Environmental sustainability

30 October 2023 Read time 6 min.
Manfred Braune, the director of environmental sustainability. <b>Photo</b> Lerato Maduna.
Manfred Braune, the director of environmental sustainability. Photo Lerato Maduna.

“2022 was a year of getting back to life as we knew it on campus, with campus activity ramping up close to 100% after all the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted. We learnt some valuable lessons during lockdown that we will take into the future, many of them contributing to more efficient and environmentally sustainable digital methods for doing certain things.” – Manfred Braune, the director of Environmental Sustainability

UCT’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy

Despite facing many challenges in 2022, especially the rolling national power blackouts (load shedding), the university continues to work towards achieving the three Vision 2030 pillars, including sustainability with its environmental sustainability strategy, including the goals of becoming a net-zero carbon/energy, water and waste-to-landfill campus by or before 2050.

UCT students celebrate 15 years of the Green Campus Initiative (GCI)

In 2022 UCT celebrated the 15-year anniversary of the student GCI at the newly constructed Hasso PIattner School of design Thinking (d-school), which was a fantastic event attended by students and staff, acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of the GCI student movement over the years.

Carbon footprint

The university prepared its most recent carbon footprint report for 2020 and 2021, which shows a much lower carbon footprint on campus during these two years due to the reduced activity on campus as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Many valuable lessons were learnt coming out of lockdown, with new digital methods for doing things that were tested and adopted across many areas of campus – whether it be for meetings that staff would typically drive across the city (or fly to other countries) for, meetings held virtually or things such as certain staff members who previously would be paid via cash delivery by car, now being paid via a new form of mobile phone digital payment method. Many of these innovations will allow the university to be more efficient and reduce its carbon footprint at the same time.

Understanding UCT’s building energy consumption

According to the World Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for one third of global greenhouse emissions due to their energy consumption. At UCT, about 70% of the carbon footprint is due to building energy consumption, mostly coming from dirty coal power. In 2022, UCT completed Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for all buildings larger than 2 000 m2, which is a new regulation passed by government – these certificates are now all posted on UCT’s website and will be placed in each of the public lobbies of these buildings to create some transparency about how much energy UCT’s larger buildings consume compared to the national benchmarks. UCT is one of only three universities that have completed their EPCs in the country in 2022.

Harnessing the power of the sun

In 2022 UCT completed three smaller solar photovoltaic (PV) installations on main campus, with 63 kWp on the roof of the d-school, 13 kWp on the roof of the Chemical Engineering building and 6 kWp on a small carpark shade structure near the north bus stop as a demonstration project. UCT also launched its procurement process for 500 kWp of solar PV across four building roofs on various campuses, which will be installed in 2023. This will form part of a larger phased roll out, totalling about 2.5 MWp of installed solar PV to be rolled out over three to five years. In the same year UCT also put a tender out and was awarded a tender to be part of the City of Cape Town’s energy wheeling pilot project, which would allow UCT to wheel renewable energy from off-site renewable energy generators.

Green buildings on campuses

The year 2022 saw several green building construction projects under way at UCT – these include:

  • Completion of UCT’s greenest building, the the d-school, targeting a 6-Star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA).
  • Completion of the new building for the School of Education on middle campus, below the Cricket Oval, which achieved its 4-Star Green Star rating from the GBCSA.
  • Planning for the following buildings continued in 2022, all of which will be green buildings:
    • Nelson Mandela School of of Public Governance
    • Digital & Polar Lab next to the New Engineering building
    • Arise building on the Faculty of Health Sciences campus
    • New student residence building via a lease to own contract
    • HW Pearson 5th floor rebuild (first university to target a Green Star Interiors rating)
    • Jaggar Library

UCT Council supports decision for UCT to divest from fossil fuel investments

UCT’s Council decided to support the recommendation from UCT’s University Panel for Responsible Investment to divest from fossil fuel investments by 2030. This is the first university in South Africa to make this decision.

Sustainable water management

The university continues to be on its journey of water-wise individuals, aiming to become a net-zero-water campus by or before 2050, according to the UCT Sustainable Water Management Strategy, which supports UCT’s Vision 2030 goals. As part of this, the Department of Higher Education and Training-funded water sustainability programme continued in 2022, with a number of enabling projects having been completed and nine student housing complexes having gone through water efficiency retrofits to reduce the water consumption in these buildings from showers, toilet flushing and wash hand basin use.

The Khusela Ikamva sustainable campus project gains momentum

The Khusela Ikamva (“secure our future”) Sustainable Campus Project gained momentum in 2022, with several master’s students being appointed under the five campus sustainability research streams. The project also implemented the first of its living lab demonstration sites, which will contribute to the research and visibility of sustainability learning on campus – this included the solar PV installation at the north bus stop as well as the sustainability focused art exhibitions on campus.

Environmental sustainability research and work shared on UCT News

In 2022 UCT students and academics continued to publish leading research papers and covered work on themes related to environmental sustainability. Here are a few examples of UCT news articles published on this:

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