Environmental Ponderings-24

Food Gardens – Food for the Body and the Brain


We are living in difficult times. Money is short, jobs are scarce, and many people are looking for alternative sources of food and income. Some of us are desperately trying to keep to our sustainable living principles. Others, like UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, are not.


Let’s use Kloof as a case study. Many residents have larger properties and could easily create space to establish small gardens to grow food, or at least herbs, to supplement their food requirements. Small gardens are not going to threaten biodiversity or introduce alien species. They will, however, bring us closer to the realities of sustainable living.


In an article in the Financial Times Weekend Edition recently, John Aglionby said that the economics of the allotment (small gardens rented by groups of residents in the UK) made little monetary sense, but in terms of health and well-being, they reap many returns.


Some 40 years ago, when I was involved in community work in Soweto, we worked with an organisation called Food Gardens Unlimited. Their premise was that it was possible to establish small gardens (at that time, we worked with “door-size” plots), which could supplement food sources and aid in mental and physical well-being. I can still remember the immense joy and satisfaction of grannies and grandchildren alike, achieved from preparing their beds, sowing their seeds, weeding the beds and watching the fruits of their labours turn into food for the table.


The size of these gardens is immaterial. They can be as small as you wish, with the option of growing the size, as you get better at managing the growing space. At the lower end, one can grow herbs in circular pots that hook around gutter down-pipes. I have seen so-called, postage stamp gardens dedicated to growing a range of fresh herbs for their adjoining kitchen. The “door-size gardens” can produce bunches of carrots, cabbage, green beans, and other vegetables. The sky is the limit, depending on your available space and how much time you are willing to devote to managing it.


I can hear some of you muttering and pointing a finger at the destructive and devilish ways of our resident vervet monkeys who delight in scouring any attempt at gardens. Yes, they are a problem, but there are many ways of deterring them: Sturdy shade tunnels can make gardens more productive and keep the monkeys at bay. Grow your crops in vegetable bins protected by wire netting. Sprinkle chilli peppers on the vegetables to make them less palatable. Google is a wonderful source of informal ideas to grow vegetables and protect them from pests.


Tending a garden, no matter how large or small, is a therapeutic and mentally relaxing pursuit. There are many stories and accounts of how sick, battered and exhausted individuals have been encouraged to take up gardening with great success. The results have far outweighed the benefits of anti-depressants, “uppers and downers”, headache and migraine pills and other pharmaceutical aids. It is not a universal problem solver or the panacea of all ills, but it is a start, if only a small one, in practising sustainable, healthy living.

Think about it and make a start this weekend!

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2023.

Text Box: The Food Gardens Foundation also known as FGF was established in 1976 under the name of Food Gardens Unlimited, as a result of the June 16 riots in Soweto, Gauteng. At that time there were no food supplies going to Soweto as vans were overturned at every opportunity available. Two ladies, Pauline Raphaely (a geologist), and Joyce Niland (a farmer's wife), saw a need and started the organisation with R100 to introduce Food Gardens in Soweto. These gardens were later called Peace Gardens and as a result of this, the organisation won several awards. In 1977 the organisation was formerly registered as a socio-economic project to teach people to help themselves by growing essential food according to sustainable organic principles. The FGF method of organic gardening not only revitalises the soil but also deals with constructive recycling, energy and water saving and conservation.

Food Gardens Foundation
PO Box 41250
South Africa Tel: 011 342 6967, Fax: 011 342 1986, Email: fgf@global.co.za 
Contact: Hilda Pheto

Environmental Ponderings – 21

Floods and Drought

Flood or Drought?

The recent floods are still fresh in our minds and we have started receiving messages from the authorities to save water. Many people’s first reaction is to say, “make up your mind, have we got too much water or too little water?”

Our Status

Sadly, it is not quite as simple as that. In the past, we had a (mostly) clear separation between “wet” and “dry” seasons. Climate change put paid to that and now there are many additional factors that affect the type of rainfall we receive, when we receive it, and the quantities that we receive. We also must not forget that South Africa is a water-scarce country. It ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall.

Population and Water

We also have a problem with population settlement and water storage. The number of people globally is increasing rapidly, especially in Africa. We are also seeing a steady and growing number of people moving from rural to urban areas. We are rapidly running out of feasible sites for the location and operation of dams to provide these people with potable water.

El Niño/La Niňa

In drought conditions (usually triggered in Africa by the “El Niňo” climatic phenomenon) we suffer from a shortage of rainfall. This means our dams do not fill up or get replenished and we run short of potable water for our population. In flood and high rainfall conditions (usually triggered by the “La Niňa” climatic phenomenon), we experience disastrous flood impacts on our lives, families, infrastructure, and livelihoods..

Time Scale

The two phenomena can last from between 3 and 7 years but this can change. It means that storage of water has become a critical part of not only our survival, but the quality of our lives and our lifestyles.

Mist Belt

The Upper Highway area includes the commonly described “Mist Belt” which has a higher percentage of precipitation than many surrounding areas. We should be using that phenomenon to collect the water and store it in tanks for a variety of uses. You use it for basics such as watering the garden and washing the car. Or you could connect it to your toilets and use it to flush toilets, thus saving valuable potable (treated) water. Or you could go the whole hog and filter and treat the water to potable standards and reduce your reliance upon (expensive) municipal mains water.


Yes, I hear you say, but this all costs money which we don’t have at the moment. If you talk to your financial advisor, you will find that there are many different innovative and cheaper ways of funding water collection and storage systems (and, incidentally, solar power and geyser systems). All of these schemes and options will become more attractive as we see the cost of water and electricity rise rapidly in the coming years. More worryingly, the availability and reliability of permanent supplies are also becoming a serious problem.

Action or Inaction?

We have plenty of evidence to show that climate change has become an integral part of our lives. We need to recognise the threats and opportunities that exist and begin to act. Have you thought about the feasibility of water storage or solar energy on your property? If not, are you going to wait until the next flood or Stage 8 electricity load shedding and 13 hours of blackout per day, before you make any decisions?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2022.

Swiss retailer rolls out ‘coffee balls’ to replace capsules

(Michael Buholzer/Keystone via AP News)


BERLIN (AP) — Swiss retailer Migros said on Tuesday that it is launching a coffeemaking system designed to replace capsules that produce thousands of tons of waste worldwide each year.

The cooperative said its spherical capsules — described as “coffee balls” — are fully compostable, unlike the plastic and aluminum containers popularized by its rival Nestle under the brand Nespresso 36 years ago.

Migros said its coffee balls are encased in a thin, flavorless, seaweed-based cover that can be discarded with the spent coffee after use. The company said the CoffeeB system, which also features a special coffeemaker, will be rolled out first in Switzerland and France this year, followed by Germany in 2023.

Climate Finance for Sustainable Agriculture

Webinar –Click here to watch the recording.

From the Climate and Sustainable Investment: Newsletter 2

The South African Financial Sector ESG Analytical Services’ Project presented its first webinar on 8 June 2022. The Webinar focused on Climate Finance for Sustainable Agriculture and showcased inspiring instruments that enhance environmental and socio-economic impact focused on regenerative agriculture by Restore Africa Fund, cultivated meat by Mzanzi Meat and Nedbank Citrus Shade-netting finance facility.

Environmental Ponderings-20

Theme – Krantzkloof A Nature Reserve near Durban

“…As we distance ourselves further from the natural world, we are increasingly surrounded by and dependent on our own inventions. We become enslaved by the constant demands of technology created to serve us…”

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is a Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist who has inspired me, personally and professionally, for many decades. As a modern-day thinker, he has frequently spoken about the importance of keeping sight of human dependence on the Environment for the survival of humankind.  As an environmental activist, he has spoken out frequently about the human impacts resulting in climate change and the importance of communing with Nature and the Environment.

I thought about Suzuki when I heard that the previously harmonious relationship between Ezemvelo Wildlife and the Kloof Conservancy was deteriorating. It appeared that Ezemvelo Wildlife (the managers of Krantzkloof Nature Reserve) was not listening to calls from the surrounding communities for better access to the reserve. Fencing and gates were becoming onerous and limiting community access. Whilst issues such as crime and non-payment of entry fees are important, it is also important for managers of reserves to listen to their users and work with them to improve access and usage.

