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Wits rolls out Save Our Resources campaign

- Wits University

Engagement with staff on climate change and its implications is crucial to creating a more sustainable campus collectively.

Staff discusses climate change and creating a more sustainable future and campus

By now many adults and young people are familiar with the changes taking place in our environment – from the repeated floods, to droughts that kill livestock and destroy crops. The changes are there. However, the gravity of the situation and the understanding of the action required differs depending on who you ask.

Wits University has begun engaging the Wits community with the aim of raising awareness levels on environmental degradation and climate change. Ensuring sustainability is part of the University’s 2033 strategic framework.

The first of these sessions was held on 10 and 11 May at the Braamfontein and Parktown campuses and were geared towards key internal stakeholders. This priority group consists of staff from the Services’ Department, Property and Infrastructure Management (PIMD) as well as Campus Housing and Residence Life. Collectively, they are influential in efforts to create a green campus as they cross paths with many students and staff daily. Furthermore, they come in contact with essential resources in the execution of their jobs.

In order to facilitate information sharing and engagement, these sessions were predominantly conducted in isiZulu and Sesotho in partnership with social partners active in this field. Professor Imraan Valodia, Pro VC: Climate, Sustainability and Inequality kicked off the session by briefly highlighting the University’s commitment to reduce its carbon emissions and tackle the associated environmental and social issues.

Sizwe Tyiso from the National Labour and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI) unpacked the causes of climate change, the environmental and human impact, the global mission to reduce carbon emissions in order to slow climate change and the implications for South Africa as it moves away from  coal-based energy which is the primary contributor of climate change. Tyiso, a worker-education trainer and researcher, also stressed the need to play an active role in creating a sustainable future as custodians of the University. He also appealed to staff to participate in discussions about the move to a carbon-free economy and the fight to ensure that workers and communities in coal mines do not suffer in the transition.

Questions from the audience following his presentation probed further about the health implications of a coal-based economy as communities in Mpumalanga province, especially in eMalahleni where coal is mined and communities, are deeply affected by air pollution. Other questions centred around South Africa’s preparedness to reduce emissions generated by transport and the fuel used to power cars and public transport. Staff believe the use of electric vehicles is a pipe dream considering the electricity crisis facing the country. There was also wide interest in the new skills required for the transition. Suggestions from the floor on promoting responsible use of resources, mainly water and lights, called on the University to have more educational sessions to empower both staff and students while others advanced the possible introduction of fines for reckless users.

Moeketsi Monyane, whose passion is capacitating communities on environmental justice amongst other socio-economic issues, shared how his community in Ivory Park is providing community solutions to the problems brought by climate change. A major focus for this grassroots organisation is promoting food security through establishing gardens in order to cushion communities against the rising food prices whilst also promoting nutrition. His key message to staff was about the importance of community activism and the power of individuals to effect change. Monyane is from the Midrand Solidarity Economy, Education and Communication Cooperative.

Save Our Resources. #ForGood

Wits University’s Senior Communications Officer Buhle Zuma shared the University’s awareness campaign aimed at promoting responsible use of resources. The Save Our Resources campaign encourages Wits staff and students to play their part in caring for the environment and the resources vital for our survival. The first phase of the campaign focuses on saving two critical resources: electricity and water, which is highlighted in the Wits Sustainability Strategy. South Africa is facing an electricity and water crisis. While the rolling power and water cuts are due to poor management of the infrastructure that delivers these vital services, the attitudes and behaviour of individuals, households and companies towards water and electricity are also a threat to sustainability.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in South Africa, on average, municipalities use 16% of the water withdrawn from the environment, an average of 885 litres per person per day.  Formal, urban households are responsible for much of this usage. This daily average however hides inequality of supply (those in informal settlements with communal taps tend to use much less than this). To provide enough water for formal and informal settlements it will be necessary, especially for formal entities (such as Wits and other urban citizens) to use less.  This becomes even more important during droughts. The rolling blackouts have meant that much of our electricity on campus is produced through generators burning diesel, which is much more expensive than coal and also contributes to global warming. If less electricity is used, we produce less greenhouse gases. This has a positive effect on the environmental, economic and social sustainability of the University.

To promote responsible use of electricity and water, the Save Our Resources campaign educates the Wits Community about initiatives already underway at the University to use less water and use less electricity, amongst other initiatives to build a green campus.

As part of the ongoing awareness effort, the University is working with various stakeholders including the Student Representative Council (SRC) to ensure that students, who are part of the generation that is likely to feel the impact of living under extreme weather and scarce resources, are brought on board and contribute to creating a sustainable society, university and secure future for all.