Buildings and other things green

Plenty of work is being done in Johannesburg to combat climate change, from retrofitting council buildings to planting tens of thousands of trees.

Matshidiso Mfikoe says she would like to retain the environmental portfolio after the May local elections
Matshidiso Mfikoe says she would like to retain the environmental portfolio after the May local elections

THE council's Metro Centre, the heartbeat of Joburg's administration, is green and has been for some time.

So says the mayoral committee member for the environment and corporate services, Matshidiso Mfikoe. In 2004, the building was fitted with energy-efficient lights; subsequently four other council buildings also have new lighting.

"The Metro Centre received an energy performance certificate, which indicated that it was not consuming too much energy compared to buildings of relative size," says Mfikoe.

Other measures put in place to make the building more green-friendly are switching off the lights every night, recycling paper waste and putting water-saving notices in the toilets.

"This is done to encourage waste minimisation and recycling and also to educate the City's employees about the importance of waste minimisation and the impacts of waste to the environment."

Matshidiso moved from health to her present portfolio in June 2009, when the mayor reshuffled his team. She says she has been busy in her new portfolio. "I'm enjoying it. I have a good team. We are very busy."

She says that when a new team is assembled after the May municipal elections, she would like to retain her portfolio. "I am enjoying myself, and can still contribute."

Recycling

The City is making progress on recycling waste generally. It recycles 8 percent of total waste generated by Joburg's residents, which is the equivalent of 1,5 million tons a year. There are 48 municipal waste drop-off facilities, including buy-back centres. These facilities handle about 22 973 tons of waste every quarter.

Separation at source
Separation at source

Another initiative is Separation at Source. About 57 000 households are participating in the project, and more than 2 000 tons of waste are handled per quarter. All events hosted by the City also separate their waste, together with 10 municipal-owned buildings.

In the same vein, a number of initiatives are undertaken by the department. Education, awareness and clean-up campaigns run continually, with the aim of making communities aware of littering and its environmental effects.

Different municipal departments also run education programmes to raise awareness at schools of the impact of waste management on the environment.

Long-term plans include zero waste to landfills by 2022, says Neville Smith, Pikitup's disposal executive. Current world best practice standards are 20 percent going to landfills – some waste will always have to go to landfills, but Pikitup's goal remains "an ideal and focused goal".

ISO certification

Johannesburg City Parks, which falls within Mfikoe's portfolio, achieved ISO 14001 certification in January this year. "This proves that City Parks is in compliance with the international standard, that is the environmental management system and other applicable environmental legislations, and thrives to continually improve compliance," says Mfikoe.

The ISO 14001 is an international standard that provides a framework for developing, implementing and continually improving environmental programmes.

City Parks has also picked up an international award for one of its extreme parks. Over the past four years, it has created four instant parks, in 24 hours or less, and is planning a fifth park in Pimville in Soweto in mid-April.

It won gold in the United Nations' International Liveable Communities (LivCom) awards, specifically for the Diepkloof Xtreme Park. Other parks have been created in Wilgeheuwel, Protea Glen, and Claremont. It hopes to create the Pimville park in just half a day, taking a dusty piece of veld and creating a lush playground for the community.

Greening project

Mfikoe points proudly to the City's greening project, under which some 200 000 trees have been planted in Soweto, Alexandra, Ivory Park and Diepsloot. Of those, 130 000 were planted down south.

Joburg's urban forest
Joburg's urban forest

"We reached the target of five years in four years," she adds. The next target is to plant 20 000 trees by June 2012, part of the larger target of planting 300 000 trees.

"Our aim is to bridge the green divide, and have the south look like the north." The northern suburbs of Joburg are an urban forest, where trees have been planted since the first days of the city's existence in 1886. Joburg boasts some 10 million trees across its suburbs.

A Street Trees Team has been set up to monitor the growth of the trees, and replace any that die or are destroyed.

Joburg Zoo

Part of Mfikoe's portfolio is the Joburg Zoo, a major tourist attraction for the city. She is pleased with progress there, where some 500 000 people a year visit the animals. The yearly target is 600 000.

There is an education centre at the zoo, where training of staff, students, children and others in conservation and animal husbandry takes place.

Various zones are planned for the zoo. The first one, the Heart of Africa, is open and contains animals from central Africa, including chimps, gorillas, reptiles and fish. Other enclosures in the pipeline include Southern Safaris, which will focus on animals from South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland; the Spice Route, which will contain animals from Madagascar, China, Nepal, Arabia and India; Amazonia, with small primates and birds from South America; and the Extreme Environments zone, home to the polar bears, camels and penguins. The last one is the Farmyard.

Elevated walkways have been created in the Heart of Africa zone, allowing visitors a bird's eye view of the animals.

Another project is the Temple of the Ancients, complete but not yet formally open. Up to 10 animal species will be housed in the temple, ranging from reptiles and amphibians, to insects and aquatic animals, including frogs, snakes, birds, fish, primates and big hairy spiders from South America. The temple design is based on the ancient Mayan temples of Central America.

Climate change

In 2006, the City undertook to develop environmental efficiency guidelines, looking at the consumption patterns of the municipality and its residents, as part of its climate change programme.

Solar water heaters in Cosmo City
Solar water heaters in Cosmo City

This covered the use of electricity, coal and paraffin in municipal buildings, households and businesses, says Linda Phalatse, the deputy director of climate change in the department of environmental planning and management. Out of this came projects like the 700 solar water heaters and insulated ceilings that were installed in Cosmo City.

The department has also experimented with energy efficient lighting in street lights in Sauer Street in the CBD, in what Phalatse labels a "climate-proofing project".

These projects and others, like the Rea Vaya system, will earn the city carbon credits in the future.

A study has also been done on the impact of climate change on Joburg, until 2050. It reveals that storms will ravage the eastern part of the country, which includes Joburg.

As a result, the City is putting in place early warning systems, in which cellphone messages can be sent to community leaders to get them to warn residents of rising flood waters, and the need to move out of the way.

"We are working on storm water drainage systems, particularly in Diepsloot, Kliptown and Orlando East in Soweto," says Phalatse.

Environmental strategy

The soon-to-be-completed Environmental Education and Awareness Strategy takes into account the holistic management of Johannesburg's natural resources, particularly in view of the strain population growth and economic development put on the environment.

The aim of the strategy is to establish an education and awareness strategy to contribute to achieving a change of attitude among inhabitants of Joburg, to "allow them to deal with their economic, cultural and poverty problems in a way which is compatible with their environmental capacities".

To achieve this, campaigns will be designed to inform people of the fragility of the natural environment, and indicate the advantages and benefits of improving techniques for its use and conservation.

The department will provide technical advice and support to City departments and municipal-owned entities, particularly in the design and monitoring of an overall city-wide environmental awareness programme.

Source: Joburg.org.za