Sustainability should be part of college curriculum

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | Updated: Oct 7 2013, 17:06pm hrs
The New Companies Bill makes it mandatory for profit-making companies to spend on activities related to corporate social responsibility (CSR). In this interview, Pearl Tiwari, joint president (CSR), Ambuja Cements Ltd, and director, Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), tells FEs Abhishek Chakraborty that there will be a lot of career opportunities in this field as more and more companies start focusing on sustainability. Excerpts:

What are your views on the emergence of green career opportunities in India, focused on CSR and sustainable development

In the past, social and environmental issues were relegated to the background or considered as a soft subject and, therefore, kept on the periphery of core activity. But that perception has changed dramatically. Today, focusing on these issues is a matter of survival for companies and not just an image-building exercise.

Now the time has come where sensitivity and mindsets are really required to help the business survive. And thats why I think there are going to be opportunities for people. Green careers, I presume, would mean working in the social and environmental space.

How these opportunities are expected to redefine the corporate landscape

A number of young people are becoming aware of issues such as climate change, human rights, etc, and want to be a part of these global challenges. They are seeking opportunities here. Job opportunities will arise as a result of the change in the approach of companies towards these issues. Companies will want people with such mindsets to join and drive that within their organisations. I must also add that sustainability was never an issue or a discipline that we learnt as part of working in a corporate. The senior managers of a company may not have that mindset. There has to be somebody who can help take the agenda ahead apart from officials such as the managing director or the chief executive officer.

What are the skills and competencies required for such jobs

The landscape is large because it is all about environmental and social issues and human rights. It is about people and the planet. We need people with sensitivity towards these issues, somebody who can understand issues related to environment, including something as local as pollution norms and something as large as climate change. Also, have an understanding of issues that impact people and human rights. Until now it has been one or the other, either you came from the social space or the environmental space. Now there is a lot of overlap.

What is the reason behind the increasing number of individuals expressing interest in these courses

CSR activity is not any more about planting trees and feeling good about this activity. It is about understanding that everything you do has an impact on people and environment. How do you minimise that impact is what sustainability professionals within the company will have to drive.

Given the current demand and future potential of activities related to CSR, what kind of courses you think students should get themselves involved in for a better future

Today, there are no courses on sustainability. Training in sustainability needs to be ingrained into every discipline. Whether it is engineering or medical or law, sustainability should be part of the curriculum.

How many job opportunities do you see opening up in India over the next few years and in the long-term in this sector

There will be lots of career opportunities in this field as more and more companies start focusing on sustainability. You will need champions across locations. Many companies are seriously looking at this issue. To be able to survive they will have to. There is enough of pressure on the planet. There is enough scope for young people to get into this area of work. There are specialised courses to help us understand these issues. My point is everyone needs to understand the issue of sustainability. If you want to be an engineer, or a lawyer, or a teacher or a manager you have to understand the impact of any activity on the people as well as on the environment.