Green, me and Blues in Egypt


I worked in Egypt intermittently over 12 years between 2000 to 2012. I used to visit Cairo every four to five months typically over a week. I must have made more than 30 sorties to this great city. I really miss Cairo today.

My work in Egypt was focused on Cleaner Production (CP) across various industry sectors that covered dairy, textile, leather tanning, cheese making, pulp and paper and several more. The priority industry size was Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) but we often landed working with medium to large industries.

The project I worked on was called SEAM (Support on Environmental Assessment & Management). I worked as a Consultant for two cycles of SEAM – viz. SEAM-I and SEAM-II. Later, I worked for the Egyptian Pollution Abatement Project (EPAP-II). I designed the CP demonstration projects at industries, helped in the assessment of loans, provided policy advice and trained professionals, government officials and academia on CP Opportunity Assessments.

During these 12 years, I worked closely with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI), Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI), National Research Center (NRC), the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB). I was thus involved in the Egyptian “ecosystem” around industrial environmental management.

My work took me across various locations in the country like the cities of Alexandria, Mansoura, El-Mahalla El-Kubra, Sohag and the like. These were the Governorates with industrial clusters where SEAM’s CP Demonstration projects were implemented. The base was however Cairo.


I loved the city of Mansoura as Nile moved here like a chute, winds gushing especially at the night times. We used to have late dinners at the bank (with Shish taouk or chicken tikka) in the company of Professor Samia Massoud, Executive & Technical Director of Environmental & Water Engineering Consultants (EWATEC), her pretty daughters and EWATECs  girl staff (Prof Samia had a policy only to employ women!)

The first Egyptian I met outside Egypt and who extended me an invitation was Professor Osama El-Kholy (Sam Kholy as we used to call him). We met in Canterbury in the UK for the first High Level Cleaner Production Conference organized by UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE). Sam was a short man unlike an Egyptian with a large egg shaped head and was half bald. He was the Chancellor of the Cairo University and Advisor to Mostafa Tolba, then Executive Director of UNEP HQ at Nairobi. A great orator and philosopher. I still cherish conversations with him at the Club in Maadi (Sports and Yacht Club) next to river Nile. We used to discuss Cleaner Production and its relevance to countries like Egypt and India. I think today Sam is no more.


Philip Jago (Phil) was my contract manager in SEAM. An Australian by nationality, Phil managed both SEAM-I and SEAM-II that were financed by DFID. He was also the Manager of EPAP-II. I learned a lot working with Phil, especially in managing projects, the consultants and the Government. He maintained excellent records, did diligent follow ups and tracked the projects extremely well. He had an art of getting best from the Consultants. In 2003, Phil was decorated as MBE by the Government of UK for his outstanding contribution to SEAM. He still continues working in Cairo and is now preparing for EPAP-III.

During my more than decades work in Egypt, I could “experiment”, “apply” and “learn” all my ideas on CP. With the support of Phil and that of colleagues at EEAA, we could come up with projects that were innovative and led to some high quality outputs. Visit to download the outputs we produced. Website of EPAP gives additional details. The eco-labelling manual on this website that I wrote is perhaps one of the few manuals available today that describes a real industry application with costs and benefits.

I feel that this is one of the great advantages of international consulting. In India, I couldn’t have done work on CP that I could do in Egypt. Though I was quite proximal to the Ministry of Environment & Forests in India, the Central Pollution Control Board and agencies like National Productivity Council (NPC) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – but the shear inertia, absence of vision and inter-institution rivalry did not let me replicate what I could achieve in Egypt.

I remember that the textile exports from Egypt to EU & US were hit by requirement of eco-lables and we showed on the field scale how to achieve eco-label certification to a cost-advantage and wrote a manual. This manual was translated in Arabic. Seminars and training programs were conducted with a backing of the Ministries of Environment, Textile and Trade. This intervention obviously became impactful in the terms of both economics and environment and became a success story.

My work at EEAA would start by 930 am. The lunch was generally late and quick. It used to be at the Creperie des Arts Maadi or simply the Crêperie, downstairs the office of EEAA. The walls of the restaurant were decorated with pictures of Hollywood stars in B&W and currency notes from different countries. The Crêperie was run by father and his two sons. In my 12 years of numerous visits, we only smiled and hardly spoke. All I used to do was to point at the option in the Menu.


Most of the evenings, Phil and I used to go out an Italian restaurant, a Thai or sometimes an Indian restaurant nearby. Thai was the favorite. We used to order glass of sweet and mediocre local Egyptian wine, with a large bowl of peanuts followed by the main course. The idea was to talk rather than eat. When alone, I used to go to the Italian restaurant at the ground floor of the Sofitel where an Egyptian Guitarist used to play some nice old numbers – but mostly repeat.

I always stayed in Sofitel Cairo. The hotel was on the bank of Nile facing the Pyramids at a distance. The EEAA office, where I used to work, was just a 2 minutes’ walk from Sofitel. But sometimes I used to prefer to stay at the Marriot at Zamalek in the city and take a taxi on the Corniche. Marriot had all the vibrancy and proximity to the shopping areas but more importantly it was close to the La Bodega restaurant of fame in Cairo.  La Bodega was a perfect place for playing the high-society game of “seen and be seen” without spending too much money.  I loved the ambience, style and of course the food at La Bodega.


Amongst the numerous dinners I had at this restaurant, one of the dinners was with Laila Iskander and Phil. Phil knew her well in SEAM-I and I was also independently in touch with her. Laila studied Economics, Political Science and Business at Cairo University. She later acquired a Doctorate of Education from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University in New York. Laila is well known today for her notable work with the zabbaleen or garbage collectors where she established an informal recycling school way back in 1982 to teach children basic literacy, health and hygiene – a project for which she received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1994.


