We are fortunate in South Africa to have a national constitution that speaks to environmental sustainability and that everyone has an equal right to a healthy and safe environment. The university’s mission statement echoes this commitment within the context of the teaching and research roles of the institution. Research, teaching and engagement for the greater social good are central to the university’s mission; protecting the natural resource base so that social gains are durable forms part of our understanding of the role the university has to play in sustainable development. A sophisticated understanding of the relationship between development and environment is reflected in our research strengths and in our connections to our neighbours both in the near vicinity and further afield in South Africa and the continent.
As a result, multiple aspects of sustainable development can be found in UCT documents relating to the strategic plan, strategic Initiatives, transformation, and employment equity.
But it’s not all talk or text: UCT is responding to the need to underpin development with environmental sustainability in a number of ways, from research to recycling, and from raising awareness to retrofitting.
UCT was one of the original signatories of the Talloires Declaration in 1990 and recommitted to that declaration in 2001. In the same year, the Environmental Management Working Group (EMWG) was formed. The function of this group was to guide Properties and Services in its operations on campus with regards to energy saving, grounds and gardens management, etc. In 2008 a document called the Green Campus Policy Framework was formally adopted by Council and Senate. This document is a framework for responsible resource use and environmental sustainability at the university. As a direct result of this document, a Green Campus Action Plan was created in 2009. Since its publication, Properties and Services has used it as a guide to manage the campus and making reductions in energy use. In 2012 the university became a signatory to the ISCN-GULF Sustainable Campus Charter. (The International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) provides a global forum to support leading colleges, universities, and corporate campuses in the exchange of information, ideas, and best practices for achieving sustainable campus operations and integrating sustainability in research and teaching.) The university has subsequently submitted two reports based on the three guiding principles: one for 2011 and one for 2013.
There is another major factor driving environmental sustainability at the university – the student-driven movements, such as the Students’ Representative Council, Engineers Without Borders and the Green Campus initiative (GCI). The GCI, a student-led body which is also open to staff members, was formed in 2008. Modelled on the Harvard University GCI, it now has over 2 200 members, which is more than any other student body at the university. The GCI has a presence on the EMWG, and it is fresh, dynamic and action-based. This volunteer organisation aims to bring about lasting change and to make UCT a more environmentally friendly institution. It promotes behavioural change and social cohesion; it raises relevant issues; and it has driven and continues to drive a number of initiatives on campus, such as recycling, Ridelink carpooling and the Jammie Bike bicycle rental scheme. The GCI holds an annual Green Week, which is a major awareness-raising event that culminates in the annual GCI Awards ceremony.