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Sustainability-centred Impact Hub at Stellenbosch University

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Stellenbosch University’s vision to be a systemically sustainable institution addressing continental and global sustainable development challenges is beginning to bear fruit. Not only is it educating future leaders, policy-makers and professionals in this space, but it is also finding solutions through research, training and development.

This much was evident after Stellenbosch University (SU) revealed the contributions it has made to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on a regional and global scale through its SDG/2063 Impact Hub and the recently released Sustainable Development Annual Report.

In late 2021 SU established the first unit to exclusively focus on sustainable development contributions by the university, to assist SU in its goal to become systemically sustainable.

As an initial activity, the SDG/2063 Impact Hub was tasked to map and document the contributions SU makes to sustainable development for both the global SDGs and as a university on the African continent, the African Agenda 2063 Goals. This positions the Impact Hub in a unique way and distinguishes it from other sustainable development hubs in Africa and internationally.

SU’s SDG/2063 Impact Hub Programme Manager Corina du Toit said its sustainability vision is informed by both the United Nations’ (UN) Agenda 2030 and its SDGs and the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and its related goals and aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous Africa and provides the ideal platform for partnerships with other institutions with the same sustainable aspirations and goals.

Agenda 2063 is a Pan-African vision with seven aspirations with 20 specific goals that outline and reflect a common stance for sustainable development, inclusive growth, shared freedom, harmony, wealth, health and well-being.

The two agendas are highly aligned, Du Toit explains, and they address similar initiatives framed around people, the planet, prosperity, partnerships and global peace.

“Because we are a university rooted in Africa, we serve both these agendas as both have sustainable development at their core. We are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for our continent by addressing the most important social, economic and environmental challenges Africa is facing. But as these challenges also impact the world in which we live, we expand our gaze beyond continental borders with the aim of making a global impact,” she said.

Du Toit said the Impact Hub has a crucial role in communicating SU’s contributions to the overarching sustainability goals, including public evidence of the work carried out at the institution.

There is considerable enthusiasm for sustainability at SU, she remarked. “One of the positive outcomes of establishing the Impact Hub is that staff and students are now starting to talk about SDGs and the AU goals. People are excited to share the research they’re doing and the contributions they’re making. Sustainability principles are being included in research as well as teaching and there is a real effort to become a sustainable university, also in terms of stewardship and outreach programmes.”

Skills development, training and awareness programmes to influence behavioural change under the various sustainable development themes have been supported through networking events, work groups and forums at the institution. Through the various key themes, students are empowered to become agents of change and to mobilise their knowledge in concrete ways.

For example, students have been involved in carbon-monitoring projects and surveys. Under the biodiversity and land use component, environmental science and biology students have been involved in monitoring and evaluation programmes.

SU’s Facilities Management has been instrumental in reducing the institution’s carbon footprint through initiatives such as a large recycling plant on campus that diverts between 80% and 93% of the university’s waste from landfills.

A very efficient grey water system has been established that recycles water for ablution and irrigation on campus. Another flagship project is a massive photovoltaic solar installation on the roof of the student centre aimed at reducing carbon emissions and energy costs on campus.

During Earth Week in April this year, the Impact Hub co-hosted several events with Facilities Management with the aim of broadening the conversation around environmental sustainability, contributing to the institution’s net zero carbon campaign.

On Earth Day students could pledge to reduce their carbon footprint on campus and at home. “This was a fun way to get students to think about the impact they’re making on their immediate environment and will help SU reach its target to become carbon neutral by 2030,” Du Toit said.

SDG/2063 Impact Hub successes

In 2022 the Impact Hub was responsible for establishing the following:

• An institutional sustainable development website containing information on sustainable development teaching programmes, research, outreach and stewardship, also releasing a Sustainable Development Annual Report;

• The first sustainable development literacy course (Future17 SDG Challenge): SU students worked with three international higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Brazil under the guidance of academic mentors to solve global sustainability challenges using the SDGs as a framework. More universities in New Zealand, Italy, Egypt and Rome subsequently joined the programme.

• The Africa Regional Forumon Climate Change in 2022 with 23 other African higher education institutions, including student activists. This coincided with a programme by GAUC (the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate) offering a ClimateX course. Some of the SU students who were GAUC Ambassadors joined the School for Climate Studies in Egypt for COP27.

Future plans

For the next year, the Impact Hub plans to build on the relationships forged this year and to advocate for wider reach and deeper implementation of certain programmes. This includes:

• Partnerships for Progress: Leveraging the International Office’s partner institutions to create multilateral projects focusing on the two sustainable development agendas.

• African Universities Network on Climate: Further meetings with a regional agenda for implementation as a network in preparation for COP28.

• The Champions: Acknowledging through sustainable development reporting the areas and people at SU that make a big contribution to the goals.

Sustainable Development Annual Report

As part of SU’s objective to communicate the university’s contributions to the two agendas, the Impact Hub will be publishing a Sustainable Development Annual Report every year, showcasing SU’s contributions to the two agendas. The 2021-22 edition, with the AU slogan The Africa We Want, is the first.

Sustainable Development for the Africa We Want 2021/2022 Annual Report was released on 16 March this year at a gala event with SU’s international higher education collaborators, also celebrating 30 years of internationalisation at SU.

The first report documented SU’s contributions to several key environmental and physical SDGs, with the following standing out:

SDG 2: Zero Hunger/AU Goal 5: Modern agriculture for increased productivity and production. SU’s Faculty of AgriSciences contributes by not only producing graduates in agriculture, but also through the work of Facilities Management to provide sustainable food choices on campus, and then recycling food waste from our gardening activities, student centre and residences, for example.

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being/AU Goal 3: Healthy and well-nourished citizens. Through the work of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Helth Sciences, including its Ukwanda campus with its rural clinic.

SDG 4: Quality Education/AU Goal 2: Well-educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation, AU Goal 18: Engaged and empowered youth and children. As a higher education institution, SU does not only produce teachers at the primary and secondary schooling level, but also has outreach programmes that serve the communities in Stellenbosch and in South Africa.

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation/AU Goal 7: Environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities. Following the drought in the Western Cape in 2016, SU set up a grey water system that recycles and cleans grey water from buildings on campus to use for flushing toilets and irrigation, limiting the amount of water needed from the municipal supplies. SU also has strong research entities at the Stellenbosch University Water Institute and the AUDA-NEPAD Southern African Network of Water Centres of Excellence secretariat hosted within the Centre for Collaboration in Africa.

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy/AU Goal 7: Environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities. Through the research at the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies we are looking into alternative energy sources. Facilities Management continuously increases the installation of renewable energy sources, while trying to increase the efficiency of existing systems.

SDG 13: Climate Action/AU Goal 7: Environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities, and AU Goal 6: Blue/ocean economy for accelerated economic growth. Through the work of the researchers at the SU School for Climate Studies. The school is the first of its kind in Africa and cuts across our faculties to develop Africa-relevant research that addresses the problems we face around climate change and our responses to them.

SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions/Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma/Law Trust Research Chair in Social Justice. A highlight is the work of SU’s Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela who holds the South African National Research Foundation Chair in Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma at her Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest, and Professor Thuli Madonsela, director of the Centre for Social Justice in SU’s Faculty of Law.

The SDG/2063 Impact Hub is based within the Centre for Collaboration in Africa at Stellenbosch University International. For more information on how to collaborate with the Impact Hub, contact Corina du Toit at corina@sun.ac.za.

This article is promoted by Stellenbosch University.