Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

Sustainability 5

Sustainability is not merely an environment issue. It needs to tick off the economic, social and ethical boxes along with the environment box – to make sure that the solutions are adopted in reality and not just remain as ideas. And here are some points to take on:

A holistic Shared Vision backed by demand: This is the time for every nation to re-affirm its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals without question. From Human quality of life, to liveable cities, health, to security and finally to the environment and earth’s resources & diversity – everything is inter-linked. A country where a huge section of society is deprived will not allow the adoption of environment-friendly solutions necessarily.

Having done that nations need to set a clear direction on the steps they will take in meeting their environment goals. Steps – which are clear demands. Especially, in India, often the national ambitions get diluted by the time it reaches the states. It must be remembered that new technology development involves massive investments.

Additionally, it’s not good enough to take only one dimension of environment action to consider the future. For instance to improve the environment performance in vehicles it can be profoundly increased in more than one dimensions – Design & efficiency of the vehicle; the right transport concepts; Alternate technologies; Alternate fuels.  So we need to consider gains by a systematic approach coupled with tools that let us leap frog ahead.

Measure improvement in Quality of Life and impact on environment and not numbers: It’s true that economy is a lot about numbers, trends and growth. But we cannot let that be our calculation anymore. For example, it’s not about how many vehicles are sold or bought. We need to see how many people have been transported safely and comfortably and how much fuel and emissions have we consumed. It is not ok to consider production & sales while the impact of on cities, resource consumption, quality of mobility & people safety is collateral.

Use this situation, the government stimulus to set the right behaviour: Behaviours are going to change in the COVID situation at least short-term. Once this happens, its possible to normalise these behaviours for the future or lose the opportunity by going back to ‘ways of the past’. People today are appreciative of the importance of our bio-diversity, climate change concerns, the need to preserve nature. An opportunistic time to gather citizen consensus and new behaviour.  People working from home and reduced demand for non-essential travel is going to be followed for some time. This means cities with reduced congestion.  This is the time to turn crisis to opportunities. Public Transport capacity can be augmented to much better quality and attractive rolling stock. First carrying reduced number of passengers due to social distancing SoP, but building capacity to later become the choice for city travel.

Similarly, the current crisis may tempt future technologies to be put on a back-burner for some time – electric, alternate fuels, improved environment performance, automation, connectivity and more. It is important that the leadership does not let this deferment become a norm & instead incentivise it more aggressively.

Future Technology needs to be people and eco-centric:  Look at today. IN these times we have started deploying technology for offering financial support to the needy; carry out contact tracing; use AI models to predict virus spread; use connectivity to allow people to work from home safely. It should be clear now that this is the fundamental core drivers that should drive technology – safety, security, well-being, uplifting the poor and like. Similarly, technology must focus on the global environment issues as urgent & immediate concerns. This can range from alternate fuels, non-motorised travel to efficient transport systems, to building smart cities which allow affordable and quality living with consumption of minimum resources & the impact on our bio-diversity.

Technology needs to be evaluated by its impact on people and the earth’s life. Else we cannot build a future that is resilient.

Resilience is as important as efficiency: For long, business, society and cities have become more and more efficient adopting methods like just-in-time and like to ensure maximum productivity. We have assumed that we are on a free-run and that while we do this nothing else will change. Unfortunately, this focus, does not often count on issues like weather calamities, earthquakes, floods, diseases. We thought they are disconnected. But it’s becoming more and clearer that a warming weather is a cradle for all these disasters and various pathogens. The depletion of forests has enormous negative impact in our cities when tough weathers hit us.  What we do in the future, with our economy, business and social life must include the cost we put on the environment.

Leadership must not be lost: There is a chance that the COVID threat may be overcome and we may return to old ways. An opportunity lost. This is the time when leadership matters most. Globally, by nation, by communities. This is the time leaders have to articulate their vision for a country and a globe which is resilient, where the environment and human aspirations are balanced. Where grass root governance is as efficient as the high-level national governance so we can implement our vision. We cannot just stop at bringing the economy back on track. We need to get our earth back.

Trust: Trust & transparency is today the biggest currency. In these Covid times, when we live among societies we are now dependent upon each other to protect ourselves and the other. The nation & business will operate only when the employee and the business environment; the individual and the society – all care for each other – at work, at home, in communities. This is the new normal. We cannot do it alone. This is the same understanding we need to carry when we seek to preserve nature. This is not easy considering that we have long considered protecting our respective borders over and above the earth. But without this trust we cannot take global action and adopt a shared vision to protect the earth. Nations need to take leadership here.  Also tools like digitalisation & connectivity raise concerns around privacy and cyber concerns – and it’s key to build integrity and trust in this future.

Inclusivity:  As mentioned before, leaders cannot carry the society along if there is disgruntlement due to economic, social or individual issues. To ensure inclusivity, a first step is an educated society that can participate in the future. Education also allows empathy for those different, skills to play a part in the future jobs, concern for the larger world. To have people support a sustainable future, we need everyone to look forward to life.

India needs to take its home to the streets. India has a very unique circumstance, at least when it comes to the urban environment. For centuries, India has adopted traditional practises at home – which are healthy when it comes to food, sanitation, recycling of material coupled with extreme resource efficiency. However, the same India when it goes outside the walls of its homes operates with very little ownership for the environment we live in. This is rather intriguing. One reason may lie in the fact that the number of people who feel they ‘own’ the city and their ‘voices’ can be heard are not many. We need to empower our citizens in a positive manner. If only we do what we do at home – on the streets as well – India can be a highly environment friendly, caring society.

Cities cannot be designed around vehicles. They have to be designed around people and resources. Cities are becoming centres of economic power and are becoming centres of migration for the nation. With ever growing populations and aspirations, cities make it hard for the natural world to thrive including the much necessary bio-diversity.  The future cities cannot be built for vehicles where the roads are charted first and then the city. The cities have to be planned according to the resources available, making each zone sufficient, where people live in the area they seek to work and other urban planning parameters.

Right now, take an example from UK. Fuel wasted during vehicle idling driving on congested roads in the UK is 747 million litters of fuel. All large buses are roughly using the same amount.. Only 12% of the people living in cities reside in cities which complies with WHO air quality guideline levels. About half of the urban population & all other living beings are exposed to noise pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends

The world has to adopt ZERO Targets & a full circular economy. Earlier it may had been considered a dream but today, with the advent of new technologies across alternative fuels, electromobility, connectivity and automation it’s possible to visualize Zero Emissions, Zero Downtime, Zero Accidents as our future. Well, these targets are almost impossible to reach, but if we strive for this perfection we are moving in the right direction.  Of course, the above is only possible if we capture the essence of “zero targets’ across the chain – from well to wheel and when we look at environment not merely by emissions but the full lifecycle of the product.

Support towards increased development funding, innovation and incentives for new technology. Here I like to refer to the UN Global Sustainable Transport Outlook Report which addresses on how the transport sector can advance sustainable development with poverty eradication at its core, promote economic growth, and bolster the fight against climate change.

It highlights the need for increased development funding for developing countries to leapfrog into more sustainable transport systems. Supportive legislation is needed to utilize the full potential of the transport system and new technology. Incentives to promote new technology are needed to increase private investments in R&D. The report concludes that technology will drive progress and that all modes of transport should be optimized in their respective areas of strength. Solutions in electro mobility, renewable fuels, road safety, automation and connectivity can be combined in complete systems for sustainable transports.

Collaboration is the key:  To make this happen, we need bold innovation and true partnership among governments, academia, research institutes, civil society and the private sector.  This will enable innovation and ability to think outside the beaten path.

Let us not waste this crisis.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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