Sage Narada and Sustainability

Sustainability as a concept is great but when it comes to practice, we feel that sustainability on this planet is perhaps not just possible to achieve. There is so much chaos and unevenness. We will always stay on a turbulent or unsustainable journey. Let us accept this bitter truth.

To address this challenge, we came up with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but we are not sure how could we sync our interests on quality of life with our limited and threatened natural resources. We worry.

My professor friend told me that the answer is innovation in the form of disruptive technology. According to him, these technologies will radically transform our patterns of production and consumption.   According to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, sustainable business has the potential to unlock $12 trillion in new market value.

What happens if we go disruptive? For instance, the organizations will apply machine learning to support intelligent analytics, processes and user experiences. As people, places, processes and “things” become increasingly digitalized, they’ll be represented by digital twins for simulation. This will provide rich opportunities for new event-driven business processes and digitally enabled business models and ecosystems. Here the concepts of sustainability could be easily embedded.

Advances in AI, the IoT, user experience and application architectures will characterize 2018. Attention will shift from security tools to business risk and trust management. Clearly, the physical and digital worlds are expected to merge to support sustainability. So, sustainability will be the driver to such innovations. Professor cited me Garners 2018 report on top 10 strategic technology trends.

But not all disruptive technologies have to be digital. So, when Professor asked me to join for a breakfast with a representative of Hyperloop, I was rather delighted. Hyperloop brings airplane speeds to ground level, safely. Passengers and cargo capsules will hover through a network of low-pressure tubes between cities and transforming travel time from hours to minutes. Founded in 2013 in Los Angeles,  Hyperloop is a global team comprised of more than 800 engineers, creatives and technologists in 52 multidisciplinary teams, with 40 corporate and university partners. Amongst its several advantages, high-speed travel  by Hyperloop will relieve over-crowded cities by decreasing the need for urbanization. People will live where they are and reach cities in minutes if they want to. Hyperloop is already getting piloted in China.

When I listened to the presentation, I felt sorry that our PM thought of the “outdated” bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmadabad. Instead, he should have considered the Hyperloop. Imagine a Hyperloop placed between the four metros of India. This will cut down so much of travel by road, rail and airplanes; reduce the fossil fuel consumption and cut down GHG emissions may be by 10-fold and besides save so much time that people wont know what to do! By deploying this disruptive technology, India’s productivity as well as its sustainability scorecard will drastically improve!

When the man from Hyperloop left, I asked the Professor about his assessment.

“Well Dr Modak, I am thinking differently – something out of the box” Professor said this and lighted his cigar.

“Do you remember the movie Star Trek? It featured a “transporter” – a fictional teleportation machine that “converted” a person or object into an energy pattern (a process called dematerialization), then “beam” it to a target, where it is reconverted into matter (rematerialization)”

“Yes, Professor” I answered. I recalled that Transporter in the Star Trek first appeared in the original pilot episode “The Cage”. The transporter used special effects, using computer animation, and by turning a slow-motion camera upside down and photographing some backlit shiny grains of aluminum powder that were dropped between the camera and a black background. The entire transportation episode looked so mystic!

In August 2008, physicist Michio Kaku predicted in Discovery Channel Magazine that a teleportation device similar to those in Star Trek would be invented within 100 years. But many thought that his speculation was too optimistic. Physics students at University of Leicester calculated that to “beam up” just the genetic information a single human cell would take 4,850 trillion years. A study by Eric Davis for the US Air Force Research Laboratory of speculative teleportation technologies showed that to dematerialize a human body required heating it up to a million times the temperature of the core of the sun. Only then the quarks lose their binding energy and become massless and can be beamed at the speed of light. In the closest physics equivalent to the Star Trek teleportation scenario would require the equivalent of 330 megatons of energy. Further, the information storage and transmission requirements would require current computing capabilities to continue improve by a factor of 10 to 100 times per decade for the next 200 to 300 years. (Taken from Wikipedia on Star Trek)

I was uncomfortable with this information but the Professor continued.

“Imagine Dr Modak, what if we really achieve this kind of transporter technology romanced in the Star Trek. There will then be no vehicles, no trains, no planes – no more consumption of resources like steel, aluminum, plastic and petroleum. No more generation of wastes and emissions, no accidents and no sabotages, no more waste of time. People travel by simply by dematerialization and rematerialization whenever they wish! To me this is the disruptive technology we all should be chasing for – something much more than the Hyperloop!!

