With Earth Day (April 22) being observed, it is time to take on a more inclusive approach towards sustainability issues. “An Earth Day can be good for raising awareness, but what we need are actionable projects and activities for a sustainable future rather than paying lip service to the concept,” says Leena Srivastava, vice chancellor TERI School of Advanced Studies (SAS).
“The communication between national/state level planners and academic institutions has to improve in addition to academia-industry connect to make our youths future-ready. Far too long, higher educational institutions across the world and in India have provided basic education for traditionally defined professions without paying heed to national and global development priorities,” says the environmental economist.
She states that the comfort levels between industry and academia are often not high – be it through training, handholding and matchmaking – to bring a synergy between these two sectors. “Ironically, industry is often not ready to position sustainability students in job roles that best suits their profile. The problem lies in the way the HR personnel are trained and the manner in which they put out the company’s employment needs and positions. Many of them need to be sensitive to sustainability issues,” she adds.
Generation next is significantly more sensitive to environmental and social issues but are lacking in choices and role models, she says. For instance, if they want to use bicycle as a mode of transport, they are not assured of their personal safety or a separate road infrastructure to promote that need.
“Today’s youth would have to work in resource-constrained environments and deal with workforces in a sensitive and sustainable manner,” says Srivastava, emphasising on training and awareness programmes for not just students, but also midcareer professionals from all walks of life to re-think developmental growth patterns, since decision makers are targeting transformative changes in sustainability by 2030.
“Students who are passing out of higher educational institutions must have a multidisciplinary understanding of the tools, methods and approaches to sustainability. At TERI SAS, for instance, we largely have thematic Master’s programmes — the MTech in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management, for instance, where our students learn not only about renewable energy technologies and their integration into systems, but also the policy regulatory environment, the economics and financing issues besides being sensitive to issues of access (such as electricity, pricing, supply and appliances).”
“In an ideal situation, sustainability education should not be sitting apart, but constantly updated and integrated across the spectrum so that every job is a green job. It does not matter if one is a doctor or manufacturing renewable energy panels, what should count in every job is the organic need to consider environmental and social impacts,” Srivastava says.