Towards A Sustainable World


Ananth Yalamarthy covers the IIT-Madras S-NET Sustainability Summit 2013.

s_net_iconThe Sustainability Network (S-NET) at IIT-Madras was established in 2009 with the aim of making the campus more sustainable. Last weekend saw another step in the same direction, with the S-NET Summit 2013, which was packed with a variety of events: a panel discussion with four eminent environmentalists, a case study competition and a first of its kind Sustainability Quiz.

The Panel discussion, which was the crux of the Summit, took place last Saturday (2nd March 2013) at CLT. The session was formally thrown open after a terse but humourous welcome address by Dr. L S Ganesh (Dean Students), who highlighted some of IIT-M’s efforts towards sustainability in the over the last two decades.

First up on the dais was Mr. Narasimhan Santhanam, the co-founder and director of Energy Alternatives India (EAI), one of the leading Indian research and intelligence firms focused on renewable energy and clean technology. His talk tackled the problem of sustainability via a top to bottom approach by laying out a generic framework instead of discussing any particular technical solutions. “Practice interdependence instead of independence, because interdependence is the only sustainable independence”, he said, giving the audience a maxim to ponder.

Next up was Mr. Kolluru Krishnan, a member of FICCI’s Climate Change Task Force who was formerly the manager of Voltas and has founded various bio-energy project development companies. His talk was centred on bio-energy: the fact that “hybrid” biofuels are likely to become the single most important resource in the near future. The message he wanted to drive home was that the biggest consumers of energy in India today are inefficient cooking stoves, most of which run on coal. He urged students to tackle the problem as an engineering challenge and come up with innovative solutions.

Professor Indumathi Nambi, Head, Environment and Water Resources Division, Department of Civil Engineering at IIT Madras was the next speaker. She began with the concept of a ‘water footprint’, which is the total amount of water consumed and polluted by a consumable good during its production. “140 L of water are required to make a cup of coffee, while only 20 L go into making a glass of wine”, she said. She then spoke about the policy mistakes which have been made in the past, one example being the lobbying in favour of first-generation biofuels, which are now known to have large water footprints which make them unsuitable for long-term solutions. She wrapped up her speech by proposing several sustainable solutions: the usage of waste water for agriculture and aquifers for water storage and recovery.

The last speaker was Mr N.B Niramal, the founder of ExNoRa International and a globally known Innovator, humorist, environmentalist, and social activist. In a talk peppered with humour and wit, he spoke of the various sustainable practices which he has implemented in his career, such as a toilet which he uses for generation bio-energy, which people are paid to use. “Sustainability is the easiest thing to practise”, he said, “all it requires is some common sense”.

Winding up the summit was a panel discussion which went on for about half an hour, in which interesting questions were brought up, leading to a discussion on whether the increasing use of solar panels would create problems in their disposal in the future. It was followed by dinner for the speakers and the attendees, which seemed to be the best-attended part of the summit.

The next day saw the finals of the Case-Study competition, which had participants tackling environmental and policy-based problems in a fictional city. The Nature, Energy, and Sustainability Quiz held that afternoon at MRC in the Central Library saw enthusiastic participation from both inside and outside campus, and was the concluding highlight of the two-day summit.

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