360-Degree Learning Regarding Environment

Prasad Kulkarni, Head of the Department of Environmental Studies, MIT- WPU, Pune, on sustainable behaviour and practices, on the occasion of World Environment Day

Prasad Kulkarni is a multi-disciplinary expert with demonstrated project management experience and has a vast experience in climate action, environment impact, sustainability assessment and natural resources management, and as a sustainable development (SDGs) educator. He is a Mentor of Change - Atal Innovation Mission, NITI – Aayog, Govt. of India and Life Member of Indian Society of Remote Sensing (ISRS). In an interview to BW Education on the occasion of World Environment Day, he describes the specific initiatives of his department. Excerpts:

The environment has now got a lot of focus across the spectrum, including in education. What is your approach towards it at MIT and what are you trying to achieve?

We have been working towards conservation for many decades now. However, it is getting so much attention now because we are facing a lot of problems, like the forest fires, untimely rains, the impact on farmers and so on. We have designed a masters course called MSc in Environmental Sciences which has a close link with Sustainable Development Goals which we signed in 2015. And all our course modules are connected with ecological conservation and done through research, projects and multidisciplinary work. 

When we talk about environment, there are so many interconnected aspects, including socio-economic aspects, women’s role and farmers. These are all incorporated in our course.  

As you rightly said, there is such interconnectedness.  Climate change is impacting agriculture, town planning and society in many ways. So, at MIT, how are you inculcating a holistic understanding and holistic solutions?

Our course curriculum includes understanding of Sustainable Development Goals, as a primary foundation course. We train the students and make them aligned with all the SDG’s which are 17 SDGS and which includes agriculture, water, Climate Change and others.  And it’s not only the theoretical aspects and not restricted to classroom teaching. We take students out to ecological sites, forest regions, industries and NGO. We take them to the government agencies like the soil survey department. At these visits the students talk to people to understand the real-life problems. So, a lot of field learning happens. Following that, students are involved in developing reports about it and doing laboratory studies also. That makes it a 360-degree learning. 

What is the sensibility that students are bringing to the table because we have seen quite a few young environmental activists across the globe like, Greta Thunberg. And what are the concerns, their concerns? 

In our generation, as students our aim was to get good education and a good job. But now students are firm that they want to contribute something to the society and to the environment. They know what they really want to do. These students are fearless and ready to talk to government officials, forest officials or common man. They know the technology and the background of the subject. They have access to videos of forest which are burning, of ocean pollution and much more.

We just facilitate that and support them as a mentor. We have we have beautifully designed the Mentor-Mentee programme towards this.

We have a film appreciation course too. Under this course, we select a few of the important documentaries which are produced by the United Nations, the European Union and many different agencies and we show them these documentaries and discuss them with them. 

Even if they can’t engage at the international level to begin with, they can start taking action at the grassroots.

One more thing that we give to our students is freedom- freedom to pursue whatever they want to do. We just mentor them and give them support in that direction.

What are the specific initiatives that you have launched and any kind of startups in this area that you have encouraged?

We are not encouraging our students to become job seekers only; we have a few courses which are designed to nurture future entrepreneurs. And we also organised many events to foster research & innovation, design and entrepreneurship. We have hackathons, sustainathons and so on. In the hackathons, an environmental audit is developed which is done by students.

How is the sensitisation of all the students done? And what are those specific initiatives like groundwater harvesting and other aspects to make the campus itself sustainable? 

Last 5th June, ie World Environment Day, 2022. Our students developed a sustainability status report of our camps. Of course, we have been doing these environmental audits and ecological audits for many years. However, last year, our students did it. 

Almost 22 per cent of our campus area is green. And a biodiversity study –birds, plants, insects and dragonflies, snakes and mammals - has been conducted by our students. And we are trying to further enhance the biodiversity and increase the green area, recycling of water, solar electricity generation among other measures.

Last year we started an initiative to collect soil samples from across the India. It’s not only about collecting the sample, but we are also analysing the sample for specific parameters like carbon and phosphorus content. We want to come up with a soil profile map of India, which is, again, a student initiative. Whenever our students visit any part of the country, we request them to bring a soil sample from that region for analysis.

Plastic is one of the major problem areas today. We have mounds of plastic garbage in all the cities. So specifically on plastic front, what is the research that is going on at your institute? And what are the solutions that’s the faculty and the students have suggested? 

A solid waste management system is in place. Waste is segregated at the source itself, and only the biodegradable matter goes to our biogas plant. We have phased out plastic bottles in favour of glass bottle. 

We are disseminating information on what happens if you are using the plastic and how it comes back in your food chain. And we hope that this will sensitise the students, and they will be working towards reducing plastic use.

As an expert in this area what are those three top things you would advise to our readers in terms of eco-sensitisation?

I would point out four things – the ABCD of sustainability. ‘A’ stands for your approach towards environment and natural resources. How do you use water, trees or soil?

‘B’ is for behavior. Are you littering your plastic anywhere? Are you not segregating your waste?

‘C’ is for choice. If you are travelling at 3 am and see a traffic signal, do you jump the signal since no one is watching you?

And ‘D’ stands for decision. What decision you are going to make to protect the environment? Will you take the middle path or follow only development, to the exclusion of environment?

That’s the ABCD of sustainability.

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