SAICE at Sustainability Summit: Mindset shift crucial in the transition to a green economy

SAICE at Sustainability Summit: Mindset shift crucial in the transition to a green economy

20201202 The tenth annual Sustainability Week Summit took place virtually this year from 1 to 3 December, with the theme ‘Green Economy drives sustainable growth in SA and Africa!’ A prominent line-up of presenters saw engaging discussion around the environmental concerns facing our country and our planet, especially in the face of a global pandemic which has not only been detrimental to the health of people, but the health of the planet as well. 

A highlight of day one of the summit was an engaging panel discussion on the various ways to go about implementing a low carbon growth path, chaired by Thabang Mashigo, political speech writer, entrepreneur and business strategist. The South African Institution of Civil Engineering, in their commitment to sustainable growth, proudly partnered with the Sustainability Summit and was represented on the panel by SAICE Young Engineer of the Year 2019, Jeshika Ramchund. 

With South Africa’s position as a developing country, panellists agreed that this provides opportunities for making smart, sustainable decisions now, which will pay off later. A prominent theme from the panel discussion was the role of sustainable and carbon-conscious infrastructure, where new building technologies can play a prominent part in reducing South Africa’s carbon footprint. “As South Africa looks to infrastructure development for economic recovery, we have the opportunity to leapfrog into sustainable development by assessing how we design, build and operate new infrastructure,” said Ramchund who, in addition to her SAICE involvement, is Lead Engineer for Development at Bosch Projects. “However, for this to be achieved, we need a fundamental psychological shift in how we think about infrastructure, and how we cater for the needs of our society.” She said that creating an enabling environment will be key, as well as a conducive procurement system where decisions are made not just on lowest cost, but on environmental consciousness too. “Civil engineers act as custodians of this initiative and have the responsibility to educate other professionals, building owners and end-users, so that there is a holistic approach to reducing our carbon contribution.”  

Ramchund was joined on the panel by Frans Dekker, Managing Director for the South African Institute of Architectural Technologists (SAIAT), who agreed that a mindset shift is required. “As a country, we have great policies, standards and regulations regarding the minimum requirements and environmental concerns of our buildings. However, in many cases – especially in rural areas – local authorities either ignore these policies, or are completely ignorant of them. In addition, the local built environment industry seems to be apprehensive of modern, environmentally-conscious construction methods, viewing these practices as a hassle or a burden, and not as a way to improve their processes.” 

Makhele highlighted that difficult decisions and trade-offs will be important in the national adjustment towards a low carbon economy. “We need to look at the big picture when integrating green infrastructure, with an emphasis on waste management and spatial planning.” Adding to this, Nduku suggested that going back to the basics when designing this infrastructure, assessing energy efficiency and renewable energy potential, will also assist the transition.