Sustainability careers for Youth and how to get there

By Saurabh Nanda

What is common among Janhavi Raut, a 12th class psychology student from St Xavier’s Junior College in Mumbai, Devesh Arora, a final year Economics Honours student from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and Tavishi Kumar, a Judicial Services aspirant from Jalandhar who finished her law studies a few years ago from NALSAR Hyderabad? They all participated in the recently concluded (8th and 9th Sep 2021) Sustainable Environment: Challenges and Opportunities (SECO) ( SECO_Brochure_050821_77410.pdf) national conference organised by National Institute of Technology (NIT), Jalandhar. Janhavi presented her paper on “Biomedical Waste Generated Due to Covid-19 in India”, Devesh on “Report on Plastic Waste Generation in India” and Tavishi on “Plastic Waste Management in India”. Janhavi and Devesh’s papers jointly won the best paper presented award even though the conference was full of papers from researchers from IITs, NITs and other universities from all over India. Tavishi’s paper received a special mention after the presentation and was applauded for its research methodology and depth of research. Janhavi, being just a 12th class student, was highly appreciated for her efforts and courage. The chair during her presentation, Dr Uma Shanker from NITJ asked Janhavi to reach out to him through email or phone for guidance for any future research that she undertakes. Janhavi’s paper pointed out the gross under-estimation of bio-medical waste generated by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) especially during the second wave of COVID-19 in India earlier this year, and how most states in India are under-equipped to manage Bio-medical waste. Devesh’s paper highlighted the lack of data related to plastic waste generated in India. In fact, there has been no consolidated report generated by the CPCB after 2018-19. Tavishi’s paper provided a legal perspective on the lack of implementation of the 2016 plastic ban with recommendations for the 2021 plastic ban which was announced in August. These 3 are research interns at the Action Group Against Plastic Pollution (AGAPP) NGO based out of Jalandhar, Punjab. An NGO which was founded in August 2020 to fight the incessant, unignorable and pathetic plastic pollution situation in Jalandhar and Punjab. It is run by doctors, lawyers, psychologists, educators and other professionals across Jalandhar. They are doing what they know how to do best – using their brains and networks to try and find solutions to the crisis and in the process empowering the youth through academic research, among other things, towards sustainability. Why are these students and young professionals taking out time to do detailed secondary research into areas which are not directly connected to their work or studies? They are doing so because they are fed up of the status quo on climate change and greenwashing. They learn a lot about pollution, the environment and human rights in school and university but the real world is aeons away from realising any of the virtues laid down by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals ( The youth are ready to work but they do not get the appropriate mentorship and forums to voice their concerns. Prince Charles reiterated the same thoughts in June this year when he was discussing the findings of the ‘Future of Work’ international research report, curated by the Prince’s Trust and HSBC. The report finds that 85 per cent of Indian youth are interested in a green job, despite only 4 per cent having their main job in the sector, and 84 per cent of Indian youth surveyed believe their generation can create solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges. [ Read more at: utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst ] And when the youth do not get direct opportunities, they make their own. Lockdown learners, an initiative led by the UNODC South Asia office’s Samarth Pathak under the Education for Justice or E4J campaign, has allowed student voices from all over India to highlight their concerns over environmental degradation and lack of rights in creative ways such as rap songs and peer learning through WhatsApp. Sanjhi Sikhiya in Punjab is encouraging Punjabi youth to get back to their roots and help in uplifting education in rural Punjab. Students from schools like Kamla Nehru Public School, Phagwara, Millennium School Amritsar, La Blossoms Jalandhar, St Marks New Delhi and HMV Collegiate Senior Secondary School in Jalandhar have sent more than 700 emails to our leaders in the government, pollution boards and research organisations to work towards reducing plastic waste generation and better plastic waste management in the last 6 months. Delhi University students volunteering at the Enactus Societies in their respective colleges are working towards creating community led social entrepreneurship models for solving complex problems like pollution. Project Pravah from Enactus SSCBS and Project Neev from Enactus Gargi are 2 such examples. University students from Japan working with YUNGA Japan are trying to create more awareness around SDGs and acute problems like food security and climate change. And we have all seen teenagers talking incessantly about mental health on social media, especially since last year. They also want to talk a lot about gender gap, pornography, gender sensitisation, LGBTQIA+ rights and sex education but unlike mental health, and tragically so, the Indian society has not started warming up to these issues yet. These are just some of the initiatives that are letting youth participate in sustainability. But the challenge is that most of these activities are done in isolation and are not able to scale up operations to achieve critical mass. SDGs can only be achieved if systemic changes can be brought about. Indian education systems have multiple challenges that they need to overcome before they can aptly guide our students toward sustainability. Shuttling between below average, namesake extra curricular activities and high academic pressure at the school and tuitions, students don’t get time to explore themselves and develop their passion for sustainability. The teachers are over-worked so they aren’t able to provide the accurate scientific knowledge on sustainable practices. They are not able to bridge the gaps that students confront between the sustainability knowledge that they receive at school and the societal challenges outside school. Most schools and universities’ leadership is focussed on the economical function of education, I.e., to make students capable enough to secure well-paying careers and even though most institutes fail in this endeavour, they continue promoting that brand of education. All this leads to a confused, demotivated and unwilling youth population which is scared to take a leap into sustainability as they don’t know what they can do in the field. Sustainability careers do not just mean activism. It means research into every aspect of our commerce, governance and society. This means hundreds of new impact careers, needing millions of young professionals, be it in psychology, environment conservation, international advocacy, energy, politics, green finance, space exploration, circular economy and more. One of the most popular definitions of Sustainability talks about – meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. There can a bit of a grey area here. The youth today, are they part of the future generations or the present? Young people defined as Youth by the UN, fall into the 15-24 years bracket and account for around 16% of the world population. If we include all children and young people under the age of 24, we are looking at 40% of the world population and if we extend this to people under the age of 35, which includes me, we have close to 60% of the world’s population. But are the young people of the world being given the right to decide their own destiny? Chances are that you have heard of or know quite a bit about Great Thunberg, the amazing young climate change activist from Sweden. But have you heard of Licypriya Kangujam or Shreya Chawla or Ramveer Tanwar from India? These youth change makers have to be and are the inspiration we need to learn from as Janhavi, Devesh and Tavishi have. Dr Navneet Bhullar, founder of AGAPP and a volunteer at Medicine sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders), says “Today, impatience is a virtue.” So pick a cause, learn about it, get connected to others working in the field, and, start working – by researching, volunteering, creating awareness. Get Angry, Ask Questions, Find Answers, Don’t wait for others to help you out, Build your career in sustainability

Saurabh Nanda
Director, SN Mentoring, a career mentorship firm which mentors students and young professionals for their best fit career pathways. He has addressed close to 20000 students, parents, educators across India, Japan and Denmark in hundreds of schools and colleges in the last 10 years. He is the official mentor for students at Enactus Gargi, Enactus SSCBS in DU, NIT Jalandhar, PIMS Jalandhar and YUNGA Japan. He is an ardent supporter of the SDGs and is the Joint Secretary of Action Group Against Plastic Pollution (AGAPP), an NGO based out of Jalandhar, Punjab.