I thought the Professor was right. With this technology in place, the world will indeed wheel towards sustainability. But the impact could be so disruptive. I thought of commissioning a study on Environmental, Social and Business Impact Assessment.

“So, what’s your plan Professor?” I asked

Well, I have SMSed Narada Muni (Sage) seeking his consultation.

Some of you may know that in Hindu Mythology, Narada Muni has been described as a global traveller. He travels all over the universe on the sound of his veena ( a string instrument) similar to the transportation technology of Star Trek. The yogis and sages of former times like Narada had what we today call the supernatural powers. When you know the right sounds and chant the appropriate mantras, you can easily create (rematerialize) or dissolve (dematerialize) the matter. The Shruti portion of the Vedas contain mantras for this purpose. For instance, the Bhagavat Purana documents an event, where the brahmanas or the sages killed king Vena by uttering sounds. Mantras are also there to create strong winds and rain or fire. Kardama Muni created an entire mansion in the sky by sound vibrations. That happened in Satya-yuga, several million years ago when the science of uttering mantras were known to the Vedic sages. Obviously, all this only works when the mantra or the sound is pronounced exactly right. That’s why you need to learn this from a living teacher.

I thought getting Sage Narada on board was a good strategy to move towards sustainability. No wonder the Gods and the heavens were never challenged by the sustainability related issues as they used this disruptive technology.

I asked Professor if I could join meeting with Sage Narada.

I thought that by learning this technique, I will solve my problem of getting into the crowded trains of Mumbai every day! Oh, what a great relief it would be! I could just carry a veena and transport myself to office in a whiff!

And this mattered to me much more than Planets sustainability!

Professor was however not so happy with my narrow minded thinking.


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Don’t worry Be Happy

In 1972, King Wangchuck of Bhutan declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” The concept was revolutionary.

In the Kingdom of Bhutan, GNH is captured in the form of a GNH Index. It includes nine domains such as Psychological wellbeing, Health, Education, Time use, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience and Living standards. The nine domains are equally weighted because each domain is considered to be equal in terms of its intrinsic importance as a component of GNH. The domains are supported  by 33 indicators that are measurable.

Taking inspiration from Bhutan, in 2012, the United Nations declared March 20 to be observed as the International Day of Happiness. The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all peoples. Since then many countries have followed the concept and framework on GNH.

The GNH Index  identifies four groups of people – unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy. The analysis explores the happiness people enjoy already, then focuses on how policies help increase happiness and sufficiency among the unhappy and narrowly happy people.

In the last census carried out in 2015  by the Ministry of happiness in Bhutan, 35% of the population answered ’extremely happy’, 47.9% said they felt ’moderately happy’, and only 8.8% of respondents said they were ’unhappy’.

I don’t know the results if we polled on GNH Index in Mumbai today. With all the potholes on the streets, garbage being thrown on the beaches and pollution in the air, 90% of Mumbai’s population will be in the category of “unhappy”. Those “deeply happy” must be 5% consisting politicians, builders and contractors. May be the bureaucrats in Mumbai will fall in the categories of “narrowly happy” and “extensively happy” depending what portfolio is allotted to the “babus” for administration.

In the 2018 edition of the World GNH report, India ranks 133 out of 156 countries. And India’s happiness rank is falling each year. This is disturbing.

When I expressed my concern to my Professor Friend, he was not perturbed. He lit his cigar and said

“We are already addressing the happiness issue. Did you know that Madhya Pradesh is the first State in the country to have a department of happiness to boost the wellbeing of citizens? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government created this department in July 2016 and tasked it to ensure “the happiness and tolerance of its citizens” by creating an “ecosystem that would enable people to realise their own potential of inner wellbeing”. The department is supported by a State Institute of Happiness that is responsible for “developing tools of happiness”, and thousands of “happiness volunteers” who conduct “happiness tutorials and programmes”.

I was aghast to know about this initiative. Professor continued.

“More than 25,000 “happiness volunteers” have signed up and these volunteers will work in the State’s 51 districts, holding “happiness tutorials and programmes”.  Under this programme, week-long Happiness Festivals are organized. These festivals are targeted “to put a smile on every face”. The festivals get people out of homes, bring them together, and make them happy. The aim is to forget the worries of life and enjoy together. The idea is to spread the virtues of “goodness, altruism, forgiveness, humility and peace”.

