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Sustainability: what we can learn from our grandparents
Author: Operations and Finance
Published: 29/03/2021

We have much to learn from our grandparents. They understood sustainability: they preserved (and never wasted) water, our grandparents generated power with windpompe, farmed organically and lived off the land. They built huge verandas around their houses to keep the heat out, planted many trees, and walked much more than we do today.

Says Nadeem Gafieldien, Director Property Services at Facilities Management: “it is because of our grandparents’ commitment to sustainability that their grandchildren can still experience exploring forests on foot and oceans to swim in.”

Nadeem and John de Wet, SU’s environmental sustainability manager, are the driving force behind Stellenbosch University’s sustainability programme over the past decade. Thanks to them advocating for behaviour change amongst students, staff and university stakeholders, we can now start seeing the results.

A first for SU

The latest feather in SU’s sustainability cap was the University being the first institution in South Africa to receive the Electrical Performance Certificate (EPC) for a building – an A-rating for electrical consumption of 48 kWh per m².  Last year the University’s sustainable water optimisation project was the runner-up in the International Sustainability Campus Network’s (ISCN) awards – an accolade showing that we can compete against the top universities worldwide.

But it was not always a smooth ride. “When we embarked on this sustainability journey at SU, this topic was not a priority. We spent a lot of time talking with stakeholders to convince them how crucial it is that the University take the lead in becoming sustainable,” says John.

“Mother earth is under huge pressure, and humans are destroying the whole ecosystem. We have a responsibility to walk the talk and inspire other institutions to follow suit. SU has come a long way, but there is a lot of work still to do,” says John.

Both men are passionate about this green planet of ours. They are determined to make sure they leave behind a sustainable legacy once they have to retire. “We sometimes make our colleagues crazy, but we persevere to ensure that each new project at Facilities Management has sustainability integrated into its blueprint,” says Nadeem, who still uses his shower water to flush his toilet at home.

Drought crisis the turning point 

For them, the drought crisis in 2016 was a huge turning point in SU’s sustainable journey – one that gave this drive the fuel to ignite a whole lot of sustainability drives. They are particularly proud of the enormous buy-in they enjoy from students on campus. “Luckily for us, we have young people like Dannica Pedro advocating for sustainability amongst students. She talks the student talk and knows how to mobilise students to support our sustainability projects on campus, like the waste project where we recycle most of the waste at residences and on campus.”

John says he also has three garbage bins at home for recycling, because “you have to practice what you preach”. 

Nadeem says he would like to see students eating in dining rooms again and not in their bedrooms. “Thinks like cooking oil gets into pipes that are not made for food and cause huge blockages. If students can all go back eating in dining rooms where leftovers can be channelled towards compost plants and things such as plastic utensils and plates can become a thing of the past, we will become even more sustainable.”

He reminds us that our grandparents never wasted anything, and we should be following that example. “If you do not eat rice, don’t dish it,” says Nadeem, telling us that SU is throwing away tons of food per week, which is entirely unnecessary. “We live in Africa; we should not be wasting any food.”

They are passionate and excited about the projects that are already in place on campus. The so-called “Green House Committee Members” is doing a lot to spread the word and motivate fellow students to live more sustainable. Both Nadeem and John hold various talks on campus and in the community to advance sustainability on all our campuses. Their efforts had yield lots of dividends already. “This year, for the first time, the second year Journalism students will focus all of their projects on sustainability. At Tygerberg campus, all the lecturers pay money into a kitty every time they fly somewhere. We use the money to plant trees.”

These are a few of many projects and plans up their sleeves. “We still have a long way to go, but we’ve planted a lot of seeds, and it will bear the results in due time,” agrees John and Nadeem. “Just watch this (sustainable) space.”