While India is pushing for a host of green measures to inch closer to its nationally determined commitments to the Paris Agreement, coaxing institutions to develop sustainable practices could push the envelope further. If office complexes, universities, schools, colleges, convention venues, industrial parks, military cantonments — practically all campuses — scale up best practices to bring down carbon dioxide emissions, half the battle would be won.

Though some corporates moved early in developing sustainable systems in their office complexes and secured Leed certifications or a green building rating, others are trying to enhance their sustainability reports. Companies such as Wipro, TCS, Infosys, Suzlon, Capgemini and others now boast facilities that have rooftop solar, wind turbines, rainwater harvesting, water recycling and other customised and innovative environment-friendly measures.

Take Capgemini, for example. It aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and become a net-zero business by 2030. It has introduced a slew of measures to reduce carbon emissions at its Indian campuses, including captive solar plants, rooftop solar, solar gazebos, pedestrian walkways, car ports, a solar-powered amphitheatre and solar-powered ‘trees’.

The ‘trees’ have solar panels as leaves and a power generator that resembles the trunk. Their shade is bedecked with work tables — an open-air workspace for employees. Viswanathan R, Capgemini’s Senior Director, Corporate Real Estate Services, India, says the group has increased its renewable energy portfolio to 50 per cent in 2020 from 37 per cent in 2019.

Other measures include carpooling, rainwater harvesting, offsite green energy procurement for its Bengaluru campus, shifting from diesel to natural gas generators at its Noida campus, and a dual-state electricity feeder to reduce diesel consumption at its Bengaluru EPIP campus. Today Capgemini is exporting surplus green power to electricity boards.

Recently it started a global initiative to transition to a fully electric vehicle (EV) fleet by 2030 and reduce commuting emissions per employee by 50 per cent. Its Bengaluru campus is the first corporate campus in India to receive a net-zero energy ‘Platinum’ certification.

Apart from corporate houses, other campuses need to step up to achieve results. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is focussing on academic institutions as they “ serve as important incubators” for a new generation of professionals to drive the future change.

Timely lessons

In 2017, CSE launched its Green Campus Initiative and its “Green Campus Compendium” traces the journey through examples from Gargi College in Delhi, Vivekananda Centenary College in Rahara, West Bengal, and Assam Don Bosco University to Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU).

The 500-acre GNDU, for example, set up a centre to promote sustainability in education, lifestyles and professional practice. It instituted a strict ‘no cars on campus’ policy for students and simultaneously set up a bike sharing programme with docking stations for easy connectivity. The GPS-enabled smart bicycles were available at ₹175 per month, or ₹5 per half-hour. E-rickshaws also plied.

Air conditioners were restricted to laboratories, assembly halls and offices of heads of departments to cut energy use. Passive design features allowed natural ventilation and daylight. Rainwater harvesting wells were installed alongside a wastewater treatment facility to treat 2.5 million litres daily. Its 25-acre botanical garden has 200 plant species and there are about 50,000 trees on campus. It segregates 60 per cent of the 200 kg of waste it generates daily and has two vermi-compost units for organic waste.

The green campus movement has set a new compliance target for the 993 universities, 39,931 colleges, and 10,725 stand-alone institutions in the country. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has included an environmental sustainability criterion in its rating of educational institutions. The All-India Council for Technical Education has also instituted a ‘Clean and Smart Campus’ award. This carrot-and-stick approach could hasten academic campuses to ‘green’ up their act.