Vector Inbox June 2014

June 12th, 2014, Published in Articles: Vector


Submit your letters to and be in line to win a prize. This month, a reader responds to Prof. Philip Lloyd’s Lead Editorial, “Just what is ‘sustainable development’?” (see Vector, May 2014).

Our winning letter

Dear Editor

I would like to offer comment on Prof. Philip Lloyd’s letter about sustainable development. I am not an expert in this field but it seems that most people are not either, so I will throw in my tuppence worth. If you will bear with me, I will start with a few general observations and then list a few specific ideas.

The general concept

When we speak of sustainable development, we tend to think in a binary way – a project or process is ranked in our minds as either “sustainable” or “unsustainable”. A sustainable process is in all respects a model of conservation, preservation and future salvation while the unsustainable process is none of these things.

In reality, though, it seems that sustainability should be seen as a state of mind and a way of life rather than some specific pass or failure mark. Countries are run by people, not by governments, and if we wait for specific legislation to force us into spending our hard-earned money on some committee’s definition of “sustainable”, nothing will ever change.

Sustainability must become inherent and internalised in the way each responsible individual, company, organisation and government department thinks and acts in all they do.

To make a project fully sustainable means to design and build it to be ecologically optimised.

Such systems can be sustained indefinitely without damaging the environment or without depleting non-renewable resources. It is certainly easy to take steps in this direction, but the closer we come to perfection in this regard the steeper the cost curve becomes.

This may sound like an easy cop-out but I am not about to let us all off the hook so easily. I think that all citizens of the country must be educated to think in terms of conservation and must be encouraged to develop in sustainable ways through tax incentives, energy cost structures and public pressure, and to work in ways which are sustainable, but which also hold long-term advantages.

Specific concepts

This general thinking may sound like just so much hot air, so I present here a few concrete ideas which could perhaps be incorporated into the move towards sustainability.

Instead of trying to formulate a single line definition of sustainability, businesses should start planning and implementing measures to mitigate factors that are destroying the world they live in.

They must be encouraged to commit to working towards sustainable buildings, preserving the ecology and bettering the health standards of staff and the communities they interact with.

This implies that government should take the lead by embarking on mass educational and information campaigns. Companies should appoint sustainability officers.

Typical key performance areas (KPAs) for such safety officers could be as follows:

The first KPA could be to originate and develop systems to maximise sustainability in all corporate projects and environments. Key tasks would include:

  • Research and develop methods of improving the sustainability of systems within the built environment.
  • Formulate strategies for the conservation of energy and water and the minimisation of waste.
  • Develop documents needed to introduce and control sustainable systems.
  • Develop an annual sustainability implementation plan.

Another KPA, to drive the implementation of sustainability policies, would have the following key tasks:

  • Make proposals regarding the development and reviewing of existing sustainability policies and strategies.
  • Assess the need for new policies and strategies or changes to existing sustainability practices and make proposals to management.
  • Propose policies to management that address energy conservation, alternative fuels and energy source options, as well as the reduction of greenhouse gasses.
  • Propose policies to management for conservation of air and water, and the reduction of noise and light pollution.
  • Work with strategic planning staff to develop a local policy to guide the incorporation of environmentally sustainable design into planning processes.

The third KPA would be to promote actively best sustainability practice within all aspects of company activity

Key tasks here would include:

  • Work with all departments to encourage and facilitate the use of sustainability tools.
  • Assist company staff and consultants to develop and incorporate best practice, environmentally sustainable approaches during the design and development phase of new projects, as well as within existing buildings and environments across the country.
  • Actively promote and facilitate sustainability as part of the implementation of the company business plans.
  • Identify potential funding sources and financial incentives for implementing green projects. Prepare grant applications and partnership proposals, seek sponsorships and manage grant compliance.

Monitoring and control of the sustainability implementation plan, the fourth KPA, would entail:

  • Monitoring the effectiveness of techniques employed to progress the sustainability implementation plan.
  • Monitoring actual progress on projects under implementation and taking corrective action.
  • Working with all departments to encourage and facilitate the use of tools for monitoring and improving sustainability.
  • Assisting technical infrastructure staff and consultants to develop and incorporate best practice, environmentally sustainable approaches during the design and development phases of new projects, as well as within existing buildings across the country.
  • Liaison with consultants engaged in the development of new projects and the supervision of sustainability-related work.
  • Reporting periodically to senior management on the status of the company carbon footprint.

The final key performance area would be the education and training of thought leaders in all departments. Key tasks would be to:

  • Devise and implement programmes to create awareness of sustainability issues among staff and management.
  • Educate relevant parties through articles, talks, discussions etc. on measures which can be incorporated into new and existing infrastructure to achieve sustainable outcomes.
  • Compile and run training courses where necessary to increase the understanding of and necessity for sustainability.
  • Make presentations on matters relating to sustainability to the executive management team and staff, as well as to relevant outside parties.

I may be way off the beam with all this but the best way to do this sort of thing is to make it part of our national culture. To call oneself a South African, one has to braai, drink good Cape wine and sustain the environment. It must be taught in homes, schools and workplaces and we should learn to take pride in our national conservation and perpetuation.

It starts at the beginning and takes as long as it takes, but every effort should be made to promote and accelerate the trend as much as possible. It is an ongoing process and not a digital transformation. We should expect to see only partial success at the outset, but we should see it grow and improve until we are truly conserving the world we live in.

Neal Allen


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