Environmental guidelines

It is now widely recognized that humanity’s impact on the earth is well beyond the carrying capacity of the planet.  As a result, the very life-supporting ecosystem upon which all life on earth depends is being compromised, and in several respects the situation is considered critical. While it is not feasible for an organization or individual to have no ‘environmental footprint’ (driving a car, switching on a kettle, buying a manufactured product, or building a house, for example, all impact on the environment to a greater or lesser degree), it is important that we ‘live lightly’ to minimize our environmental impact.  For Buddhists this is a part of respecting fellow humans and all other life on the planet, including future generations.  The below guidelines for living more responsibly are considered priorities because of their link with key environmental problems.  While poverty alleviation is also part of moving to a sustainable society, particularly so in South Africa, this is not considered here as it is an explicit focus in Rokpa Charity.


Some of the key global and local environmental problems which need to guide our behaviour include:

  • Global warming
  • Habitat alteration and biodiversity loss
  • Air, water and ground pollution
  • Water scarcity

Based on these, the following six guiding principles1 to minimize our impact should be followed where feasible:

  1. Use less electricity
  2. Consume less and more responsibly
  3. Drive less
  4. Recycle tins, glass, paper, plastics and organic matter
  5. Use less water
  6. Undertake developments in a ‘green’ manner

For our full guidelines, along with actions we can all take, please download the policy document here


HH Karmapa

HH Karmapa has recently signed the Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change.

“We humans have already done such immense damage to the environment that it is almost beyond our power to heal it. The challenge is far more complex and extensive than Buddhists can tackle alone. However, we can take a lead, and to do so we must educate and inform ourselves. This is the time when our pure aspirations and our bodhisattva activity must come together. This is the time to ensure a safe-climate future for our planet. This aspiration comes from my heart.”
Excerpt from HH Karmapa’s chapter in A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency (Wisdom Publications, May 2009)

We have recently heard from Gyuto Monastery, Dharamsala that HH Karmapa has signed the Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change.

To join His Holiness please go to:www.ecobuddhism.org and click ‘Buddhist Declaration’.

In the first 9 days online, the Declaration was signed by over 2000 Buddhists from 45 countries, including 50 Buddhist teachers of all traditions.

Easy links

Shortcut to signing the declaration: please do so immediately as “Karma Kagyu”

Shortcut to our environmental guidelines

Shortcut to a video clip
Featuring the following eminent teachers:
Thrangu Rinpoche (1)
Thrangu Rinpoche (2)
Dudjom Rinpoche, Sangye Pema Zhepa
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche

A book featuring many of the most prominent Buddhist teachers including HH Karmapa and the Dalai Lama has just been published. Our Rokpa Dharma Shops are ordering stock:
A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency
Shortcut to reading more about the book

Environmental Assessment of Cape Town Samye Dzong

Report (May09)


The assessment covers the areas of water and energy use, waste generation, chemical use, garden, and transport. It is not a detailed assessment, but is adequate for determining sensible interventions to improve the centre’s environmental profile.



Electricity is the only significant energy source used. kWh usage ranges from around 600kWh/mth – typically in summer – to almost 2000kWh/mth in peak months.  The average is around 1100kWh/mth – which is would be on the medium- to high-side for a normal residence, but is not excessive given the nature of the centre’s operations. This equates to around 12 tons of CO2 emissions per year (since all conventional electricity purchases are from mainly coal-fired power stations – which emit huge amounts of CO2). The estimated use profiles are as follows:

Consumption per activity


Rands Tons CO2/yr % total elec use


R 43



Water heat


R 242





R 86





R 55





R 33





R 8





R 18





R 48





R 532



Water heating is by far the major energy use, followed by space heating.  The centres lighting is relatively efficient – as most incandescent lights have been replaced by CFLs, tho there are still some incandescent bulbs around. The downlighters in the main shrine room are a significant consumer, however.

The hot water geyser is set to 60deg (good – could be lowered to 55 in summer possibly, but 60 is fine), and a geyser blanket has been fitted.


