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Ensuring environmental sustainability

  • APSAN
“If we don’t make a conscious effort to ensure the sustainability of our environment, no one else will do it for us. We need to understand that if we fail to act, our future is in jeopardy.” So says Professor Howard Apsan. Since 2003, he has served as the University Director of environmental, health, safety and risk management (EHSRM) for the City University of New York, the largest urban university system in the US.
by JORDAN MOSHE | May 31, 2018

Apsan is visiting South Africa for the first time and this week, addressed the audience about environmental sustainability at an education symposium hosted by the local Academy of Jewish Thought and Learning.

He is adamant that if we don’t plan appropriately now, our future is far bleaker than we could possibly imagine.

Apsan is also Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

While in South Africa, Apsan has helped local stakeholders in the environmental sustainability sector to assess areas in which the country should focus to ensure a better future.

He met with the director of environmental health and safety at the Johannesburg municipality to discuss potential plans and different approaches to the problems it currently faces.

 “I am here to share what I’ve learned from New York’s experiences with people in Johannesburg, and to take their contributions with me back to the USA.”

Prior to his visit, Apsan conducted extensive research on  South Africa’s environmental infrastructure.

“Historical issues of economic fluctuations and disparity unquestionably have impacted on the environment here,” he says.

“The current reality is the perfect illustration of how deeply issues really run, and the water problems of the Western Cape remind us how fragile our urban water systems really are,” he says.

“The infrastructure in South Africa and the problems it faces are related to all areas of economic development particular to the country, but they are not unique. New York, too, has its challenges. It has to consider how to move from a fossil fuel economy to one based on a renewable source. It needs to upgrade centuries-old infrastructure to accommodate modern demands on water circuits and electricity grids.

“These issues are endemic worldwide, but the trick is to address each one based on a country’s own constraints and resources. South Africa will address its problems using what it has available.”

Where water is concerned, Apsan mentions a meeting he had with a colleague at the University of Johannesburg, Elana Venter, to discuss strategies for managing water quality on the campus.

“Water poses one of the most significant sustainability challenges on the planet,” he says.

“Sustainability is all about what you do today that impacts the future your grandchildren will have.”

Apsan stresses that when we consider approaches to ensuring the sustainability of our environment, our approach needs to be two-fold: changing and leading by example.

“We need to consider what we can do as individuals to bring about change,” he says. “There are multiple things we can do in our own private lives. For example, 50% to 75% of all residential water usage in New York occurs in the bathroom. Installing water-saving toilets and showerheads can make a difference and taking short showers can save 19 to 26 litres a minute.

“Most of us become recyclers without noticing it. Our children come home from school after learning about recycling and ask if they can put certain items in one bin. This is the type of behaviour we need to implement and encourage others to imitate.

By taking one step at a time in our private lives, we can bring about a change not only for the world, but for the people immediately around us. “If we don’t do anything, no one else is going to,” concludes Apsan.

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