If all humans disappeared today, the earth would start improving tomorrow. If all the ants disappeared today, the earth would start dying tomorrow.

David Suzuki

Krantzkloof enables us to refresh our contact with the environment and remind us that we are part of Nature, not controllers of it. Our “stuff” pollutes, poisons and contaminates the organisms and ecosystems that depend upon Nature for survival. If we lose sight of the basics which support our survival, extinction starts to become a reality.

That contact with our natural environment through, for example, visits to Krantzkloof or other conservation areas is a way of refreshing and reminding us of the environment that we ultimately depend upon. This can be carried forward by the reminder that we should do our best to plant indigenous and endemic species in the spaces and areas that we occupy. (And, of course, remove the exotics!)

Planting native species in our gardens and communities is increasingly important, because indigenous insects, birds and wildlife rely on them. Over thousands, and sometimes millions, of years they have co-evolved to live in local climate and soil conditions.

David Suzuki

Going back to a part of Suzuki’s first quotation, “the constant demands of technology” create pressures on resources and energy, resulting in the severe impacts that we are experiencing due to climate change. The recent release of the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report in August 2021 has underlined this. The report and its supporting documents make heavy reading, but the World Resources Institute has published an article called “The 5 Big Findings from the IPCC’s 2021 Climate Report”. The five findings are: –

1. We’re on course to reach 1.5 degrees C of warming within the next two decades.

2. Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C by the end of the century is still within reach but requires transformational change.

3. Our understanding of climate science — including the link to extreme weather — is stronger than ever.

4. The changes we are already seeing are unprecedented in recent history and will affect every region of the globe.

5. Every fraction of a degree of warming leads to more dangerous and costly impacts.

It is now critical that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and cut back on unnecessary use of energy. Whilst it is difficult for individuals to influence fossil fuel usage, everyone CAN cut back on unnecessary waste of energy. The obvious strategies include saving energy by cutting wastage (don’t leave lights and appliances on unattended or unused), switching to using solar geysers, planning car trips to carry out multiple tasks, saving on extra journeys, and using low energy or energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

As Kloof residents, we are fortunate to have a nature reserve (Krantzkloof) right in the middle of our suburb. It’s there to help us understand the world we live in and give us the pleasure, relaxation and inspiration to ensure that our place in the Environment is as a part of the Ecosphere, not a consumer of it. Furthermore, by saving energy, we can all do our part in reducing the human impacts causing climate change.

Our personal consumer choices have ecological, social, and spiritual consequences. It is time to re-examine some of our deeply held notions that underlie our lifestyles.

David Suzuki

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2021.

Environmental Ponderings-19

People and Environmental Problems

Environmental problems?

Why do we have environmental problems? There is a very glib answer to this question, and that is because of people. However, it is more complicated than that because people are all different.

Environmental Worldviews

I clarified my thoughts when I was introduced to the concept of differing environmental worldviews. Your environmental worldview is your set of assumptions and values concerning how the natural world works and how you think you should interact with the environment.

Personal Perspectives

Once you begin to think about that from your own personal perspective, you realise that there are many of those assumptions over which you have no control. For example, perhaps you feel that you don’t want to drink water that contains chlorine. Suppose you live in the city and you are reasonably well off. In that case, you can choose to buy spring water or install water filtration and reverse osmosis equipment on the inflow point of your municipal water supply. However, suppose you are poor, unemployed, and live in a supported informal settlement. In that case, you do not have the choices or opportunities to choose anything other than the water supply provided to you, which probably contains chlorine.

Choices or Circumstances?

You may also not be able to make a set of values and assumptions because your education is limited and you don’t know what options you have and the consequences of these options.


The viewpoints that one could begin to develop around these thoughts could take several books to explore and discuss from all of the various social, political, ethical and moral stands. I don’t have the space to do that here. However, I can pose a number of questions to the readers of this publication to allow them to consider which set of assumptions and values they are currently following and if there are changes that could be made which could materially benefit the environment.

Environmental Ethics

A good starting point when thinking about one’s assumptions is to consider the environmental ethics behind what you do, or don’t do. Consider some of these fundamental ethical questions and write down your answers in bullet point form on paper.

  • Why should we care about the environment?
  • Are we the most important species on the planet, or are we just another one of the earth’s millions of life forms?
  • Do we have an obligation to see that our activities do not cause the extinction of other species? If so, should we try to protect all species or only some? How do we decide which to protect?
  • Do we have an ethical obligation to pass the natural world on to future generations in a condition that is as good or better than what we inherited?
  • Should every person be entitled to equal protection from environmental hazards, regardless of race, gender, age, national origin, income, social class, or any other factor? (You might recognise this as containing some of the basic tenets of environmental justice.)
  • Should we seek to live more sustainably, and if so, how?

Groupings of environmental worldviews

You may find that your answers will fall into one, or a combination of, three major groupings of environmental worldviews. They are: –

  1. A Human-centred environmental worldview

This world view sees the natural world as a support system for human life. Two sub-sets of this are, a planetary management worldview and the stewardship worldview. Both sub-sets suggest that humans are separate and in charge of nature, and humans should manage nature for their benefit. Any depletion or degeneration of natural resources or ecosystems should be managed using human, technical ingenuity to find a substitute.

  • A Life-centred environmental worldview

This worldview states that all species have value in fulfilling their particular role within the biosphere, regardless of their potential or actual use to humans. Underlying the life-centred worldview is the belief that humans have ethical responsibilities to avoid hastening the extinction of species through human activity.

  • An Earth-centred environmental worldview

This third worldview suggests that we are part of and dependent upon nature and the earth’s natural capital for all species, not just humans. This view suggests that human economic success and the long term survival of cultures depend upon learning how life on the earth has sustained itself for billions of years. The lessons learned need to be integrated into the ways humans think and act.

What about those that don’t have an environmental worldview?

It could be argued that those without an environmental worldview are working to different life agendas. Those agendas may be driven by money, religion, power or other different philosophies. The assumption here is that you have some form of environmental worldview, and you are following it to a greater or lesser degree. Perhaps the following questions could be posed to find out if you are doing enough to sustain your environmental worldview, and is there more that you could be doing?

  • Are environmental problems getting better or worse?
  • Am I satisfied with the answer to the first question?
  • Can I do anything to change that…if it needs changing?
  • Can I influence others to consider what their environmental worldviews are?
  • Has writing down the bullet point responses to the environmental ethical questions made me think further about my environmental worldview?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2021.

Waterlight Converts Water into Energy with its Innovative Seawater-Powered Lamp

Posted 3 May 21 By Design Indaba. From the WISA Newsletter – June 2021

An innovation designed to serve communities with no access to electricity, WaterLight makes use of an available natural resource.

According to the United Nations, electricity demand is expected to increase by 70% by 2035. It’s also estimated that fossil fuel reserves will be depleted in the next 52 years. This, in conjunction with the fact that an estimated 840 million people have no access to electricity, calls for new energy solutions. The cordless light converts a natural resource – salt water – into light, thanks to the process of ionization of an electrolyte made up of salt water that transforms the magnesium on the inside into electrical energy. 

WaterLight is a more sustainable solution than solar energy for communities living off the grid. Not only longer lasting, it is also more efficient in that energy delivery is immediate (in contrast to solar lanterns that need to transform the energy) and more reliable (usable even in inclement weather). 
In order to work, it needs to be filled with 500 millilitres of seawater – or urine in emergency situations – to emit up to 45 days of light. It also serves as a rechargeable battery for mobile and electronic devices.

Read the full article here.

SA Plastic Pact

From IWMSA Weekly Waste Digest 7 – 11 June 2021

Establishing a national database for lifecycle assessment data

Recording. Prof Harro von Blottnitz and Dr Pippa Notten of UCT presented the proposal for a National Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) database. Without such a database, LCAs will be more costly (up to 3/4 times more costly and take much longer); and the LCAs produced will not be representative of the SA context and therefore not accurate and credible. Relevant SA datasets  for various products (incl. packaging) will be developed and be made available so that all producers can access these datasets to conduct LCAs.

Watch the webinar recording here.

