This Earth Day, Putting the Spotlight on Environmental and Climate Literacy
22nd April is World Earth Day, and each year on this widely commemorated day, millions of us pause to review the state of our fragile earth and what more can be done to protect it. Even with the recent Paris Agreement - the treaty to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions- action on conservation and protection is still wanting. Thus I feel that this year's theme, 'Environmental and Climate Literacy', calls on citizens, corporations and governments to continue efforts to build awareness and protect the planet in quantifiable ways.
A study by scientists of the UK-based Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and the Natural History Museum, London found that there is a significant increase in citizen science around the world. In 1970, there were just 20 ecological and environmental projects that were undertaken by citizens. By 2014 that number had shot off to 509. It seems there has been a year-on-year increase of 10 percent during the 1990s and 2000s, in the number of citizen science projects that were undertaken. What is even more heartening is that technology powered this citizen's intervention in ecology. More specifically, the increasing availability and innovative use of online databases, digital cameras and smartphones spurred this spike.
The whale shark is an endangered species, and the 'Wildbook for Whale Sharks' project set up by Jason Holmberg put this little studied mammal on the 'protected' list. While diving, he noticed that whale sharks have a unique set of spots located behind their gills, equivalent to an individual's finger print. By collecting photographs of these spots, and feeding them into a computer, one can identify each unique whale shark. He set up a 'citizen science' protocol, where volunteers could take pictures of the spots located behind the whale sharks' gills and upload them to a web-based photo identification library. This has made tracking and recognizing whale sharks much easier and the technology has since been used in conservation efforts for cheetahs and manta rays as well.
Another environmental concern that has attracted much attention the world over is water. Its pollution, depletion and growing scarcity. In 2016, the Global Risk Report by the World Economic Forum identified the water crisis as the greatest societal and economic risk facing the world in terms of impact through 2025.
We see this predicted scenario playing out in Bangalore. The population of this metropolis, has grown from 5.1 million in 2001 to 11.5 million in 2016. This is an increase of 125 percent in 15 years. And as a landlocked city, its biggest concern is water. Without a perennial source of water, Bangalore depends on the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) dam about 144 kilometers away. However, this is a needless dependence, as the city abounds with 262 lakes. These have historically been the natural catchment for the 859 mm freshwater that comes down as rain each year.
Unfortunately the city has lost 79% of its water bodies and 98% of its lakes have been encroached upon. There has been an increase in concretization by 925%, notes a study by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). It also reveals that 75% of the city is paved and rainwater harvesting has taken a backseat. 1.4 lakh consumers should have installed a rainwater harvesting system, but as of March 2017, only 62,000 had done so.
Before becoming the silicon valley of India, Bangalore was famed as the garden city. Can the citizens and companies of this metropolis play a proactive role on water conservation and take Bangalore back to its days of plenty? I believe they can, by recycling grey water for gardening, practicing rainwater harvesting and stringently monitoring the use of water so as to reduce consumption. Part of the answer lies in continuously educating the citizenry on water being a depleting resource, the need to engage in ground water recharge and the need to clean and optimize the use of the city's water bodies. With tools such as interactive apps, websites and online forums this is doable.
Infosys recognized early the need to conserve water. Our water strategy is based on the 3R's, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. This has enabled us to reduce water consumption at all our campuses by 41% between 2007 and 2016. We managed this significant achievement through a number of methods. Our new buildings are constructed to be super-efficient, and have water-efficient fixtures and pressure compensating aerators to optimize water consumption. While older building are retrofitted for water harvesting.
We have also adopted a 'zero-waste water discharge' policy. This means that all grey water on the campus is treated at our onsite sewage treatment plant, and reused in toilets, cooling towers and landscaping. This has enabled us to create an 85 acres green area that complements our architecture and allows local fauna to flourish.
We have also implemented rooftop rainwater harvesting and surface runoff harvesting, and have over 50 recharge wells on our Bangalore campus, with a capacity of approximately 2.5 million liters/day for groundwater recharge.
Through our pro-environment initiatives, not just on water but on energy too, we seek to influence our 2, 00,000 employees to be responsible citizens, take the message of conservation not just to their home, but their community as well and become conscious catalysts of change.