Climate Battle will have to be fought in the front lines of the built environment

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By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP

Dr. Yusef Al Horr, Founder Chairman of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development (GORD) in Qatar, stated in my recent meeting with him that ‘the front line of the battle-field to prevent the invasion of climate change is built-environment’. How true! 

The built environment of today is a living example of indiscriminate use of natural resources. It is a result of the designers, constructors, and operators of the buildings and infrastructure, that come from the legacy of the scant knowledge and respect for the value of nature. 

The environment in which education is imparted makes a tremendous difference in molding the minds of the students for their future profession.  It also has huge impacts on the way the faculty is delivering education. 

My personal experience decisively proves that those who take education in the vicinity of nature are likely to respect the value of nature and understand the critical importance of conserving it. 

Recall the way, in ancient times, the way students would stay with Guru and sages to get educated in philosophy, science and even in weaponry and war games. Indian epics, 5000-year-old, Ramayana and Mahabharata have examples where the warriors, princes from the dynasties and soldiers are trained in the ‘Ashram’, which was nothing but the residential schools. Such schools where nature provides a fitting backdrop and where the Guru is available all the time for close interaction, have a life-long impact on the students. 

Recent findings have revealed that the environment in the campus, I mean not only its greenery but energy-efficient-buildings, well-managed interior, circular economy waste-utilization, water-efficient sanitation, and sustainable transport, all influence the productivity, performance, and efficiency of the campus community, students, faculty and administrators. 

Indoor built environment like classrooms, labs, libraries, auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums, kitchens and offices. The outdoor built environment are spaces include corridors, open plazas, playgrounds, car park, and roads. 

These establishments need to be designed, built and operated in a way that resource efficiency is optimized. Imagine that the nation designs its own resource-efficient standards for the campus where energy and water use is made more efficient, carbon-footprints are reduced, renewable energy takes center stage, 3 R (reduce, reuse and recycle) principle is in focus, air quality is healthy. 

Well, GSAS (Gulf Sustainability Assessment System) does exactly that. The beginning has been made in Qatar by the Gulf Organization for Research and Development. A good example of a systemic approach for our own environment before embarking on global adventures. 

My own education in rural set up which is near to nature and graduation in the IIT-Bombay campus known as ‘nest’ amidst trees, surrounded by lakes and embedded in the hills appreciates this basic approach more than my urban colleagues with their roots in the consumerism.

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