A revolutionary new sustainable design platform

Monday, June 14 2021 From GreenBuzz – Joel Makower

If the circular economy is to scale beyond a relative handful of companies engaging in a relative handful of initiatives, it’ll need some pretty powerful tools to enable them to assess the impacts of their products across the full value chain: design, materials selection, sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, merchandising, customer use and beyond. And to leverage those insights to create the next generation of sustainable, circular, even regenerative products. Without such a holistic perspective, companies will likely continue to tinker at the margins of circularity: substituting a renewable material here, increasing recyclability there, or maybe creating a program to take back and refurbish or reuse old products. Tomorrow, at Circularity 21, a new tool will be launched that just might change the game: the Higg Product Module, part of a suite of applications created by the self-described “sustainability insights” startup Higg. Marketed as “the only software tool on the market that can help companies calculate at scale the environmental footprint of their products beyond carbon emissions,” it stands to raise the bar not just on sustainable and circular materials and products but also the transparency that increasingly is being demanded from a variety of stakeholders.
Read on for a deeper dive into the application.  

Reforestation in a box

9 June 2021 – From Verge Weekly – GreenBiz

Over the past 4.5 billion years (give or take a few hundred million) the Earth has cultivated many perfect examples of circular economy principles — including the natural patterns through which water is withdrawn from rivers, springs, streams, lakes (and so forth) through evaporation and returned through rainfalls both gentle and stormy. 

Terraformation, a climate-tech startup fronted by a former CEO of Reddit, engineer Yishan Wong, is drawing on that model to create a new unique approach to a topic that’s all the rage with sustainability professionals, reforestation. Its moonshot-y idea: turn desertified landscapes and degraded land into new forests, using water supplied by desalination processes powered by solar panels and native seeds that improve biodiversity. 

Wong is a vocal advocate for the simplicity of mass reforestation as a way of drawing down excess carbon dioxide, but he recognizes there aren’t currently enough arable acres to reach that 1 trillion tree goal that the corporate world has passionately embraced. “The previous consensus was that we have 1 billion to 1.5 billion acres that get enough natural rainfall to support this,” Wong told me. Combining climate tech with Indigenous forestry practices could be a game-changer, he believes. “You can restore deserts, especially if they were in recent geological times a forest.”

Read the full article HERE


Storing water: a new integrated approach for resilient development.

WISA Newsletter 14th May 2021

The variability of rainfall and the impact of climate change on our weather patterns has combined to cause even more hardship in an already water-scarce environment like southern Africa. The correct storage of water is a vital component to ensure the safety, health and even socio-economic development  of communities. There is an increasing need to develop more storage types and manage existing storage better, and this paper argues that water storage should be recognised as a service rather than only a facility. It also shows that there are numerous data gaps pertaining to water storage, as well as a need for greater clarity on some key concepts. This paper does not introduce new data or research but rather provides a review of some of the current knowledge and issues around water storage, and outlines a new, integrated and constructive water storage agenda for the decades to come.

Redefining Good Design

May 2021 -Lauren Phipps Director and Senior Analyst, Circular Economy, has written an interesting article on redefining Good Design and some of the finalists in the Ray Hope Prize for nature-inspired designers. She writes:

When most people think about good design, they might think of an Eames lounge chair, an iPhone or Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. Harmonizing functional perfection with a clean and timeless form, good design is often celebrated for its endurance and ability to remain relevant and adored for decades or even centuries. Not only have these iconic examples of good design stood the test of time, they have also been copied, mimicked and used to inspire designers across industries for years past, and will for years to come. 

So why not learn from efficient, interconnected and balanced ecosystems to build our industrial systems? 

That’s the question behind the theory of biomimicry and the practice of biomimetic design, recognizing that a perfectly designed, calibrated and fully circular system already exists in nature. Energy and materials elegantly flow through ecosystems, efficiently cycling back into new forms without waste or stagnation. 

This week, 10 nature-inspired designers were announced as finalists for the Ray of Hope Prize, which was created to honor the legacy of sustainability visionary and Interface founder Ray C. Anderson. The competition and accelerator is organized by the Biomimicry Institute. (I should also note that I was on the selection committee for this year’s finalists.)

“A circular economy is so much more than recycling or reusing waste streams, which is a reductionist understanding of what nature does,” Beth Rattner, executive director of the Biomimicry Institute, told me over email. “Biomimicry, as used by these teams, shows how the things we make can not only operate in cycles, but also benefit systems along the way.”

Here are five of the finalists using biomimetic design to tackle thorny human problems: 


Manufacturing building materials from mycelium 

This bio-based building materials company uses the root structure of mushrooms to produce a higher-performance, lower-cost and more sustainable insulation material. Through a carbon-sequestering manufacturing process, Biohm uses landfill-bound commercial and agricultural byproducts to grow mycelium for its products. The London-based startup also manufactures a biodegradable alternative to wood-based sheet materials using byproducts from food production. 

New Iridium

Mimicking photosynthesis to catalyze chemical reactions  

Conventional chemical processes require significant amounts of energy or other material inputs to catalyze chemical reactions. New Iridium is developing a process that mimics photosynthesis, using light to convert water and carbon dioxide into chemical energy, and eliminating the need to use heavy metals or heat as catalysts in these reactions. 

Impossible Materials

Designing a common colorant from a beetle’s exoskeleton 

Impossible Materials uses the bright white scales on the Cyphochilus beetle’s exoskeleton as the design inspiration for its more sustainable and better performing white pigment. Used in everything from toothpaste to traffic stripes painted on roads, the world’s most common collorant, titanium dioxide, is sourced through titanium mining and its nanoparticles have been flagged as potential carcinogens. Making an alternative possible, Impossible Materials has manufactured a safe bio-based colorant from cellulose.

Infinite Cooling

Recapturing water in manufacturing facilities

Much of the water used in industrial cooling towers at manufacturing sites or power plants leaves the facility as high-density water vapor. Infinite Cooling turned to the fog-harvesting prowess of the Namib desert beetle to address this inefficiency, developing a product that can be added to cooling towers in existing manufacturing facilities. The solution saves customers millions of dollars and hundreds of millions of gallons of water annually. 

Spintex Engineering

Spinning silk like a spider 

The silk of a spider is one of the strongest biological materials in the world. Spintex Engineering has mimicked the precision of a spider’s spinnerets to produce artificial spider silk for use in textiles, apparel, aerospace and automotive industries. The startup’s process works at room temperature, is 1,000 times more energy-efficient than the production of synthetic plastic fibers, has only water as a byproduct and uses no hazardous chemicals. 

You can learn more about these companies and check out the other five finalists here. The winner of the Ray of Hope prize will be announced at Circularity 21 on Wednesday June 16th — don’t miss it!  

E-mail: Lauren at: info@greenbiz.com

Environmental Ponderings 18 – The “New Normality” – What will you make of it?

We have been pummelled in the Media by the so-called “New Normality” that appears to have emerged from Lockdowns associated with the Covid-19 Pandemic. Has it affected you?


Analysing the positive practicalities that have been experienced, I identified the following:


The forced “imprisonment” of families in their homes during Lockdown levels 5 and 4 forced families to associate more together. Please note that I did not say “talk” more because feedback from many households was that Social Media took the place of any face-to-face talking.


In some families, Lockdown resulted in the revival of activities such as reading and hobbies. This may have extended to a resurgence of “family activities” such as playing games together. Some families had topical discussions on conservation and biodiversity. Others were more active, catching up on the household and family chores that have been “promises” for longer than most would care to remember.

Ways of Life

In some cases, individuals and families revisited some cornerstones of their ways of life. Reports of families going back to basics and starting food gardens to augment food supplies. Stories abound of family members rediscovering the flora in their garden and the birds surrounding their homes.

New Normality or Old Normality?

If you sit down and think, you can probably add dozens more examples to the shortlist above. As you read this several months after the commencement of Level 1 Lockdown, how many of these activities have been sustained? Has the “New Normality” gone back to the “Old Normality”? Has life improved or regressed? Have you thought about why? If it has improved, will you continue the momentum to improve other areas? Or if it has regressed, are things on a downward spiral?

