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UWC’s Sustainability Conception Workshop

Sustainability Workshop Considers Future Science and Society

Two dozen academics from different disciplines within the field of sustainability gathered at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) recently to conceptualise and discuss the development of a research niche area in sustainability and systems analysis.

Kicking off on 23 January 2016, the two-day workshop aimed to creatively conceptualise a Centre for Sustainability to be based at UWC, which will promote interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research collaborations.

The event was facilitated by Professor Max Bergman (Chair of Social Research and Methodology at the University of Basel and Extraordinary Professor at UWC), Prof Thandi Mgwebi (Director of Research at UWC and Chair of next year’s World Sustainability Forum in Cape Town, co-hosted by UWC) and Prof Frans Swanepoel (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Innovation at UWC).

UWC is currently in the process of entrenching itself as a national leader in sustainability and systems analysis for sustainability, with a vast amount of high-quality, cutting-edge research related to the broad domain of sustainability currently taking place at the University.

Presenters reflected on the impactful research already being conducted within the field of systems analysis for sustainability at UWC, and led discussions on their specific sustainability research niche areas:

  • Prof Julian May (Director of the Institute of Social Development), explored food systems sustainability in South Africa;

  • Prof Vladimir Linkov (Director of the South African Institute of Advanced Materials Chemistry, SAIAMC) discussed energy and water systems sustainability;

  • Prof Ben Bladergroen (Deputy Director of SAIAMC and Director of the Energy Storage Innovation Lab) tackled energy systems sustainability,

  • and Prof Diane Cooper (of the School of Public Health) provided an in-depth overview of health systems sustainability.

The workshop investigated the ways in which UWC can harness this potential in collaboration with relevant stakeholders to establish UWC and its collaborating partners as leading experts on the continent in the field of sustainability.

Profs Alice Pell and Alex Travis from the Atkinson’s Centre for a Sustainable Future (Cornell University, USA) spoke of the Centre’s multi-year, cross-campus dialogue on energy and sustainability. Prof Akiyama Tomohiro of the Graduate School of Frontier Science (University of Tokyo, Japan) discussed research on the frontiers of traditional disciplinary boundaries. And other international experts shared their international experience and perspectives on establishing and running a sustainability centre.

Sustainability studies have the potential for truly global impact.

“Globally, this is of course a very topical area, as we see nations gathering their resources to promote strategies for attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” noted Prof Mgwebi. “The workshop was interesting and inspiring, and we hope further interdisciplinary collaboration will see UWC realise the dream of becoming a sustainability-focused centre.”