by Rizel Delano

Cleaner production conference

Valued platform to illustrate impact and profitability of RECP programme

More than 300 delegates from industry, academia and government attended SA’s first Industrial Resource Efficiency Conference

More than 300 delegates from industry, academia and government attended SA’s first Industrial Resource Efficiency Conference to establish how industry could best use its resources to become globally competitive.

The conference held earlier this year at Emperor’s Palace in Gauteng was organised by the National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa (NCPC-SA), a key industrial sustainability programme of the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), hosted at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

According to NCPC-SA director Ndivhuho Raphulu, the centre was initially a project initiative of the CSIR’s Energy Competence Unit, funded by the South African government via the dti, and the governments of Austria and Switzerland.

At first, the key focus of the NCPC-SA was on raising awareness of, and building capacity in cleaner production. Pilot projects were implemented in selected companies, often in partnership with leading universities, focusing on the chemicals, textiles and agro-processing sectors. The primary objective was to enlist early adopters of clean production as a means of minimising environmental impact and reducing waste at source.

In 2006, the NCPC-SA broadened its activities and since then has helped transform the way industry tackles issues of sustainability via the Resource Efficiency and Cleaner Production (RECP) programme and the Industrial Energy Efficiency Improvement (IEE) project.

With the addition of five sectors in 2009 to align with the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), and the mining sector to the IEE project, a total of nine priority sectors are now served.

Through in-plant assessments, NCPC-SA assists participating companies to identify areas where improvements can be made in energy, water and raw material usage, and waste management.

Scarce and critical skills have also been developed to support industry workers in the move to cleaner and more efficient energy production. Thus far, more than 1 500 people have been trained and/or mentored in capacity-building programmes.

NCPC-SA is constantly assessing the true and full impact it makes on South Africa’s industry. The conference was a valued platform to illustrate the impact and profitability of the RECP programme, and for industry experts to share their inputs in achieving industrial competitiveness in the manufacturing and related sectors. The event coincided with the 10th year of the NCPC-SA’s existence.

Business leader, speaker, columnist and author Clem Sunter opened the conference with his presentation, "Why companies should change from predatory lions to caring elephants and become sustainable".

Sunter spoke about the possible scenarios that face South Africa in the next 10 years, using his signature red flag approach to identify worrisome areas. His main message was, “Working toward a shift from just being profitable, toward being conscious of people and the environment to become sustainable, and for South Africa to remain globally competitive”.

Competitiveness occupied a large part of the dialogue at the conference and presentations demonstrated the effectiveness of RECP principles in South Africa’s declining manufacturing economy. Global trends show that various opportunities do indeed exist for businesses and countries that utilise cleaner and energy-efficient principles.

Gerhard Fourie, chief director of green industries at the dti, noted that progressive government policies are providing a platform from which key sectors can be positioned for global competitiveness.

He touched briefly on government’s plans and its finance models to assist industry, and explained its efforts in moving toward a greener economy.

“South Africa will require a number of incentives over a period of time to move industries away from energy-intensive, carbon-intensive industries to less energy- and carbon-intensive, labour-absorbing industries,” said Fourie.

The conference highlighted that the local manufacturing industry is eager to be educated on how energy, water, materials and other resource efficiencies can add to competitiveness, sustainability and profitability, especially in reaching energy savings.

Ndivhuho Raphulu, director of the NCPC-SA, told delegates: “We’re proud to have unlocked potential savings of around R175 million through our RECP activities in the last 10 years.”

The work of the NCPC-SA makes an excellent contribution to the impact of the CSIR. “Impact is central to the CSIR’s mandate, and by hosting programmes such as the NCPC-SA we can further advance our ultimate objective of having a beneficial effect on the economy, society and environment that we live in,” added Johan le Roux, group manager of the Strategic Initiatives Implementation Unit at the CSIR.

Dr Hoffie Maree, group executive of operations at the CSIR, was one of the founding fathers of the NCPC-SA. He addressed the audience at a gala dinner and award ceremony at the end of day one of the conference: “The NCPC-SA has grown from humble beginnings as part of a research group within what’s now CSIR Materials Science and Manufacturing. In 2006 it addressed the needs of three industry sectors, with three staff members and a budget of R900 000. Today it has a staff complement of 41, a budget of R46 million, and serves nine sectors.”

Going forward, the NCPC-SA will be focusing on assisting industry to step up implementation, which usually requires investment in cleaner technologies.

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