Gaia Concept

One of the topics that I thought about during the Pandemic isolation was the Gaia Concept. The Gaia concept was initially conceived by a chemist, Dr James Lovelock, and added to by microbiologist, Lynn Margulis. Lovelock proposed the hypothesis that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Biodiversity is thus, a critical “maintenance” component of “spaceship Earth’s” functioning to ensure that the stock of genes is maintained to cope with changes that may occur which need rectifying to restore the equilibrium of the Earth. There are many arguments for and against the concept, but it does help to explain the interdependence of organisms and their physical environment. The Concept has been redeveloped and redefined by Lovelock himself, as well as other scientists and thinkers.

Zoonotic Diseases

Why did I go back to thinking about the Gaia Concept? It was primarily because of a piece written by Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist and “Gorilla” person. She was writing about what she called the “callous and immoral attitude” of humans towards Nature. She referenced the Covid-19 Pandemic and commented that it had been predicted by epidemiologists studying zoonotic diseases (i.e. those that jump from animals to people). She added, “…We have increasingly been creating conditions in which this can happen, including [animal] trafficking which brings animals together from different parts of the world, destined to be sold for entertainment or food…also the factory farms all over the world where we breed cows, pigs and chickens in the most terrible conditions…”

Other Pandemics

We are struggling, and have struggled, to find vaccines and cures for pandemics such as Covid-19, Hong Kong flu, Swine flu, Lassa Fever, Ebola and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Should we perhaps go back to basics and revisit the need for active and realistic biodiversity protection and development programs to protect current and future generations.

Does the “New Normality” include the forgotten thinking about Gaia and biodiversity and are we going to lapse back into the “Old Normality” of laissez-faire?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2020.

Should you swap plastic for aluminum packaging? It’s complicated.

By Jesse Klein Greenbiz Group.

As consumer products companies hunt for more sustainable packaging options, some — notably smaller brands — are turning to aluminum as an alternative to plastic. The big draw? Aluminum is touted by some manufacturers as “infinitely recyclable,” and it certainly has a much higher recycling rate in the U.S. compared to plastic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But it might not be the sustainability silver bullet companies are counting on, according to industry experts.

Read the full article HERE

Environmental Ponderings-17

Lockdown, COVID-19 and Change

By the time you read this column, the pain of Lockdown and COVID-19 will, hopefully, have lessened. We still have to come back to some sense of normality, whatever that is. However, that normality will be different because of the changes that we have all had to make.

Human beings abhor change and often it is only some drastic event, occurrence or experience that will nudge folk to make any changes to their life, behaviour, perspectives or actions. So, has COVID-19 changed your life? Have you thought about whether this has been in a good or bad way? Have you learnt anything from your experiences? Have you taken responsibility to make any changes, rather than have them imposed upon you? Will you do anything different from now on?

Let me put forward some thoughts which may be controversial but need to be aired. We are living in a world that is overcrowded, resource pressurised and, for some, highly mobile. We have been watching a virus spread throughout the globe at a frightening rate, affecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands. It has also been reported extensively that there are very few places on earth that do not have evidence of human presence, activity, goods, or process.

We, as humans are beginning to overwhelm the Earth with our presence and our “baggage”. This has been noted for decades and evidence of the negative elements of human activity is beginning to pile up. (Please pardon the pun!) Climate change is an established fact. Whether you think it is caused by humans or not is not the point of discussion. The point is that climate change is affecting the way we live and negative effects of weather, extinction, pollution, etc. are worsening. Just like the effects of pandemics such as COVID-19 and TB are worsening over time. This has been highlighted by the decrease in pollution levels during the period of extensive global activity lockdowns.

Change is necessary.

Can you change anything to lessen your impact upon the environment?  Has the Lockdown made you think about your use of resources? Have you found that there are things that you can do without? Have you noticed that you don’t need so much “Stuff”? (Remember “the Story of Stuff” from 2007 on YouTube.com?) In fact, much has happened since the making of this first, ground-breaking, video and it is well worth looking at the videos that they have produced since 2007 to illustrate just what we are doing to this little space we live on called Earth.


This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The journey of change begins with that one first small step.

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2020.

Safeguarding the Plastic Recycling Value Chain


RecordingOct 2020

Circulate Capital commissioned a study carried out by GA Circular to understand challenges faced by the plastics recycling industry in South and Southeast Asia during this time and the interventions needed to sustain it. Based on more than 100 interviews (recyclers, processors, aggregators, junk shops and informal sector workers), this study highlights six key COVID-19 impacts on the recycling value chain in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. The study also lays out a three-phase plan to prevent lasting damage to the sector, protect the environment and local communities’ livelihoods.

Swati Singh Sambyal, Waste Management Specialist with UNHABITAT India, moderates this discussion where GA Circular and Circulate Capital share insights from the study and highlight opportunities to support and strengthen the industry for the long term. The panel also includes three participants of the study who share their challenges and experiences during COVID-19.

Watch the recording here.

BS EN ISO 14046 for water footprint: Principles, requirements and guidelines

Water Quality Month is dedicated to reminding how important water resources are to humans, ecosystems and sustainable development. Having clean water is vital not only to our individual health, but collective agricultural needs, environmental sustainability and equal economic development.
To celebrate Water Quality Month, BSI is exploring key water-related issues and standards including; water management and ecological balance, water safety and footprint. We have written a series of articles to raise awareness on key areas and challenges affecting global water resources and how standards can help organizations to support transforming water challenges. Water use and management is a key consideration for any organization in light of growing demand for resources and increasing water scarcity. Water management is required at local, regional and global levels – and this also requires a consistent assessment technique.

Learn more from the BSI British Standards Institute

What you need to know about water safety planning for buildings

from the BSI British Standards Institute (and BSOL British Standards On Line) Water Quality Month is dedicated to reminding how important water resources are to humans, ecosystems and sustainable development. Having clean water is vital not only to our individual health, but collective agricultural needs, environmental sustainability and equal economic development.

To celebrate Water Quality Month, we are exploring key water-related issues and standards including; water management and ecological balance, water safety and footprint. We have written a series of articles to raise awareness on key areas and challenges affecting global water resources and how standards can help organizations to support transforming water challenges.

Building water systems can be dangerous if they’re poorly designed and managed – yet it’s a problem that’s easily solved by a proper Water Safety Plan.

Read how our standard BS 8680:2020 can support an efficient development of a WSP.
Read the article

E-mail: cservices@bsigroup.com Website: https://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/

Legionella Risk Assessment Standard

What you need to know about the revised from the BSI British Standards Institute (and BSOL British Standards On Line) Legionellosis is a collective term for diseases caused by bacteria of the genus Legionella, an opportunistic pathogen which normally inhabits warm, moist or aquatic environments. Learn more about how our BS standard can support with an effective risk assessment. Read the article 

E-mail: cservices@bsigroup.com



Once the idea of installing rainwater tanks takes shape, things tend to move quite fast, in our experience. The enthusiasm of seeing the job moving is strong, particularly when the job is to be done during the rainy season when visual results come fast.

One of the assumptions you need to make is that, over time, the rainwater in your water tank will get contaminated. The degree of contamination will depend upon the precautions you take to minimise contamination and the end use of the water.

Our conclusions have been that you should try and put as many controls on as possible, particularly relating to first flush diversion and filtering. Roofs are great attractors of dirt. This can be from the fine dust which forms the nuclei of the raindrops in the sky, through to the faecal matter from birds, monkeys and other creatures that move over the roof.

Figure 1 – typical small scale water
purification equipment

If you plan to use the rainwater for potable purposes, you will need to install filters and purification equipment before the water is tapped for use, to avoid sickness and potential poisoning from the water. Advice on quality levels and minimum standards is available from most filtering and purification equipment suppliers. You can also verify this by checking water quality standards on-line in your respective areas.

Irrespective of the amount of filtering and purification that you do, the chances are that there will be contamination in your rainwater tank, and you need to periodically schedule tank cleaning. Unless you are happy to lose the water in the tank, it is best to schedule the cleaning when rainwater tank levels are at their lowest. We found that 2 or 3 people were needed to manhandle the tanks, once they had been emptied. In addition, the various pipes need to be disconnected before the tank is moved from its position.

