Has the pandemic and the many lockdowns made Indian campuses environment friendly and greener?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. While there has been a significant drop in power consumption, waste generation and much more, the degree of reduction obviously varies
How have the universities across India used the lockdown to go green? (Pic: EdexLive)
How have the universities across India used the lockdown to go green? (Pic: EdexLive)

While life as we knew it shut down for over a year, we have seen many instances where nature took this time off to reboot. Educational institutions too have been shut for the longest time — it's been a little over a year and a half since there have been regular physical classes on campus. Has that helped the universities conserve energy, make a greener campus?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. While there has been a significant drop in power consumption because no regular classes are being held, the degree of reduction obviously varies across institutions. The Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT M) has seen a discernible difference in their energy consumption, said officials. "There was a significant reduction in energy consumption (electricity usage) in 2020-21 compared to 2018-19 and 2019-20 since most of the faculty and staff were working from home and most of the students returned home due to the lockdown," said the institute. While the energy consumption saw a spike from 2018-19 to 2019-20 of 1,17,025 kWh — a rise from 31,50,673.50 kWh to 32,67,698.50 kWh. But this saw a sudden drop the next year — 2020-21 — to 21,53,235 kWh. This was a massive drop of 34 per cent (11,14,463.5 kWh).

The OP Jindal Global University (JGU), in their Sustainable Development Report 2021, noted that they saw a huge drop of 1,13,98,000 kWh from 2019-20 to 2020-21 owing to the COVID-induced lockdown. While their electricity consumption rose from 1,26,06,000 kWh (2018-19) to 1,71,60,000 kWh (2019-20) — a 26.5 per cent increment — it dropped way beyond 2018-19 levels in the last year.

But not all organisations saw a drop, as such. While some came back to work at least for the administrative functions, others started online classes from campus due to various infrastructural benefits. "When the COVID lockdown hit us in early 2020, the Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management seamlessly moved its classes to online video platforms supported by our in-house created course apps. Hence, electricity and e-waste consumption dropped as everyone was working from home. However, as soon as we were allowed to open our offices with 30 per cent attendance by the end of 2020, our faculty preferred to come to campus to beam their lectures as we have better internet connectivity here. Hence, electricity consumption in 2020 and early 2021 dropped to two-thirds of its usual levels, but quickly came back to normal as full office attendance was allowed," said Dr Akhil Shahani, Managing Director, Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, Shahani Group and CEO, ask.Careers.

While JGU reported a drop in e-wastes by 3,795 kgs, IIT M said that this was too short a hiatus to have an effect on long-term factors like that. "e-waste comes from long-used items and is unlikely to be impacted by a few months of lockdown," said the institute. But the JGU, interestingly, has seen a huge increase in e-waste pre-pandemic. Their e-waste generation increased almost 7.5 times from just 1,000 kgs in 2018-19 to 7,440 kgs in just a year. The numbers came down drastically to 3,645 kgs in the pandemic year but that too is not a meagre amount.

While there was a decrease in solid waste generation because the hostels were closed, campuses that provide accommodation for their staff and faculty did not see a huge drop. "During the pandemic, all the hostels were closed. Hence, there was no garbage generated from the hostel zone in 2020-21. However, in the residential zone, there was no significant reduction in garbage generation," said IIT Madras officials.

IIT Madras said that they have used the last year and the lockdowns to increase green cover in the institute. Not that there was a dearth of greenery, given the institute is in the middle of a National Park. Literally! But planting trees is always good. "The institute has created additional lawns at its recently renovated Main Gate. A good number of trees have also been planted during the lockdown," said the officials. JGU also reported an increase in the total grass cover of the campus. In one year, they have increased their green cover by 3,880 square metres. "Mostly local plant species are planted to increase the survival rate of the plants. A green area or tree plantation around the university helps to arrest the effects of particulate matter and gaseous pollutants in the area, besides playing a major role in environmental conservation efforts," said the university.

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