ST&I can help implement the SDGs in more ways than many policymakers realise, says Måns Nilsson.
The 2030 Agenda and its centrepiece, the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), call for a transformation in how societies interact with the planet and each other. This transformation will need new technologies, new knowledge and new ways of structuring societies and economies.
Scientific research obviously has a central role. But is innovation the only way it can contribute?
I was recently part of an independent expert group set up by the European Commission to advise on the role of science, technology and innovation (ST&I) in implementing the new global sustainable development agenda.  We identified many, sometimes unexpected, aspects of ST&I’s potential role, and made some recommendations on how to maximise the benefits.
I see three principal roles for ST&I: characterising the challenges; providing the solutions; and strengthening public institutions and society. 
The 2030 Agenda is based on a principle of universality. This means that every country should contribute to achieving the larger vision of global sustainable development. But — naturally — the challenges, priorities and options for action will vary between countries, and for the different groups or institutions involved.
“Scientific research can help to identify precisely what the sustainability challenges are in different contexts.” Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environment Institute
Scientific research can help to identify precisely what the sustainability challenges are in different contexts, what are the root causes of those challenges and how they relate to other challenges.
The agenda also needs to be interpreted. The SDGs may be numerous, but they are also notoriously vague. This allows — in fact, requires — countries to interpret them, work out where to focus their energies and decide what targets to set. This applies beyond governments too, to the different groups and institutions working to advance sustainable development.
This interpretation is largely a social and political process, but science has a key role to play, for example to provide data and models exploring how different targets interact. This is one role policymakers don’t normally consider.
Finally, science has a role in tracking progress towards the goals. Some targets lend themselves to measurement with indicators derived from the natural sciences, but most require contributions from social and behavioural sciences too.
The second way ST&I can contribute is by providing the technologies, strategies and business models for implementing the SDGs. We simply do not yet have all the solutions we need to make this agenda a reality.
Certainly much could be achieved through making wider use of already available or emerging technologies and know-how. But there will always be a need to adapt them and innovate. To make this happen, we will need to better align funding models, institutions and mindsets with the needs of sustainable development. Research institutions tend to be stuck in sectoral or disciplinary straitjackets, but delivering on the SDGs requires multidisciplinary work.
The 2030 Agenda explicitly recognises that sustainability challenges are fundamentally inter-related. Similarly, the solutions will need to integrate — or at least coordinate — action by many groups, informed by diverse scientific fields. A key role of research here is to ensure that agendas are coherent: that progress in one sustainability area does not undermine progress in another.
Scientific research can also help in assessing current practices, strategies and policy proposals — with an eye to capturing how different goals interact (both the trade-offs and the synergies). The aim here is to look for improvements, identify potential consequences and explore how promising activities could be scaled up or transplanted.
And we should not overlook a final type of contribution, even though it is less direct and often goes unrecognised.
“Scientists will also need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new ways of working and thinking.” Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environment Institute
First, the research community is uniquely placed to serve as a neutral forum and platform for dialogue between government, business, civil society and other groups or organisations.
Second, it contributes to development and democracy. In the past, institutions such as the World Bank have viewed research and higher education as a private and individual concern rather than a social benefit — so, for example, they have encouraged borrowing countries to reduce public investment in favour of privatisation.
But in the past 20 years, development policymakers and practitioners have become more aware of the development benefits of long-term investment in research institutions.These are not only in terms of research results that can be put to productive use, but also in building up an educated middle class that promotes social stability and democratic processes.
What does this mean for science?
To say that implementation of the SDGs must rest on solid scientific foundations does not only mean that politicians, businesses and civil society should listen to what science has to say. To pursue this agenda, some scientists will also need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new ways of working and thinking.
When the new Electronic Waste Regulations are finally gazetted, it will be mandatory for producers and importers of electronic goods to state clearly how and where the products will be treated upon the end of their life. Vicky Onderi, a former environmental officer in charge of e-waste at Nema tells People Daily’s JAMES MOMANYI how Kenya became a pioneer in regulation of e-waste management and her role in the significant move
Q: Who is Vicky Onderi and what do Kenyans need to know about electronic waste?
A: I was born and brought up in Kisii county before I moved to Nairobi for post-secondary studies and later work. I have a master’s degree in environmental management from the University of Nairobi and a postgraduate diploma in environmental management for developing and emerging economies from Dresden University in Germany.
I worked for the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) as an environment officer in charge of e-learning and waste management at a time when the continent started to engage on how to manage e-waste.
Although I resigned from Nema in 2013, I have been part of the team that has championed the formulation of the e-waste regulations, which were discussed and passed in Parliament last week. Currently, I am a director at East Africa Compliance Recycling Company, a consultancy firm on e-waste management.
