Books that Matter!

Books_that_matter

I often ask question in the “interviews” (I like the term “discussions” instead) to young professionals and students “which book did they follow during their studies”. In many cases, you will be surprised that the student does not even remember the title and author of the book! That’s terribly disappointing. I feel sorry.

Some students when answer, I feel that they could have followed some other book instead. And when I ask, do they possess the book as collection in their “library”, the answer is generally negative. Folks don’t buy books anymore. All Google or “manage” the e-copies of books which are not printed to read over a coffee. The concept of building a personal physical library now no more exists.

Books you follow (and keep following) set your pedigree. But lot depends further on who introduced the book to you and how was the book taught. You can judge the student by assessing what books were read and how passionately were the books followed in research and professional life. So books matter.

In this blog post, I would like to recall some of the books that influenced me in my student and professional life.

I recall Professor P Khanna, Head of the Centre for Environmental Science & Engg at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay called me one evening and said “tomorrow morning onwards, you will start lectures on Environmental Microbiology. Prof Mrs Mahajan who is taking the course has fallen ill because of spondylitis”. While returning home that day, I was thinking “how do I handle this sudden requirement of teaching” and “which book should I use”. I picked up the book authored by Professors Anthony Gaudy and Elizabeth Gaudy in 1980 – Microbiology for environmental scientists and engineers (See http://www.amazon.in/Microbiology-Environmental-McGraw-Hill-environmental-engineering/dp/0070230358).  I had studied this book during my doctoral studies.

Gaudy

Professor Gaudy’s book turned out to be a hit. Not only the students enjoyed the book but I thought I understood Environmental Microbiology lot better than before. I recommend this book strongly as something very fundamental, with a blend of research & practice and so lucidly written. Prof Anthony and Elizabeth Gaudy taught in University of Delaware. A subsequent release in 2001 titled Elements of Bioenvironmental Engineering is also worth in the collection. It’s a hardcover from Oxford University Press Inc, USA. The chapter on quantitative description of growth is simply a masterpiece.

(Other great book on this topic is by Ross E. McKinney – Environmental Pollution Control Microbiology: A Fifty-Year Perspective. This book illustrates the application of fundamental concepts in microbiology to provide a sound basis for the design and operation of various biological systems used in solving environmental challenges in the air, water, and soil. I find the multi-media canvas of the book most fascinating and different from other books. See http://www.amazon.in/Environmental-Pollution-Control-Microbiology-Perspective/dp/082475493X) Worth a buy).

I remember that I was asked to teach undergraduate students of IIT, Bombay “Environmental Science & Engg” over 36 lectures. Earlier, there were three professors who co-taught this course splitting the course into compartments such as water pollution, air pollution and waste management. This was because these professors were specialized in these specific areas.

I realized that this way of “siloed” teaching is not going to lead to an integrated understanding of the students towards the “problem” and its “solution”. So I started looking for a book that could help me in this direction. The book I hit upon was Strategy of Pollution Control by Paul Mac Berthouex and Dale F. Rudd published in 1977. Prof Berthouex (Mac Bertho) is a civil engineer and his mentor Prof Rudd was a chemical engineer. A great combination.

Strategy of Pollution Control is one of my favourite books even today. It is not media specific and emphasizes that you need to know enough of ecology, microbiology, chemistry, separations and strategies to manage pollution in an integrated manner. The book is so differently written with a “case study” approach and has an inspirational and challenging set of questions at the end of each chapter. I found that the undergraduate students could “take on” this book pretty alright and really enjoyed. (We get at IIT the brightest students of India. So teaching with this book really put me on toes! To my relief, Mac Bertho was kind enough to send me set of solutions to the problems)

(I met Mac Bertho in London in 1986. In 1992, I invited him to work with me on a book on Air Pollution supported by UNESCO. He is an amazing Professor now retired from University of Wisconsin, Madison. We still are in touch. He recently updated the Strategy of Pollution Control with Professor Linfield Brown of Tufts University. See http://www.amazon.in/Strategy-Pollution-Control-Paul-Berthouex/dp/0471744492)

Exposure to quantitative techniques and systems thinking are critical in environmental science and engineering. This area is weak in current courses on environmental engineering. Three of my favourite books in this domain are