Wow. I presumed the Government bears all the expenditures on spreading happiness.  But how long such week long festivals will sustain? Besides don’t we have enough of festivals to celebrate already. I wondered whether all this would spawn another bureaucracy of happiness.

“Don’t look at these programmes in a narrow perspective Dr Modak” Professor retorted “After all we need people to have a positive mindset. We will try to achieve this through school lessons, yoga, religious education, moral science, meditation and with help from gurus, social workers and non-profits.

I thought Professor sounded like a Godman.

“And this concept is spreading in other States as well – albeit in different forms”. Professor told me about Happiness Commission that has been set up by the Andhra Pradesh government led by Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. Here the Commission has proposed to create walking tracks for citizens in all the municipalities, development of parks with sitting and jogging spaces, introduce electric buses and CNG auto rickshaws in place of petrol or diesel vehicles and creation of cycling zone in the municipal areas to promote a health living style.

This TDP driven approach focusing on social infrastructure was certainly different from spiritual based masterplan propagated in Madhya Pradesh by the BJP Government.

But I couldn’t understand why such a sudden interest in GNH in India, and especially when we are close to the elections.

Professor said “Dr Modak, I in fact welcome this move. This is the way to convince people that happiness is a “state of mind” and is not necessarily linked to “materialistic essentials and comforts” to our lives. Rich people are often unhappy, and a poor can be a happy person based on the outlook. Once people understand this de-linking between materiality and happiness; they will not resent even if the Government and for that matter previous Government fails to provide the essentials such as Roti (food), Kapada (clothes) and Makan (housing)”

“Oh, so clever, So you don’t need to be accountable to the promises made in the election manifesto “ I exclaimed

“You got it Dr Modak” Professor got up from the chair and extinguished his cigar.

May be one of the slogans in the coming up election is going to be “don’t worry and be happy”.


Madhya Pradesh is one of India’s poorest and most agrarian states, and a severe drought has left it with the country’s third-highest suicide rate among farmers. Madhya Pradesh also suffers from high malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality, and the highest rape incidence in the country.

Three years ago, Bhutanese PM Tshering Tobgay cast doubts on the country’s popular pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH), saying that the concept was overused and masked problems with corruption and low standards of living. In 2013, Venezuela announced a “ministry of happiness”, but it did not stop the country from descending into social and economic chaos. [Taken from BBC News]


Cover image sourced from https://www.quora.com/Why-is-India-ranked-so-low-in-the-world-happiness-index-even-behind-its-sub-continent-neighbors

 

 

 

Global Leadership Program on Circular Economy in South Australia  

India faces many environmental problems today. Our limited resources are under threat due to intensive depletion and serious degradation. Further, we realize that risks to our resource security are compounded due to looming threats of climate change. Policies and strategies to respond to these challenges need mainstreaming of sustainability across all developmental sectors.

Circular Economy offers a platform for all stakeholders to get involved for sustainable and inclusive development. In addition to addressing environmental sustainability, Circular Economy improves the businesses competitiveness, generates employment, increases green investment flows, builds on partnerships and helps in establishing a transparent and inclusive governance.

While there is no debate on the benefits of Circular Economy, one of the major challenges faced not just in India, but globally, is lack of leadership who can accelerate transition or transformation to circularity.  In addition to the leadership, we need to build knowledge networking platforms on circular economy across government, business, investors, academia and communities and offer experiential learning.

With this objective in mind Green Industries South Australia (GISA) , Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation and Circular Economy Alliance Australia (CEAA)  signed a 5 year MoU in December, 2017.

GISA took a lead and with support of Ekonnect and CEAA organized the first pilot course on Global Leadership Program on the Circular Economy between June 17 to 23 in Adelaide in Australia.  The program was developed in partnership with the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD). Besides me, Hemant Chaudhari of CEAA, Rudra Mohanty of UNCRD and Prof Brajesh Dubey of IIT Kharagpur contributed as resource persons.

South Australia has a global reputation for leadership across a wide range of circular economy issues. These include container deposit legislation, the plastic bag ban, high-performing kerbside systems, investment in resource recovery infrastructure, wastewater and stormwater recycling and reuse, renewable energy (in specific solar), innovation districts with incubators.

The program attracted leaders from the government, industry and not‑for‑profit sectors in India, Japan and Australia. Program participants had a hands-on experience to see Australian circular practices through visits to different industries and operations relating to water, waste, energy and materials management. A unique point of difference was that the program was developed for practitioners. At each facility, short presentations were made leading to discussions and better understanding. Several handouts were shared during the visit.

