“In an unwavering commitment to drive profound societal change both locally and globally, and instil a culture of sustainability within its student community, the University of Pretoria (UP) has not just hit the right notes, but stands ready to elevate its endeavours,” said Ilze Ueckermann, a sustainability specialist in UP’s Department of Facilities Management.
Ueckermann added that UP has been actively monitoring its environmental performance since 2017; this coincided with its first Carbon Footprint Report. The University aligns its interventions with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a driving force in its operations, aiming to restore environmental integrity. UP’s dedication is emphasised by its participation in the annual Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which it has featured in since 2018.
“UP realises its significance as an anchor institution in South Africa, but more specifically in Tshwane and the Hatfield CID,” Ueckermann said. “The University has a responsibility to teach and uplift the students who enrol, as well as other stakeholders who may visit its campuses. It is important that students make sustainability and sustainable behaviour part of their everyday ethos. UP wants to ensure that the principles and ideas taught at the University are taken further, and that the principles of sustainability be internalised by students; it must be the basis upon which they base their behaviour.”
Waterwise gardens at UP's Mamelodi (left) and Hatfield (right) campuses.
UP is in the process of obtaining municipal approval for the construction of a 2 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) plant at the Engineering 4.0 building on Hillcrest Campus.
The lighting in the recently refurbished HW Snyman library is connected to times switches that automatically switch the lights off when the library is not operational.
There is a programme to ensure that old, inefficient electrical installations are replaced with LED lights. The latest example is in the Administrative Building and the Tirisano residence (Groenkloof Campus).
The area lighting on Onderstepoort Campus has been replaced with LED lights.
The University has 2 179 solar PV panels in total that produce 1 360 741,84 kilowatt hours, which has resulted in savings of R1 752 541,34 during 2022.
UP has two rainwater harvesting systems. The Engineering 1 Building has an 80 000 litre tank that captures water from the roof off Engineering 1 and the Mining Industry Study Centre for use in the Manie van der Schyff Botanical Gardens on the Hatfield Campus.
Future Africa, UP's pan-African platform for collaborative research, has a rainwater harvesting system that is designed to capture rainwater from the buildings, which is then diverted to the attenuation pond at the entrance. This water is used in the Future Africa gardens.
Water harvesting at UP’s Engineering 1 Building (left) for use in the Manie van der Schyff Botanical Gardens on the Hatfield Campus. Future Africa (right) has a rainwater harvesting system that captures rainwater from the buildings, which is then used to water the gardens in the complex.
The Landscaping and Sports Field Management division is investigating the feasibility of moisture meters on a small pilot site. The intent is to connect the moisture meters to the irrigation system, so that it does not irrigate the gardens unnecessarily.
Over the past six years, the landscaping of the campuses has been addressed to be in line with the typical water-sensitive Marikana Thornveld and Norite Koppies Bushveld veld-type bioregion, which encompasses the plains to the north of the Magaliesberg. This is also in line with the Water Management Policy and Plan of the University.
UP has its own composting and mulch-producing area on Hillcrest Campus. Over the past five years, this facility has produces 9 700m3 of compost and mulch, which is used in the campus gardens.
The University’s extensive network of sports fields and sports turf areas have all been converted from a chemical fertiliser to an organic product. Locally produced compost, vermicast granular fertiliser, organic bio-stimulant and organic liquid fertiliser are used. The organic approach has returned the soil to a healthier, more balanced state, with recovery of natural microbes and earthworms. The recovery rate of the turf has increased, and it has become healthier and more durable. Less irrigation is required.
UP utilises borehole water for irrigation purposes, with the exception of Mamelodi Campus where the existing boreholes are currently not operational.
The University’s extensive network of sports fields, including the sports field at Hillcrest Campus (left), and sports turf areas have all been converted from a chemical fertiliser to an organic product. UP also has its own composting and mulch-producing area on Hillcrest Campus (right).
The Department of Facilities Management has appointed an engineering company to assist with a feasibility and viability study of rainwater harvesting on Mamelodi Campus. Through this initiative, the University aims to be less dependent on potable water and ensure water security on the campus. This initiative sparked further sustainability initiatives where the Planning and Development division will ensure that the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as highlighted in the Spatial Development Plan, be implemented to create a softer boundary between the campus and the surrounding community.
House Khutso and House Erica residences have been retro-fitted with grey water systems, while Tuks Bophelong has been fitted with sustainable hot water systems on the roofs of the buildings.
UP has recycling programmes for mixed recyclables (including paper, cardboard, cans and bottles), as well as recycling furniture, e-waste, computer equipment, fluorescent light tubes, polystyrene, mobile phones and toner cartridges. Innovative approaches are implemented and holistic solutions developed to reduce waste generation and increase collection and recycling of waste streams.
Waste recycling has been monitored since 2017. During 2022, a total of 108 857kg of waste was recycled on the five campuses.
The University started with the bokashi food waste-to-compost system in 2019. It was interrupted in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic; however, in 2022, 7 483kg of food waste was diverted away from landfill.
Bokashi means “fermented organic matter” in Japanese, and refers to a system whereby food waste is fermented into liquid compost that can be used in gardens. Food waste can be added to an indoor kitchen composter, sprinkled with bokashi bran mixture and left to compost. Compost made from food waste takes four to six weeks to turn into microbe- and nutrient-rich material.
Strategically placed recycling bins for various types of waste are part of UP's programmes.
Recent initiatives by the Department of Facilities Management have led to the manufacturing of furniture for all the campuses from trees that are downed by strong winds. In the past, trees felled by strong winds would have been taken to the Plaaswerf composting yard to be converted to mulch and compost. The newest, more environmentally friendly trend in landscape architecture is producing furniture that enhances University campuses by utilising local resources. Sustainable furniture made from wood salvaged from urban and suburban tree removal operations (when trees are felled) ensures that the wood will be enjoyed for its aesthetic qualities long after the tree has been lost.
When it comes to social impact, Ueckermann said UP is an anchor institution in all the precincts where it has a footprint, and that it was necessary to carve out an anchor strategy. Through its partnerships and collaborative efforts, the Department of Facilities Management has contributed to its surrounding precinct. It aims to leverage its capability through research, teaching and engagement to drive sustainable development to build a future that is ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable.
It realises its responsibility to educate students so that when they leave the institution, they will be dedicated ambassadors for sustainable behaviour.
The City of Tshwane recently began collaborating with UP on different waste solutions, specifically in the Hatfield CID area. In the process, the University is setting an example by making Hatfield Campus available as a living research laboratory. This project, known as the Hatfield waste twin, seeks alternative sustainable solutions for food waste in the Hatfield community.
SA’s power crisis
“The power crisis ensures that we first need to work on the security of the electricity supply but also keep in mind that we require a sustainable solution,” Ueckermann said. “Currently, the University ensures electrical security through diesel standby generators, which are large expenditures and have a significant impact on UP’s carbon footprint. As such, we are investigating alternative energy solutions to reduce our carbon footprint while ensuring electricity security. The investigations include expanding our currently installed solar PV installation, gas-to-power solutions, hydrogen to power, ammonia to power and biogas. Some of these solutions require storage to be used in conjunction with solar power, for example. This storage solution is also investigated to determine which technology will have the most negligible environmental impact, have the best possible recycling ability and have the best lifecycle costing.”
Download: Progress made in terms of resources including water, electricity and recycling (PDF)