Stop the brain drain!!

Stewart Anthony, of the Centre for Environment and Safety Management for Business reports on a project to use academic consultancy skills to help prevent a 'brain drain' from developing nations.

In June 2004 two staff from the Centre for Environment and safety Management for Business at Middlesex University visited Gujarat in India to look at the twin issues of environmental degradation and educational support to try to identify the potential for future help and improvements.

Because of the rapid industrialisation, which has occurred in recent years, the owners and managers of most businesses have a very poor appreciation of the environmental impact caused by their activities. This is further exacerbated by the reluctance, or inability, to invest in more modern technologies which could improve matters and by the Universities producing students with a reasonable theoretical knowledge of their subject but weak practical abilities and where the topic of the environment in relation to their studies is almost non-existent. However, the Supreme Court has recently decided to make environmental education a compulsory module of studies at all levels of studies in the country.

It has been well reported that there is a strong current trend towards sourcing goods, products and services from Asia in general and India is in the forefront of this supply chain. The transfer of ‘call centre’ jobs to India is the latest in this trend. The extent to which purchasers in the west check out the environmental performance of their suppliers in India is questionable. At the same time there is a huge demand from students in India to access educational courses in U.K. and U.S. universities thus resulting in a drift of money from India to the West, effectively the wrong direction and demoralising for Universities in India.

CESMB, a specialist training and research centre within Middlesex University which has over ten years experience of helping SME’s is developing a project which will work with Universities in Gujarat to build a similar specialist training and research Centre in collaboration with them that will offer training and practical experiences to students from the University whilst assisting the SME’s to improve their environmental performance.

Indian industries are faced with a range of environmental legislation which, though of long standing, tends to be powerfully implemented by the courts. A few years ago, environmental awareness was very poor in businesses as well as local communities. However, over the past few years, businesses have been made to respond to the environmental challenge due to increasingly stricter legislation. E.g. A new Supreme Court legislation now requires any polluting business to carry out an environmental audit at a regular intervals (twice a year).

There is also increasingly strict monitoring by local Pollution Control Boards. For not being legislatively compliant, local Pollution Control Boards shut down several industries which caused both large and small business to examine their environmental performance very carefully. Those SMEs who have strong technological base, international business outlook, competitive spirit and willingness to restructure themselves tend to withstand these challenges, but the multitude of other businesses who do not have these advantages are struggling to improve.

Local Community groups have also played a big role in the environmental improvement in businesses over the past few years. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is for Protection of life and personal liberty and says, ” No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Local communities are translating the ‘ right to life’ of article 21 as the ‘ right to a clean environment’ and using lawyers to take cases of environmental pollution through the courts and thus placing pressure on polluting businesses. One of the pre-cursors for this move was the Bhopal tragedy in 1984 where the Union Carbide plant caused horrific injuries to many of the adjacent communities.

It is therefore clear that as India moves towards greater industrialisation increasing pressure is being put on their businesses to perform to better environmental standards. This pressure is either coming from the purchasers in the West, or from local communities near their plants but without expertise and assistance to help these businesses improve their performance progress is likely to be slow.

Because of growing awareness of CSR in the world, Indian businesses are also taking more and more interest to achieve all human rights and high environmental standard but they will do better if they can be given help similar to that which we have become used to in the U.K.

By Stewart Anthony

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie