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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 future.

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

About the CLUB OF ROME

The Club of Rome was founded in 1968 as an informal association of independent leading personalities from politics, business and science, men and women who are long-term thinkers interested in contributing in a systemic interdisciplinary and holistic manner to a better world.

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