Laila was (and is) a very vocal and high energy person. During the dinner we had, she criticized Hosni Mubarak – and loudly so. This was something “not acceptable” or “not generally done” as Mubarak was the President of Egypt and was very powerful. I told Laila to “cool down” but instead she started speaking even louder “I don’t care if Mubarak and his cronies send me to a prison” – she yelled. I thought that I will also be sent to an Egyptian prison along with Laila. So I behaved as if I did not know her at all and it was just a chance that we were sitting on the same dining table!

After Mubarak’s “departure”, Egypt went into a turmoil and I stopped continuing my missions to Cairo. I checked with Phil about Laila Iskander and I learnt that she had become the Minister of Environment (i.e. boss of EEAA). She did an excellent job there and increased proximity of the Agency with the civil society. She took a strong stand to oppose import of coal on environmental grounds and this was not accepted by the politicians and the industry. She was obviously moved out and transferred to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs (Urban Development). See for this story.

One of the places I used to frequent was the Cairo Opera House. The was “the place” for music and opera. We used to book the tickets, go early to have coffee in the lounge and then take the seats. I could watch several famous operas in this great opera house with artists flying from Europe and enjoy some of the intimate solo music shows. I remember attending piano recitals by legendary Omar Khairat. Omar studied piano with Italian Maestro Vincenzo Carro and followed correspondence courses in music theory and composition with the Trinity College in England. According to music experts and critics, Omar Khairat’s music bridges contemporary Arab music and Western music reflecting genuine maturity.


But the greatest attraction to me was the Cairo Jazz Club, a place to be – as much important as visiting the Pyramids! For well over a decade, Cairo Jazz Club LLC has stood the test of time as Cairo’s ultimate live music hub. The Cairo Jazz Club (or simply CJC) has functioned like a portal for manifesting art and expression through music. It has stood witness to the rise of many fresh talents, regularly hosting the finest live acts in town, as well as international artists. The club’s motto is “We serve good moods” and that is precisely what is on the menu every day of the week.

On one of the Friday evenings, I and my Dutch consultant friend on EPAP-II were at the CJC. We arrived by 10 pm at night as we knew that the real talented performers start warming up only by 11. On that day there was a performance from a group from Lebanon. The group specialized in refreshing and groovy retelling of songs from the Balkans to the Middle East. When the band started performing, we could feel their warmth and energy, weaving a tapestry of delicate melodies, vocal harmonies, mesmeric percussion, punchy brass and wild floor (and hip) shaking basslines. This “music experience” was simply enthralling. The CJC was packed and full with smoke, coming from expensive cigarettes.

When I feel happy about the music, I have a habit to send an offer to the lead performer on a chit telling how I adored the performance – and saying that there is one free drink waiting for each member of the band – at the bar – courtesy me. So I sent across such a chit to the lead singer who was a short Lebanese woman with curly wild hair, wearing traditional Gambaz dress. I went across the bar tender that the bill will be on me. I lost my seat in this process as someone grabbed my seat and I decided to stick on to the bar stool and continue listening to the Band.

The show was over by 12 30 am and the Band with the lead lady reached the Bar. The support staff was “packing” the drums, a Korg Keyboard, guitars and all the “electronics”. The lady got my chit from the bar tender. As her colleagues were picking a drink of their choice, she lit a cigarette and asked the bartender who the sponsor was. When he pointed at me, she walked across like a lioness in a grace.

“Hey, thank you so much for your appreciation” She said in a perfect American accent. Then dragging a deep puff from her cigarette, she sat crossed legged on the bar stool, winked at me and said – We are going now to my house on the Corniche and are absolutely “hot” to continue singing and playing music. We cannot stop now. Would you like to join? Hop in if you want to – we are moving out in next 20 min”

I asked my Dutch colleague and he was game. The lady spoke to her colleagues something in Arabic.

In the next forty minutes we were in her bungalow. As soon as we reached, all members of the team unpacked the boxes. The drums, the guitars were back in position and the “electronics” with Korg keyboard was set up. And wow, they started singing and playing again!

This time the music came from the “heart” and was perhaps was a treasure that wouldn’t otherwise share with anyone outside! Some of the songs they did at CJC were played now differently with subtle variations and all in impromptu! The session went on till 4 am with short breaks for shots of Egyptian coffee. I don’t know why they stopped at all!

They got us a taxi at 4 30 am to get back to the Sofitel.  The lady, the lead singer, saw us till the gate of her bungalow. While bidding good bye, she said – “Thanks for buying us the drinks and for coming here to continue appreciating us”. I said on the contrary…!!

She opened the door of the taxi for us. Spoke to the driver in Arabic and said “Your taxi bill to go back to the hotel is on us. You don’t pay”

On Sunday morning when I was in the office, I told this incident to secretary Nelly. Nelly was shocked – “This is something crazy” she said and then dialed to CJC. There was some animated conversation in Arabic. After she put the phone down, she shouted in Arabic and got all the colleagues to her desk. Then another round of high pitched conversation took place in Arabic. I was standing and looking absolutely dumbfounded not understanding what was happening.

Then Nelly turned to me and said “Do you know who that woman was? You are the luckiest guy in the town. We simply envy you”

Apparently that lead lady Lebanese singer was one of the most sought after in the Arab world. I don’t remember her name today but when I departed at the Cairo International Airport, I saw a number of Compact Disks in the music shop with covers featuring her face.

“Dr Modak, You should have taken a photo standing next to her or at least taken an autograph” I saw frustrated looks on Nelly’s face.

“Next time – I certainly will” I said to Nelly in an assuring tone.

And the next time never happened!

Blues rarely repeat. Do they?

Cover image sourced from




Sixty Shades of Green now available on Amazon and Kindle


Dear Colleagues


Sixty Shades of Green is now available on Amazon. Those not residing in India can now order the book on Amazon at US$10.

E-Book version on Kindle is also available at US 7$

Click here to access both the versions

Between April 25 to 30, the Kindle edition will be available as a Free Download. 