Environmental systems optimization by Douglas A. Haith (see http://www.amazon.in/Haith-Environmental-Optimization-DA-HAITH/dp/0471082872). You can sense in this book typical Cornell touch)

Numerical Methods for Engineers by Steven C. Chapra and Raymond P. Canale (see http://www.amazon.in/Numerical-Methods-Engineers-Steven-Chapra/dp/007339792X). An extremely well structured book for both Professors and students)

Chapra

Statistics for Environmental Engineers, Second Edition by Linfield C. Brown, Paul Mac Berthouex (see http://www.amazon.in/Statistics-Environmental-Engineers-Second-Edition/dp/1566705924) Another great work from Mac Bertho

I taught a full course on Environmental Systems Optimization using Prof Haith’s book. The book, especially the solved problems, helped me in introducing systems thinking and expose the students to the optimization techniques.

Sometimes it is effective to refer to a set of “linked” books for a more complete understanding. Let me illustrate this point with an example on the subject of water quality management.  I was working on the Ganga Action Plan in India in 1984. I developed in those days water quality modelling software (captioned STREAM-I and STREAM-II) and conducted more than 10 training programs on water quality management in the country. In addition, I was teaching a course on water quality modelling at IIT, Bombay. So a lot was happening and I was looking for set of books that could best introduce the subject of water quality modelling and management to the students and professionals. These were books that I used at that time

  • Models for water quality management, McGraw-Hill series in water resources and environmental engineering, by Asit K. Biswas   (see http://www.amazon.in/Quality-Management-Resources-Environmental-Engineering/dp/0070054819). This book presents fascinating case studies on water quality management. Kudos to Professor Biswas for managing such a collection. Later, I had the privilege to author with Professor Biswas a book on Environmental Impact Assessment)
  • Managing Water Quality: Economics, Technology, Institutions RFF Water Policy Set Series, RFF Press Series by Allen V. Kneese, Blair T. Bower (See http://www.amazon.in/Managing-Water-Quality-Technology-Institutions/dp/0915707136) The analysis in this classic study ranges from basic economic and political theory to engineering and institutional practices, and encompasses case studies in England, France, and West Germany, as well as in the Ohio, Potomac, and Delaware river basins in the United States. Originally published in 1968 and a real treat.

For those interested in the modelling per say, I recommend following three classics

Its worth that Professors introduce these books to the students as a “pack”

And then some of the landmark books we all follow and respect are

Finally, some books are “deep” and stand out but are not commonly read. One such book is  by Professor Holling –  Adaptive environmental assessment and management. This book develops an adaptive approach to environmental impact assessment and management in a systems perspective and ecology as the base. Professor Holling discusses how we can incorporate impact assessment studies with actual environmental planning and decision making.  (see http://www.amazon.in/Adaptive-Environmental-Assessment-Management-Holling/dp/1932846077).  I highly recommend this book if you really want to “understand” the subject of impact assessment.

Holling

I remember I worked on a consulting assignment with ESSA Technologies, based in Vancouver, Canada that specializes in Impact Assessment and associated Modelling and Expert Systems. When I was in a discussion with colleagues at ESSA –  Tim Webb and Bob Everett – I could clearly sense the influence of the book Adaptive environmental assessment and management.  “Are you by any chance students of Professor Holling?”    I asked. “Yes very much” they said this with such a pride. I then realized how influential the books are in life and how great are the professors who wrote such masterpieces.

My resolution for 2015 is to do a modest effort of writing one such a kind of book.  And I do hope this actually happens!

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Smart Cities vs Dumb Cities

SmartCity

I was about to leave my office for the day and my good friend Professor knocked on the door. Are you free to join me tonight for dinner at the Taj with mayors of the Smart Cities? Prime Minister may be attending – but we are not sure about that. But certainly the Minister for Urban affairs will be there. Why don’t you join?

I did not have dinner engagement that day and my wife was away for a party with her friends so I had no reason to refuse. But still I protested asking how will I fit in the mela of smart mayors. Professor said that the organizers wanted some independent experts to be around as “knowledge nodes” mingling in the crowd for the purpose of “illumination” and “inspiration”. I could perhaps fit in that schema he said. In order to be able to play such a role, I needed to understand what’s a smart city. When asked, my Professor friend as usual gave a mysterious smile and said – oh, you will learn as you will talk to the mayors. Just relax!

