South Africa Sustainability Challenge

University of Richmond celebrated International Education Week 2018 with South Africa-inspired actions, events, and activities! Inspired by its diversity of cultures and breathtaking natural environment, we created the South Africa Sustainability Challenge, powered by the Campus EcoChallenge. Every day we focused on a different theme. The daily themes included nature, water, community, waste, and energy.

This year, we had 222 participants in 24 teams from across the University. Together, we had a big impact, saving 3,340 gallons of water, spending 4,995 minutes outdoors, keeping 107 plastic bottles out of the landfill, and spending 12,612 minutes learning. Beyond that, participants also saved energy, reduced waste, and attended multiple educational events. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, participants shared their experiences using the hashtag #URSouthAfricaWeek.

The South Africa Sustainability Challenge was a great opportunity for learning, engagement, and partnership. The Office for Sustainability is very grateful for the participation of so many people across campus and for the chance to collaborate with the Office of International Education.

South Africa Sustainability Challenge Report

Get a full view of our impact and results in the South Africa Sustainability Challenge Report.

Challenge Winners

1st Place: Shani Buchholz
Team: Common Ground
Prize: Springbok rugby hat & African penguin sponsorship

2nd Place: Jason Cope
Team: Information Services
Prize: South African cookbook & spices

3rd Place: Zac de Lusignan
Team: Green UR
Prize: Bird of paradise plant

Winning Team: Information Services
Prize: "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah

Take a Virtual Tour of South Africa

Each morning, participants started the day with a stop on our virtual tour of South Africa. Every email was based on each day’s theme and contained information about a unique location, community, or organization related to sustainability in South Africa. Read about each stop on the Virtual Tour below.

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  • Monday: Nature

    South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute. It is also the only country in the world to contain an entire floral kingdom, which is home to about 20% of Africa’s flora. The country boasts a huge range of climates within its borders, including Mediterranean, temperate, subtropical, and desert regions. South Africa is home to a huge array of wildlife including 230 mammal species, 175 endemic bird species, and lots of reptiles and amphibians. Some of the most popular animals in South Africa are elephants, rhinos, lions leopards, dolphins, whales, and of course springboks. All of this means that South Africa has well known big safari and outdoor tourism industries.

    The first stop on our Virtual Tour is the Karoo Biogaps Project headquartered in Pretoria, South Africa! The Karoo BioGaps Project, run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, aims to improve understanding of the biodiversity in the country’s Karoo region, a semi-arid area in south central South Africa.

    By improving knowledge of areas historically overlooked in previous nature surveys, the Karoo BioGaps Project will contribute to important development decisions in the future as the region is considered as a location for shale gas exploration, farming, mining, and renewable energy infrastructure. You can learn more about this Project on its blog.

    Get more information and view the formatted email here.

  • Tuesday: Water

    South Africa is facing a growing gap between its water supply and water demand. The country’s water-related challenges are made particularly complex by its semi-arid environment characterized by low rainfall, limited underground aquifers, and reliance on water transfers from neighboring countries. In addition to the challenges of water availability and quality, South African cities are also under pressure to respond to issues of inequality. Some poor neighborhoods don’t have running water in their homes and residents rely on shared communal taps. Because a large number of South Africans do not have access to the kind of wealth that would allow them to insulate themselves from a water crisis by doing things like drilling their own wells or bulk ordering expensive bottled water, the country must find a sustainable balance between water service delivery and conservation for all of its citizens.

    Today, for the second stop on our Virtual Tour, we’re visiting Cape Town. Just this year, the need for long-term, sustainable water sourcing became abundantly clear in this city. With a population of 4 million, this city on the southern tip of South Africa almost became the first modern major city in the world to completely run out of water.

    Residents were expected to significantly cut down water usage, limiting themselves to 50 liters, or 13 gallons, per day of total water usage. That limit included water needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, flushing toilets, washing clothes, and watering gardens. The situation in Cape Town stemmed from a combination of inadequate urban planning, three years of drought, and crisis mismanagement.