You may like to avail this promotion

In the first week of June, second series of the blogs will be released in the form of a book as “Forty Shades of Blue and Green”

This second volume will include 40 posts mainly drawn from my personal experiences (the blue) and of course those related to sustainability (the green)

Will keep you all posted.

Regards from Bangkok


Prasad Modak

Teaching Environmental Modelling with Hooks Law


We all know that environmental modelling plays an important role in environmental management. Impact assessment is one example where we make an attempt to predict or anticipate environmental impacts due to actions we propose to take. We use models to help us in this endeavor.

Models tell us about what if? and caution or guide us in taking required preventive and mitigative measures. Mitigations include not just physical measures but also required policy reforms. That makes both construct and application of models very interesting, useful and an exciting experience.

Models improve our understanding of the “system”, make us realize the limitations and but at the same time provide clues on how to interpret the modelling results to our advantage.

Environmental modelling deserves a full course in a post-graduate program. Unfortunately, this course is not generally offered today in most universities. There is a clear shortage of faculty. The subject is however actively used in the practice – influencing major decisions.

Modelling is generally taught only over few lectures in the course on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). That is not enough. Again some teach modelling by training students on some of the canned software e.g. Aermod, Qual etc. Both students and professors feel that this is how modelling should be “taught” or “learned”!

Apart from the postgraduate students, modelling needs to be taught to other key stakeholders like the government officials, Environmental NGOs etc. Its not that we want these stakeholders to become modelling experts but we want them to know enough to appreciate, question and get involved when models are influencing important decisions.

I asked my Professor Friend about my worries about teaching environmental modelling. He has been a Professor of environmental modelling for long. How do you teach this subject? I asked the Professor.

“Come to my first modelling lecture next week at IIT. I am running a course on environmental modelling for environmental NGOs and government officials”. He said – casually.

I was fascinated. Teaching a heavy subject like environmental modelling to NGOs and Government officials can be quite a challenge.

I reached the class early and took a back seat to look inconspicuous. The “students” walked in shortly and occupied the seats.

Professor entered the classroom with a large bag. Everybody was curious.

Professor asked everyone whether they had studied Hooks Law in their school/college days. The answer was yes. “Great” – Professor said.

I  failed to understand why this question was asked. Must be something naughty as usual, I said to myself.

Professor pulled out a metal spring from his large bag and hung it on a C-Frame.  He took out a weight with a hook from the bag and announced

“I am going to attach this weight on this spring. What would you expect to happen?

There was a quick show of hands.

“Sir, the spring is going to expand because of the weight”A  “Student”, who was junior officer at the Pollution Control Board said.

Professor smiled. “You are right. Let me then do so”

When the weight was attached, indeed the spring elongated.  “This weight was 1 kg by the way.” Professor said.

Professor now pulled out another similar metal spring and placed it on the C frame.

“I am going to put on this second spring a 2 kg of weight”. He placed the weight.

The “students” now saw two springs under different weights. One with 2 kg that elongated more than spring that was loaded with 1 kg.

“Do you see any difference?” Professor asked.

Student, who was an activist in the struggle on stopping encroachment at the Mangroves in Mumbai, said that the spring with 2 kg elongated more.

Professor said “That’s absolutely correct”

He then measured the extent of elongation. For spring 1, it was 0.5 cm and for spring 2 it was 1 cm.

“So more is the weight on the spring, more is the elongation. This proportional relationship is essentially the Hook’s law”. Professor said

If we plot force or weight against extension for a material which obeys Hooke’s law then the relationship will look like the graph below.


The gradient of this graph is the spring constant (k) or Young’s modulus (Y) which is measured in Nm-1. For Copper Y is around 117, for aluminum around 69 and for nylon close to 3. The material matters.

Professor then asked the students to come up to the C-frame and make experiments with springs of different materials and various weights and calculate Y. This was some fun.

Adarak (Ginger) Tea was now served.

“Do you see this experiment has any environmental connection?” Professor asked.

Most faces showed negative

Professor prodded  “say the case of untreated sewage entering the lake?

There was a pause.

“Are you trying to imply that more is the pollution load getting into a lake, more is the deterioration in water quality” One of the smart “students” responded.  He was working on the project “save Powai Lake”. “This is what Hook’s law will tell us”

Another “student”, an assistant engineer from Municipal Corporation added “and it will depend on the lake’s Young’s Modulus, more is the depth, mixing and dilution, less will be the deterioration in water quality”

Professor smiled “Both of you are absolutely right. You got that! We will call the Young’s modulus here as the Assimilative capacity”

Professor then explained the term assimilative capacity. He talked about mixing height, horizontal winds and turbulence in the air sheds; depth, velocity and cross sections influencing waste assimilation in the rivers etc.

Then there was a  discussion that we must not exceed the “allowable” assimilative capacity. We must have policies, regulations, required institutional capacities and the finance.

While the discussion moved to this point, Professor took out a 20 kg weight from his bag. He attached this “heavy weight” to one of the springs. The spring almost “sank”. There was a disproportionate elongation. It did not follow the “linear model” of the Hooks law as shown in the graph above.

Everybody was stunned.

Professor explained that the weight of 20 kg exceeded the limit of proportionality. Hooks law was no more valid as we stretching the material too far.

The linearity ended after Point “a” as shown in the figure below.



See source

There was one more interesting thing Professor asked the students to notice. When he removed the 20 kg weight, the spring did not come back to its original length. Clearly the elastic limit of the spring was crossed and a permanent deformation had occurred indicating a non-linear behavior.

The message to the students was clear. They understood that if the assimilative capacity is exceeded, then the impacts could be non-linear and even irreversible.

