Companies across South Africa have stepped up this National Energy Month to bring their corporate innovation capabilities forward, in line with government’s call to find urgent solutions to the country’s energy crisis.

Some of the clear-cut solutions available to South Africa lie in the conversion of waste and refuse into energy; property portfolios committing to green, energy-efficient buildings; land-use sustainability and reduced plastic in packaging in the production of food – as some key examples.

Creating a circular economy

For its part, the government is committed to redirecting waste from landfills and in support of this, new laws have been legislated and regulations are being rolled out – all aimed at cleaning-up South Africa and reducing the negative environmental as well as health impacts caused by waste.

Overviewing innovations in the waste-to-energy space, Kate Stubbs, marketing director at Interwaste explains the many unutilised opportunities for alternative energy creation – the easiest lying in our ability to reuse and repurpose mounting waste to help with the much-needed energy supply.

“Many businesses are already moving towards a zero waste to landfill target and examining ways in which they can effectively repurpose through the development of some of the most advanced technology to ensure waste-to-energy can be realised.”

Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) was pioneered by Interwaste locally. “We have been successful in taking a solid fuel source, which is recovered through the shredding and bailing of certain pre-sorted dry industrial non-recyclable waste – and creating a fuel source that is similar to A-grade coal. This represents a strong alternative to fossil fuel use. This alternative fuel can be used within sole/co-feeding plants and even replace conventional fuels such as coal in production plants for power, steam and heat generation or any other suitable combustion installations,” says Stubbs.

She explains that the ‘Circular Economy’ model offers opportunities to deliver sustainable and inclusive economic growth, combining job opportunities with positive environmental practices. “By stripping out all unnecessary waste materials, reducing the consumption of energy and raw materials and allowing these materials, energy, and resources to be ‘fed’ back into the cycle, I believe there is an opportunity here for companies to optimise their own waste streams for use in other industries.”

Property space has a critical role to play

Property owners can do much to reduce energy consumption. With a focus on minimising its environmental footprint, Liberty Two Degrees (L2D), a precinct focused, retail-centred REIT, has done exactly that and has obtained certification by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) on its entire retail portfolio.

“The retail property sector plays a considerable role in reducing carbon footprint, combating plastic waste, and more importantly saving energy in the process through its support of the circular economy model,” says Jonathan Sinden, Chief Operations Officer of L2D. “Our focus is placed on ensuring that buildings’ ongoing operations and management are resource-efficient and environmentally responsible, with long-term sustainability goals embedded in day-to-day operational policies and plans.”

L2D has a commitment to achieving its sustainability targets of net zero waste this year (2021), net zero water by 2025 and net zero energy by 2030, and has made substantial inroads notwithstanding the pandemic, as demonstrated by its Green Star Existing Building Performance (EBP) ratings on all buildings.

Beyond property, the logistics and supply chain industry is a critical area for greener innovation.

Fully aligned with addressing the energy crisis is the journey by KFC South Africa to eliminate non-recoverable or non-reusable plastic-based packaging by 2025.

Siya Ngcukana, chief supply chain officer at KFC Africa, says that the brand is fully conscious of its impact on the environment and remains committed to ensuring that all-natural resources are managed responsibly throughout the end-to-end supply chain. Our recent switch from plastic straws and stirrers to paper straws and wooden stirrers, resulted in a reduction of approximately 70 tons of non-degradable plastic annually – about 65 million straws and 4 million stirrers.

“Together with supply partners in our distribution, we are exploring converting used cooking oil from our restaurants into bio-diesel to enable partial fuel replacement. This would reduce our demand for normal diesel and the associated carbon foot-print.

“The industry is focused on the next generation of supply chains resulting from opportunities presented by new energy-efficient technologies and heightened customer requirements.

“A key supply chain innovation in which the QSR industry can further reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions is by being Proudly South African – where majority of suppliers they make use of are local businesses. This can have a beneficial impact on energy consumption and transport-derived carbon emissions. To this end, a large portion of our consumer facing packaging portfolio makes use of a local recycled board, which is key in our sustainability efforts,” adds Ngcukana.

As technology and innovation increases, many more opportunities will undoubtedly be unlocked to combat the energy challenges faced in South Africa.