttle transport hubs, where bikes can be securely locked. Since the launch of this initiative in April 2014, ten bikes have been leased.

Food for thought

Food supply emissions are the third- highest contributor after electricity and transport. This is another area in which the university's carbon footprint can be mitigated. Rippon suggests that the university adopt a sustainable food programme, which she describes as a holistic initiative "that looks at social, environmental and economic sustainability of the food supply chain".

The university has recently begun to include a clause on sustainability in contracts with our food vendors, which requires that they align themselves with UCT's sustainability objectives. Rippon provided examples of how this might be done, for instance by using biodegradable packaging and providing vegetarian options, since meals containing meat have a bigger carbon footprint than vegetarian meals.

Green office

Other than the campus-wide two-bin recycling system, the university has made provision for the recycling of white office paper and printer cartridges. Any department interested in recycling their office paper should contact Mogamat Benjamin.

UCT's printer cartridges can either be remanufactured or recycled by a company called Green Office. The person to contact for cartridge disposal is UCT's Environmental Risk Officer, Brett Roden, who will refer staff and students to the relevant person at Green Office.

Travel smart

According to, carbon emission from cars can be reduced through better driving. One can save more than a ton of CO2 per year by:

  • Accelerating slowly and smoothly
  • Driving within the speed limit
  • Maintaining a steady speed; and
  • Anticipating your stops and starts

Furthermore, finding someone to carpool with has become that much easier with the revamp of the RideLink website by FindALift. Register and get information about those who travel to Rondebosch daily at

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