If too much wastewater was discharged in to the lake, then the water quality changes could be major, catastrophic or permanent. So one would need interventions on both mitigative and restorative side i.e. treating the wastewater prior to lake discharge, or discharge with treatment at the center of the lake where depths are greater or introduce aeration, carry out dredging or apply biotechnology to improve the restorative capacity (or lakes Young’s modulus). Professor discussed the risks to be understood for each of the options. There were pros and cons and no free lunch.

This experiment led to the understanding that we need to be precautionary and protective to the assimilative capacities available in the nature. We must compute or model in advance the possible consequences.

Professor was ending his first lecture on “modelling” now. He went to the white board, drew a lake in plan and placed three springs connected with each other. MFS_sp_1_c

See source

He then summarized – don’t look at the lake as ”one” spring but made out of several different springs – and all interconnected. A load on any of the springs will not only elongate that spring, but will “transfer” the load to the “connecting” springs leading to elongation in them. Since the Young’s modulus of the springs will be different (as depths vary, so the currents and the extent of reaeration), the net elongations (or water quality changes) are going to be complex. If wastewater is discharged at the bank or in the mid of the lake for instance, it will make a difference as the springs in “action” will be different.

He looked at the Powai Lake outside the window of the class and slowly said.

“I am requesting Dr Prasad Modak who is sitting in the last row, to come up with a “physical model of springs and weights” for the Powai Lake when we meet next. We will do various experiments on this model by hanging weights, measuring the elongations and changing the springs. In the third lecture, I will explain how we will use the principle of Hooks law to develop a simple lake water quality model”

“Oh this is now getting really tricky and difficult” I said to myself.

I decided to bunk the next lecture and jump straight to the third.


Cover image taken from


Whether to Drive Electric? Its all about Location, Location and Location!


(Nissan Leaf)

The world is moving today into a carbon regime. GHG emission caps/targets, emission trading, carbon taxes, reduction in coal consumption or protection of coal reserves and carbon sequestration have been some of the buzz words that many of us don’t understand (though most pretend to!)

Some environmental hardliners believe that a stage will soon come where there will be carbon driven stock markets, only low carbon goods and services will be offered, low carbon infrastructure will be the style of built environment (whatever it means) and there will be a universal carbon currency replacing US$ and the Euro. Your bank account for example will hold 100 tons of carbon (to trade, invest or use) and not a deposit of 10000 USD.

All on this planet will be encouraged towards low carbon living and carbon will be responsible for the decisions.

I decided to practice low carbon living myself to demonstrate everyone and take a lead. I thought that was a noble move –Some however cautioned me that low carbon living is not easy and could even be expensive.

The first thing I decided was to change my present diesel driven SUV to an Electric Vehicle (EV). In order that I do not show any preference to any business house making EVs in India (particularly my good friend Anand Mahindra), I decided to import a Nissan Leaf (the best Plug in Electric Vehicle or PEV) from Nissan’s plant in Sunderland in the UK. This was an expensive buy but I decided to spend this money to show my commitment to low carbon living.

EVs  were introduced 100 years ago. Whether it’s a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or all-electric, the demand for electric drive vehicles (EV) is on the rise. Currently more than 3 percent of new vehicle sales are EV, and the sales could to grow to nearly 7 percent — or 6.6 million per year — worldwide by 2020


Despite my diplomatic influence, procurement of Nissan Leaf took quite a while as the testing and certification agencies were not accustomed to handle an imported EV. After three months of juggling and back and forth movement of papers, the Nissan Leaf EV finally arrived at my Bungalow. I decided to invite my Professor Friend to see the Leaf and take a ride with me to get the “feeling” of “sustainable mobility”. I set up a coffee table in my garden with a large ash tray as usual and was waiting for Professor’s arrival.

When Professor reached my house, I was charging my Nissan on the home plug. Nissan LEAF can charge its lithium-ion battery from 0% to 80% in approximately 30 minutes using a rapid charger; using an approved Home Charging Unit either 8 hours for a 16A unit, or 4 hours using a 32A unit.

“Well you can start using EV without a public charging infrastructure or wait for the DISCOM to come forward and invest. And note that Lithium ion batteries can be recycled up to 95% leading to fairly low impact on the environment.” I said this but carefully so as not to sound that I work as an agent to Nissan, UK.

But the Professor was not interested in such details. Instead, he flashed me a print-out taken from the Straights of Singapore.

The news was about Nguyen who imported Tesla’s 2014 Model S from Hong Kong to Singapore. Nguyen was expecting a rebate under Singapore’s Carbon Emissions Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) for his good gesture. However, he got a shock when he was fined S$15,000 after his Model S underwent mandatory emissions testing by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA). This emission tests were conducted by the LTA under the UNECE R101 standards and had found that the electric energy consumption of an imported used Tesla car was 444 watt-hour/km. To “account for CO2 emissions during the electricity generation process”, the spokesman said, “A grid emission factor of 0.5g/watt-hour was applied to the electric energy consumption”. From this, it was determined that Mr. Nguyen’s Tesla produced 222g/km of CO2, putting it within the S$15,000 surcharge band under Singapore’s Carbon Emission- based Vehicle Scheme.

The Model S is granted tax breaks in several countries. In Britain, buyers get a £4,500 (S$8,800) grant, and in the United States, they get a US$7,500 (S$10,400) income tax credit. Hong Kong waives registration tax for electric cars, which can be as high as 115 per cent of value. In Norway, a Model S gets a tax exemption of around US$135,000.


”How silly. So the customer of Tesla in Singapore was punished and not rewarded” I responded to Professors news item in a tone of frustration and disgust.

Taking a sip of the coffee, I added “Professor, if this happens in India, then the entire FAME program will go bust!”