Figure 2 – In situ – sediment from Tank 1 cleaning

In our case, our oldest tank (Tank 1) had no filtration at all for several years and when we came to clean the tank, the task was both unpleasant and potentially hazardous. From a health and safety point of view, remember that a water tank is defined as a confined space and working in such a space needs special measures to ensure that the worker inside is not overcome through either lack of oxygen or build-up of carbon dioxide and other potentially hazardous gases such as methane.

Figure 3 – Main sediment from Tank 2 cleaning

We have included a number of photos to show you what the muck that came out of the tanks looked like. We were surprised to see how bad it looked. However, thinking through the decomposition processes that were occurring in the tank and the various materials that were getting in there (excreta, leaves, dust, rain (mild carbonic acid), wind-blown soil, to name but a few), a thick, dark brown, smelly, semi-solid mess could be expected.

Figure 4 – First sediment emptied from Tank 2

Tank 2 had a first flush system installed early on and had less contamination. Tank 3 had a first flush system installed at the same time that the tank itself was installed so there was less contamination when that tank was finally cleaned out.

Putting someone into the tank to clean it out needs to be planned carefully. Firstly, ensure that the individual can get in and out of the manhole easily and practice, if necessary. Also practice how you would get that person out if he/she were overcome by fumes or semi-conscious. Make sure that there is someone (a “buddy”) outside the tank watching the individual inside, talking to him/her all the time the person is in the tank. In that way, if something untoward should happen, the person inside can be evacuated or told to get out before they are overcome.

After we had cleaned our tanks the hard way, we became aware of a neat vacuum tank cleaner which is quite nifty and user feedback seems to be very good. It is difficult to suggest how frequently tank cleaning should be carried out. Plastic tank manufacturers recommend approximately every 2-3 years but much depends upon local circumstances, contamination levels and practicalities. Of course, if you install the vacuum tank cleaner, it will be cleaned out every time the tank overflows. If, however, your tank never gets to a point where it does overflow, you may have to “force” the overflow or clean the tank manually.

Arend Hoogervorst

Keeping Rainwater Tanks Clean

Water Tanks

You have installed your rainwater tanks and you may have even connected them up with pumps to your toilets and are using rainwater for flushing purposes. So now you sit back, relax, and watch your water bill go down and do nothing further. Right? Wrong!

Figure 1 – Tank 3 acting as a reserve for Tank 1


Think about where your rainwater comes from. Rain is formed in the atmosphere where moisture forms around minute particles of dust (nuclei) in the atmosphere, which then forms raindrops or other forms of precipitation. When the rain falls onto your roof, it moistens and wets the roof, drops off its dust nuclei, picks up dust from the atmosphere that has blown or settled on the roof, along with leaves, twigs and other detritus from the air. As the rain continues the volumes of water increases and this flows down your gutters and into your rainwater tanks. Thus, your rainwater is quite “dirty” and needs a certain degree of treatment, depending upon its final use.

Roof and Users

Remember your roof is also a “way station” for birds, monkeys (if you have them in your area) and other small mammals and creatures such as bats, mice, rats, and lizards. These all excrete solid and semi-solid waste which collect on the roof. On its way to your tanks the rainwater picks up all these materials and carries them into your water tanks, to a greater or lesser degree. (more about that below.)


An important preventative measure is to carry out regular maintenance on your gutters. That means cleaning them of muck, debris, leaves and twigs. This will reduce the volumes of detritus travelling to your first flush units and filters and lower the workload of cleaning them out.

Rainwater for drinking?

For those of you that use rainwater for drinking purposes, it is critical that you ensure that you filter, decontaminate, and disinfect the rainwater to a drinking water standard. You should get advice from experts on minimum standards and equipment required to prevent health and disease problems. (This will be dealt with separately.)

First Flush Units

Figure 2 – First flush unit on Tank 1

The first line of defence is to ensure that your drainpipes leading into the tanks are fitted with first flush units. The principle behind these is that the first flush of rainfall on the roof will carry with it, an initial load of dust, excreta, leaves and the like, diverting 10-30 litre (depending upon how low the unit is from the drain pipe). Once the first flush unit has filled up, the subsequent, cleaner rainwater will carry on to the feed pipe and into the rainwater tank. 


As a further protection, consider adding swimming pool filter baskets to the inflow into the tank to collect larger debris such as leaves, which flow past the first flush. Some rainwater tanks are now fitted with mesh filters over the tank filling hole to catch smaller particles from entering the tank.

Figure 3 – Example of swimming pool filter basket protecting tank inflows

Cleaning Filters and First Flush Units

First flush units should be emptied after every rain storm. They should also be thoroughly cleaned periodically as materials can build up inside the filters and pose a health hazard. During the rainy season when storms might occur more frequently, say more than once or twice per week, you will notice that there is less material collected in the filter because the roof and gutters become “cleaner”. That, of course, doesn’t mean that they are uncontaminated. There will still be impurities and pollutants in the water.

Health and Safety

Take care when working with, and cleaning gutters, the filters and first flush units. Protect yourself using rubber gloves (and, where necessary) dust masks. Animal excreta contains germs and contaminants which can be a danger to health. Remember that the nuclei (core) of raindrops are minute particles which can get into your lungs and cause damage.


Experience has shown that once you have established your rainwater collection and storage system, it makes sense to establish some form of system to keep it maintained and clean. This can be as simple as a checklist system, either linked to a calendar or electronic reminder system or a formalised “procedure” listing all the tasks that need to be carried out and a schedule dictating when they must be done. If you look after your systems and maintain them regularly, they will give you decades of good service and save you a fortune.

Figure 4 – First heavy solids coming out of Tank 2

The accompanying photo shows what comes out of a tank that has little or no filtration or separation of gutter and roof waste. The process of emptying and cleaning out rainwater tanks can be a dirty and potentially hazardous job which will be the subject of a separate article.

Arend Hoogervorst              

Rain Water Tank and Supply System – Case Study


Although there are only two of us in the house, a few years ago, we found that our potable water consumption numbers were creeping up significantly. Combining our various water uses (drinking, cooking, washing up, showering, toilet flushing, laundry, gardening, car washing and sundry cleaning), we found that we were using approximately 12 kilolitres (12,000 litres) of potable, treated water per month.

Analysis – Disposal

Figure 1 – rainwater tank (Tank 3), pump in-line filter, and level
indicator (bottom R)

We took a good look at the situation and decided that toilet flushing, laundry, cleaning and car washing was taking over half (+/- 6 kilolitres) of our consumption per month. We decided that although we were on a septic tank system (two tanks on ether side of the house with their own dedicated French drain systems draining into the one acre sloping garden property), we could not, in the short to medium term, re-align to a waterless dry flush toilet system. We also decided that we would not design a new grey water management system, preferring to continue to drain grey water to the septic tank system.

Analysis – Non-Potable Water

A review of the house (4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a 2 room, home office arrangement) suggested that we had sufficient roof area (+/- 250 M2,) for rainwater harvesting  although only part of the roof area was covered by gutters connected to the tanks. We have a distinct wet and dry season (the months of September – March and April – August, respectively) and there are occasional storms in between the seasons to “top up” the tanks. This ensures that our tank capacity can last from one wet season to the next, thus avoiding the need to fall back on piped, potable, water supply when the tanks are empty. We are also located on high ground in a “mist belt” area so our incidence of rain and “cloud moisture” is higher and therefore creating greater likelihood of additional precipitation.

Final Tank and Pump Configuration

Figure 2 – Tank 2 pump, in-line filter
and tap to right of tank. First flush
unit obscured

The final rainwater tank and supporting infrastructure in our installation series was installed recently so we have our final configuration. Tank 1 (2,500 litres) is located at the front of the house, fed from the front main roof, and pumps rainwater to the two flush toilets located in the house and to a yard tap for garden and car washing purposes. (There are switching valves which allow the system to be switched back to potable mains water supply if the tanks should run dry.) Tank 1 is linked to another 2,200 litre tank (Tank 3), fed from the roof at the rear of the house. Tank 3 is linked to Tank 1 by a pump system so that Tank 3 can top up Tank 1, as its level drops.