On the second question, electronic waste comprises any electronic product whose life (usage)has come to end and needs to be disposed of. According to United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), Kenya generates annually over 11,400 tonnes of e-waste from refrigerators, 2,800 tonnes from TVs, 2,500 tonnes of e-waste from computers, 500 tonnes from printers and 150 tonnes from mobile phones, among other products. This is a lot of e-waste, which if not properly treated can be harmful to the environment and people.
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Q: How did you get involved with the e-waste management or was was it your line of study?
A: Prior to 2010, Kenya, and in general Africa, didn’t have e-waste guidelines, policy and regulations. In 2010, environment ministries from across the continent met and passed a resolution that called for the mainstreaming of technology-supported learning in the environment sector.
I was tasked to develop drafts on e-waste guidelines together with my colleagues at the department. We formed four working groups to focus on capacity building, infrastructure and connectivity, monitoring and evaluation and digital content for e-waste management.
The infrastructure and connectivity working group developed a draft on the e-waste policy, regulations and guidelines. But we realised that without a clear roadmap on implementation, the guidelines will be meaningless. Furthermore, without the legal framework, the guidelines would not serve any purpose.
This forced us to organise a Pan-African conference in March 2012 to discuss the issues from a continental perspective and come up with a common solution for all African countries.
It’s worth noting that Kenya is the only country in Africa that has, so far, formulated the e-waste regulations while others such as South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia and others it is still work in progress.
Q: Who have been the main actors in Kenya in the formulation of structures and systems of the e-waste framework?
A: There have been many actors since the journey started in 2010. Besides Nema, the government through the Office of the Presidency in the current and the previous regime has played a great role.
Various ministries such the Environment, Education, Industrialisation, Communication together as well as agencies such as KRA, Kebs and Parliament have played a huge role, especially in putting in place e-waste regulations.
Allow me to point out the great role the directors of Nema and the Environment Cabinet secretary Judi Wakhungu have played.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have also supported the work done by various actors, with government taking e-waste management as one of its flagship projects.
In Parliament, the Speaker Justin Muturi has been the main driving force together with Committee on Environment chaired by Amina Abdallah and the Committee on Delegated Legislation led by Baringo North MP William Cheptumo.
The trio played a key role in organising several seminars where Kenyan MPs and their East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) counterparts were upraised on e-waste. This made it possible for the MPs to debate and pass the Electronic Waste Regulations now awaiting gazettement.
Apart from Kenyan institutions, Unep and the European Union have played a major role in providing resources and partnerships that have made the journey possible.
African Union has also been of great support, especially in making e-waste a continental agenda that needs common solution. Currently, we are developing a tool kit so that the regulations can be adopted by all African countries.
Q: What are some of the major provisions in the regulations that will impact on the society directly?
A: One of the provisions is that henceforth, no company will manufacture or import any electronics without stating where its e-waste will be treated after end of their life.
They must sign an MoU with the treatment facility before the product is allowed into the country. That is why KRA and Kebs have been part of the teams developing the regulations, together with importers and producers.
Q: What are some of the impacts of electronic waste to human beings and environment?
A: Electronic waste releases to the environment toxic chemicals such as lead, barium, mercury and other harmful components into environment, which endanger lives of both the public and the workers involved in the recycling process.
E-waste, when burnt, causes air pollution through release of toxic emissions, some of which are known carcinogens. Poor disposal blocks water channels, contaminates land and compromises scenic beauty.
Recycling makes business sense because end of electronic equipment contain valuable resources and precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, steel, aluminium, and plastics.
But more importantly, with the kind of system the stakeholders and the government are currently trying to put in place, the e-waste management sector is going to be one of the biggest creators of employment because there are going to be many people involved in collection, recycling or treatment and disposal.
My e-waste treatment company is already in talks with the governors to have collection points in all counties. Women and youth groups will be involved in the programme and, in return, earn a decent living.
Q: A part from e-waste management benefits, what are other attendant gains Kenyans will derive from management structures put in place?
A: Foremost, Kenya is going to be the focal point of e-waste management in Africa being the pacesetter. Other countries will learn from us and this will involve knowledge and skills transfer.
Since we have also established treatment facilities, most countries, especially in the Comesa region may prefer to bring their waste here for treatment the same way most European countries take theirs to Belgium, which has the biggest treatment facility in Europe.
Secondly, almost all public universities in Kenya have signed an MoU with UK’s Northampton University to partner in the training on e-waste management.
This means we are also going to be pacesetters in the academia and research in the field of e-waste management in the continent. The spill-overs will be massive.