The Ministry recently launched ‘FAME India – Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles in India’ as part of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan. The ‘FAME India’ scheme offers incentives on electric and hybrid vehicles of up to Rs 29,000 for bikes and Rs 1.38 lakh for cars, aiming to promote use of eco-friendly vehicles. The first phase of the scheme is being implemented over a two-year period in 2015-16 and 2016-17 with an approved outlay of Rs 795 crore, out of which Rs 500 crore will be spent on demand incentives. As per the scheme, depending on technology, battery operated scooters and motorcycles will be eligible for incentives in the range of Rs 1,800 to Rs 29,000, while for three-wheelers, it is between Rs 3,300 and Rs 61,000. While in light commercial vehicles it is from Rs 17,000 to Rs 1.87 lakh, and for buses it is from Rs 34 lakh to Rs 66 lakh. Under the scheme, the customer gets the incentive in the form of lower cost of hybrid or EV at the time of its purchase. Manufacturers can claim the incentive from the government at the end of each month.


The heavy industries ministry has estimated a total requirement of about Rs 14,000 crore for the scheme. Against this “expenditure”, the plan aims to help save Rs 60,000 crore annually in the country’s oil import bill by 2020. I thought these calculations clearly show the strong case to “drive electric”. In addition, we achieve 100% emission reduction from the tail pipes and the consequent environmental and health damage costs. Thus, not just the Government, Customer and the EV Manufacturer gets benefited but importantly the environment. It is not surprising therefore that many feel that promotion of EVs through FAME is a giant step toward cleaner mobility. Electric vehicles are seen by governments as an important part of cutting emissions and reducing global warming.

Professor was however serious and did not look convinced by the FAME approach of giving subsidies. He took a deep puff from his cigar.

“Prasad, I have two major concerns on the EV”

First, how EVs and particularly their batteries, are manufactured and disposed

Second and perhaps equally or even more important – How the electricity which powers EV is generated.

“Given that the vast majority of power generation around the world is grid-tied, where a car is charged plays a large role in determining its carbon emissions. EVs carbon emissions can be four times greater in places with coal dominated generation than in those with low carbon power generation such as hydel, renewable and nuclear. There are bound to be emissions somewhere, may not be at the point of use”

Having said this Professor opened his briefcase and showed me a figure as below.



Although the above data is rather dated it drives the point that the country or the location matters. The legend to the right of this chart helps explain what is driving the variation between countries.   In India, Australia and China coal’s dominance in the fuel mix means that grid powered EVs produce emissions ranging from 370-258 g CO2e/km, many multiples of those using low carbon sources. Contrast this to hydroelectric exporter Paraguay where virtually all of the 70 g CO2e/km results from vehicle manufacturing, and electric driving is significantly lower carbon than using solar power.”

These figures were shocking to me.

“So do you mean to say that the geography or location matters?”

“Indeed” said the Professor. A recent study in the US carried out by a group of economists makes this point. Using a fine-grained, county-level measure of U.S. vehicle emissions traced to tailpipes and electricity grids, these researchers mapped the petrol cars and EVs. They found that in some locations going electric does more harm to the environment not justifying the subsidy. Like done in the Singapore case, the EVs should be actually taxed and not incentivized.

The researchers focused on five major pollutants: carbon (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen (NOx), particulate matter (PM 2.5), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They considered 11 different 2014 models of EVs, as well as the “closest substitute” petrol car. For petrol, calculating environmental damage was pretty straightforward. The researchers considered factors like a car’s fuel-efficiency rating (city miles for urban counties, highway miles for non-urban), pollutant dispersion (such as average wind patterns), and number of environmental damages (to health, infrastructure, crops, and so on). Together that data gave them the aggregate emissions of driving a certain petrol car one mile in a given U.S. county.

Determining the comparable damage from electric vehicles was a bit trickier. Here they used an EV’s fuel-efficiency equivalent (kilowatt-hours per mile) to figure out how much electricity it drew from a regional grid. They also knew the hourly emissions profiles for the five target pollutants at 1,486 power plants across the U.S. So for each county they knew how the grid responded when an EV plugged in, which told them how much environmental damage that car produced at the power plant. The researchers then converted all their damage estimates into dollar values.

The study co-author Stephen Holland of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro says “The real big take-home message is: location, location, location.”

A country’s energy mix thus affects the environmental advantage of EVs. It can even depend on what time of day the batteries are charged because night-time electricity is less dependent on coal.

Electricity from coal, which is the most polluting way to generate power, drastically reduces the environmental advantage for EVs. Because China, for example, generates almost all its power from coal, life cycle analysis of EV cars in China shows they are far more polluting than conventional cars. I won’t be surprised that the result will be same for India” Professor said this with confidence.

However in a country like Norway, where most power is generated from hydroelectricity, EVs fairly quickly begin to outperform conventional cars in terms of their overall environmental impact.

(Read “Environmental benefits from driving electric vehicles?” Holland, S., Mansur, E., Muller, N. and Yates, A. NBER Working Paper No. 21291. June 2015)

In 2012 President Obama launched the EV Everywhere Grand Challenge — an Energy Department initiative that brought together America’s best and brightest scientists, engineers and businesses to make plug-in electric vehicles more as affordable as today’s petrol -powered vehicles by 2022. On the battery front, the Department’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Laboratory was commissioned to overcome the biggest scientific and technical barriers that prevent large-scale improvements of batteries. The Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is advancing today game-changing technologies that could alter how we think of electric vehicles. From investing in new types of batteries that could go further on a single charge to cost-effective alternatives to materials critical to electric motors, ARPA-E’s projects may simply transform the EVs.

So the key is not popularize EVs through financial incentives alone, but build a mission on EV like launched by Obama. But given our poor performance of coal based thermal power plants we will need to take Initiatives to improve the Efficiency of Coal Based Power Plants and in addition the AT&C Losses factor (kgCO2e/kWh). We need FAME but more critically de-carbonization and efficiency improvement in the power sector to get the environmental benefits of EVs.