Figure 3 – Tank 1 with first flush unit
on the right

Tank 2 (2,500 litres) is located in the kitchen yard at the back of the house and can top up tank 4 (950 litres) and supplies a yard tap for cleaning and garden use. It is supplied by rainwater from the side roof over the kitchen and dining room area. A pump tops up Tank 4 (which supplies the outside toilet and the office toilet).

Rainwater Quality

As the rainwater was not required for potable or semi-potable purposes, the

Figure 4 – pipe connection showing level indicator,
in-line filter, and valve (L to R) on Tank 2

main means of “cleaning” the rainwater was through the use of first flush systems and filters. First flush units were installed on the three main tanks (Tanks 1, 2 and 3). Tank 4, the smaller tank, uses a swimming pool basket filter for large debris and a fine grid filter to reduce particles going into the tank. All rainwater pipes between the tanks and pumps, have a fine mesh filter to prevent particulate damage to the pumps and reduce the quantities of particles getting into the pipes and cisterns of the flush toilets.

Figure 5 – fine mesh filter for
rainwater tank (Tank 4)


Our potable water consumption has gone down from 12 Kilolitres (12,000 litres) per month to approximately 5 kilolitres (5,000 litres) for the two of us and that includes clothes washing, showering, cooking, and drinking. We believe that under drought stress conditions, and applying conservation practices, we could reduce this further to a maximum of 3.1 kilolitres (3,100 litres) per month.

It is possible that we could link the washing machine to the rainwater system, but we feel that this would require additional filtering and cleansing techniques. That, however, is a project which will have to wait until other current priorities are dealt with!

Arend Hoogervorst  

Figure 6 – swimming pool basket filter
used to catch large debris on Tank 3
and Tank 4

Going Off the Grid – How Practical Is It?

“Going off the Grid”, means, broadly, living without using the services of public or private utility companies (grids) such as electric, gas, or water, by generating and providing for one’s needs such as by using solar power, rainwater, growing your own vegetables, and composting your own waste.

Photo by Alex Bierwagen on Unsplash

“Going off the Grid” completely, for most people, is a completely unrealistic dream. The starting point must be to examine all the various aspects involved, review one’s lifestyle, resources, income and time availability and decide what is possible and practical and what may only be a longer-term goal.

We, as a small family, started with the idea of “going off the Grid” because of intense frustration with ESKOM, the monopoly national electricity supply company. A few years ago, ESKOM. through poor long-term planning and political interference, had begun to introduce rotational “load shedding”, a euphemism for 2 hourly power cuts at the most inconvenient times of the day and night.

The actual start of our “going off the Grid” journey had begun a few years earlier when we made a decision (before it was fashionable and ESKOM gave subsidies) to switch to using a solar geyser to provide our hot water. It was outrageously expensive, the return on investment was off the graph scale and it was my little experiment to see if it really could be of value. I will not go into detail here but leave that to a later article.

Back to “Going off the Grid”. It only took some basic research to discover that if we truly wanted to go, electrically, off the Grid fully, i.e. disconnect from the municipal electricity supply, not only would we have to cover the entire roof, gutter to ridge (impractical) with solar panels, we would also have to completely cover our one acre garden with solar panels and put in place a battery system that would need licensing as a Hazardous Installation in terms of Health and Safety regulations.

We subsequently had to go back to the drawing board and quantify what we wanted. To cut a long story short, after carrying out a rudimentary energy audit, we realised we had to lower our sights from fully off the Grid. The lesson for all initiatives is that one needs to assess the current situation, measure existing consumption and usage and then set achievable and affordable targets in the different areas.

Each one of the detailed articles will describe what we did and how we arrived at the strategy, for example, in the case of alternative electricity supply, i.e. electricity, we discovered that our roof space, space for battery storage capacity and budget could allow us to generate approximately 50% of our monthly electricity bill. Results have shown that the savings figure varies, according to the season, between 50 and 65% of total consumption.   

The topics that we will be covering in the various articles include: –

  • Electricity
  • Solar Geysers
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Solid Waste
  • Human Waste
  • Composting
  • Veggie Gardens

We will end the series with an article discussing the lessons we learnt and, in particular, some of the learnings you will NOT get from the equipment salesmen. We will also discuss the lifestyle changes you will have to consider when you decide to go, even partially, “off the Grid”.

We would welcome any feedback you would like to make and would be happy to add any additional articles on related topics that are relevant to the series.

Arend Hoogervorst

Environmental Ponderings – 16

Global Footprinting – Do we know what our Impact REALLY is?

Where does milk come from?

A few years ago, I was working with some children in a school in Hillbrow, Johannesburg and we were discussing environment and conservation and I detected a degree of scepticism from the youngsters. I decided to test this so I asked one 15-year-old, “Where does milk come from?” His reply was quick and clear. “From the café, of course.”

Why should I conserve?

This reply illustrates a common trait that people do not appreciate where the goods and services that they rely upon for survival come from, or the amount of energy, effort and natural resources that are needed to produce them. This means that there is no incentive to conserve those resources and prevent wastage.

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Mahatma Ghandi

Human Consumption versus Ecological Recovery

We rely upon the earth to provide us with the means to live through use of air, water, food and energy. Human beings have grown in numbers to such a degree that the increasing demand to feed, house, clothe and occupy all of those people has put enormous pressure upon the earth’s ecosystems. One man and an organisation, Mathis Wackernagel and Global Footprint Network, set out to quantify the effects of humankind on global ecosystems in an effort to understand how human consumption was affecting those systems.

Ecological Footprint

The impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated.

Mathis Wackernagel and Global Footprint Network developed a system called “ecological footprinting” to measure the impact of the human “footprint” upon the earth. Using available data and eventually influencing the development of additional indicators and data sets, they were able to develop systems to measure, globally and nationally, human ecological footprints. This developed as a kind of ecological accounting, rather like financial accounting. They also looked at the resilience of ecosystems and their ability to “recover” from use of ecosystems resources.  Financial systems talk about financial deficits, ecological systems experience ecological deficits. They very quickly realised that humankind was using global ecological resources faster than the global ecosystems could replace them (“unsustainable consumption”).

…Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery…”

Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield”

Earth Overshoot Day

This was then translated into the concept of “Earth Overshoot Day” or when does the earth start using more resources in the year than global ecosystems could restore or replace. The 2019 Global Overshoot Day, or when we began to start using our “Ecological Overdraft”, was 29th July.  This translates into the statistic that the earth is using 1.75 earths every year, as per 2019 calculations and measurements. South Africa’s Overshoot Day this year was the 8 July. The table below shows how over successive years since 1971, the date of Global Overshoot Day has moved.

With acknowledgment to Global Footprint Network:

Personal Ecological Footprint

The Global Footprint Network has honed its tools to the point where they can provide a means for people to calculate their own personal ecological footprint and overshoot day at https://www.footprintcalculator.org/.  They have also made freely available, the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts 2019 Public Data Package at https://www.footprintnetwork.org/licenses/public-data-package-free/

How much Nature do we have?

In a TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M29BY86bP4 ), Mathis Wackernagel said the following, “…while in 1961, the Earth’s biocapacity was higher than the resources demanded by human population, now 85% of the population live in countries that use more resources than their ecosystems can renew. In fact, there is an overarching trend. It’s true, Earth biocapacity has increased by 25% over the last 50 years. But our Ecological Footprint has grown even more (2-and-half-fold). The result is that now we use 60% (using 2016 data, this is now 75%) more resources than our planet can offer us…”

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2019

Environmental Ponderings-15

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Load shedding reared its ugly head again in the first quarter of 2019, the Department of Water and Sanitation is deeply concerned about where the water is coming from to supply the country’s growing future needs, and at the end of April, we were hit by rain and floods of a magnitude and ferocity that we haven’t seen since 1987.

As a prelude to our procrastination, we can come up with a myriad of reasons and excuses as to why these things have happened: climate change, the government’s ineptitude, lack of planning, the end of the world. Take your pick. The point however, is not why did they happen but what are we going to do about them?

