Importance of Natural Resource Efficiency in Corporate Education & Curriculum
Most agricultural and industrial activities need natural resources. However, it is essential to
ensure efficiency in their utilization, so that a scarcity is not faced in the near future. As
Professor Amita Bhide from Tata Institute of Social Sciences said, we need to debate how
urban lifestyles can be sustainably smart or smartly sustainable. Initiatives such as
sustainable transportation, citizens’ engagement, urban governance and local area planning
are steps in the right direction.
Several industrial activities generate a large amount of waste that was earlier being let out
into the ecosystem. However, industries are now gradually opening up to the possibility of
repurposing this into usable substances that can even generate revenue. Dr Chari
Kumanduri from Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH) shared several
examples of wastes from processes that can be reused, such as rice husk that can almost
completely replace silica. The substance obtained after the production of coffee can be used
as a fuel and the remains after burning this fuel can then be processed into activated carbon.
In today’s fast changing world, markets are unpredictable and businesses can no longer be
guaranteed a long term future. Businesses and companies that may be the leaders in their
field may suddenly be rendered redundant due to the advent of new technology, and may be
replaced by relatively newer entrants into the field. This volatility raises certain questions in
terms of human capital, such as how existing professionals will keep themselves and their
skills current in such a changing scenario.
A potential opportunity may be to bring value to the idea of sustainability. Traditionally, there
has been neither scope nor recognition for environmental jobs, but this scenario seems to be
changing. Greening of education, i.e. generating awareness about environmental education
is necessary to create employment in the environmental sector. It is essential to make this
profession more lucrative, which could be given an impetus by a deliberate policy push. It is
envisioned that forums such as these may put the much needed pressure on the
government to work on this issue.
Across industries, it has been noted, that there is a general skill gap among professionals
entering the workforce due to a larger focus on theoretical principles than on-the- job training.
An excellent case in point is the findings from an employability study conducted on students
in Mendha Lekha village in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, which was shared by Dr Chandrakant
Puri from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Contemporary Studies. It highlighted a huge skill gap
between classroom teaching and abilities to deliver at work. Experts identified several issues
that they felt should be included as part of curricula, such as natural resource sufficiency,
environment management (in terms of audits and resource management), and value and
preservation of the ecosystem. Additionally, it should also include tools to study and
understand societal needs and challenges faced, and teach students how to use disruptive
(not just incremental) solutions and circular economy for waste and resource management.
It is thus essential to figure out a road map for academics and policy makers to partner with
corporates to work towards sustainability. Important issues such as the rights perspective of
biodiversity and the process of systems thinking should be integrated into curricula at an
early age. The curriculum from kindergarten to post graduation should be designed in such a
way that it produces responsible citizens. Moreover, academia should ensure immersion so
that students understand industries better.
Today, there isn’t a comprehensive understanding of sustainability among corporate
organizations, leading to fragmented solutions that do not take into account the
multidisciplinary nature of the issue or the participation of multiple stakeholders. However,
this needs to be expanded to be more broad-based and include social and cultural aspects
of issues. Several examples were cited where such initiatives had been undertaken, such as
a contour-following structure of solar panels.
Businesses, on their part, must take up their role ethically as experts note that their
mandatory CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives end up pushing their own
agenda. Industries could instead use these to create awareness on water and sanitation in
schools. Similarly, corporates should be encouraged to create renewable energy not just for
compliance with norms, but for the benefit of the environment at large. As a society, we need
to look more closely at ethical policies followed by businesses.
Environment studies has been made compulsory by a mandate of the University Grants
Commission (UGC). Dr Anindita Roy Saha shared the pioneering work in this regard being
undertaken at the recently established Centre for Earth Studies (CES) at Indraprastha
College of Delhi University. As part of a case study undertaken by the CES, it was noticed
that classroom teaching did not generate much interest among students, but field trips did.
This calls for a need to review how knowledge is imparted to students and how it is
internalised by them. When the mandatory course was compared with voluntary Eco-clubs, it
was found that the latter was more effective in generating awareness. It also helped develop
sensitization and stewardship among students. After the success of its innovative tree
census on campus, the CES has also undertaken projects such as waste paper recycling,
kitchen waste management and a bird diversity census. It has also launched a biannual
journal and is working at being a waste-neutral campus, which fulfils the social responsibility
of the institution and also promotes environmental consciousness among the students.
Similarly, EVPL conducts training workshops for plant workers on safety and environmental
aspects relevant to their work such as use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs),
resource conservation, waste management and pollution control. It works to coordinate and
obtain environmental clearances from various governmental bodies for its clients. Although
the industry follows laws and mandatory requirements required to obtain clearances, most
employees do not understand why this is important. As a further contribution to corporate
education, EVPL can also undertake workshops to create awareness among them to explain
the importance of sustainability and protection of the environment, as a better understanding
of these issues will lead to an increased sense of responsibility and better compliance in the
EVPL also provides a Disaster Management Plan (DMP) for all its clients in construction,
who are mandated to follow these until the completion of the project and the handover to
societies. However, from a long term perspective, generating awareness about the
importance of emergency training, drills and an effective DMP customised to each location
(for example, where fire exits are located) will lead to better compliance, which would be
done voluntarily and not out of obligation.
In terms of the way ahead, there needs to be an interface between academia and corporate
during curriculum development. The corporate can provide opportunities to students for
being trained at their facilities, and the students in turn can conduct research for them.
Businesses can also provide a green internship to students, encourage entrepreneurship
and help build requisite skills among them. This in turn will help them in the long run as
these same students will grow to be responsible, trained and skilled professionals who will
contribute to the growth of their businesses and the betterment of the environment.
Content by Natasha DLima