Minister Piyush Goel has recognized importance of this challenging task and announced policy on modernization and phase out with emphasis on renewable energy” Professor said (he was probably the SA or Secret Advisor to Minister Goel)

Professor then showed me work done by Gyan Prakash of CBalance. Gyan Prakash  published a very interesting data and analyses on the Electricity generation factor (kgCO2e/kWh) of coal based thermal power production in India.   The data is now a bit dated but the observations made then are perhaps still valid.


Prakash found that the average India electricity generation emission factor is 0.89 kgCO2e/kWh (or 0.89 g/Watt hour) and average India AT&C loss emission factor is 0.30 kgCO2e/kWh. This data does not make a good case for EVs. In fact promotion of EVs will lead to more GHG emissions than petrol cars. In many cases we can see that states have a low adjusted emission factor for generation but due to high AT&C losses their end user emission factor is higher than the India avg. emission factor. Fixing the AT&C losses should therefore be the priority and as it is a low hanging fruit.

Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Kerala are the States where the emission generation factors are less than 0.5 kgCO2e/kWh.

“Find a job to teach at the Doon University and take your Nissan Leaf there. Only then you can justify your choice of going electric. You cannot drive this car in Delhi and claim low carbon living!” Professor said this while extinguishing his cigar.

I was aghast with his suggestion.

My wife was listening to our conversation.

“Let us move to Mussorie” she said. “Don’t you think the location to live also matters?”

I thought that this was perhaps the best part our conversation of the morning.

Beep beep came in the sound from my Garage– my Nissan Leaf was fully charged and was ready to go.

But I was not excited to go electric anymore.

Cover image sourced from


Journey of Environmental Assessment towards Sustainability Appraisal


(A longish post – but could be of help to students and young professionals)

Environmental assessment (EA) as a concept came about due to the thinking of “precautionary principle” and “do no harm” to the environment.

Box -1 The Precautionary Principle[1]
The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) to risk management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action that may or may not be a risk.

The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a certain decision (e.g. taking a particular course of action) when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.

EA was conceived as a proactive  tool to ensure that the projects in their construction and operational activities produced least negative impacts possible and that the residual impacts were communicated to the stakeholders and mitigated by appropriate environmental management plans.

The first country which promulgated a legislation on EA on a national scale was the United States of America.  The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) laid the foundation of the EA process requiring certain projects to undergo an environmental examination.  The criteria for such projects was based on project type, project size and project location.  The NEPA also stated the reporting requirements for obtaining approval of the responsible administrative body.

Box – 2 The National Environmental Protection Act of the United States[2]
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a United States environmental law that promotes the enhancement of the environment and established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The law was enacted on January 1, 1970. As the bill was an early step towards the development of the United States’s environmental policy, NEPA is referred to as the “environmental Magna Carta”.

NEPA’s most significant outcome was the requirement that all executive federal agencies prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). These reports state the potential environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions.

NEPA grew out of the increased appreciation and concern for the environment that resulted from the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. During this time, environmental interest group efforts and the movement resulting from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, helped to pass the Wilderness, Clean Air, and Clean Water Acts. Another major driver for enacting NEPA were the 1960s freeway revolts, a series of protests that occurred in response to the bulldozing of many communities and ecosystems during the construction of the Interstate Highway System.

Since its passage, NEPA has been applied to any major project, whether on a federal, state, or local level, that involves federal funding, work performed by the federal government, or permits issued by a federal agency. Court decisions have expanded the requirement for NEPA-related environmental studies to include actions where permits issued by a federal agency are required regardless of whether federal funds are spent to implement the action. This legal interpretation is based on the rationale that obtaining a permit from a federal agency inherently results in federal funds being expended, even if no federal funds are directly allocated to finance the particular action.

The initiation of NEPA in the US led to ripples in other countries notably in Canada, Australia, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  Each of these countries, based on experience in the US and priorities and context of their own countries came up with EA related policies and legislation.  Soon the requirements of EA were followed by developing countries especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Outcomes of the EA were linked to the Environmental Clearance (EC). Since EA was performed by the developer in the interest of EC, the quality of assessment was generally poor and biased and the situation has not changed even today.

Most countries followed the criteria of project screening based on project type, size and location. Only certain type of projects required EIA and most did not e.g. schools, parks, renewable energy projects like solar, wind and even metros (!) on the argument that these projects are intrinsically environment friendly. Projects required more deeper or rigorous examination if the project was proximal to a sensitive location such as a reserved forest or a sanctuary or a turtle breeding ground. Many countries therefore delineated environmentally critical or sensitive zones and the buffer distances that should be maintained. Depending on the sensitivity and complexity of the project, EA was conducted at two levels – Rapid EA or Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) or Comprehensive EA. The call on the appropriate level of EA was often subjective and every project developer or investor (i.e. the Consultant) argued the case for an IEE instead of a Comprehensive EA to save on costs and time.

Deciding the threshold on project size is however a complex exercise and rather subjective matter. In Hawaii for example, hotels having less than 100 rooms were not required to perform EA. Consequently, after the legislation, most hotels were built with 99 rooms.  Thresholds on requirement of EA have always been  abused. Recently responding to the severe air pollution in Delhi, the Supreme Court of India directed a ban on diesel-guzzling luxury cars and SUVs with engine capacity of 2000 cc. Mahindra’s came up with a new vehicle fitted with a 1990 cc engine!  Do you think 10 cc reduction in the engine capacity will solve Delhi’s problem of air pollution!!

In India, environmental assessment was made mandatory under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 1994 under the EPA. Since 1994, the notification has been amended several times (and you can simply lose the track) to bring in (apparently) more clarify, improve implementation and address any specific issues or lacunae.  The notification follows a schedule that presents project types and thresholds. There are siting rules and zones and buffer distances notified. There is a scheme of categorization that directs whether the EA will need to be submitted for review and EC at the Centre or at the State. Everybody looks for a State level clearance that believed to be easier to manage.

