(Published - 1 July 2019)
In a world facing climate change, energy challenges and other environmental issues - and one undergoing rapid technological transformation - it’s become increasingly important for universities to serve as role models for greening and sustainability. That’s why the University of the Western Cape is proud to host the Green Campuses Conference 2019, providing A Call for Green Leadership in the Higher Education Landscape to Critically Engage the 4th Industrial Revolution for Sustainable Campuses.
“This conference is a chance for us all to grapple with some of the biggest environmental challenges of our time,” says Prof Pam Dube, UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Development and Support. “More importantly, it’s a chance for students to engage on these matters, and be the examples the world needs them to be.”
The conference, hosted in partnership with the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, Southern Africa Chapter (ACUHO-I-SAC), provides a platform for hundreds of students from South Africa’s higher education institutions to share ideas, discuss initiatives and inspire change.
Recognising the need for the development of vocational skills, environmental awareness, climate change justice and an increased understanding of the demands related to the development of green campuses, ACUHO-I-SAC is encouraging higher education institutions to embark upon programmes that develop increased green skills and awareness capacity.
“South African youth must not wait for the government for solutions to the challenges we face in the twenty-first century, but must use available resources and turn these challenges into opportunities,” says Njabulo Maphumulo, Executive Chairperson for the Green Campuses Conference, and ACUHO-I-SAC Board Member.
“If the aim of the upcoming industrial revolution is to improve the lives of citizens and society in general, higher education institutions will become central in the creation of a skills base that can meet society’s needs. Youth must be seen as the catalyst for social change, and a force for good in the world.”
The African Green Campus Initiative is an outgrowth of this thinking - an independent higher education student programme that addresses the climate change challenges facing our universities, colleges and communities. It's based on the notion that campuses that address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and integrate sustainability into their curricula will better benefit students and help create a thriving, modern community.
Siya Ncebakazi Booysen, Master’s student in Chemical Science at UWC, and Chairperson of UWC-GCI, believes this is the time to make sure that our technological progress is in line with our environmental needs.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is hard to pin down, but for me, it refers to the new ways in which we introduce and use new technology in our society,” she says. “Robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology - these have the potential to change our world, and we’re looking forward to unpacking these topics and making sure that change is positive.”
UWC’s own Green Campus Initiative chapter consists of over 2000 student volunteers, who actively participate in various campus clean-ups, create residence vegetable and indigenous gardens at residences, participate in formal green talks and debates, and do their best to inspire change.
Greening The Revolution: UWC Leads By Example
The University of the Western Cape is no stranger to greening - it has thrice been crowned Africa’s Greenest Campus, and is the only South African University to be named among the top 200 universities in the world in the recent Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings, measuring higher education’s commitment and contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Here are three ways UWC is leading the green revolution:
- Powering The Revolution - The Hydrogen Future: See that fleet of golf carts zipping around campus? They’re powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology (HFCT) courtesy of Hydrogen Systems - noiseless, effective and pollution-free - the only emission is water. HySA has also been responsible for many other HFCT breakthroughs in South Africa: the first hydrogen-powered tricycle, first fuel cell backup power systems prototype for the telecommunications market, and the first loadshedding-beating hydrogen fuel cell generator for the UWC Nature Reserve.
- Revolutionary Communications: The Solar-Powered ISP: Data must fall, as the saying goes - especially in rural South Africa where infrastructure is scarce and mobile networks can be prohibitively expensive. The Zenzeleni mesh network - a joint project between UWC’s Bridging Applications Network Group (BANG) and the community of rural Mankosi - enables connectivity through low-cost internet and voice calls in rural areas. The network covers 30km2 and is made up of a dozen routers running open-source firmware and software. The entire system is powered by solar panels installed on the roofs of the host homes.
- Revolutionary Deeds: Waste Not, Want Not: The University has committed itself to the recently-launched Green Good Deeds programme - which promotes sustainable waste management practices (such as recycling) - and to galvanising society at large to change their behaviour around waste, pollution and the environment. UWC is also leading efforts to deal with the direct consequences of waste. Professor Leslie Petrik of UWC’s Department of Chemistry is leading research to prove that fly ash, the residue from burning coal at power stations, can provide a cost-effective alternative to cement.