We reached the Taj by 8 pm. After the preliminaries of the security checks, lady at the registration desk handed over tiny smart cards that looked real impressive. Put the card in the pocket of your shirt and then everything will be taken care off She said this in a voice that resembled a machine.

The lounge was packed. There were mayors moving around the lounge with Modi style bundees (a bundee is like a jacket and is now India’s current national attire) sporting various shades of green. All looked smart, confident and intelligent. There were however some who were wearing grey colored bundees with faces meek. Professor whispered “those with dark green bundees are the mayors of smartest cities and those with pale green bundees are mayors of smart but not so smart cities”. And what about those with grey colored bundees” I asked and Professor replied – oh these are the mayors of dumb cities. Only when their cities become smart, will they be allowed to wear green bundees.


Smart_Mayor

Typical Smart City Mayor

Dumb_Mayor

Typical Dumb City Mayor


 

I joined the first round table that was occupied by four smart city mayors. One of the smart city mayors was telling others how smart his city was. We are focusing on solar street lamps. All street lamps in my city are solar powered cutting down thereby major emissions of greenhouse gases. Other mayor said that well this was no big deal. We already have solar street lamps in place, we now have intelligent traffic signal system that optimizes the signal timing based on real time traffic data, this reduces the queue length and the idling emissions from vehicles –this leads to reduced exposure of air pollutants to the pedestrians. The third mayor said that his smart city is doing even better. Most of the vehicles are either electric powered or based on bio-gas. Hydrogen cars are expected in a year. This is expected to lead to a major reduction in fossil fuel consumption and of course in the air emissions. The fourth mayor said that his city has done all this already and is now moving to promote tele-commuting to avoid or minimize travelling itself to the offices. Most offices are now providing this option to the employees – he said – thanks to the IT infrastructure provided by the city administration in the buildings. About half a million people will work from home. I liked this idea as I always wanted to watch some of the afternoon TV shows that I often missed.

I thought that all this conversation was getting so positive and interesting. I took down names of the four cities so that I could plan to visit them to experience such a smartness of transport planning and infrastructure.

The next table I saw that more serious discussions were happening. The smart city mayors on this table were accompanied by some of country’ top robotics experts. One of such experts wearing thick glass spectacles was talking about cars that will be driven by robots. This will be the latest in the future smart cities. Here you will be able to order a robot driven taxi with instructions where to come and where to go. You will be able to indicate whether you want to take fastest route or the cheapest route or the most scenic route and the robot will reach you to the destination accordingly. I said that using robot driven car will help reduce cases of assaults on women and perhaps reduce accidents as robots wont drink.  This comment was not well appreciated by the Expert – that’s beside the point he said.

I realized that the smartness of the city was getting even more and more escalated. Sure, it was going to be another world!

The Professor appeared suddenly, Oh I have been looking for you. Where were you my friend? I want you to meet the Chairman in charge of the National Program on Smart Cities. He introduced me to the Chairman with lot of good words about me and how involved I was in sustainability. A city when gets smart becomes sustainable automatically, the Chairman said this in a dense voice while sipping white wine.

I was not sure whether smartness meant sustainability. A sustainabIe city was an effort on a participatory basis I thought, involving stakeholders and not an ad-hoc fitment of “smart projects” decided by someone in the administration as a show off or by someone at the political helm of affairs deciding what’s good for the city on an autocratic basis. But I decided to keep shut as I sensed that the Chairman was not in a mood to listen to terms such as participatory or stakeholder driven process.

The Chairman had convincing arguments however.  A smart city will have the least water, energy and waste related footprints, and it will provide infrastructure and deliver services to its citizens at highest point of the efficiency curve. Everything will be wired, data managed and decisions taken optimally on this basis.

