Sustainability Week Celebrations

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Bharathidasan Institute of Management (BIM)’s Centre for Sustainable Development identifies and amplifies the best practices of sustainable living at the grassroots. MMA collaborated with BIM to organize ‘Sustainability Week’ celebrations at MMA Management Center recently.

Mr Anshul Mishra, IAS

Member Secretary, CMDA

When we talk about sustainability, it means that we consume something to the extent that it is enough for us and it should be left for the future generations too. How do we achieve sustainability in our lives and more so, in urban settings? Urban areas are the ones where we see a lot of consumption happening, which leads to unsustainability. It is not restricted to consumption of goods and food but everything including concrete. The human behaviour is such that it is very difficult to understand the implications of such consumption. Most of the time, we adjust our consumption based on our income. That is where the indifference curve of choice comes into play. Three years ago, I bought an iPhone 8 when iPhone 10 was already there in the market. After that, I was tempted to buy a new IPhone but somehow resisted that. Now recently, I bought an iPhone 14. You can look at this issue from many angles. IPhone 14 may have better features like higher data storage and faster functionalities which are required for me at this stage. So I migrated to that. But we need to consider if we really need to upgrade and the amount of energy which goes into making iPhone 14 or any other products.

Wish we had 2.5 Earths!

I finished my Masters one year ago from a US University. They gave us an exercise to do on green cities. There was software and we had to enter our consumption pattern like the mode of transportation, if we have a car, what we consume, what are our habits, etc. The combined result suggested that if we consume the way we consume, then we need 2.5 Earths to live 60 or 70 years of life. So the consumption pattern and the way we consume goods and services define how sustainable the planet is going to be and how sustainable our lives are going to be. There could be many initiatives at the local level. We heard about how Auroville area is developed and how it functions in a more sustainable manner. But local initiatives alone are not enough because the way urbanization is happening and the rate at which urban areas are growing is incredible. We cannot stop it. We cannot ask people not to come to urban areas which are our growth centers. They give people opportunities for better quality of life, more employment and more income. That’s what human beings want. To tackle this problem, we need to understand the concept of sustainable urbanism.

Urban areas have more concrete, more buildings, but they drive economic growth—that translates into increased personal income and more economic activities. Urban areas support millions of people all over the world. Whether it is good or bad can be a different debate, but it is there and we need to manage it. Making urban growth more sustainable is the challenge and it has many aspects; it just not just about the environment or ecology. Sustainability is also related to social, economic, ecological and health related issues of urban life. We are worried about environment and ecology. We talk about energy efficiency, reducing energy consumption, making more energy efficient buildings, energy efficient transport systems and all that. We are moving towards battery-operated vehicles, solar energy, wind energy and many other sustainable renewable source of energy.

Promote Mixed Income Housing

But in the urban scenario, we must understand the social aspect of sustainable urbanism. We have urban poor and the government tries to provide housing for urban poor. Most of these projects of urban housing are not equitable in many senses. They find a land to construct houses for the urban poor. When the slum dwellers are shifted to that place, two things happen. One, the environment, which was present in the slum area, just gets transferred to another concrete slum. There is no change in the quality of life. The other thing is that the people who were living in the slums, were living very near to their workplaces. They are suddenly shifted 15 to 20 kilometres away. So they lose their livelihood. To address this problem, we must tweak the rules and regulations in such a way that we promote mixed income housing. So far, mixed income housing is not at all discussed in various platforms in India and most of the developing countries as well. But developed countries, including the Western countries have policies to promote it. What we have to do is to incentivise the developer or the builder to promote and construct smaller houses in all the areas and not only limit them to far away areas. If we develop smaller houses everywhere, many poor people or those who are above the poverty line would be able to access them. One may argue that it is costly and people may not buy it. In that case, the government should preserve land near the core areas of the city to provide housing for the poor at a cheaper cost. This is how we can deal with social aspect of urban sustainability.

Going for Densification

When we allow our urban sprawl to spread all over the city and along the peripheries, the cost of transportation increases as cheaper houses are available only in the outskirts. Most people who work inside the city have to travel that much distance; every day, they have to invest time and money to reach their workplace. This is a big challenge and the economic aspect of sustainability gets hit. Again, we have to work on the rules regulation. CMDA has come up with a proposal of densification within the core areas, along the growth corridors and along the metro line. This is an important new concept in India, but other countries have already adopted it. By this, we ensure that there is connectivity between where people live and where they work. There is easy access to transport systems. We can reduce dependency on car. The economic aspect has thus an inbuilt aspect of environmental sustainability. Dependence on cars leads to more congestion on the roads, more pollution and more consumption of fossil fuel. So for sustainable urbanism, we need to address these problems in an urban setting.