In the last three decades, and especially so in India, EA has been followed on project level and the instrument is primarily used to identify mitigation plans prior to the EC. Experience has shown that limiting EA to projects alone is not going to help in the interest of sustainability, and  consideration will need to be given to regional level impacts where multiple project contribute to impacts cumulatively. In other words, EC must look at regional situation and development scenarios to recognize the indirect/induced and cumulative impacts and  ensure that the carrying capacity of the region is not unduly exceeded.

Many countries have therefore enhanced their EA legislation to address requirements of regional and cumulative EAs especially when dealing with area wide development projects. Examples are industrial estates, network of transport corridors, urban and peri-urban developments etc.  Here, apart from mitigation plans,  the regulator thinks about planning as well as policy measures. This led to extension of EA to Strategic EIA.   SEA is practiced in most developed countries today by law including in countries like China.

Box – 3 Strategic Environmental Assessment[3]
Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a systematic decision support process, aiming to ensure that environmental and possibly other sustainability aspects are considered effectively in policy, plan and programme making. In this context, SEA may be seen as:

·       a structured, rigorous, participative, open and transparent environmental impact assessment (EIA) based process, applied particularly to plans and programmes, prepared by public planning authorities and at times private bodies,

·       a participative, open and transparent, possibly non-EIA-based process, applied in a more flexible manner to policies, prepared by public planning authorities and at times private bodies, or

·       a flexible non-EIA based process, applied to legislative proposals and other policies, plans and programmes in political/cabinet decision-making.

Effective SEA works within a structured and tiered decision framework, aiming to support more effective and efficient decision-making for sustainable development and improved governance by providing for a substantive focus regarding questions, issues and alternatives to be considered in policy, plan and programme (PPP) making.

At a sector level, SEA has been applied. But in most instances, these requirements have been promoted or rather “forced upon” by the Development Financing Institutions. In fact, it may not be wrong to state that agencies like the World Bank, International Financing Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank have significantly influenced the national EA systems across the world. As early as in 1992, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) undertook Sector Environmental Assessment of Mumbai’s Transport Plan. This study was insisted by the World Bank. I had an opportunity to work on this assignment where we looked at road, sea and rail alternatives.

Again at the insistence of the World Bank, in 1996, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India conducted Sectoral Environmental Assessment of the proposed Hazardous Waste Management Project. The focus of Sectoral Environmental Assessment was generation and analyses of alternatives to identify the most preferred option that would do a justice to environmental and social considerations. The project outlay was USD 300 million and I was asked to prepare the Sectoral Assessment report that included five public consultations across the country. This was one of the first such reports produced by the World Bank on SEA.

Another variant that emerged in this process was the programmatic EA which looked at a project from the perspective of up scaling and replication and beyond the specific project.  While the project by itself may not require EA or an Environmental Clearance (EC), the same project when replicated or up scaled had potential to cause adverse impacts on a regional scale.  The technique of programmatic EA brought out idea of developing mitigation plans in the form of best practices. These best practices got then embedded in the very project design. A project of 500 bus stands was proposed in 1999 in the State of Punjab. The bus stand as an individual project did not require an EA or EC. However the design, layout and siting of the bus stand was looked from environmental and social perspectives and a “model” project configuration was arrived at – that met with environmental and social expectations. This design was then replicated all over the State. This work was carried out jointly by IL&FS Ltd and the World Bank and I had an opportunity to lead the Team. In the Philippines today, a blend of programmatic and SEA is conducted for certain area-wide projects but it is not officially approved in the President’s decree.

EA thus reached a hierarchical structure in the form of a “pyramid” where policy or Strategic EA gave the overall direction and laid down the principles, followed by regional/programmatic and cumulative EAs with the base as the Project EAs. This led to Environmental and Social Management Frameworks (ESPF) that were recommended and adopted by the borrowing financial institutions (Category Financing Intermediary or FI of the World Bank or ADB). ESPFs were also used by cities and regions to ensure that environmental and social considerations were mainstreamed in policies, plans, programs and projects or the 4Ps. In India ESPFs are operated by organizations such as IL&FS Ltd, IDFC, PowerGrid, SIDBI etc. I often call these examples as “islands of excellence”.


(Limitation of Project-Limited EAs)

EIA and Development Effectiveness

(ESMF and Development Effectiveness)

By end of 2000, I would estimate that almost 50,000 EAs would have been produced across the World. There were two important elements that needed to come in – EA review criteria and Effectiveness of EA through “auditing” mechanism. In the mid 1995, Norman Lee and Chris Wood from the Manchester University developed criteria for EA review. Very few post-audits were however carried out – few in Australia but not on a global scale. This task was undertaken by Barry Saddler with the support of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). My good old friends L Panneerselvam (now retired), Sonia Kapoor (now at ADB), colleague Radha Gopalan and I did a detailed study of 14 Bank supported projects in India and came out with a publication. Do download this report from

Many of the observations made in this report are still valid today.

As it was realized that there cannot be siloed approach in management of environmental and social issues, a specialized discipline of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) emerged.  Social development specialists, especially from the Universities (dominated by experts from North Americas and Canada) took the lead and started working on the methodology for SIA as a complement to EA. Ideally, both processes should be integrated, especially during scoping, analyses of alternatives and public consultation but due to different procedural requirements and different processing departments (what a pity!), we often see separately prepared reports on EA and SIA.  Despite the importance of integration, even now such a practice has remained, giving a rather piece meal or sliced approach to deal with management of environmental and social issues.  Again in SIA, emphasis is primarily given to the issues related to resettlement and rehabilitation rather than on the induced social impacts. In general there is simply a non-availability or lack of an “integrated expertise”

Very close to SIA is the area of Health Impact Assessment.  This dimension to EA got added when impacts were visualized on regional scale considering both environmental and social parameters over a long term.  Impact on health was considered as a result of both direct and induced/indirect impacts with complex relationships between pollution release, contamination of resources and their consumption leading to phenomenon such as bio-accumulation.  Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is today not a separate mandatory requirement but is an aspect to be factored in the EA or SIA for certain types of projects.