The companies that participants visited included Peats Soils and Garden Supplies; ResourceCo; Jefferies Group; Advanced Plastic Recycling; Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority and South Australia (SA) Water.There was also a presentation from Salisbury city on the massive program they have on harvesting and reusing stormwater.

Highlights of some of these companies are described below.


Peats Soils and Garden Mulches 

Peats Soils and Garden Supplies produces and sells as much as 150,000 tonnes of compost, soil and mulch products in South Australia each year. Peats has developed its own proprietary process to manufacture compost products which improve crop yield and quality for viticulture, broad-acre and horticulture. BiobiN®is an on-site, capture and containment system used for organic material processing (starting the composting process) in an odour-free, easily accessible vessel. Peats has begun producing biodiesel from grease trap waste – the mixture of cooking oil and wash down waters that cafes, restaurants and takeaway outlets funnel into underground waste tanks.

Biobins at Peats

ResourceCo 

ResourceCo is South Australia’s largest specialist processor of construction and demolition, and commercial and industrial waste. It recovers and processes over two million tonnes of mixed construction and demolition waste materials per annum, producing recycled concrete/aggregates/ asphalt products for use in construction and road base, and grinds combustible materials for use as an alternative fuel to fossil fuels.

Advanced Plastic Recycling

Advanced Plastic Recycling manufactures wood plastic composite (WPC) products which are used in many parts of Australia and internationally. Its products can be found in parks, gardens and schools, by the side of the nation’s roads and throughout the transport, mining and agricultural industries. One of the major recent innovations has been creation of composites of plastic and saw dust to make railway sleepers. A great way to gobble up the plastic waste!

Railway sleepers made out of plastic waste and saw dust 

Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority 

The Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority (NAWMA) is run by the Playford and Salisbury Councils in metropolitan Adelaide and the nearby Town of Gawler, NAWMA co-ordinates a comprehensive waste collection service that focuses on encouraging and supporting households to separate recyclable and green materials from other waste. In addition, its Waste Recovery Centre includes a drive-through Waste Transfer Station for people to deliver other waste products, a recycling service for bottles and cans and a retail outlet. As result, more than half of the waste collected in its core region is diverted from landfill.

SA Water 

The Virginia Pipeline Scheme is a successful wastewater reuse project in South Australia. The scheme involves an innovative public private partnership approach to providing sustainable recycled water infrastructure for the Virginia area, North of Adelaide.  It provides recycled water from the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant for horticultural irrigation to approximately 400 customers in Virginia and surrounding area,

Aeration Tanks at SA Water 


The program gave ample opportunities to discuss experience of policies in practice such as South Australia’s Container Deposit Legislation. The participants attended an actual session of teachers coaching the students on waste segregation and recycling. They got exposed to the iconic non-government organization Keep Australia Beautiful (KESAB).

Finally, the high point was visit to the Tonsley Innovation District. This innovation district is one the first in Australia. It was fascinating to meet with eco-entrepreneurs who set up and scaled up their businesses with mentoring support from Innovyz

Tonsely was developed by rehabilitating old infrastructure

The pilot global leadership program gave us a valuable insight to further refine the program design. Feedback received from participants was extremely positive.

We will be launching a 3 weeks e-learning program on Circular Economy before end of the year. The modules will include glimpse of the companies in the form of video clips.

The next leadership program may take place between November-December over 4.5 days duration in Adelaide. We may do a two days precursor program in India to cover essentials on circular economy as a primer to the participants. The participation will be on a competitive basis following an application and selection procedure. We are exploring part sponsorship to deserving candidates.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Adelaide as a speaker and as a coach. For subjects like Circular Economy, a blend of theory and experiential learning is certainly the way. The program should not only confine to “learning” but on “how to lead and transform the organization” and make “connections” leading to partnerships, innovations and investments.

I congratulate GISA for developing such an innovative apparatus and running a truly inspirational Global Leadership program. My sincere appreciation for partnering with Ekonnect.

I am sure you will be interested to know more. Do write to me at prasad.modak@ekonnect.net copying Marcia  Kreinhold of GISA at  Marcia.Kreinhold@sa.gov.auand. We will be happy to respond.


The program wasn’t drab or only technical. Here are few photographs during the lighter moments


Dinner at an Indian restaurant

Lunching at Sarah’s Sisters Sustainability Cafe

Presentation at Jacobs Creek that followed by wine testing