When I narrated the Chairman the great initiatives I learnt from the mayors of the smart cities in the first two roundtables, he smiled and said that that was just tip of the iceberg and there were several more startling innovations happening. Cars in the smart cities will have a fitment of on-line medical and psycho diagnostic tools placed on the steering wheel. By the time you reach your office, your blood pressure, sugar levels, eye ball movements (apparently an indicator of anxiety) and the ECG will be monitored without you knowing anything. You will get a full medical report that will tell you how fit you are for the day. All this data will be pooled to city’s central server as “big data” to come up with city health analytics so that we could understand the root cause of the problem and come up with solutions.

I thought this was getting too much personal – violating privacy.  I was uncomfortable. I envied the lives of people living in the dumb cities in this perspective and thought of going to the tables where mayors with grey bundees were sitting. These tables had relatively poor illumination and had normal bottle of waters (not the ultra-pure Himalayan waters that others got). The waiters were serving them cheaper wines on someone’s instructions.

One of mayors of dumb cities was saying “We are trying to become a smart city – but people simply don’t want to. They still want to live unregulated, not get monitored and enjoy the chaos. Life in our type of cities gives everyday something unexpected. People feel that this surprise is the essence of vibrance and something that makes their life interesting – essentially a pinch of pain and pleasure. I thought he had a good point to make and so I decided to write down names of the dumb cities for my retirement life but as I was about to do so, the Chairman did a toast and announced that the dinner was ready.

So I went to the buffet counter to sample some food. The buffet counter had some of my favourite dishes like chicken dum aloo, punjabee shira and prawn curry. As I was working on taking a large helping of the dum aloo, the smart card from my pocket spoke “Dear Dr Modak, we just completed full analyses of your body health using our smart body scanner. The results show that your levels of cholesterol and sugar are not in the limits as they should. We strongly discourage you therefore to take dum aloo, punjabee shira and prawn curry. Please therefore move to the table with salads and low salt soup.

I was really shocked with this machine voice emanating from the smart card. The voice  resembled the voice of the lady at the reception. This is too much I say – I told my Professor friend. For God’ sake, let us not get that smart!! And the Professor smiled.

(cover picture sourced from http://www.avto-avto.ru/files/photogallery/smart/city/38953.jpg)

You may like to read

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Narendra-Modi-Cities-must-compete-with-each-other-for-smart-city-tag/articleshow/45683012.cms

 

How to plan inconsequential research?

NoConsequence

 

My senior Professor friend dropped by to my office when I was busy preparing list of research topics for the master’s students for the new academic year. The Professor looked at my list and exclaimed – “Prasad, you are taking this task rather seriously. Identifying research that makes a sense is relatively easy but have you ever thought of floating research topics that lead to inconsequential outcomes?” I was taken by a surprise – I knew that my friend had radical thoughts and so I asked him why? Isn’t it crazy to come up with research topics that don’t make a sense? I pulled up a chair for him to sit and passed on an ash tray to rest his cigar.

“Look at our departments last 10 years of research topics. Most of the dissertation topics have been well thought, well linked and organized to address the current and anticipated problems in the environmental industry and governance. Almost every dissertation has led to a refereed international journal publication – leave alone numerous presentations in the conferences and seminars. Many of the research outcomes have influenced practice in the industry as these topics were identified in partnership” He went on lighting up his favourite cigar

I was wondering whether the Professor was serious or sarcastic. My own assessment was that research in my department was simply patchy, personality driven and addressing topics that were many times irrelevant. And there was no research planning and sufficient supervision provided to the students to guide and inspire. Yes, papers did get published in the journals but then this publishing activity was mostly driven by “publish or perish” pressure. I always wondered what impact these publications had on the practice, planning and policy making. I thought that the investment of time and resources in dissertations could have been much better and was not utilized the way it should!

I remembered one of the famous papers by Ettinger in 1965 titled “How to plan inconsequential research project”. This paper was published in American Society of Civil Engineers, Journal of Sanitary Engg Division. The paper was full of satire and had drawn a flurry of comments.

In his article, Ettinger noted that doing research with consequences was potentially dangerous, and the water profession had developed methods to protect it from consequences while maintaining funding. Among the “techniques” he described was the anecdote:

A bystander passes a drunk on all fours on the sidewalk under a street light looking for a $20 bill. After failing to find it, he asks the drunk where he had lost the money. The drunk says over there in that vacant lot.Bystander asks, Why arent we looking there?Drunk says, There are rocks and broken glass in the lot and the light is much better here on the corner.

