The Indian Youth and the Sustainability Challenge

Posted on May 6, 2010 in Environment

Gorky Tyagi:

India is already one of the largest economies in the world, and will continue its rapid urbanization and economic development over the next few decades. This is a cause for celebration, but one tempered by the recognition of challenges this growth presents: rising consumption and demand for energy, increasing green house emissions, and constraints on critical natural resources such as land, water and oil. Like all other countries, India needs to find a way to ensure energy and environment sustainability without compromising its economic and social development. Despite India’s strong policy framework and some successes, environmental degradation has not been arrested on a large scale. By 2030, India is likely to have a G.D.P of USD 4 trillion and a population of 1.5 billion. This will swell demand for critical resources such as coal and oil with a parallel increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Considering that 80% India of 2030 is yet to be built, the country may have a unique opportunity to pursue development while managing emission growth, enhancing its energy security and creating a few world scale clean-technology industries.

In order to make this dream of a ‘Green Prosperous India’ come true, country will have to rely on its most valuable asset, its youth. Global issues are not solved within the four walls of a scientist’s laboratory. They need to be brought to the knowledge of an average individual. And informing youth is the best way to begin. Many of the best ideas come from young minds; the Indian youth is, and must be, the builder of a new society. Currently 42% of the population of India is composed of people aged between 15-35 years and in the next 30 years the figure will touch 55% mark. In India, a growing democracy with a complex and diverse society, the challenge is to ensure that this huge cohort becomes a vibrant, constructive force that can address social issues and create a more just, equitable and peaceful world. Rather than see young people merely as a passive recipients of services and consumers, it is critical to recognize them as change agents who have the energy, passion and creativity to make a significant contribution to society while also building their skills for the future. While every segment of society is responsible for maintaining the environmental integrity of the community, young people must have a special interest in maintaining a healthy environment because they will be the ones to inherit it.

Environmental issues present some of the most profound and complex challenges requiring attention today and in the coming decades.

One foundation-building step in enhancing local, regional, national and global capacities to respond to those challenges is increasing environmental awareness. Here the role of youth is central, for it is in the rising generations that heightened awareness can most easily be achieved. Awareness is not about telling people what will happen. Rather it is about personalizing it and telling them how it could impact their lives. Young educated people are especially well-placed to promote environmental awareness simply because they often have better access to information about the environment than do their elders. In part this is a matter of having being exposed to more environmental education in schools and living all their lives in an era in which environmental issues have loomed large. Established anti-ecological ways of thinking and behaving are not ingrained in young people, and they can introduce fresh ideas and outlooks to issues. Youth can undertake public awareness programs in their schools, nearby communities and rural neighborhoods to spread awareness.

The participation of youth in environmental protection can be sought at levels and locations ranging from grass-roots activism and participation in conservation projects to policy-making bodies and NGOs. The role of youth can be institutionalized in policy-making through advisory bodies such as youth councils. Many national Governments have ministries or departments with “youth affairs” as part of their portfolio, though such offices tend to view youth as a population to be addressed by public policy (often “youth affairs” is part of the education ministry), rather than a resource to be tapped for participation in policy-making in a variety of areas, including the environment. The role of NGOs has become increasingly institutionalized, so the youth can join various NGOs. There are possibilities for youth participation in practical environmental projects. Even one’s everyday life- and particularly the consumption decisions made in it- can become an “environmental project”.

The Government also has some duties which it is should undertake in order to strengthen participation of youth in the protection, preservation and improvement of the environment. Integration of environmental education and training into education and training programs is one of them. Emphasis should be given to environmental education in school curricula. The participation of youth groups in gathering environmental data and in understanding ecological systems and actual environmental action should be encouraged as a means of improving both their knowledge of the environment and their personal engagement in caring for the environment. It should also focus on enhancing the role of the media as a tool for widespread dissemination of environmental issues to youth. Governments should establish procedures allowing for consultation and possible participation of youth of both genders in decision-making processes with regard to the environment, at the local, national and regional levels.

In addition to these some more initiatives need to be taken at schools in order to develop an interest of the children towards the environment. Through posters, slogan writing, puppet shows, street plays, and similar traditional media we can spread the message of Green Environment – A Sustainable Environment. Eco Clubs can run campus-wide campaigns to promote water and energy conservation, organize national intercollegiate recycling competitions, energy conservation contests and annual celebratory events like Earth Day and Environment Day. We can also have an Each One Teach One program where each student imparts life skills to at least one individual from the under privileged section of the society. Through this personalized interaction, messages on eco friendly strategies are imparted which are localized to the community. These campaigns can give heartening results. A campaign by the school students for the students – Say No to Crackers was launched in Delhi some years back. It has made a significant decrease in the pollution levels of the city, as the youth and children have voluntarily decided to boycott the use of crackers and celebrate a smoke free and noise free Diwali. Anticipating the possibility of load shedding in the summer of 2007, young green entrepreneurs in Mumbai embarked on a Save Power Campaign called ―I Will and Mumbai Will. These activities were initiated to educate and motivate the consumers to switch over to CFL lamps which, in partnership with Phillips India, were made available to consumers at discounted rates. Consumers were appealed, through advertisements in Leading Newspapers, to operate their washing machines and other electric gadgets at non-peak hours and set their air-conditioners to 240 C and thus join the Conservation Campaign. This was backed up with Awareness Programs on Energy Conservation and Electrical Safety held in schools and colleges. Visits of children from schools to thermal power station at Trombay were organized. The contents of all the awareness programs focused on the need for energy conservation, easy to follow tips on conserving energy and precautions to be taken while using electric gadgets to avoid accidents. Such initiatives were replicated in various states of India and have led to green entrepreneurship.

Considering that today’s youth will be the tomorrow’s green entrepreneurs we need to cultivate moral and ethical values regarding business and the environment. The establishment and design of companies, without taking into account the impact that they will have on the environment, is what the present generation of young green entrepreneurs must avoid. Our companies must, to a large extent, be accountable for the pollution that they generate. We cannot continue to think, as we have done until now, that the responsibility for keeping the environment healthy and free of garbage is the exclusive purview of the State. It is not enough to label our packages with phrases such as let us protect the environment, recyclable container, and environmentally responsible company. We must instead contribute a part of our capital, along with the State, to developing clean technologies.


In the end, the Indian Youth serves as a beacon of light in ending the environment crisis. They can serve as an effective force in encouraging people to redo their lifestyles and prod stakeholders to make a concrete plan of action. A well-thought framework, strong research armor and a concerted effort among different youth-led initiatives are key steps to strengthen the youth‘s influence in society. Through these, the Indian Youth will be ready to step up to the sustainability challenge.

photo credit: