Binita Shah, India: A little application of science and training can bring about a sea change
The 28-year-old environmental scientist Binita Shah is a 2010 winner of the International Green Talents Competition, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and supported by the United Nations University, Bonn. Shah has a master’s degree in Environmental Science from the Institute of Environment Education and Research at Bharati Vidyapeeth University in Pune, India, and is presently working in the area of Environment Impact Assessment and Green Building facilitation. She explores environmental management approaches that reconcile economics and the environment during urban planning – all in an effort to achieve sustainable urban development.
UNU: Why did you choose to become a scientist?
Binita: I am the first postgraduate in my family. I come from a socio-economic background that has allowed me to directly experience urbanization in Mumbai. I have always had the conviction that science has the answers to many of the issues faced by people from all social strata who call a diverse city like Mumbai home. I have been fascinated by many of the values and cultural ethos in rural India which have sustainable development practices at their core. A little application of science and training can bring about a sea change in the livelihood of the toiling masses of rural India. As a scientist I do believe that I can play this role.
UNU: How does your research contribute to sustainability?
Binita: There is a lot of awareness and concern in responsible corporations that want to embrace principles of sustainable development. The consulting industry, which is typically involved in one aspect of sustainable development, does not have broad enough based expertise to address all the issues pertaining to sustainable development. The technologies are also like moving targets that continuously evolve with innovation springing up literally from every nook and corner of the world. My first step would be to create a “Cloud Computing” based collaborative framework that seamlessly integrates the experience and expertise of the global sustainable development community. The scheme below demonstrates the three pillars on which Holistic Sustainable Development Model (HSDM) will be based on. The horizontal arrow not only emphasizes the integration across the three “silos” but also signifies a collaborative framework that facilitates peer review of the ideas and technologies in the field of sustainable development.
Binita: My principal motivation to do research stems from my passion to stop the mindless plundering of the environment in the name of development and at the same time celebrate responsible development. Unfortunately current mechanisms, be it EIA/EMP, Green Building Certification Systems, or Carbon Credits Systems, are all too shallow in their definition of sustainable development, therefore fundamentally flawed. Hence, I intend to evolve a domain-centric Holistic Sustainable Development Model (HSDM) that will be anchored (as the name itself suggests) on solid principles of Holistic Sustainable Development.
UNU: In your field, what would you state as a realistic goal and how would it be possible to achieve it?
Binita: The definition of sustainable development itself needs a clear metric-based qualitative and quantitative framework. A suggestive monetization system could potentially become the bedrock for widespread adoption of the framework. The monitoring, review and verification mechanism, however, will be initially outside the immediate research objective, but will be an integral part of the framework architecture.
Green Talents Competition
UNU: What motivated you to participate in the Green Talents competition?
Binita: My first international exposure came with the GTZ-DAAD summer school on “Sustainable Development”. Till then I had imprisoned my thought processes within the narrow confines of my self-prescribed “Green Building Philosophy”. It provided me an opportunity not only to learn, appreciate and internalize the human side to sustainable development, but also gave me the first exposure to international diverse, multi-cultural, cross-functional teams that broadened my horizon of thinking. It was for the first time I realized the important role that cross-pollination plays when we interact with people from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds within the sustainable development domain. The people-to-people interaction also resulted in removing a lot of myths from a “cultural” perspective and did provide a great launching pad for me to sustain myself if I ever visited Germany. I had grossly underestimated the power of people-to-people interaction in a multi-cultural framework. I am, in fact, even baffled when I observe how my mother who does not speak German and my non-Hindi speaking boyfriend David, can not only interact, but also develop a lasting relationship.
UNU: What would you like to see in Germany?
Binita: The entire array of institutions that was presented to the winners of the Green Talents competition was impressive. Each of them had the expertise and the focus that not only broadened the horizon of a sustainable development researcher, but also impressed upon each one of us the power of technology and its applications. The Holistic Sustainable Development model (HSDM) that I am currently working on requires these diverse yet interrelated case studies of emerging technologies – the common thread being sustainable development. India, on the other hand, has its own set of development constraints.
UNU: What institutions based in Germany would you like to work with?
Binita: There are three institutions that I am very keen in evolving a long-term partnership with, particularly due to the area of my research. The first and the foremost is the United Nations University due to its multilateral linkages that can help establish a network of domain experts in the sustainable development space among member countries. The sustainable development model that I am currently working on is a huge project, and it is difficult to encompass all aspects of the model within a finite time frame. The purpose of this initiative is to develop a framework and demonstrate a test case application – one at the micro level and another at the macro level. Thereafter, it would be left to the sustainable development community to add value to this knowledge base and to further promote work/research in a focused and integrated manner. In this context, two institutions can help me significantly in my research goals: the University of Cologne and the University of Jena. I was personally very impressed with the work done by Prof. Frauke Krass from the University of Cologne and her expertise ideally fits into one micro dimension of my HSDM initiative. Prof. Albert Flugel from the University of Jena has a macro-perspective. His expertise in modeling entire ecosystems of a region ideally fits into the Macro Model of the HSDM initiative.
Oksana Buranbaeva (buranbaeva[at]vie.unu.edu)
Jessica Rosenfeld contributed to this article.
Contest winners shine with green talent in Our World 2.0
Tags: Beautiful Minds, climate change, development, Environment, Green Talents, Green Talents Competition, India, international research cooperation, Mumbai, outstanding young scientists, research for sustainability, science, sustainability research, sustainable development, UNU, UNU-ViE