Winter School on Circular Economy

I left full time teaching at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1995. I started my consulting company Environmental Management Centre LLP (EMC) right after leaving IIT.  I had found that life at IIT was rather slow for me.

While I enjoyed my consulting work, I really missed “my” students and the classrooms. So, when Professor Anil Date of CTARA (Centre for Technology Alternatives in Rural Areas) asked me whether I could consider joining as Professor (Adjunct), I was delighted and readily said “YES!”. I remember Prof Devang Khakkar, then director of IIT, sent me a letter of appointment within a week. I was associated with CTARA between 2009 to 2017.

But just before rejoining IIT Bombay as Adjunct, I was thinking about how to meet the gap between what was taught on the campus and what was needed or expected, to be useful in practice. I devised an idea of a Finishing School on Environmental Management. I was worried whether the idea will be accepted since most Professors believe that they already know or do not need to know the “practice”. I thought of approaching NITIE (National Institute of Industrial Engineering), right on the Powai Lake opposite to the campus of IIT.

I designed the Finishing School for four days. It addressed topics that I thought were important but were not “sufficiently taught” in the academic curricula. Apart from the technical topics, I included sessions on soft skills such as how to write a CV, how to make presentations and how to face interviews etc. I got commitment of speakers who were in practice for several years but had an academic inclination. The program was not just for students but for young professionals as well.

Professor S D Awale was the director at NITIE. He loved the concept of Finishing School. We signed a MoU between my company EMC and NITIE. This was rather a rare gesture as in those days an academic institution would not generally sign up with a private firm. But I was grateful that Professor Awale made EMC an exception. The Finishing School was a great success.  In closing Prof Awale softly said, well Dr Modak, you probably trained my faculty in the process as well – but without saying explicitly so!

Taking this cue, in 2013, I partnered with NITK at Suratkal and ran a two-day Finishing School on Environmental Management for Teachers. My ex-student Prof Babunarayan was the coordinator. The School attracted several faculty members who traveled from remote locations in South India. The response was amazing. I remember the faculty were surprised when I included a session on how to set a question paper.

In the last two years, the subject of Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy is widely discussed in India. We have had few landmark publications by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, FICCI and Accenture, TERI and YES Bank, NITI Aayog and KPMG. I saw that a new canvas of opportunities was emerging. In late 2018, I was involved in drafting for NITI Aayog a Status Report on Resource Efficiency towards Circular Economy. At that time, I realized that holding a School about Circular Economy was needed to expand the envelop to include academia and research institutions. An idea of holding a 3-day Winter School on Circular Economy was born.

Just then my good friend Dr Fritz Balkau approached me whether I could join a 4-day Summer School on Life Cycle Assessment and Regional Circular Economy. This School was announced by the Forum for Sustainability though Life Cycle Initiative (FSLCI). For several years FSLCI has been organizing Summer Schools at different locations in Europe on themes centered around Life Cycle Assessment. This year the School was held in Berlin with a focus on Regional Circular Economy. Around 30 students had registered from different parts of the world, most doing their doctoral research. Few students who had just completed their PhDs had plans to start social enterprises in circular economy.

I attended the Summer School in Berlin, delivered a session and participated as a resource person. The experience was wonderful. There were presentations from experts (mostly by practitioners), group work based on case studies/scenarios and a short field visit. There was an ample opportunity for networking. Overall, it was really an enjoyable experience.  I got good inputs to design a Winter School on Circular Economy.

I spoke to Professor Indumathi at IIT Madras and Ms. K Saraswathi at the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI). Both readily agreed to partner. Discussions with them and my past experiences helped to come up with a three-day program for the Winter School.

This School will take place at IIT Madras between November 18-20. There will be around 20 experts who will make presentations, be on the panels and participate in the interactive sessions. On the first day we will make students understand the concept of Circular Economy and trace its evolution. This will be followed by an update on Policies and Programs that are expected to drive Circular Economy.

A group work on design thinking will be conducted that will expose the students on life cycle thinking that is perhaps a core to the understanding of circular economy. The idea of regional circular economy will be presented through a case study in Goa. During the three days, there will be thematic presentations on circularity in water, textiles and plastic. This will be a bit of deep diving.

To guide the students towards entrepreneurship, presentation will be made on Business Models followed by a Panel on Financing Circular Economy. A session will be organized to meet the Entrepreneurs where the students will get an opportunity to learn from the real stories.

I am optimistic that the School will set a model to address frontier topics that need engagement with multiple stakeholders on an academic campus.

Do visit our web page to download the brochures and the program outline. You are welcome to join by following online registration that is available on the same web page. We are looking for sponsors as we are keeping the registration fees low.

I wish we run such schools in India on different pressing topics – e.g. Integrating Climate Change in Environmental Impact Assessment. For an interdisciplinary subject of environment, a structured interaction between policy makers, practitioners and academia will make a difference. Teaching needs to be expanded to mentoring and learning should be more from case studies and group interactions. Perhaps a national program on summer and winter schools on environmental management will be a great value addition.

That’s my dream!

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  1. The objective and structure of the Winter school on CE looks very interesting and much needed.

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