    The city’s water infrastructure has long struggled to keep up with the burgeoning population and increases in quality of life. Day Zero - when the government will turn off the taps for most homes and businesses in the city - was recently pushed back to 2019, but the underlying need for a sustainable water program still remains.

    Get more information and read through the formatted email here.

  • Wednesday: Community

    South Africa was famously called a "Rainbow Nation" by Archbishop Desmond Tutu due to its diverse array of cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions. Contained within South Africa’s borders are Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Tswana, Ndebele, Khoisan, and Afrikaner people, to name but a few. South Africa also has 11 official languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu. Despite this huge spectrum, inequalities do exist. The effects of the separation of races and discrimination during Apartheid can still be felt in many communities, as economic inequalities often correlate with race. Groups within South Africa at both a local and national level continue to work hard towards an inclusive South African identity.

    Today the third stop on our Virtual Tour is the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. This organization focuses on finding sustainable solutions to critical social issues by promoting dialogue, reckoning with oppressive pasts, and building a stronger future in which all people can prosper.

    Nelson Mandela himself founded the organization in 1999 after stepping down from his position as the country’s president. NMF’s efforts include annual lecture series, partnerships with university-led initiatives, national gatherings, and exhibitions. The Nelson Mandela Foundation also facilitated the formation of the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA), an alliance of organisations working to respond to racism in South Africa.

    Learn more and view the formatted email here.

  • Thursday: Waste

    The average South African household produces 2 kg of waste every day, meaning the country generates 54,425 tons of waste daily.
    Worldwide, the country ranks 15th for overall amount of waste generated. In urban areas, waste is picked up and disposed of by municipal waste removal trucks, but in rural areas waste is oftentimes buried or even burned. There is a viable recycling industry in South Africa, although it has room to expand. In 2011, only 10% of the country’s waste was recycled, while the remainder went to the landfill. However, there are some exciting waste reduction efforts taking place across the country.

    Yesterday we saw just one organization in Johannesburg, but today our tour is taking a look at the whole city. Johannesburg is a city that is actively tackling waste related issues. Although Johannesburg has experienced positive economic growth, it has also faced challenges of increased waste generation as a result of that growth.

    Recently, the city has adopted various initiatives to reduce waste and pollution while meeting rising demands for water, energy, and raw materials. Johannesburg is generating electricity from wastewater and from gas extracted from the city’s landfill sites and food garden sites at schools are being upgraded with efficient lighting and rainwater-harvesting tanks. Recycling also became mandatory for all of the city’s residents this year. In addition, the city collects 1.4 million tons of e-waste annually, established buy-back centers for select recyclables, and cleans up areas affected by illegal dumping.

    Learn more and take a look at the formatted email here.

  • Friday: Energy

    In South Africa, 7.9% of energy comes from renewable sources, while the remainder comes from coal and other fossil fuels. Economic growth and mass electrification programs have led to a large increase in the demand for electricity in the country. In 2010, an Integrated Resource Plan projected that 42% of electricity generated over the next 20 years in South Africa would need to come from renewable resources. South Africa is signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, so they have committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The country also has a Nuclear Energy Policy to diversify their energy sources and reduce over-reliance on coal. Due to the large percentage of energy usage in the industry and mining sectors, the South African government created a post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy that aims for a 16% reduction in weighted mean specific energy in manufacturing by 2039, and it also has a target of saving 40 petajoules of energy annually in the mining industry.

    Thanks for joining our virtual tour all week. Our last stop is Cookhouse Wind Farm in Somerset East, South Africa. This is one of the largest wind farms in the country. It produces 341,000 MWh of electricity each year, which is enough to power 94,000 low-income homes!

    This wind farm is located in one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. Beyond providing green energy to the area, Cookhouse also supports local early childhood development centers, primary and secondary schools, and wind turbine technician training. The company also donates to a number of charities in the area. The land where Cookhouse is located was used for grazing before the wind farm was constructed. Today, sheep and cattle still graze among the turbines.

    Get more information and see the formatted email here.