Ettinger had come up with nine categories of inconsequential research. One of the categories was the “data hungry” professor & student who were constantly looking for some data – no matter whether the data made any sense or any practical relevance. So one could link data on ambient air quality in a city on RSPM to health records of 2000 employees working in Software Technology Park (who worked indoors over long hours and in AC environment). Interestingly, results in this work showed high correlation! Other research category was platinum bridge where a double deck bridge at San Francisco was designed in platinum (since nobody had done such a design before!) knowing fully well that so much of platinum was not simply available on the earth and besides the bridge was not affordable!

I wanted to interrupt but the Professor continued

Contributing research that is inconsequential has so many advantages. Firstly, to conduct such a research is like a breeze and does not put too much load or stress to the student and professor. They can go easy. The research topic may sound sometimes drab and questionable, but then you can always dress the dissertation up to make the outcomes look smart. More importantly, this kind of research does not interfere with the on-going practices and policies of the world – so whatever we currently do – we keep doing it without any disturbance or disruption. Everything remains as is – and it can be so blissful. I really hate therefore research that is consequential. Who wants to change?

I thought my Professor friend had a point and had made a very interesting argument. I was silent.

The Professor took a deep puff and extinguished the cigar. While leaving my room he winked “Do you still want to float your kind of research topics?. I introspected, looked at my list and realized that I better change the topics now.

I asked for a strong coffee from the pantry as changing the present topics to the topics of inconsequential research was not going to be an easy task. It was going to be a challenge! I realized that that’s where I will need help from my colleagues. as they were more experienced.  And so I walked to the faculty room.

_____________________________________________________________________________

(PS Dear Readers of this blog, this post is clearly a satire but don’t take me wrong as a pessimist, acidic or sadist– Indeed a lot of consequential research happens and we need to encourage more of this kind of research.

I would recommend editorial by Thomas Walski titled “Consequential Research” –that is published very recently in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, Volume 140, Issue 5 (May 2014). (See http://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/%28ASCE%29WR.1943-5452.0000430

In his editorial, Walski notes

Not all research can be ground breaking or award winning or even consequential, but an excessive amount of what gets published seems inconsequential, primarily because it ignores real-world considerations. By looking at the way the aforementioned top researchers approached their work, young researchers can produce more consequential work.

He recommends following 10 steps for consequential research (in the context of optimization of water supply and distribution networks)

  1. Define the problem;
  2. Talk with people in the real world;
  3. Read literature;
  4. Conduct experiments;
  5. Simulate;
  6. Better define the problem;
  7. Optimize (if needed);
  8. Validate;
  9. Develop lessons learned; and
  10. Publish.

Do you think it will be good to create a webpage to encourage posting of research topics at Masters/Doctoral level as offered at various universities/institutions in environment as a “Research Gateway”? It may follow a simple format like title, abstract, student, professor, university, year with contact details. This information when available could help both students and professors, provide ideas, spur collaborations, strike synergy and avoid duplication. I will put up such a page on www.ekonnect.net

And do read article by Ettinger (1965). “How to plan an inconsequential research project.” J. Sanit. Eng. Div., 91(4), 19–22. Its hilarious and rather thought provoking. You will simply love it.

 

(image sourced from www.graphix1.co.uk)

Data, Information and Knowledge in Environmental Impact Assessment

Data, Information and Knowledge in
Environmental Impact AssessmentData Information Knowledge Dots

(picture sourced from http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-R-O6cSRsQVI/Uscxh6VjdQI/AAAAAAAACFk/Ytf2RB6KLJs/s1600/Data+Information+Knowledge+Dots.JPG)

In Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), we take decisions on the project, the preferred alternative and the required environmental management measures.

To improve our understanding and take appropriate decisions, transforming data into  information and into knowledge is required.

It is often hard, however, to differenciate between data, information and knowledge (DIK). Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably.

EIAs are often weak because they rely mostly on data, less so, on information and least of all on available knowledge. Most EIA report contains only data. I would attribute this to the lack of proper training.

