In a world facing climate change, energy shortages, habitat destruction and other environmental issues, it’s important for universities to serve as role models for greening and sustainability. And the University of the Western Cape is doing just that.
“When we look at the many complex issues facing the world in the twenty-first century - poverty, social injustice, the clash of cultures - we can often become a bit overwhelmed,” says Prof. Tyrone Pretorius, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape. “That’s especially true when we look at issues of climate change and sustainability: global issues that no one country - and certainly no one university - can solve alone.”
Not even a university that has thrice been crowned Africa’s Greenest Campus, and is the only South African university to have been named among the top universities in the world in all three of the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings which measure higher education’s commitment and contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“UWC can’t solve climate change, and we can’t save the planet,” says Prof. Pretorius. “But what we can do is provide the best research and technology, the best graduates and the best example to inspire others to join the fight - and move from hope to action.”
Here are just four ways UWC is fighting the green fight...
Green Justice - Legal Leadership: UWC is all about commitment. That’s why the University is a longstanding signatory of the Talloires Declaration, an official worldwide statement by over 400 universities in 56 countries to commit to environmental sustainability in education and research. UWC has also committed itself to the recently-launched Green Good Deeds programme, which promotes sustainable waste management practices such as recycling, and galvanising society at large to change their behaviour around waste, pollution and the environment. And the University has recently launched its Global Environmental Law Centre, under Acting Director Angela van der Berg. The GELC aims to foster legal research and innovation to explore and enhance the ways that global environmental law responds to complex environmental challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, transboundary pollution and deforestation.
Green Tech - Better Batteries (And More): It’s not enough to wait for a greener future; we have to build it. At UWC, we’re building a variety of green technology solutions. Hydrogen Systems SA has been responsible for many hydrogen fuel cell technology breakthroughs in South Africa: the first hydrogen-powered golf carts, first fuel cell backup power systems prototype for telecommunications, first hydrogen fuel cell generator. HFCT is noiseless, effective, and pollution-free - the only emission is water. At the same time, UWC’s Energy Storage Innovation Lab (ESIL) produces batteries with the best possible performance - particularly useful in a country where load shedding has become a way of life. And UWC’s Green Nanotechnology Centre combines the strengths of nanobioscience, nanochemistry and nanophysics to develop alternative energy, new medical diagnostic/therapeutic agents, biological sensors, chemical sensors, smart electronic materials and nanoscale robots. And that’s just for starters.
Green Systems - Food, Land And Waste: Green tech matters - but green systems matter just as much. That’s why UWC’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) has developed a proven track record of undertaking high-quality research on land and agrarian reform, poverty, and natural resource management in South Africa and the southern African region. It’s also why the University hosts (jointly, with the University of Pretoria), the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, a global leader in research, capacity building, knowledge brokerage and service provision in food security and nutrition in Africa. And with the leadership of SARChi Chair Prof Catherina Schenck, UWC promotes sustainable waste management practices (such as recycling) - and galvanises society at large to adopt responsible and sustainable waste prevention and management strategies (and to develop business models to support a secondary resources economy).
A Green Model - Leading By Example: Leadership begins at home - and UWC is walking the talk. Students are actively involved in managing the UWC Nature Reserve, eradicating alien vegetation and maintaining fire breaks, and reserve staff take pleasure in researching and educating the public about the biological treasures of the region. Meanwhile, UWC’s Green Campus Initiative chapter of over 2000 student volunteers actively participate(d) in various campus clean-ups, green debates and activities. And UWC’s game-changing Borehole Water Purification Plant has brought a measure of self-sufficiency to the University, with the capacity to produce up to 500 000 ?/d of drinking quality water. And at UWC, even the feral cats play their part. They’re provided a safe environment and decent care - and in return, they provide a natural means of pest control. Everybody wins! Except the pests, of course.