After a Universities South Africa (USAf) Higher Education Sustainability Community of Practice (HESCoP) annual general meeting (AGM) held at the University of Cape Town (UCT) recently, the director of Environmental Sustainability in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Manfred Braune, was selected as deputy chairperson of the committee.
Dr Thelma Louw, the head of the Sustainability, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate at the University of South Africa (Unisa), was selected as chairperson, and together with this community of practice, Dr Louw and Braune are hoping to chart a sustainability framework and a university community that puts sustainability front and centre across university agendas.
The AGM, hosted in UCT’s greenest building – the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika – focused on themes such as campus sustainability initiatives, green campuses and sustainable development goals in higher education. It also included a tour of some of the building’s green features.
“This same spirit of collective response is what it seems this community of practice is about.”
Delegates heard from Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, UCT’s deputy vice-chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness, in the opening address.
Professor Ramugondo spoke about how in the face of a crippling drought and a devastating fire – with both occurrences impacting UCT heavily – it was a “collective response” that ensured the institution could emerge.
“This same spirit of collective response is what it seems this community of practice is about; drawing together knowledge and experience from around South Africa to help solve South Africa’s greatest sustainability challenges,” she said.
According to their website, HESCoP “endeavours to be a key advisory, advocacy and capacity building Community of Practice in support of the transformation agenda of the Higher Education (HE) sector, specifically with regard to the sector achieving its environmental sustainability objectives”.
Moreover, it strives to “develop, and contribute to, policy positions on environmental sustainability matters in higher education to strengthen teaching and learning, research, community engagement and operational activities relating to sustainability nationally and internationally”.
Kamva Somdyala (KS): There are many moving parts when it comes to sustainability. What is your strategy in tackling matters of sustainability through this community of practice?
Manfred Braune (MB): My strategy is to look for ways to draw in all the universities in the USAf umbrella; look for ways to draw in all the relevant university staff members that play a role in this space and to look for ways to maximise outcomes of any engagements (within the context that everyone has limited time and capacity).
KS: Where does one locate USAf’s HESCoP in the higher education umbrella?
Thelma Louw (TL): USAf endorses a comprehensive and equitable national higher education system that is responsive to the challenges facing South Africa.
Through lobbying and advocacy, USAf promotes and facilitates an optimal environment conducive for universities to function effectually and maximally contribute to the social, cultural, and economic advancement of South Africa and its people. It also enables universities to contribute to resolving immense global challenges such as global warming.
“My role in the CoP will be to find ways of maximising the opportunity for ideas to be shared.”
KS: What lessons, as UCT’s director of Environmental Sustainability, will you be bringing to your new role in this community of practice?
MB: Much can be shared between higher education institutions in terms of successes and failures of becoming more environmentally sustainable campuses.
If there are no local platforms and networks … to share these, it makes it very difficult for us as a community of higher education institutions to do much about it.
In my four years at UCT in the post of director of Environmental Sustainability there are so many lessons I have already learnt that I can share – whether it has to do with energy, water, waste, student engagement, green finance, curricula change, research etc but there are also so many lessons I can learn from other colleagues from other universities who are and will be part of this network.
My role in the CoP [community of practice] will largely be to find ways of maximising the opportunity for these ideas to be shared and lessons to be learnt as a CoP.
KS: As programme director of the recently concluded AGM, what were some of the outcomes you were looking forward to addressing?
TL: I was looking at creating more awareness of the HESCoP. Where institutions were not yet aware of the HESCoP I wanted them to leave the AGM invigorated and eager to participate in its activities. Where institutions have been involved, I wanted them to have a renewed commitment to sustainability and their involvement in the HESCoP.
KS: On sustainability, what is the one message you feel people are missing out on?
MB: Everyone must engage and do their part. Our planet is a highly complex net of systems, biological beings and natural resources that need to be understood and protected.
The complexity is what scares many people away or leaves many people feeling lost or unable to engage. They may also feel like they can’t eally make a difference. But every person and every organisation can and must engage with this, do their part and make a difference – this collective effort will make the difference in allowing our children and their children’s children to experience a world with clean air, rivers, oceans, mountains, biodiversity, resources etc, while at the same time experiencing social and financial well-being.
KS: What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge and opportunity that you will encounter going forward for this new community of practice?
TL: As with any community of practice it needs to remain relevant to its members, add value to the higher education landscape and influence the sector and government policy on sustainability matters in higher education.
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