Consideration about health impacts led to realization that understanding of impacts is rather complex and there are several uncertainties about the assessment. This led to the discipline of Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) focusing on the nexus between health and the eco-systems.

I had the fortune to work with Dr Richard Carpenter who was one of the major players in the drafting the NEPA. Richard was a chemist by training and a pioneering expert on environmental indicators and risk assessment. He worked for long with the Program on Environment at the East-West Center in Hawaii, and later at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, the United States. His publications on Environmental Risk Assessment are must to read. Do check out the PDF I have attached  below on Risk Assessment . I still recall long dinners with Richard (Dick) on EA at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai near the harbor, years ago.

Richard_Carpenter_RISK ASSESSMENT

The next logical step after ERA was to focus on biodiversity. Biodiversity Impact Assessment is today a field by itself where the EA process is followed and adapted e.g. Environmental Management Plan becomes Biodiversity Protection and Conservation Plan .

Given the expanse of EA from project level to policy and planning levels, integration with social development, health and safety related aspects, the next logical step was to wrap all these perspectives into one crucible i.e.  Sustainability.

Sustainability framework was thus the major extension of EA in the last decade. The idea was not just management of risks but to identify and leverage opportunities while staying within the “limits of growth”.  Sustainability integration or sustainability based appraisal provided EA a new dimension and a role beyond permitting or EC. The Sustainability Appraisal (SA) essentially integrated economic, environmental and social considerations. Integrated Assessment (IA) is synonymous to Sustainability Appraisal.

Box – 4  Integrated Assessment[4] 
Integrated Assessment (IA) brings together natural, social, and economic information to assist analysis of policy options for decision makers. The IA process also brings together scientists, policy makers, citizens, NGO, and industry representatives to evaluate options for particularly challenging – or wicked – problems. Since IA builds partnerships and a framework to share knowledge, problems that have both arguable definitions and solutions are best suited to this process.

IAs vary widely depending on the geographic scope, budget, type of issue, and range of decision makers. The following are useful IA steps that ensure the process is both relevant to participants and factually credible:

1) define the policy-relevant question,
2) document status and trends,
3) describe the causes and consequences of those trends,
4) identify desired outcomes and policy options,
5) evaluate the likely environmental, social, and economic outcomes of each option,
6) provide technical guidance for implementation
7) assess uncertainty[5].

These elements are best seen as a flexible framework – different stages might be emphasized depending on the policy context and the scientific and public understanding of the issue.

Integrated Assessment can appear to be overly complex with vague outcomes. However, because sustainability problems often lack a clear cause or solution, the IA process offers an innovative way to build consensus and guide decisions for these pressing and unique challenges. It is also important to acknowledge that there are both tangible and intangible benefits associated with IA. The goal of this study is to communicate both sets of benefits.

Sustainability based EA or Integrated Appraisal is therefore the recent avatara of EA.  It has been widely practiced for planning local area development in the United Kingdom and has been made mandatory that such appraisals are carried out every year and reported.  Few private sector equity investors have also evolved sustainability appraisal frameworks. Some of the DFIs such as World Bank, IFC, and DFID have already set up sustainability based / driven environmental and social assessment requirements.

More recently, the dimension of climate change has been added. In specific, Asian Development Bank (ADB) has come up with climate proofing and its integration in the environmental assessment with several sectoral guidelines.

After years of experience in the application of EA, several “templated” environmental management plans have emerged. These plans are essentially a repository of good practices and have influenced project design and project management practices. These best practices have been now mainstreamed and are implemented upfront without a push from legislation.  In the Kingdom of Bhutan, roads are built how they should be and not a result or consequence of EA.


(Road construction in Bhutan)

We must remember that EA is essentially a generic tool that links activities with environmental components.  It therefore has a place in the establishment of Environmental Management System (EMS) of ISO 14001.  In these systems, EA is used to analyse project activities, associated aspects and their influence on the environmental component so as to check whether the impacts are in compliance or whether they pose a threat or risk to human health and eco-systems.

As the understanding on the environmental impacts of making, packaging, distributing and servicing products increased, the tool of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) emerged.  LCA uses the core principles of EA to predict, assess and manage the adverse impacts, influencing thereby the product design, material sourcing and product use and management of rejects/residues. EA thus provides a generic framework to address manufacturing systems and services following once again the precautionary and “do no harm” principles. This “power” of EA is not recognized by most as the understanding of EA is limited simply to obtain Environmental Clearance.

It often surprises me that in India, EA has been a pretty neglected subject at the Ministries and State Environment Departments. The Indian EA system has remained outdated and has not responded to the needs of required “modernization”. The community of EA professionals is weak, largely engaged in unethical practices and the project proponents and investors are still ignorant about the advantages of EA. I prepared for MoEF, at the behest of the World Bank, a Project Implementation Plan (PIP) for improving the EA regime in India. V. Rajagopalan was then the Joint Secretary then who later became Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board and finally Secretary to the MoEF.

Many of my suggestions in the PIP got reflected in the 2006 Notification – however  points made on SEA, Regional EA and Cumulative Assessment were shelved. My proposal to set up a National Environmental Information Centre (EIC) was looked at favorably and was supported using grants from the World Bank- but once again due to bureaucratic reasons, the EIC project was aborted after a year of piloting.

I recall in 2011 I made a sincere effort to set up a 12 institution EIA Training and Knowledge network (EtCON) and came up with a very detailed plan for delivering nationwide training based on a network of institutions approach. I did this work with the support of the World Bank and it was ironical that the very World Bank delayed and finally shelved this project because of their internal politics and found awkward to “fit me in”.

I like Dick  Carpenter’s definition of E I A as Early, Integrated and Always. In India none of these three letters are understood, appreciated and followed.

Only God can save this country.


Cover image taken from