What is data? Data is a fact that is not significant on its own, as it does not relate to other  data. Data is essentially a raw entity. It simply exists and has no significance beyond its existence.

Data can exist in any form, usable or unusable. It does not have any meaning in itself.

Data may answer a very basic what question e.g. what are the concentration levels of air pollutants in an urban area? As an answer, we provide values of SO2, NOx, and RSPM at 10 locations over 5 years.

What is information? Information is data that is related and is therefore to be viewed in a certain context. Information is processed or transformed data that relates to who, what, where and when, providing a foundation to the overall understanding. Information is data that is useful.

A comparison of air pollutant concentrations with air quality standards leads to information on violations. Air Quality Index developed on the basis of data on concentrations of air pollutants is another example. Air Quality Index provides information on the overall status on air quality.

While information may become the input for making or evaluating decisions, the level of  understanding may limit the completeness and correctness of the decision. To improve the understanding further, we require knowledge.

What is knowledge? Knowledge is the application of information. Knowledge addresses how and why, in addition to who, what, where and when. Knowledge often contains a set
of instructions and know-how. Knowledge links all the relevant information together along with experience to help us take a better decision. Knowledge is often expert resident and tacit. It needs to be captured. When done so, it forms an asset for the organization.

Application of knowledge is critical to EIA as the assessment requires information from multi-disciplinary sources and responses of diverse stakeholders.

Let us revisit the case of urban air quality impact assessment. Here we need data on air  pollutant concentrations. This data needs to be processed to draw information on the extent of violations. Information on the percentage of time the violation occurs,  magnitudes of these violations, and the extent to which violations have been contiguous  in time needs be processed for each pollutant. This information improves the  understanding on the status of air quality and possible air quality related impacts. See the Table below as a dummy illustration for Mumbai, India.

 

Pollutant % Violations over 1 year Magnitude of Violations (Maximum) Contiguous Period of Violations
SO2 20 150% exceedence on July 12 at Andheri 3 days between May 10 to 12 at Bandra
NOx 10 200% exceedence on February 15 in Bhandup 2 days between April 5 and 6 in Dadar
RSPM 40 350% exceedence on November 1In Mulund 9 days between October 28 to November 6 in Sion

 

To assess the impact on health of people due to such violations, we need to process information on all the pollutants (to address the cumulative effect), assemble more pieces of information such as age, sex, exposure (indoor, travel & work patterns) of the people, coupled with research and field studies as evidence. This exercise is essentially taken up to understand the pattern and apply this knowledge to take decisions.

Knowledge represents a pattern that connects and generally provides a high level of predictability as to what is described or what will happen next. For example, we can come up with knowledge to speculate what could happen to the health of people over the next 10 years as result of deteriorating air quality in the city. We also need here a pool of experts who could share their experience on health impact assessment, especially the damage in economic terms, with supporting data and information. This may require holding of a specialized knowledge workshop. If in this workshop, gaps in the knowledge get  identified, then these gaps would need to be addressed through directed research. EIA reports should therefore not simply state the impact and its significance, but the certainty of assessment based on DIK. EIAs should provide leads to the research required.

Therefore to assess the significance of impacts for coming up with appropriate  management measures, we need a structured approach to DIK. What is required is a  careful planning of the data elements, data processing logic/algorithms with tools, followed by application of knowledge. The figure below shows such a desirable progression.

DIK_EIA_1

Figure 1

In most EIAs unfortunately, data is either incomplete, irrelevant or outdated. Processing  of data to draw meaningful information is seldom done – sometimes due to lack of training and tools. Further, weak information structuring and lack of appropriate expert  input leads to poor application of knowledge. Quality of EIA thus suffers. The decisions  taken are often ‘foggy’ and ‘inappropriate’. See the Figure below. See Figure 2.

DIK_EIA_2

Figure 2

We need good examples to show how proper planning and processing of DIK helps  improve the quality of EIA.These examples can serve as guides for the purpose of training  and EIA review. Do we have such examples? I will be very interested to know. I would be most grateful if the readers to this blog are willing to share.

Do we have enough trained human resources to address current challenges in Environmental Management?

