Environmental sustainability on campus

19 October 2022 Read time 6 min.
Manfred Braune, the director of environmental sustainability. <b>Photo</b> Nasief Manie.
Manfred Braune, the director of environmental sustainability. Photo Nasief Manie.

While 2021 was a year of reduced activity on campus and financially constrained budgets due to continued COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, UCT continued to make positive progress in terms of environmental sustainability.

UCT’s environmental sustainability strategy

Sustainability is one of the three key pillars of Vision 2030, and the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) environmental sustainability strategy highlights what the university intends to achieve to support this vision – including the goals of becoming a net-zero carbon/energy, water and waste-to-landfill campus by or before 2050.

Carbon footprint

UCT prepared its most recent Carbon Footprint Report (for 2019) in 2021, which was completed later than usual due to challenging data collection conditions, with staff working mostly remotely. The Carbon Footprint Report tells a similar story to previous years, pointing out that approximately 70% of UCT’s greenhouse gas emissions are from its building energy consumption, which largely comes from Eskom’s dirty coal-powered electricity supplied via the City of Cape Town’s electricity network.

While the carbon footprint has not substantially reduced, it is important to highlight that the university student uptake grew during this period, meaning that the per capita carbon footprint is coming down. As part of UCT’s Khusela Ikamva Sustainable Campus Project, meaning “secure the future”, the cost optimal pathway to become a net-zero carbon campus by or before 2050 will be determined through a technical energy modelling process undertaken by UCT’s Energy Systems Research Group. This important work started in 2021.

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 its carbon footprint is due to building energy consumption.

In 2021, UCT completed energy audits of 16 of its largest buildings on campus, representing about half of its total floor area, to get a better understanding of how energy is used in its largest buildings and where the low hanging fruit are for energy/carbon emission reductions. UCT also installed an additional 40 digital electricity meters that are connected to its online metering dashboard to ensure that every building above 2 000m2 is individually metered in preparation of meeting the government gazetted requirement for Energy Performance Certificates for these buildings.

Harnessing the power of the sun

Through the Office of the Vice-Chancellor’s Environmental Sustainability Directorate and the Properties and Services department, UCT is preparing for the procurement and construction of its first phase of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations on various rooftops at UCT, to the tune of about 500 kWp, which will begin construction in 2022. This will form part of a larger phased rollout, totalling about 2–2.5 MWp, of installed solar PV over the next three to five years.

Green buildings on campuses

The year 2021 saw several green building construction projects under way at UCT. These include:

  • The new 500-bed Avenue Road residence (the first 4-Star Green Star rated student housing project on the continent) saw students moving in at the beginning of 2021.
  • Construction of the green building for the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking (the d-school) made substantial progress in 2021, with the roof nearing completion at the end of the year. The project will be UCT’s greenest building to date, targeting a 6-Star Green Star rating.
  • The new building for the School of Education on Lower Campus below the Cricket Oval achieved its 4-Star Green Star rating while still under construction in 2021.
  • Planning for the Nelson Mandela School of Governance continued, with further urban planning and EIA processes underway.
  • Planning of the Digital & Polar Lab next to the new engineering building began in 2021. One of the project goals is to become a net-zero carbon building, a goal that is closely tied to its purpose as a Polar Lab.
  • While several buildings were severely damaged by the fire of April 2021, much effort will go into ensuring they are rebuilt as green buildings. Planning for building repairs and reconstruction began in 2021 on all these buildings.
The d-school will stand at the entrance to middle campus, with students being able to access it easily via a footbridge. Photo Supplied.

Sustainable water management

UCT continues to be committed to sustainable water management and aspires to be an internationally recognised community of water-wise individuals, aiming to become a net-zero-water campus by 2050. The UCT Sustainable Water Management Strategy is evidence of this commitment and supports UCT’s Vision 2030.

The Department of Higher Education and Training-funded water sustainability programme continued in 2021, with a number of enabling projects well under way on this programme, including the detailed mapping and digitisation of underground water and sewage services on campus; installation of additional water meters for every building and tying this into the online dashboard; explorative borehole drilling; planning for the installation of water-saving fixtures to several residences; and planning of an extensive water recycling facility serving the residences on lower campus.

The launch of the Khusela Ikamva sustainable campus project

In 2020, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng invited UCT research leaders to submit proposals for innovative, cross-disciplinary research projects – Khusela Ikamva – that would investigate how UCT could become a more environmentally sustainable campus, including proof-of-concept projects on campus (Living Labs) to support the feasibility of the ideas being developed. The project has been established to help create a UCT community of practice that will help move UCT forward on its environmental sustainability strategy.

Five research leaders from different disciplines were selected in 2021 and were formed into one project team coordinated through the Environmental Sustainability Directorate, working closely with various student researchers and the relevant PASS staff members to undertake in-depth research that will focus on carbon emission reductions strategies on campus; the food-waste-energy nexus on campus; the food-waste-wildlife-art nexus on campus; sustainable water management on campus; and the one that ties them all together ... to establish a community of practice. The project made a significant start in 2021, including appointing a number of new postgraduate student researchers to support the project.

Environmental sustainability research and work shared on UCT News

In 2021, UCT students and academics continued to publish leading research papers and covered work on themes related to environmental sustainability.

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The Newsroom and Publications unit releases an annual report, which is a review of activities on campus during the previous year. It spans nearly all aspects of UCT life, and includes reports from senior executives on issues such as governance, teaching and learning, research, social responsiveness, transformation and employment equity. Each year the report clearly illustrates clearly why UCT is held in such high regard in South Africa, Africa and across the globe.