Sustainability and green campus initiatives
“In short, all of the persons on the planet, including juristic persons and individuals, have a duty to play a part in improving our quality of life. As transient caretakers we can no longer ignore our responsibility to restore and sustain the Earth that is going to be inherited by our children and our children’s children”. Mervyn King, Transient Caretakers.
Sustainability is imperative in today’s world and in South Africa addressing the historical imbalances has led to challenges in which we as higher education institutions have to play a key role in the environmental as well as the socio-economic context.
The NWU aspires in its mission elements and values to the pursuit of responsible corporate citizenship, respect and good corporate governance. It is our expressed intention not only to apply the King Code of Corporate Governance to what we do in South Africa, but also in our interactions in Africa and the world.
We are committed to sustainable environmental practices and avail our expertise to ensure a sustainable society, by contributing to socio-economic empowerment, through our community engagement strategy.
As a member of the Talloires Network we have also pledged to make sustainability an educational (teaching/learning) and research goal and have endorsed the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) Programme for Climate Change Capacity Development across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Higher Education Sector.
Strategy and analysis
In 2011 the university council was addressed by Mervyn King introducing the concept of sustainability and with support from council this was incorporated into the institutional plan for 2012. In the NWU‘s journey towards sustainability in 2012 and as a point of departure we embarked on this journey using the common sense approach by initiating changes from within, by conducting an environmental legislative compliance audit before expanding on a ‘broad- based green initiatives’ amongst other awareness, recycling and energy saving projects.
Our sustainability initiative was linked to the Community Engagement Office, which has a strategic focus on the triple bottom-line not only internally, but also the university’s outreach programmes, where we wish to move away from pure philanthropy towards empowering partnerships with our local communities.
The university set aside strategic funds to train its staff and management through a series of workshops on community engagement, sustainability and integrated reporting and have committed to the abovementioned audit and the rectification of inadequacies. An ad hoc voluntary task team met in 2011 and a committee consisting of a campus coordinator and committed academic advisors was formed for each campus. Their role is to stimulate awareness, enthusiasm and participation within the internal community. The report on the legal compliance audit was completed in September 2012.
This audit was done as we could not claim to be a ‘green university’ if we were not compliant to all existing environmental legislation applicable to our operations. The recommendations were made to ensure that we are compliant with regards to legislated requirements. Many rectifications has since taken been made by several of the internal stakeholders, however, the formal documentation of these rectifications have not necessarily taken place which makes the finalisation of the audit difficult as we have to have proof of changes that were made (an audit trail). Some outstanding deliverables will hopefully be completed in this year. Two additional reports were submitted to management in 2016 on the rectification processes. Due to this fact, most of the green campus activities have had a strong focus on the abovementioned, but in order to stimulate buy-in and advocacy among staff and students several activities took place on all of our campuses. The movement for our green campus activities is slowly growing and we have also created a Facebook page for Green Campus initiatives. Current activities include participation in the Global Climate Change Week 10-17 October 2016.
Furthermore as part of our commitment to this journey of becoming more sustainable, we reported our progress in the annual report of the university. Extracts against GRI reporting templates were provided in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 annual reports .
Funding and challenges
Funding of R1, 000,000 per annum was provided as strategic funds to aid with the rectifications required by the aforementioned audit and to roll-out some awareness campaigns in order to influence staff and student behaviour. A variety of actions ensued, however the impact of the committee has been limited due to the lack of dedicated staff to drive sustainability. Currently there is no policy regarding sustainability and a lack of alignment in terms of the thinking about sustainability and no framework to ensure that the university’s campuses (which form an ecosystem with a diverse group of staff and students) collectively use their knowledge to create a sustainable impact in the stewardship of the environment.
In order to institutionalise the best practices in terms of operations, but also empower and teach students in the process we have had a strategic workshop on developing the new strategic targets for green campus activities. These targets were included in the 2030 strategic plan and starts off with determining base-line data of our current carbon footprint for electricity consumption, carbon footprint due to travel biodiversity management, and water consumption. Role clarification and buy-in has been one of the biggest challenges next to the lack of human resources but as part of a management restructuring process at the NWU this will be addressed from 2017 onwards.