Stellenbosch University
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A Day in the Life: Christine Groenewald
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 16/05/2024

Christine Groenewald, Stellenbosch University's (SU) Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, advocates for greener campus practices. Her dynamic role involves educating and engaging the University community through workshops, events, and sustainable initiatives, aiming to significantly reduce the institution's carbon footprint. As we kicked off May celebrating Workers' Day, we dedicate this series of profiles to our staff and their crucial contributions to SU.

What does your role at SU entail? 

I am the Environmental Sustainability Coordinator: Engagement as part of the Environmental Sustainability Team at Facilities Management. My focus is to create awareness, enable engagement, and provide training opportunities on our campuses about environmental sustainability and the behaviour needed to reduce our carbon footprint.

I do workshops with staff and students on utilities savings, assist in organising zero waste events, organise tree planting opportunities, arrange talks on energy saving, do training about green cleaning principles, arrange facilitation tours showcasing our sustainable campus infrastructure, and liaise with media and communications colleagues to create greater awareness.

What does a typical day at work look like? 

I do not have a typical day — it is like the weather, it changes constantly: sometimes it pours and other times I have a chance to smell the roses. There is a lot of connecting with staff, students and external stakeholders through emails, phone calls and meetings to establish where we can collaborate and create more awareness. Creating workshops and presentations also takes a chunk out of my day. I spend some days facilitating workshops and doing the presentations.

Another important part of the day is reflecting on what we've done, how we can do better, and documenting the process. For instance, in February I focus on supporting and assisting the student welcoming programmes to create greater awareness about how to live and study in a way that helps to reduce the carbon footprint of our institution. Building up to April I spend a lot of time setting up the Earth week programme, like we just had in the week of 22 to 26 April.  

How did your education or past experiences prepare you for this job?  

I am a trained mathematics and science teacher, so creating learning experiences has always been part of my adult life. I home-schooled our three children and through that I learnt the value of learning anytime and everywhere, which helped me see engagement and learning opportunities everywhere.

Spending seven years on the Tygerberg campus as a staff member in the residential space, as well as part time at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, gave me a great understanding of how one can use the out-of-class spaces for education, experiences, and training, and of the need to bring environmental sustainability into the curriculum. Working alongside great mentors like Prof Bob Mash and John de Wet provided the platform to naturally move into my current role.

I also grew up in a family that valued nature and the outdoors, so moving into a role to promote environmentally sustainable behaviour was a natural transition.

What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU? 

I am privileged to be able to combine my passion for teaching and the environment in this role. And because the position is relatively new, there is a lot of scope for creativity and growth. I am in the great position that for a lot of the projects, I have a blank canvas where I can create the desired outcomes. It gives me great satisfaction to look back and see what our team, along with colleagues and students, have achieved over the past few years. 

Another aspect that I enjoy is meeting people from different backgrounds and thought processes, and then being able to connect them around common goals. This is the reason why Sustainable Development Goal 17 (Partnerships for the goals) resonates so well to me. As the African proverb says: 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.' I believe we have a long way to go to have a healthy planet, and we need everyone's help and commitment to get there.

Tell us something exciting about yourself that few people would expect? 

Maybe this is not so unexpected, but I am a keen crafter. Creating useful items from scratch or finding innovative ways to reuse items practically and purposefully gives me great joy and a sense of achievement. It also aligns perfectly with my life motto: 'Live lightly, and create lemonade when life gives you lemons.'

PHOTO: Stefan Els