A South African perspective By Marc Sherratt
Managing Director & Professional Architect at Marc Sherratt, Sustainability Architects(MSSA)
Ah sustainability… that word that means a thousand things.
Words like regeneration and resilience have been added to try narrow sustainability’s definition or even render the word irrelevant. This helps our academic discussion of course but does it really help an individual understand what they can do daily to change, or why there is even the urgency to change?
Why should we bother with sustainability as individuals? Isn’t it the responsibility of our governments and multinational corporations that can effectively implement and scale solutions?
Michael Pollan in his numerous books and articles around food suggests we do have the power and responsibility to change. Some of the most impactful ways may even be in simple, daily routines like eating. Paul Hawken‘s bestseller “Drawdown – The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warning“, has empirical evidence to back up this claim. In the top 100 solutions to reverse global warming “Reducing Food Waste” and a “Plant rich diet” rank third and fourth collectively totaling a 136.64 gigaton reduction of total atmospheric CO2. The best thing is in the South African context reducing food waste and a plant rich diet should additionally save you money.
Hawken‘s says we should stop looking at ourselves as victims “we [should] see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is the human agenda.”
What does that mean practically for you? For me it starts with challenging what I believe, then what I say and finally how I act. Our actions being the end point, highlight what we really believe in. One of the most frustrating and convicting things is the way we talk about sustainability and the what we purchase are sometimes very different. Though legislation and governing bodies are important it is the consumer that is at the heart of an ecologically healthy planet. The statistics say that “while 40% of consumers say they are willing to purchase “green” products, only 4% of consumers actually do given the choice“. We really need to change this.
So where do we start? Step one, if you are a skeptic of climate change or don‘t really know the basics around the subject I would suggest reading “Climate Change – Briefings from Southern Africa” by Bob Scholes, Mary Scholes and Mike Lucas. This is an short, non-academic read highlighting where our body of scientific knowledge currently finds itself and how it is relevant to our part of the world.
Secondly get into nature more. Most of the fundamental principals regarding sustainability are seen in a healthy, diverse ecosystem. Nature has adapted to climate and its changes over a very long period of time. Nature also showcases how to manufacture, how to use water, how to use closed loop waste systems, how to produce and store energy, and if that doesn’t inspire you nature does all this while simultaneously being gloriously beautiful.
Lastly at MSSA we have developed a lifestyle auditing system in light of our clients asking for some subjective guidance on how to improve the environmental responsibility of their lifestyles. The below is a summary of the general categories of this auditing system. This system is only one attempt at interrogating our lifestyles and is not to be considered as all-encompassing, an objective standard or a fixed measure of what sustainability is.
The overall categories are as follows:
- Space Use & Ecology
In the audit each overall category is given a 20% weighting with 20 sub-categories within each making up an overall mark. These categories are interrelated with aspects such as the building you live in touching on multiple categories. In an article such as this I can’t go into the detail of the sub-categories but I will ask you to subjectively grade yourself by how you answer the below three questions related to each category.
“Your diet is one of the most powerful tools you can use to reverse climate change”
1.1.What percentage of your food goes to waste?
1.2 How much of your food is truly sustainability farmed, using techniques such as regenerative agriculture or silvopasture?
1.3. Are you eating any threatened species?
For fish for example check the WWF Fish eating list http://wwfsassi.co.za/sassi-list/
“It takes 2400 liters of water to produce a 150g hamburger, 135 liters to produce an egg,13 liters to produce a tomato.“
2.1. Do you flush your toilet with drinking water?
2.2. Do you capture rainwater at your home or office?
2.3. Have you performed a water audit on your home or office?
“99.99% of solar energy goes to waste”
3.1. What percentage of your electricity needs comes from renewable sources?
3.2. What percentage of your energy needs on your vehicle / transport comes from renewable sources?
3.3. Have you performed an energy audit on your home or office?
- Space use and Ecology
“The built environment accounts for approximately 40% of all carbon emissions”.
4.1. Has your home or office been rated as a Green / NET ZERO building?
4.2. Does your home or office contribute positively to the natural environment compared to its past natural and indigenous state?
4.3. What percentage of your home or office’s building materials are made from high embodied energy products, such as glass, concrete, steel etc.?
“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. we allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value” Buckminster fuller
5.1. What percentage of the products that you purchase have one-use plastic packaging?
5.2. What percentage of non-food waste do you recycle or upcycle?
5.3. Have you ever produced a closed-loop waste strategy for your home or office?
Hopefully some of these questions have challenged your existing lifestyle as a South African. If you would like to partake in our full lifestyle audit please contact us.
In a world where the developed world has asked the developing world to shoulder the climate change consequences of their industrial revolutions it’s time for us as Africans to step up and lead in sustainability. In Africa we have until very recently protected our natural environment where today our wildlife is seen as one of the most iconic in the world. Africa is not poor but rich, rich in the sense of its biodiversity, one of the highest in the world. This is our home, let’s stop being less bad and genuinely challenge our lifestyles to be more sustainable. From the simple things we eat to the complex things of the architecture we live in, let’s collectively #LIVE LIGHT.