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UJ: Prof Charles Mbohwa on the journey towards sustainability engineering

Concerns about the sustainability of life, water systems and land systems on earth were raised at the Earth Summit in 1987, where international efforts were combined into one document, the Brundtland Report. Charles Mbohwa, a Professor in the Department of Quality and Operations Management, which forms part of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment’s (FEBE) School of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, maintains that science and engineering has done a lot to contribute to the lack of sustainability in all endeavours of human engagement.

Prof Mbohwa examined the journey towards sustainability engineering when he delivered his inaugural address in the Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Monday, 14 September 2015.

He pointed out that it has become increasingly clear that science and engineering play a pivotal role in reversing environmental, economic and social degradation that exists. “It is against this background that the field of sustainability engineering is developing,” he said.

Prof Mbohwa addressed some issues based on his experience and growth path over the last three decades.

“Anthropogenic activities have resulted in many environmental, social and economic ills. Many cities have been affected by smoky fog (smog). This resulted in respiratory problems and many deaths and illnesses. A classic example is the Minamata disease caused by organic alkyl mercury resulting in close to 2000 deaths and disabled future generations,” he said.

Prof Mbohwa discussed the concepts of sustainability, sustainable development and life cycle sustainability assessment to the development of sustainability engineering. This was based on the integration of environmental, economic (Life Cycle Costing) and social Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies, which are constantly being developed and refined through the Life Cycle Initiative that has brought together stakeholders worldwide to deal with these issues.

In Africa these initiatives have been realised through the work and efforts of the African Energy Policy Research Network, the African Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production and the African Life Cycle Assessment Network amongst many others that Prof Mbohwa has actively participated in. The Japanese experience has also been incorporated into the discourse contributing to global experiences in sustainability engineering.

Prof Mbohwa was a co-author of the guiding principles of LCA databases and an expert reviewer for methodological sheets for subcategories in social LCA. These were part of the United Nations Environment Programme coordination international efforts.

As an established researcher in the field of sustainability engineering and energy, Prof Mbohwa’s specialisations include sustainable engineering, energy systems, LCA and bio-energy/fuel feasibility and sustainability with general research interests in renewable energies and sustainability issues.

He has presented at numerous conferences and published more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 6 book chapters and one book.

Upon graduating with his BSc Honours in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Zimbabwe in 1986, Prof Mbohwa was employed as a mechanical engineer by the National Railways of Zimbabwe. He holds a Master’s in Operations Management and Manufacturing Systems from University of Nottingham and completed his doctoral studies at Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology in Japan.

Prof Mbohwa was a Fulbright Scholar visiting the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute at the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, is a fellow of the Zimbabwean Institution of Engineers and is a registered mechanical engineer with the Engineering Council of Zimbabwe. Prior to joining UJ in July 2007, he held the post of Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of Zimbabwe.

His former engagements include Collaborator to the United Nations Environment Programme, and Visiting Exchange Professor at Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná. He has also visited many countries on research and training engagements including the United Kingdom, Japan, German, France, the USA, Brazil, Sweden, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mauritius, Austria, the Netherlands, Uganda, Namibia and Australia.

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