Reflecting on these events, it becomes clear that we must take a greater responsibility for our lifestyles and our basic requirements. Simplistically, Maslow’s hierarchy demonstrates that once we are past the “food, shelter, survival, procreation” stage, we have spare energy and resources to do things that we want to do. That’s often the start of wastage. Perhaps the time has come to reflect on what we really need and how we can manage our lives in a more sustainable manner.

Let’s take the topics that I have mentioned above. Our solar panels and batteries at home get us around the two hour load shedding windows that occur and don’t occur, depending upon how you view the promises of ESKOM. At least, we are not scrabbling for torches and trying to watch DStv movies on tiny smart phone screens. If the load shedding periods start to extend to 5 hours, we will be in trouble but for the time being, we’ve managed our power consumption, marshalled our reserves and yes, we saved electricity by generating 50% of our monthly consumption using the sun. It is a single step but we are beginning to see the journey ahead of us.

Have you considered how much treated potable water you use and how much you waste? Do you think you could survive on less if you analysed your usage and reduced the wastage?  If you installed rainwater tanks on your gutters, how much of that water could replace the treated potable water that you use? It could save on toilet flushing for a start. Then there’s washing the car and the dog, watering the garden, cleaning the walls, and so on. Have you measured how much water you use or is it too cheap for you to worry about? It will get more expensive, just like electricity. Scarcity increases price.

You may have watched the floods in the lower parts of Durban and thought, “ahhh it won’t happen to me.” So thought I. At the height of the monsoon-like rain storm, my wife and I were out in the pouring rain sweeping water away from our house to prevent it flooding. I thought I knew where water drained around my house but I hadn’t checked where the low and high points were in relation to entry to the house. It was a sobering lesson that no one is completely free from the impacts of Nature. I recall thinking that we couldn’t have got wetter if we had jumped, fully clothed, into a swimming pool.

We live in a high consumption Society which has got used to acquiring and using more “Stuff”. The negative consequences of that “stuff” are direct and indirect. More people are aspiring to more “Stuff” and the origins of the resources that produce the “stuff” are taking strain: can you help reduce carbon dioxide emissions? Can you save water? Can you use less plastic and recycle more? Can you use less electricity by using less appliances or harnessing solar power? Are you willing to take the first steps of your sustainable journey?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2019


The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), as a part of its Contaminated Site Cleanup Information programmes, has produced a series of two page fact sheets which summarize clean up methods used at Superfund and other sites. The fact sheets answer six questions: – 1) What is it? 2) How does it work? 3) How long does it take? 4) Is it safe? 5) How might it affect me? and 6) Why use it?

There are 22 fact sheets in total covering topics such as:- Activated Carbon Treatment; Air Stripping; Bioremediation; Capping; Ecological revitalisation; Evapotranspiration Covers; Excavation of Contaminated Land; Fracturing for Site Cleanup; Greener Cleanups; In situ Chemical Oxidisation; In situ Thermal Treatment; Incineration; Monitored Natural Attenuation; Permeable Reactive Barriers; Phytoremediation; Pump and Treat; Soil Vapour Extraction and Ar Sparging; Solidification and Stabilisation; Thermal Desorption; Vapour Intrusion mitigation; and Vertical Engineering Barriers.

These fact sheets are useful basic explanations but do not replace expert knowledge and experience. The fact sheets can be downloaded in PDF format either here or here.


The Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) has produced the above mentioned guide downloadable here.

The IAQM guidance document, the authors state, is not intended to be a primer on how to model air quality impacts but instead is intended to provide practical guidance for those air quality specialists who undertake air quality impact assessments and are already familiar with modelling techniques. It also aims to encourage greater communication and co-operation between air quality and ecological specialists.

The document can also be downloaded from the IAQM website here where other useful resources can be found.

The document has a Eurocentric base, using the UK and EU regulations as a backdrop. However, with this in mind, professionals from other parts of the world will benefit from the insights, guides, suggestions and bullet points included in the text which can be extrapolated to local conditions and circumstances.

Ecosystems Services – what are they and why are they so important?

Ecosystems Services – what are they and why are they so important?

By Arend Hoogervorst

Ecosystem Services?

Ecosystem services are services provided by natural capital (“Nature” or “the environment”- see Explanations below) that support life on earth and are essential to the quality of human life and the functioning of the world’s economies. For example, forests help purify air and water, reduce soil erosion, regulate climate and recycle nutrients.

Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by ecosystems that contribute to making human life both possible and worth living. Examples of ecosystem services include products such as food and water, regulation of floods, soil erosion and disease outbreaks, and non-material benefits such as recreational and spiritual benefits in natural areas. The term ‘services’ is usually used to encompass the tangible and intangible benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems, which are sometimes separated into ‘goods’ and ‘services’.

The use of the term “natural capital” is developed from “capital” used in economics and human financial systems. It is a means of drawing human and environmental systems closer together and to encourage more integration in thinking and practice. Some have said that ecosystem services thinking is a means of placing a monetary value on “the environment”, although the mechanisms are currently imperfect and incomplete.



In terms of “Nature”, an ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment; for example, “the marine ecosystem of the northern Gulf had suffered irreparable damage”. In broader, “non-natural” terms, an ecosystem is a complex network or interconnected system; for example, “Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ecosystem”.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life. They maintain biodiversity and the production of ecosystem goods.

Natural capital

Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets or environmental resources which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

Built capital

Built Capital is defined as any pre-existing or planned formation that is constructed or retrofitted to suit community needs. (In other words, it is any human-made environment.)

Human capital

Human capital is the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value.

Social capital

Social capital broadly refers to those factors of effectively functioning social groups that include such things as interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity.


Sustainability means that a process or state can be maintained at a certain level for as long as is wanted.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The concept of ecosystem services considers the usefulness of nature for human society. The economic importance of nature was described and analysed in the 18th century, but the term, ecosystem services, was only introduced in 1981 through the work of ecologists such as Paul Erlich and HE Daly. In the latter part of the 20th Century, the observation of significant and extended damage to ecosystems caused by human impacts began to highlight the ‘real’ role of ecosystem services, resulting in more study and focus.

Be aware that ecosystems have different functioning levels (See figure 1) and for the sake of clear explanation, this article focuses on high level discussion. The figure demonstrates the different functioning levels that occur in typical ecosystems.

Figure 1: levels of organisation in an ecosystem

Source: eSchooltoday

Ecosystem Capital

Figure 2 (developed by Costanza et. al.) below illustrates the interrelationships between the different types of capital in the environment. Built Capital represents the built environment (human and non-human), Human Capital represents the knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labour and Social capital represents the factors of effectively functioning social groups that include such things as interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity, all of which are contained within Natural Capital. The interaction of some or all of these different forms of capital contributes towards the goal of sustainable human well-being and is enhanced by ecosystem services.

Figure 2 – Interrelationships between different types of Natural Capital

Ecosystem Services Classification  

Ecosystem services have been classified in various ways, including:

  • ‘Functional groupings’, such as regulation (controls e.g. climate), carrier (e.g. pollination and seed transport), habitat, production (e.g. food), and information services
  • ‘Organisational groupings’, such as services associated with certain species that regulate external inputs into a system, and those related to the organisation of biological entities
  • ‘Descriptive groupings’, such as renewable resource goods, non-renewable resource goods, physical structure services, biotic services, biogeochemical services, information services, and social and cultural services.

Functional Grouping

The most widely adopted classification is the ‘functional grouping’ where ecosystem services are divided into four categories.  Some overlap occurs between categories but the four main groupings include:

  • Provisioning services which are the products that are obtained from ecosystems, such as: genetic resources, food, water, fuel, bio-chemicals, fibre, natural medicines, pharmaceuticals, and building materials.
  • Regulating services which are the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes. These include: climate regulation, water regulation and purification, air quality maintenance, erosion control, waste treatment, regulation of human diseases, biological control, pollination, and protection from extreme weather and climatic events.
  • Cultural services which are nonphysical benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences.  These services are connected to human behaviour and values, as well as institutions and patterns of political, social and economic organisation.  Cultural services include: cultural diversity, spiritual and religious values, knowledge systems, educational values, inspiration, aesthetic values, social relations, sense of place, cultural heritage values, and tourism.

