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Taking one for Mother Earth: These African universities are environmental shining stars

UNIVERSITIES have long been seen as agents of change – catalysts for social and political action as well as centres of learning. As people become more environmentally conscious, universities in turn are expected to step up to the plate, continuing to act as role models in becoming the engines and innovation centres for green consciousness.

Across Africa we are seeing this shift occur with campus management and operations, planning and design. As the African Universities Summit gets underway in Johannesburg, we take a look at how some African universities are making waves and going green:

University of the Western Cape

South Africa’s University of the Western Cape is certainly one of the greenest in Africa. It is home to a private nature reserve and is located within an international biodiversity hotspot.

Students are actively involved in managing the reserve through eradicating alien vegetation and maintaining fire breaks. According to the Green Africa directory, the University’s recycling initiative has been a huge success: it collects an average of 70 tons of recyclables each month and creates employment for 120 previously unemployed people to sort the recycling materials.

Through selling recycled materials to companies – they estimate that they are able to reduce emissions by 840 tons of CO2 annually. The University also promotes sustainable mobility – including through using solar powered golf carts instead of cars for travelling distances across the campus and promoting the use of lift clubs and public transport.

American University in Cairo

Coming in 105th on the 2014 global green university ranking, the American University in Cairo demonstrated it’s dedication to “going green” through the establishment of it’s Office of sustainability, the “Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment” (RISE). This office ensures the reduction of the University’s carbon footprint, promotes environmental research and education, implements recycling programmes and raises public awareness.

Over the past three years, AUC has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 4.25%. It has a “green roof” covered with vegetation and succulent plants, the campus uses treated wastewater, or recycled water, for irrigation of campus landscaping and it has a power plant that also captures and recycles waste heat from electricity generators to produce almost half of the hot water used on campus without burning additional natural gas.

University of Cape Town

In 2007 the Green Campus Initiative was started at the University of Cape Town (UCT) by a handful of students and staff to address issues of sustainability at UCT. Since then the membership has swelled and this volunteer organisation has established itself as a force to be reckoned with on campus and even takes part in various aspects of the international sustainability movement. The initiative has a long-running campus recycling project, established “ride link” which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by the UCT community by promoting carpooling, bicycle use and public transport and runs an energy challenge, in partnership with Eskom, which promotes energy saving and efficiency in the halls of residence.

Strathmore University

Strathmore University’s Business school is one of the greenest building developments, not just in Kenya, but in Africa. In 2012 the building was awarded the Best Green Building Development in Africa by the African Real Estate and Housing Finance (AREHF) Academy Awards.

The building allows for rain water harvesting; it is collected from the roof and channelled to an underground tank. LED lighting connects directly to solar panels which also act as sun shading devices on the east and west facades. Indoors, evaporative cooling units use harvested rainwater to control temperatures in all the classrooms.

Al Akhawayn University

Possibly Morocco’s greenest university, Al Akhawayn University has some very impressive renewable energy projects. It is home to Africa’s first wind hydrogen system, installed to enable the storage of excess wind energy and which allows green energy to power the University campus.

This technology presents a breakthrough in the ability of wind energy systems to be able to deal with intermittent wind and to store excess energy. Sahara Wind Inc. of Morocco, coordinated the installation of a wind farm consisting of three wind turbines at the university. The university is also home to a unique solar energy project – it is the first example of electricity generated by photovoltaics in Africa.

American University in Nigeria

Set up in 2012, the American University in Nigeria’s (AUN) sustainability office has already launched some impressive projects. It created a recycling depot centre, placing recycling bins around campus premises, along with other innovative strategies. In addition, it launched a campaign educating students, staff and faculty on how they can help save energy and has an external sustainability programme which gets students to spearhead projects such as tree-planting and bottle-brick construction. Also, with the help of the University’s chemistry department the office is carrying out projects looking at various oily seeds to see which ones could be turned into biodiesel.

Ashesi University

The design of the Ghanaian institution’s campus was made with environmental sensitivity; the roofs harvest rainwater, a bio-digester recycles waste for biogas used for cooking and all campus buildings are designed to make the most use of natural sunlight. The university also encourages its students to practice environmental sensitivity, with a vision to discover effective solutions for African-specific environmental challenges.

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