Gopalakrishnan is the Managing Director — APAC and Middle East, GBCI India. He manages business and market development of LEED and other GBCI rating systems for the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. His expertise includes corporate strategy, international market expansion, branding, and business unit creation. An alumnus of College of Engineering, Guindy and IIM Kolkata, he has more than 20 years of corporate experience in Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions.
In recent years, the effects of climate change and the depletion of natural resources worldwide have underlined the need for sustainability in every sphere of life. The masses – not just the working class, but everyone – should be aware of the effect their actions have on the very ecosystem that supports their life and their livelihood. What people need is a set of guidelines that they can follow on a daily basis, all the time – at home, at work, or outside. Students and working professionals have always sought to acquire in-demand skills that will help their career, and, in today’s business environment, there are few things in greater demand than the knowledge of how to achieve sustainability. The Covid-19 pandemic got organizations thinking anew about how their “green” initiatives would benefit their people, their stakeholders, and the communities they operated in. To help the industry move towards carbon neutrality and net zero, both students and working professionals need to deep-dive into these areas through formal learning. Educational universities and certain organizations can offer such specialized learning programs.
An approach to green education in schools
Environmental education is compulsory in formal education in India. However, although the learning methodology followed in primary and secondary education covers climate-and-environment-related laws and regulations, it does not always dwell on real-world happenings such as the damage to lives and livelihoods, the destruction of ecologies and natural ecosystems, the danger signs for the very survival of life forms on Earth, and the challenges that businesses and governments face – the knowledge of which is equally important. Nor does it focus strongly enough on hands-on experience and on-field work.
The heads of schools in India will probably be among the first ones to acknowledge that there is little practical exercise involved in environmental education other than making posters, slogans and class projects for occasions such as Earth Day. There is a need to go beyond this “pen and paper” mode; students must be taught to act purposefully on a daily basis towards creating healthier, cleaner surroundings for themselves and for others. Even simple things like replacing plastic with paper or jute alternatives can be important initial steps in the journey towards a sustainable lifestyle.
The case for experiential, region-focused environmental education
Today’s students are the leaders and consumers of tomorrow, and, so, educators must encourage young learners to try and address environmental issues through actions such as saving water and electricity at home, using bicycles or walking for short-distance travel, planting trees wherever allowed, and thinking of simple, workable solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problems. Experiential learning, always a good idea, is particularly effective in an area like sustainability.
Green buildings or complexes can become centres for experiential sustainability learning, where the participants – students, experts, professionals, and the common man alike – can observe, understand, and discuss how green solutions work. Initiatives such as rainwater harvesting, paper recycling, vertical gardening, and creating usable objects from waste can be undertaken on the very campus itself, creating an environment of collective responsibility, cooperation, ideating, and idea-sharing. Learners must be encouraged to implement the four Rs of conservation — reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle – wherever possible.
India has great geographic, climatic, and ecological diversity. Every region needs a different kind of solution. It makes good sense, therefore, to make environmental education region-specific. Ladakh and Rajasthan both suffer from water shortage during summer but the solution for addressing this problem will have to be based on the resources available and the on-ground realities in both these regions.
The importance of “green” from business and ESG standpoints
More and more business schools across the country are including sustainability in their teaching and research. For instance, as a part of the sustainable management degree offered by IIM Lucknow, students learn about village life and the socioeconomic and environmental challenges faced by rural India. Many of the other top business schools in the country, including XLRI Jamshedpur, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade Delhi, and Goa Institute of Management, have included elements of social and ecological responsibility in their management programmes. These are efforts in the right direction because the world needs business managers who look beyond short-term gains and focus on long-term, sustainable growth.
The leading business schools are also grooming their students in subjects related to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) parameters. This is important because carbon emissions, sustainability programmes, diversity and inclusion, and ethical business practices have become integral elements of the business environment. Employees, investors, and regulators alike have begun taking a close look at the ESG performance of companies. From this financial year onward, the top 1000 listed companies in India need to report their sustainability-related plans, investments, programmes, impact, and stakeholder relationships as per a new framework called Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (BRSR). Unsurprisingly, almost every firm today needs business managers who can understand ESG in the context of their business and integrate it within business goals and strategies.
College students seeking jobs as well as professionals seeking career progression can benefit from becoming LEED Green Associates. The Green Associate credential can be earned by passing a 100-question exam administered by the Green Business Certification Inc. Those who pass the exam can choose to apply for the next level of certification – LEED Accredited Professional. While the former credential signifies core competency in green building principles, the latter denotes expertise in green building and LEED rating systems. LEED Lab is yet another course that “green” career aspirants can aim for. It is a multidisciplinary immersion course that uses project-based learning and the built environment to help students become green building leaders and sustainability-focused citizens. In the course, students assess the performance of existing facilities on campus and choose a building where they will facilitate the LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) process with the goal of certifying the facility. LEED-certified professionals are in high demand across industries.
LEED’s online Education platform offers all the content needed by Students and Working professionals to access the content for knowledge about sustainability and also to pass the LEED GA and AP exams. The rich content including videos are also being accessed by non-technical students like the MBA schools. The platform is also being used by leadership organizations to offer a basic sustainability Education to all their employees.
The need for “green” education has never been more pronounced than it is today. These are early days; there is still a long way to go in making sustainability a sizeable and meaningful part of the curriculums of primary, secondary, and higher education in India. India has made strong climate commitments that it must fulfilled in coming decades. This should provide the required urgency and help in directing efforts the right way.