IIT Madras Launches School Of Sustainability

Chennai: The Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) has introduced a new initiative called the School of Sustainability, which aims to further enhance the institute’s longstanding commitment to sustainability. This innovative School of Sustainability will offer interdisciplinary courses focused on sustainability, facilitate collaborative research to address significant global challenges, and serve as a platform for hosting events and showcasing technologies that can contribute to both practical applications and policy development. Designed as a Center of Excellence, the School of Sustainability will unite faculty members from various departments and research centers within the institute. This collaborative effort underscores IIT Madras’s dedication to advancing sustainability education, research, and solutions, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

The School was inaugurated today (7th October 2023) in the presence Shri Jayant Sinha, Member of Parliament and Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, Prof. Kala Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director, International Water Association, Prof V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, Prof. Ashwin Mahalingam, Head, School of Sustainability, IIT Madras, and Prof Rajnish Kumar, Associate Head of the school besides faculty, staff and students.

Addressing the inaugural program, Chief Guest Shri Jayant Sinha, Member of Parliament, and Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, said,”Today, the world is on fire…If you have seen the research, we have had the warmest September on record and its warmer not just by 0.5 degree centigrade but much much warmer than people had anticipated. We are in 2023 experiencing the warmest year that humanity has ever experienced. We have seen that in the extreme weather events acorss the world this year, from the fires in Canada to the flash floods in Sikkim…We do not know what once in 100 years is going to bring. What we thought was going to happen once in 100 years is now happening virtually very two or three years. We do not even know the limits of what these events are going to be, So, how do we design and build a world when things are so off the charts?”

Jayant Sinha said, “The Paris Agreement said that we should restrict the Global Average Mean Temperature to 1.5 C. The latest UN projections are 2.8C is where we going to be by 2100. In the last 220 years, we have warmed by 1.2 C to 1.3 C. In the next 80 years, we are going to warm by 1.8C, then imagine the gradient we are on right now…Dealing with sustainability and decarbonisation is the biggest scientific and engineering challenge of our times. I want all of us, as scientists and engineers to really focus on what we need to do to get us to sustainability.”

Besides offering a minor course in sustainability and an interdisciplinary Master’s programme in the subject, the School also plans to provide a variety of sustainability-related capacity-building programs to working professionals as well, both online as well as in person.  In addition to teaching, the School’s activities will focus on basic scientific research, technology development and transfer, real-world project implementation and policy advisory activities.

Speaking on the occasion, Prof. Kala Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director, International Water Association, said, “In the water sector, we are seeing this major transition taking place. We are moving much more to a low-carbon way of doing business. Water was very carbon intensive, historically. But with huge investments taking place, particularly in the Global South, we are seeing this opportunity to re-build and re-imagine our water infrastructure in a much more low-carbon way. We are also seeing this transition to a circular economy, which is a big thing in the water sector.”

Prof. Kala Vairavamoorthy, who is also an Adjunct Professor at IIT Madras, added,“The mission of the School of Sustainabilty is very much about taking new ideas into practice…The focus of this school in trying to link SDG 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) with all 17 SDGs is very important.  This school should encourage people to be more creative and create the sustainable future they are imagining.”

Sustainable development is perhaps one of the greatest challenge facing humanity today as the world deals with the effects of anthropogenic (pollution or environmental change originating in human activity) factors leading to climate change and the depletion of critical resources. Universities and organizations across the world are working on ideas that can help humanity live and develop sustainably.

Speaking earlier, Prof. V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, said, “Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals – 1 to 17 of the United Nations is a collective responsibility of the entire globe. Through this School we aspire to bring researchers and industry from different domains to discuss, debate, develop and deploy solutions targeted towards the SDG.  Human capacity building related to sustainability will also be a primary focus of this School.”

The highlights of the school’s teaching and research initiatives are given below:

Teaching– Apart from the minor course in sustainability set to be launched in 2024 that will be made available to all students at IIT-Madras, the School plans to launch, within the next 3-5 years, an Integrated Dual Degree Program (IDDD) on Sustainability. This will also be offered to all students at IIT Madras but unlike the minor, this will be a full-fledged Master’s degree, including a thesis project. Several interdisciplinary courses will be moreover, introduced as a part of this programme.

Research– The School has identified four key areas of research and development, namely Decarbonization, Human Settlements, Modelling and Scenario Development, and Behavioural and Industrial Change.

In each of these four areas, the School will undertake basic scientific research, translational and product development, pilot implementations and policy advisory. As an example, a policy roundtable on Climate Finance was recently conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Finance, Government of India and served as an important input to the G20 deliberations on this issue.

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In the long term, the School of Sustainability will support the nation, industry, and global citizens in the following areas:

1.)    Develop well-rounded professionals who will lead the world in building resilient and sustainable infrastructure for industries and communities.

2.)    Act as a platform to catalyze the change to a low-carbon world by supporting the translation of research and knowledge to products and services.

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