Spaceship Earth

It is important to recognise that humans are integral elements of global ecosystems and that dynamic interactions take place between them and other parts of ecosystems. The ever changing human condition drives ecosystem change directly and indirectly, thereby bringing about changes in human well-being. Concurrently, economic, cultural and social factors, independent from ecosystems, influence the human condition, and natural forces shape ecosystems.

Ecosystem services influence human well-being, which is assumed to possess multiple constituents, including: basic materials to support a good quality of life, such as secure and adequate livelihoods, ample food, shelter, clothing, and access to goods; health, including well-being, a healthy physical environment, such as clean air and water; good social relations, which includes social cohesion, mutual respect, the means to assist others and provide for children; security, including secure access to resources, personal safety, and protection against natural and human induced disasters; and freedom of choice and action, which are the opportunities that enable individuals to achieve what they value doing and being.

The earth is not an “infinite resource” and it is important to recognise that polluting or damaging our “Spaceship” or not respecting its needs and limitations could have significant impacts upon its ability to sustain our lives in the future. As the earth’s human population continues to grow exponentially, future problems affecting the survival of human beings can be expected as various ecosystems services begin to break down, fail and become less sustainable.

Ecosystem Disservices

Ecosystem management, in some cases, may lead to possible ecosystem disservices.  Examples of disservices can include: increased prevalence of allergens; promoting invasive species; hosting pathogens or pests; inhibiting human mobility or safety; bringing about cultural and psychological effects that negatively impact human well-being; or increasing the necessity for using natural resources (i.e. water) or chemicals (i.e. pesticides and fertilisers).

Supporting Services

Supporting services are those which are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services.  They differ from other services as their impacts on humans are indirect, or occur over a long time period.  Some services, such as erosion control, can be categorised as a supporting and regulating service (depending on the time scale and immediacy of their impact on humans).  Examples of supporting services include: production of atmospheric oxygen (through photosynthesis), primary production, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, water cycling and provisioning of habitat.

Direct and Indirect Services

Some ecosystem services involve the direct provision of material and non-material goods to people and depend on the presence of particular species of plants and animals, for example, food, timber, and medicines. Other ecosystem services arise directly or indirectly from the functioning of ecosystem processes. For example, the service of formation of soils and soil fertility that sustains crop and livestock production depends on the ecosystem processes of decomposition and nutrient cycling by soil micro-organisms.

Stricter Focus

Some scientists have advocated a stricter definition of ecosystem services as only the components of nature that are directly enjoyed, consumed, or used in order to maintain or enhance human well-being. Such an approach can be useful when it comes to ecosystem service accounting and economic valuation. This is because some ecosystem services (e.g. food provision) can be quantified in units that are easily comprehensible by policy makers and the general public. Other services, for example, those that support and regulate the production levels of crops and other harvested goods, are more difficult to quantify. If a definition based on accounting is applied too strictly there is a risk that ecosystem service assessment could be biased toward services that are easily quantifiable, but with inadequate consideration of the most critical ones for human well-being.

Debate and Publications

The concept of ecosystem services has prompted an increasing number of academic publications, international research projects, and policy studies. It is a subject of intense debate in the global scientific community, from the natural to social science domains. It is also used, developed, and customised in policy debates and considered, if in a still somewhat sceptical and apprehensive way, in the “practice” domain—by nature management agencies, farmers, foresters, and the corporate world. This process of bridging evident gaps between ecology and economics, and between nature conservation and economic development, has also been noted in the political arena, including in the United Nations and the European Union.

Areas of Discussion

The concept appears in four major discussions:

  • Academic: the ecological versus the economic dimensions of the goods and services that flow from ecosystems to the human economy; the challenge of integrating concepts and models across this paradigmatic divide;
  • Social: the risks versus benefits of bringing the utilitarian argument into political debates about nature conservation (Are ecosystem services good or bad for biodiversity and vice versa?);
  • Policy and planning: how to value the benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services (Will this improve decision-making on topics ranging from poverty alleviation via subsidies to farmers to planning of grey with green infrastructure to combining economic growth with nature conservation?); and
  • Practice: Can revenue come from smart management and sustainable use of ecosystems? Are there markets to be discovered and can businesses be created? How do taxes figure in an ecosystem-based economy? The outcomes of these discussions will both help to shape policy and planning of economies at global, national, and regional scales and contribute to the long-term survival and well-being of humanity.

Final Thoughts

“Ecosystems services” is a concept which may help to bridge the gap between the traditional economists (“Air soil and water are “free” goods which must be freely accessible to all.”) and multi-disciplinary decision makers (“There’s no such thing as a “free” lunch.”). After 20 years, the concept is still being hotly debated at many levels. It has perhaps resulted in the beginnings of consensus that there is need for a new economic paradigm which puts “Nature” at its core. It certainly is beginning to walk hand-in-hand with the “People, Planet and Prosperity” themes that emerged from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002 and the subsequent UN Sustainable Development goals. There is no doubt that current economic systems and thinking needs to be changed to cope with the 21st century issues that need to be faced.


This article is designed to provide basic explanations and stimulate thought rather than going into excessive detail. Other authors have written tomes on ecosystem or nature services and there are many academic articles of different viewpoints on this subject. For the sake of brevity, this author has applied his view on certain elements of the topic for which he takes full responsibility.


Braat, L.C., Mar 2016. Framing Concepts in Environmental Science, Policy, Governance, and Law, Management and Planning, Sustainability and Solutions, Online Publication.

Brundtland Commission, 1987. “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development”. United Nations.

Daly, G.C., 1997. Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems. Island Press.

Costanza, R., de Groot R., Braat L., Kubiszewski I., Fioramonti L., Sutton P., Farber S., and Grasso M., 2017. Twenty Years of ecosystem services: How far have we come and how far do we still need to go? Ecosystems Services, 28, 1-16.

De Groot, R.S., Wilson, M.A. & Boumans, R.M.J., 2002. A typology for the classification, description and valuation of ecosystem functions, goods and services. Ecological Economics, 41, 393–408.

Norberg, J., 1999. Linking Nature’s services to ecosystems: some general ecological concepts. Ecological Economics, 29, 183–202.

Moberg, F and Folke, C., 1999. Ecological goods and services of coral reef ecosystems. Ecological Economics, 29, 215–233.

Tyler Miller, G & Spoolman, S.E., 2018. “Living in the Environment”. 19th Edition, Cengage Learning.

GRI 306: Waste – Public Comment

The Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), GRI’s independent standard setting body, is pleased to announce a 75-day public comment period for the draft of GRI 306: Waste.

Running until 15 July 2019, this public comment invites feedback on the draft Standard from all stakeholders.

To find out more about the draft and the public comment submit your feedback via the public comment form here

For more information, visit the project page on the GRI website

Participate in live webinars:

Thursday, 16 May at 9am or 4:30pm CET

Tuesday, 18 June at 9am or 4:30pm CET

Contact us at waste@globalreporting.org  if you have questions or can suggest other opportunities to promote the Standard

Water Monitoring Data Visualisation and Graphing Solution

Carin Bosman of CBSS is currently developing software, called LEGUAAN®, that will provide a service to effortlessly turn water quality and quantity monitoring data into graphs and reports that can be understood by management and other stakeholders, including government agencies, which means environmental data becomes a valuable business- and water resource management tool.

LEGUAAN® is being developed with the requirements of the South African government (including catchment management agencies and local authorities) in mind, and will help to take control of water monitoring data (both quantity and quality). It does the quality control and statistical evaluations, and turns verified water monitoring data into scientifically sound graphs designed to meet the specific needs of an organisation. Have a look at the LEGUAAN Factsheet for examples of graphs prepared with LEGUAAN®, and to see what is meant with a responsive dashboard and interactive online graphs that allows the presenting and sharing of results with others.

Carin wants your input: Do you have a particular graph or report table format you like? Want a unique graph or map illustrating specific chemical properties at your site? Need a report on the quality of your data? Looking for a graph that gives 95th percentile compliance, or overall site compliance to specific government agency or site-specific limit values, or compliance with specified monitoring frequencies? Just tell her what you want, and she can programme LEGUAAN® to do it for you.

Contact Carin Bosman without delay (carin@cbss.co.za or 082 803 2384) to talk about your needs!