  1. The upstairs hot water cylinder which is permanently on and is the major electricity consumer for the centre should be as efficient as possible: in addition to setting the temperature to 55 or 60 degrees and installing a geyser blanket (which have been done), it should be on an appropriately set timer.
  2. A solar water heater should be installed (if we are to stay at the centre for at least 3 more years – payback is 3 to 5 years). This should definitely be installed at any new centre we purchase.
  3. The downlighters in the main shrine room are energy-intensive. It is recognised that such dimmable lights are preferred for meditation, and so people may not want to use the fluorescent lights.  However, at least they should be used sparingly (put a notice on the light switch to encourage this), and switched to LED-type (light-emitting diode) downlighters when suitable LEDs become available (LED payback is slow, but last forever so make good financial sense).
  4. The remaining incandescent lights should be replaced with CFLs (unless on dimmers) – e.g. in the office. Suitable strength CFLs can be obtained for most purposes. (Payback in a few months).
  5. Consider using a hotbox for cooking – reduces cooking energy significantly (used for any foods that require significant simmering – rice, stews, pap etc) – although it is recognised that little of this sort of food is cooked at the centre.
  6. Look at whether insulating the bedrooms will improve comfort significantly (and reduce heating bills in winter), taking into consideration that we may sell the centre in the near future.
  7. Find out how to buy green (renewable) electricity from the city and what it will cost.



Annual average water use is around 77kl/mth, but varies significantly between summer and winter because of garden watering.  Estimated use profiles are given in the graphs

  • The garden uses most water. It is watered about 4 days per week in summer for around 2 hours. Ways to reduce this are therefore a priority (dealt with in later section).
  • The pool uses significant water in summer.
  • Most toilets are flushmaster type, which cannot easily be made more efficient. The toilet in the shop is not can therefore easily be made much more efficient.
  • Taps in basins do not have flow reducers, tho water use from basins is relatively small so this is not a priority.
  • The showers upstairs and in the shop are not water efficient (***check***). Tenants shower mainly. Bath is seldom used.


    1. Install an efficient showerhead in the upstairs shower – models are available which reduce the flow without compromising comfort. ***check
    2. Reduce the flush volume of the shop toilet – either via fitting a ‘multi-flush’ mechanism or put a volume displacer in the cistern (high quality brick would probably work).
    3. Look at more efficient irrigation of garden (drip? – expensive tho.)
    4. Consider grey-water recycling for garden use (tho there are some pros and cons).



Illustrative household waste profile is given below (note that the centre may be different):

The centre has until recently been recycling paper, glass, plastic and tins (approx 50% of total waste stream – a significant achievement).  Organics are not recycled (rat problems with composting, and worm-bins require too much attention). However, recently it has been difficult to find people to take the recycling to the depot, and therefore the system is currently not functioning.


  1. Find volunteers or assign responsibility for taking recycling to depot, and re-instate recycling waste separation.
  2. Explore rat-resistant composters to recycle organics.
  3. Get a worm-bin if we can find someone to look after it (fairly consistent attention needed).

Chemical use


Chemical used are largely conventional – i.e. not organic or biodegradable or otherwise environmentally sound – although there are a few ‘green’ cleaners and other products at the centre.  The same can be said of garden chemicals used. Some time ago ferromol was used to kill snails, but this has been discontinued (although this is an environmentally sound product, it was considered better to avoiding killing)


  1. There are a number of ‘green’ cleaners which perform well and should be used in place of some of the conventional cleaning products (dishwash liquid, general cleaner etc).



Paper purchased for the office does not have recycled content, but paper is used on both sides (re-used as scrap).  Printer cartridges are purchased new (not refilled), although cartridges are returned to the supplier.

(ther procurement issues covered under ‘Chemical use’)


  1. Buy paper with recycled content (e.g. Sappi Typek 50% recycled content)
  2. Ask supplier if cartridges can be refilled rather than purchased new.



The plants in the impressive garden are steadily being replaced with water-wise, indigenous alternatives as they die (e.g. all hydrangeas have been replaced). This has been going on for a few years, so the garden is becoming more water-efficient


  1. Continue to work towards a more water-wise garden – planting indigenous vegetation as far as possible.  Consider buffalo grass planting to steadily take over from the kikuyu (these are long-term projects tho, and we’d need to be sure we are staying at the centre for some time to embark on them).



The centre is not easily accessible by public transport, and therefore almost everyone uses private transport to get there. This results in a very significant energy and carbon footprint. However, it is difficult to address this issue given the poor state and safety of the city’s public transport system – especially after dark.  Nevertheless it may well be feasible for sangha to lift-pool more than they do.


  1. Encourage sangha to share lifts to the centre (see below communications section).
  2. Consider ease of access when looking at new centre properties.

Communications and Sangha support


The centre undertakes little environmental communication or provides support to the sangha around this issue at present – although a website section is underway with some relevant information.


  1. Provide an informative website with practical guidance for sangha members to ‘green’ their activities.