• October 01, 2012

While modern society and its activities continue to dramatically increase concentrations of key greenhouse gases exacerbating climate change, water scarcity affects every continent and more than 40% of the people on our planet. Recent figures released by the United Nations for World Water Day 2012 in March indicated that by 2025, 1,8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.

Maropeng, recent recipient of a gold certificate of membership by the Heritage Environmental Management Company for its commitment to sustainable business practices, is continuously re-evaluating and embracing measures put in place to reduce its environmental footprint.

“A one of only eight Unesco world heritage sites in South Africa, we care about the environment and we are committed to continually improving our management systems to become more environmentally sustainable in the Cradle of Humankind,” says Tony Rubin, Managing Director of Maropeng.

Maropeng underwent an extensive environmental audit process to receive its gold certificate status with every aspect, from management systems, to biodiversity management, to purchasing and procurement being assessed. “Adopting a sustainable approach to business is challenging, but possible. When the building was designed and built, the technology that is currently available was not then available – it is therefore necessary for us to be creative in the way we manage the facility,” comments Rubin.

One of the areas in which Maropeng has prioritised sustainability is in its kitchens. Besides scrupulously recycling all kitchen waste, it has opted to source the majority of its fresh produce from local farmers. “Currently, 65% of the food on Maropeng’s menus is sourced from within 15 km of the Magalies and Cradle of Humankind areas, ensuring not only the freshest produce, but local farmers have given Maropeng an undertaking that their production processes are sustainable. All fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, milk, eggs and herbs are locally sourced,” adds Rubin.

Maropeng has also implemented additional green measures to continue sustainability when food leaves its kitchens. “We use biodegradable take-away cups, teaspoons, knives, forks and plates which once disposed of are carefully sorted for recycling,” adds Rubin.Strict measures are also taken within the kitchens to ensure that stoves are switched off when not in use and that only refillable spirit jelly – a combustible gel used to keep portable bain maries hot – is used.

More sustainable measures were also implemented for the approximately 30 litres of cooking oil that Maropeng’s kitchens dispose of weekly. “We now have an initiative in place where all cooking oil waste is collected by a food oil disposal company from which it is recycled to produce biodiesel and soap products,” adds Rubin.

The construction of an ozone wastewater purification system at the Sterkfontein Caves is another environmentally friendly initiative, which has done much to significantly decrease water consumption in the Cradle area. “The system uses ozone from the atmosphere to accelerate the breaking down of solids by bacteria and also to sterilise water. It has been designed to replace Sterkfontein’s septic tanks and provide a far more eco-friendly solution to waste management in the area,” comments Rubin.

Another water management initiative is an artificial wetland system, called a SSF CWS – Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetland System at Maropeng’s Visitor Centre. The wetland has been specially designed to naturally assist in the filtering and cleansing of the site’s grey and black water. It has been in existence at Maropeng since it first opened and was constructed  to conserve energy by minimising the site’s reliance on sewage processing plants.

More than 1 000 hominid fossils have been found in the 47 000 hectare Cradle area – more than any other place on Earth. “The sustainable management of this unique heritage site is a clear priority if it is to be preserved for future generations,” concludes Rubin.

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