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South Africa’s first commercial green star-rated building has been unveiled. The cutting-edge building – the E block in Upper Grayston, a small multi-purpose development in Johannesburg’s Sandton business district – is the first small office building to receive five green stars from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). “We want to get the message out to other developers,” says Martin Evans of Upper Grayston’s developer Bryprop, “that South Africa can produce green buildings economically.” Green buildings are attractive to the property market, he says, and they offer a good return on investment. “Green buildings command a higher rental price and capital value, they have lower running costs, they let better, and they retain tenants better,” says the GBCSA’s executive chairman Bruce Kerswill. This green mindset is catching on in South Africa, he says. Five stars are not enough for Bryprop, though, and the firm is aiming for the coveted six-star rating with its newest building, Upper Grayston F, which is under construction right next to the E Block. This will make it the only six star-rated commercial building in the country. Rental space should be available around the end of June 2013, according to Bryprop.
Green buildings mitigate climate change
South Africa is following a new trend noted in a report titled “Rethinking Consumption: Consumers and the Future of Sustainability”, which has found that people in developing nations have a keener sense of responsibility towards the earth than those in developed nations. “Two-thirds of consumers globally say they ‘feel a sense of responsibility to society’ (65%), including 81% in emerging markets and 50% in developed markets,” notes the report. “Buildings can be a big part of the solution to mitigating the effects of climate change,” says Kerswill. “Good planning can reduce their use of power and water by up to 70%, and together with waste reduction this can have a significant impact.” Office buildings especially contribute heavily to global warming and pollution, and consume large amounts of energy and water. “But buildings are the cheapest way to make savings on carbon emissions,” says Warren Gray of Solid Green Consulting. “Overseas they use around 30% of the world’s energy. In South Africa the situation is a little different because our economy has been geared towards mining and we are still constructing the buildings that other countries already have.” Savings realised in a green building will come mainly from running costs and electricity. Although the largest part of a company’s expenses goes towards salaries, says Gray, people who work in green buildings perform better, they get discharged from hospital sooner, and they give the employer more value for the salary. “A 10% increase in productivity outperforms a 5% saving on electricity.”
Bringing in the tenants
Bryprop says that its tenants are becoming more and more interested in green features. In the new building, lessons learned from Upper Grayston E will be applied, with some extra features that the developers are confident will earn the six green stars. All timber used in the project comes from a sustainable forest and is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Most of the building’s water will be reclaimed from rain and filtered and purified, and municipal water will only be used when the tanks are empty. Solar panels for both power and heating will ensure that no energy is used to heat water, and in terms of space heating, says Gray, good architectural principles and passive design means that a minimal amount of heating is needed. The building also has big glass windows which let in natural light and air, reducing the need for artificial lighting and climate control. A mixed-mode ventilation system will allow the building to use mechanical ventilation when necessary. People in the building will be able to monitor energy consumption in real time, via a screen in the entrance and a page on the web, which will supply a graph of energy consumption measured at one-minute intervals. The graph for Block E is already available online. The amount of concrete used in construction has been reduced through the addition of fly ash into the mixture. Fly ash is a residue generated during combustion, for example at coal-burning power stations. “This means that the building itself is constructed from recycled material,” Gray says. Carpets and paint used in the interior contain low levels of volatile organic compounds. Cycle parking and special cycle routes around the office park are aimed at encouraging this eco-friendly alternative means of transport.
Going green and saving the planet
Green buildings, according to GBCSA, are energy- and resource-efficient and kind to the environment because of the practices used in their design, construction and operation. They have also been proven to be healthier for residents and workers, leading to higher productivity. For green buildings, these practices will usually include the optimal circulation of fresh air and use of natural light, resulting in a lower use of air conditioning and heating. Lighting will be energy-efficient and controlled through motion detectors, and there will be greater use of renewable energy sources. The builders will make use of recycled or sustainable materials, and there will be other sources of water, such as rainwater harvesting, besides the municipal supply. Locally sourced products are essential to shrink the construction footprint, and if any existing structure is demolished to make way for the new building, as much material as possible, such as windows, doors or floors, must be re-used. When a company applies for green star certification for a building, there is a rigorous process that must be followed. Once the building has been registered – which is only the first step towards certification – the project team will prepare the necessary documentation to prove that the building complies with GBCSA standards. Assessors will not award points, says the GBCSA, unless they can see that all the requirements have been met exactly as detailed in the technical manual. By this stage the full assessment fee must have been paid. Once the fee and the documentation have been received, a panel will evaluate the submission and make their recommendations to the GBCSA, who will then contact the project team. At this point the team gets another chance to earn their green stars by including extra supporting documentation or making alterations to their designs if necessary, and resubmitting their application. The panel will again scrutinise the application and make their final pronouncement and the project team will be notified of their score. A score of 45 to 59 earns the building four green stars and is an indication of best practice locally; a score of 60 to 75 earns five green stars and signifies South African excellence; and a score of 75 to 100 earns six green stars and is indicative of world leadership. Upper Grayston E scored 67 points, which is currently the highest five-star score in the country.