Two New Mega Bus Terminals

CMDA has taken up this issue in a big way and announced two new major bus terminals in Chennai’s outskirts—at Kilambakkam and Kuthambakkam—where we will go for net zero building. Large spaces will be available in the bus stand. They will have solar panels to ensure that whatever energy is required in the bus stand will be met by the energy produced by the solar panels. Another aspect of urbanism related to social life is about the accessibility of public facilities like park. It should be accessible to every section of the society—children, women and people of old age. It must be safe for women. Of course, the challenge is huge. Pollution is another major issue. Chennai is still better because of the nice breeze that we get in the evening, but in Delhi and many northern cities, it is really bad, so much so that the courts have come down heavily on pollution. Overall, we see untimely and unseasonal rains and extreme weather conditions, like the 2015 Chennai floods. Everybody blames the government. But importantly, we need to address climate change.

Shoreline Management

We are also working on integrated shoreline management. CMDA has announced that it will take up the entire 50 km stretch of shore line in Chennai—from the Ennore creek to the Kovalam beach—and develop an integrated plan to renourish and revitalize the entire coastal line, ensure that it is conserved and protected properly ecologically and at the same time, there is accessibility for the public. We are going to form a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for this. We want to ensure that there is always connect between the people and nature.

Dr Asit K Barma, Director, BIM delivered the introductory remarks. He spoke about the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Fellowship Program (TNCMFP) and the state’s tie-up with BIM as its academic partner. “Usually, the government ties up only with the top-notch IIMs. We are privileged that this opportunity has come to BIM this time and for which we thank the TN government. I am also happy to share that the TN government is completely committed to this Fellowship program,” he said. He also explained the very tough selection process followed in selecting 30 participants from over 80,000 prospective applicants.

Mr N Bala Baskar, IAS (Retd), Member, Board of Governors, BIM gave a presentation on Auroville’s experience and challenges in ushering sustainable development.

Auroville was designed as a city for 50,000 people, in a circle with a 5 kilometre diameter. The inner circle represents the city and the outer circle is fully dedicated to the green belt. The word ‘sustainable’ was not fashionable when the project was launched. Auroville is a complex vision that came from the vision of spiritual guru Sri Aurobindo. He was a poet and dreamer. But the doer of that vision was The Mother, who was Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner. She organised the Aurobindo Ashram and is the one who gave shape to Auroville. It was started in the 1960s with the objective that people should come there to evolve to the next stage of consciousness. On 20 Feb 1968, Auroville was inaugurated. The soil from 27 states was brought to the site, was mixed together and placed in an urn there, to symbolise human unity and to realise the core dream of Sri Aurobindo. It was an UNESCO supported project. It still supports the Auroville experiment. From a barren land in 1960s, it has now transformed to a lush green forest with over 2 million trees. This is a great model for sustainable development. A lot of indigenous trees are there. A banyan tree near the Matri Mandir is the geographical centre of the Auroville township. Roger Anger is the French architect who designed Auroville, based on a simple sketch given by The Mother. Agni Jata is a house built in raw clay. Normally, raw brick is burnt and then used to construct the house. But here, the house was built with raw clay and the whole house was burnt up. It still stands there.  There are also avant garde houses. There is a Bharat Nivas which is part of the International Zone. There is also a Tibetan Pavilion here, which is a sustainable building. The human space is where the ‘houses for living’ is modelled. It is almost a replicate of the Greek City model where the space is self-contained and everybody could meet each other. These are units of 5000 people, completely self-contained. Auroville runs a lot of businesses to sustain its own economy. There is an organic dying unit. They follow their own education system. There is a kindergarten, transition school and law school. There is no passing examination or certification in any of these. There is a Centre for Scientific Research. Auroville generates solar energy to cater to a canteen that cooks food for 700 people. It was installed in 1977. At that time, it was Asia’s largest parabolic solar concentrator. Auroville’s Consulting division provides a lot of guidance to those who want to launch sustainable development projects / initiatives. There is a Sadhana forest that has become yet another lush green forest and is maintained by an Israeli national. There is a lot of demand from people to come and live in this forest. There is also another forest on the outskirts called ‘Aranya forests’ developed by a boy and has a lot of bio-diversity. He has trained a lot of children to become friendly with the environment. 

Mr Vishesh Gupta, Chairperson, Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG) spoke on the theme, ‘Sustainable Human Behaviour.’

BSG engages in the fields of peace, culture and education, with a special focus on sustainability. It has a membership of 300,000 across India. Most of them are voluntary members. Many of them are SDG professional experts, working for UN organisations like UNDP, TERI, etc. It has a task force of 12 people to find out how BSG can contribute to the achievement of SDGs by 2030. Here, the role of the government is very important. The corporates also must support the government. It has launched an App to support the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. This app is called ‘BSG for SDG’. The app is a one-stop-platform for all things related to SDGs. The app serves as a platform to help adopt ‘Sustainable Human Behaviour’ as a way of life – an essential requirement to achieve the SDGs. BSG’s 3-step formula  to achieve SDGs is:

  • Learn about SDGs and share the learning with others
  • Reflect on what should be done
  • Empowerment and taking lead-Take action.

BSG organised an exhibition called, ‘Seeds of Hope in Action,’ to spread awareness about SDGs and make SDGs into reality, across many educational institutes across the country. It also created SDG clubs in these institutes to sensitise students towards the cause of sustainability.