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6 Ways to Know If Your University Is Taking Climate Change Seriously

6 Ways to Know If Your University Is Taking Climate Change Seriously main image

Sponsored by the University of the Witwatersrand

With 17-year-old Greta Thunberg leading global climate strikes around the world, more of us are realizing the impact climate change is having on our delicate planet.

The science behind climate change is complex and knowing how to best combat it can be confusing. Fortunately sustainability and climate change are high on universities’ agendas as they strive to find innovative solutions to reduce not just their own campus carbon footprint, but the world’s carbon footprint and environmental impact.

So what sorts of things are universities doing? Is it actually making a difference? University initiatives range from having a ‘greener’ campus, to teaching degrees from sustainability to environmental law and conducting pioneering research – like the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in Johannesburg. We spoke with them to find out more about what they’re doing as an institution along with the research professors and students are busy working on.

Sustainability is integrated into its curriculum

Wits University is hoping to inspire action among all students with its PEAK 2020 event later this year. The festival will be hosted by the University and invites students from all disciplines, as well as professors, stakeholders and artists to showcase what they themselves and the University are doing to resolve not just South Africa’s, but the world’s environmental and climate crisis.

Various schools and departments at Wits are carrying out their own research and teaching in relation to the climate crisis and the effects of alternative energy resources, including biofuels, solar panels and wind turbines.

Sustainability plays a significant role in its research

Much of South Africa’s waste material can be converted into biofuels – an alternative energy resource that’s fueled by biological living matter. And while their effectiveness is proving positive, there is still a lot to learn about biofuels and how they can be produced and used in the most efficient way possible. 

Michael Daramola, Associate Professor at Wits’ School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering and his students have been researching ways in which animal fat can be converted into biodiesel.

While there have been some challenges along the way due to a lack of research in this area, postdoctoral fellow, Dr Clara Slabbert and Professor Andreas Lemmerer of the School of Chemistry have joined forces to work at improving the qualities of biodiesel which should allow for a better understanding into the overall efficiency and use of biofuels.

It goes one step further when it comes to ‘green’ alternatives  

Attempts to navigate sustainable alternatives aren’t always straight forward. Initially thinking green cars powered by green energy would be enough, Wits’ School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering has taken it one step further.

‘Green’ tyres is what it’s all about now. Although research developments are still in their infancy, the research team which includes members from Michelin, Iveco, Afrit, Lafarge, and Total, as well as Cambridge University and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, are hopeful that this design transformation will be a good alternative business investment for companies who rely on the transportation of goods all over the world.

Wits researchers tested these low rolling resistance tyres in highly controlled test environments for more than a year. They found that although the low rolling resistance tyres had a 25 percent shorter lifespan than conventional tyres, the initial results were positive and indicated a potentially huge advantage.

Professor Frank Kienhöfer at the Wits’ School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering also suggested that “such savings on fuel could increase profits by 40 percent, even when calculating the tyres’ shorter life-span.”

There are dedicated gardens and allotments

Growing your own vegetables

Wits is also home to two large rooftop gardens which work to insulate the particular buildings during winter and keep the heat out during hot, South African summers.

Going green like this offers the opportunity for students to learn a bit more about the benefits that planting trees, plants, and flowers can have on the environment. Some universities are even going as far as encouraging students to plant their own fruit and vegetables, which can be used in on-campus cafés, and use the gardens for composting leftover foods.

Solar panels are an everyday sight around campus

Solar panels on the roof of Wits University

Image credit: University of the Witwatersrand

All things green and renewable aren’t breaking news anymore as cheaper and greener alternative energy resources become more accessible to many in the form of wind turbines, hydroelectric power, biofuels and so on.

Considered to be one of the most reliable sources of renewable energy, solar panels are taking over our rooftops left, right and center. They reduce energy costs, don’t need a lot of maintenance, can be used to heat water and power electricity, all while reducing carbon emissions.

In 2017, solar panels were installed at Wits’ Braamfontein Campus as an alternative energy source. A year later, the University developed the largest solar hot water system in the southern hemisphere in order to meet the demands of the halls of residence which houses over 1,000 students.

Most (if not) all food and drink on campus is locally-sourced

Wits University students in the food garden

Image credit: University of the Witwatersrand

It’s not just what’s on your plate that matters – where it comes from is also a big deal. While some universities around the world are going as far as to stop serving beef on campus to reduce their carbon footprint, other universities are taking great care in choosing where they source their ingredients, foods and drinks from.

Choosing local stores and farmers markets that are environmentally responsible will always get a big thumbs up.

Written by Stephanie Lukins
As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Stephanie creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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