Environmental sustainability on campus

12 November 2021 Read time 6 min.
<b>Photo</b> Brenton Geach.
Photo Brenton Geach.

“UCT has made positive progress in terms of environmental sustainability in 2020 despite the COVID-19 lockdown challenges.”Manfred Braune, Director of Environmental Sustainability

UCT’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy

2020 saw UCT completing the development of its environmental sustainability strategy after 18 months of extensive stakeholder engagement. The strategy forms a key part of UCT’s Vision 2030 which has sustainability as one of its key pillars. A few key projects or activities are mentioned here:

Harnessing the power of the sun

Through the Office of the Vice Chancellor’s Environmental Sustainability Directorate, UCT led a detailed technical and financial feasibility study in 2020 to assess the potential of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations across all campuses to generate renewable energy. The report found 30 feasible buildings, representing a total possible power supply of about 2.5 MWp. Capital funding options are being explored, with proposed implementation starting in 2021 and running over the next five years.

Solar photovoltaic
Installing solar photovoltaic (PV) installations on rooftops and parking areas around UCT’s campus is just one of the options the university is considering to ensure a more energy sustainable campus. Photo Lerato Maduna.

Building greener campuses

2020 saw several construction projects under way – in accordance with UCT’s 2012 policy of building green to align with international best practice:

  • The new 500-bed Avenue Road residence achieved a 4-star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council South Africa in July 2020 – the first student housing project in the country to achieve a Green Star rating.
  • Construction of a new building for the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking (the d-school) began on middle campus in September 2020, with extensive work going into ensuring the d-school becomes UCT’s greenest building to date. Targeting a 6-star Green Star rating, the new building will have a 63kWp solar PV system on its roof, besides many other green building features.
  • Planning began in earnest in 2020 on the new building for the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, a development that will need to tread very lightly on the environment because of the sensitive location of its site on the edge of Table Mountain next to UCT. The project will hopefully be a net zero carbon and a net positive ecology development, which will be an incredible beacon of light and leadership to society in terms of environmental sustainability.
  • Hiddingh Campus has undergone substantial landscaping and refurbishment of the outdoor space, making it a much more appealing environment for students and staff to connect in.
  • Extensive work has gone into new waste bin infrastructure and branding in high traffic outdoor and food court areas on campus. Some of the bins were installed in 2020, with the remainder being installed in early 2021. More work is needed on this in residences in particular.
Avenue Road Residence
Avenue Road Residence is the country’s first university student residence to be awarded a Green Star rating from the Green Building Council South Africa. Photo Lerato Maduna.

Sustainable water management

UCT is committed to sustainable water management and aspires to be an internationally recognised community of water-wise individuals who create a net-zero-water campus by 2050. The UCT Sustainable Water Management Strategy is evidence of this commitment and supports UCT’s Vision 2030, which has a key focus on sustainability. The strategy was commissioned by the university in response to the transdisciplinary, collaborative and impact-driven research by its Future Water Institute on the implementation of water-sensitive design principles. Implementation of the strategy began in late 2020.

Richard Perez
The founding director of the d-school, Richard Perez, points out some of the building’s design features to VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng on site in 2020. The building’s sustainable features include rainwater harvesting. Photo Lerato Maduna.

Environmental sustainability research

In 2020 UCT students and academics continued to publish leading research papers on themes related to environmental sustainability:

  • Providing concise and comparable information on G20 countries’ mitigation, financing, adaptation and opportunities for improvement regarding climate change, the Climate Transparency Report for 2020 was released on 18 November. South Africa’s contribution was compiled by UCT’s Energy Systems Research Group.
  • Three University of Cape Town (UCT) climate change experts carried out a case study to understand what a just transition of South Africa’s energy landscape into a low-carbon environment could look like. This Just Transition Transaction aims to simultaneously solve the electricity supply crisis in South Africa while moving the country towards renewable energy, its emissions commitments and job creation in terms of the Paris Agreement.
  • A study by a trio of researchers and published in Nature has revealed that the disruption of biodiversity from climate change on land and in the oceans will be abrupt and could be much sooner than we had expected. The paper outlines that in many places around the world, a high percentage of species will be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions at about the same time, potentially leading to sudden and catastrophic die-offs of biodiversity.
  • “A transition to sustainable ocean governance”, a paper published in Nature Communications, argued that humanity must change its relationship with the ocean, a shared global commons, to stave off a collapse of the world’s marine environment and resources. The article is a summary of a Blue Paper compiled by the authors under the commission of the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, an initiative of 14 serving world leaders to build a sustainable ocean economy. UCT’s Dr Philile Mbatha is a contributing author.
  • Renewable energy experts have long hoped that solar and wind power would some day become the cheapest way to generate electricity, allowing the world to shift away from fossil fuel. According to Faaiqa Hartley, an energy economist at UCT’s Energy Research Centre, that day has arrived, and much sooner than expected. It could pave the way for renewables to eventually account for the lion’s share of global electricity production, far beyond today’s 26 percent share.

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