The nascent idea of human development has rapidly changed the world, and with it, the environment. From the beginning of technological advancement with the discovery of fire, simple tools, the wheel, developing to nuclear weapons, and moon landings, we have grown as a global population to approximately 7.6 billion people (1). This is a testimony of how advanced we have become, considering that a mere 7 generations ago the global populace was estimated to be 1 billion people. Life expectancy has tripled in this period of two centuries in developed countries, whilst doubling over the past 40 years in developing countries (2). Dramatic jump in recent years? Definitely.
With so much more people to feed and sustain, stress on the finite resources on the planet has and will indubitably increase. The intricate relationships between energy, water, food, and economic opportunities and supply to ever increasing demand makes this challenge seem more like a systemic crisis. Unfortunately, economic growth and capitalist ideals have been the status quo of governments across the world. And in this notion of success, little accounting or economic focus is turned to environmental damage, socio-economic inequalities or human development (3).
Of course, there are some success stories that need to be noticed in the narrative of doom and gloom in the ever growing “Greenhouse” that big industry and corporations are building around us all. When the Cuban food crisis occurred in 1989, innovation was forced by a Cuban government facing trade sanctions and embargoes. Oil, corns and meat ceased to be imported, leading to a collapse in the food supply, agricultural practices and fresh food transport. Thus, a green revolution was born. The government reimagined the traditional farming practices with urban crops being grown on rooftops and “parcela’s” (urban farming lots) and rural organic farming. This is seen as one of the world’s leading semi-sustainable food growing programmes (4).
Green ethics and social responsibility are more widespread in everyday and governmental spheres, advocating values such as:
- diversity in the human and natural environment, where human activities contribute to, rather than destroy, the richness of life;
- social change based on real democracy, equality (zero discrimination whether based on race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, social origin or any other prejudice), human rights and freedom;
- valuing real wealth – natural resources, clean air, rainfall, solar energy and the planet’s biodiversity. Wealth should be shared so everyone has a guarantee of economic security;
- conservation – recognising limits to growth; promoting land management combining sustainable human development with safeguarding biodiversity; prioritising technologies that promote reuse and recycling; ensuring the built environment maximises resource conservation and energy efficiency; (5)
Corporations, such as Tesla, Contemporary Amperes technology Inc., Lishen, as well as countries across the world are building a future of renewable energy. 99% of electricity production was accumulated from renewable energy sources in 2015 in Costa Rica, and in the same year Scotland produced 97% of the countries household electric needs from wind power generation (6). Many more countries are achieving amazing results and commitments to moving away from fossil fuel driven energy economics.
South Africa seems to be behind in many technological aspects and policy finalizations revolving around IPP’s, Renewable Energy (RE), sustainable agriculture, and water conservation. Just looking at the current state of the Mother City’s water supply, current trends paint a dismal portrait of 156 days left of water availability (7). Considering the fact that South Africa is a highly unequal country in the world, the poor in Cape Town will be forced to fend for themselves and hope for social programmes to afford them the most basic of human rights, access to clean water.
Food supply across the world currently stands high enough to nourish us all, however, the issue of access is at the forefront of the near 800 million undernourished people worldwide (9). Food production is intrinsically connected to water supply. Half of the world’s grain is used to feed cattle, and countries have seen large increases in cattle product consumption. To further illustrate the energy required for cattle production, it takes “16 pounds of grain and soy to produce one pound of beef” (10). Grain and soy is cultivated on over half of the earth’s farmland for cattle cultivation compared to a mere 2 percent being used to produce fruits and vegetables. Furthermore what is more shocking for South Africa in short supply of water is that cattle cultivation accounts for the use of more than half of all water consumed globally (10).
The mix of Greenhouse gasses, fossil fuels, water and food scarcity, and socio-economic justice creates a grim and dangerous scenario for the future of humanity on earth. As author and human rights advocate Laura Westra states: “The choice is ours: form a global partnership for the earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life” (8).
Sustainability @ Power Plant Electrical Technologies
Power Plant Electrical Technologies (PPE) is an integrated electrical engineering consulting and manufacturing company. Its head office is based in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, and has been operating since the year 2000. With a project portfolio spanning many countries in Africa and recent projects in Asia, PPE specialises in electrical supply, distribution and control methods to create solutions for clients that ensures the best results, and the most efficient power supply and usage.
PPE over the years has expanded exponentially, thus moving offices into a larger facility in Vintonia Extension 2, 3 Christie Crescent. With this move, a directive from upper management is to create a greener building. PPE thus initiated 3 internal programs to reduce their carbon footprint. Since the beginning of 2017, a 50kw Solar Panel System, Rain Water collection system, and Community Garden has been initiated, installed and commissioned. The Ideal goal would be to achieve 100% self-sustainability on water supply and to cut off the municipal supply totally. Whether this is practically achievable is yet to be determined, but progress has been made in automating the systems and recording valuable data and statistics to prove how beneficial sustainable systems are to companies and communities. A similar system is being rolled out in the Gauteng branch, and is predicted to be completed in 2018.
Driving around the premises of PPE will demonstrate how much has been done in sustainable development. 120 000 litres of water storage and gutter systems for collection, 168 solar panels upon the renovated helicopter landing pad, and a 65 meter long stretch along the road of community garden is all visible and operational. The water recovery system which is being used to water the garden and supply water to lavatories as grey water, has cut usage from 149 000 litres in July 2016 to 32 000 litres. This system has been verified by Silulamanzi (quality water and wastewater service to Mbombela Municipality). In 6 months just before the worst of the winter dry season, the community garden produced vast amounts of tomatoes, cabbages, spinach, onions, carrots and beetroot. Employees are challenged to care for the garden in their spare time, and are able to claim patches of it to grow their own crops. Community members harvest within reason as well as PPE employees. The solar array on the roof has a guaranteed lifespan of 25 years. As long as the sun shines, the initial investment will remain the same regardless of Eskom tariff hikes or load shedding. Data collected by the buildings’ automation system from January 2017 have indicated that out of a total 116 441.8 KW hours used by PPE, 43 019.8 KW hours have been produced by the solar system. That stands at 37% of our power production. The system is grid tied, and thus does not feed into the Eskom grid but rather shares the load of the building consumption.
Within all the ecological problems described in this article, companies, organizations, private persons, and governments have the power to work in a united front to achieve a more sustainable way of life. PPE is one of the many entities that are proving this is a viable way to survive and do business, and will develop and grow into the future of sustainability.
Vive le Green Revolution.
- Simon, J.I. 2010. More people Greater Wealth, More resources, Healthier Environment in Keller D.R., (eds) Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford (p447-454)
- Brown, L. 2005. Outgrowing the Earth. Earthscan London, Sterling, VA. ISBN 1-84407-185-5
- Westra, L. 1996. The Earth Charter: From global Ethics to International Law instrument (p606-613) Copyright Laura Westra
- Coffin, T. 1993. The World Food Supply: The damage done by cattle raising (p360-364) Washington Spectator