Apples_and_Board_280_283_s

Environmental and Social (E&S) Governance is increasingly becoming complex today. Earlier, project developers had to comply only with the regulations imposed through various acts and rules – but now there are requirements coming from investors and lenders, supply-chain & markets and the neighbourhood. These requirements in many cases go beyond the laws of the land.

Further, concepts such as shared value and benefit sharing have come up and of course the CSR – and more and more transparency is demanded in the project implementation and operations. Recognition and integration of E&S perspectives is now becoming central or pivotal in strategizing and managing business. E&S management has thus become “material”.

New Models for Environmental and Social Governance

Given these changing paradigms, the Project developers are in some sense caught in a cleft-stick. How to be consistently compliant with the Government, Investors and Markets (GIM) and yet be competitive has been the daunting question. This requires commitment from the “top”, operation of proactive management systems and culture of knowledge management towards fostering innovation. Without eco-innovations, one just cannot meet the targets that otherwise seem impossible!

But the key is to have right kind of trained human resources who understand the complexity of the E&S Governance and importance of eco-innovation. We need E&S graduates who are exposed to the emerging topics with additional skills such as communication, conflict resolution etc.   There is an awful deficiency of human resources in this arena. “We would like to hire – but where are the right kind of people?” companies often ask me – and so the financing institutions and regulators. And there is no easy answer.

The courses offered at most universities today are still traditional, primarily focus on “end of pipe” and do not address topics on contemporary E&S governance. We don’t see courses that cover environmental management, environmental economics, market regulations, responsible investing, social impact assessment, CSR etc. It’s not just the issue regarding topics or courses, but that of faculty. We simply don’t have teachers who are well exposed and resourceful to teach such topics. And that’s my serious concern.

We all in the E&S profession need to work collectively to address this issue.

“Modernizing” the course curriculum is one option. But this takes time. This is something we need to move step by step over next 5 years as we build faculty. Every major graduate program in Environment in India for instance should brainstorm and prepare a 5 year curriculum transformation plan. This plan will also guide recruitment of new faculty. Such transformation plans are unfortunately seldom made. The student body should press upon the department head to ask for such  plan. The Alumni should also get actively involved. I will be most glad to help if any department will be interested.

And how do we get the faculty? One idea could be to “identify” potential faculty who are “outside the academic campus” but are both resourceful and interested to teach. There many such “gems” around but not connected to academia. We need to engage them in the teaching of the courses – even few lectures – giving them as much flexibility as much possible. If any of you are interested, please let me know and send me your CVs and topics of interest and I will hook you up with the graduate teaching programs I am connected with.

We could also run summer and winter schools over 3 to 5 days for teacher training. I did one such training event at Suratkal this year where we had 80 faculty and doctoral/masters students participating. I will be most happy to repeat such programs at other locations. Those interested to join me are most welcome.

Another possibility is to conduct what I call as “Finishing Schools”. These Finishing Schools can be conducted on the university campus for graduating students and cover some of the “missing” and “essential” topics. The school can be open even for young professionals. I conducted one such Finishing School over 4 days at NITIE in Mumbai where around 60 “students” participated. We got very positive response.

Of course we need to float a number of continuing education programs – both open house and in-institution – in the form of “modules” addressing contemporary topics. These modules could be a blend between Face to Face (F2F) and e-learning platform and interspersed so as to allow implementation. You can for instance teach a 6 week module on CSR, with F2F sessions on Friday half day, fully supported over 6 weeks by e-learning platform, providing access to knowledge resources, group interactions, mentoring and assessments. The course could be designed such that the end of 6 weeks, each participant is able to prepare a CSR implementation plan for his/her organization. That’s another take away apart from capacity building. I have designed a few such programs in the past and plan to launch them shortly through www.ekonnect.net By the way, on this website; you will be able to access reports of the Suratkal and NITIE training events.  Please do take a look.

Let us work together to come up with a multi-pronged strategy to upgrade or improve our environmental education and training programs. I would like to form a National Working Group to steer.  Through this post I would like to invite all those who would be interested to join. Please write to me on prasad.modak@emcentre.com

Look forward to your ideas and support

(image sourced from http://www.maropeng.co.za/content/page/education_and_sustainability)