Awareness campaigns, practical solutions, conservation initiatives and more… Through the IIT Sustainability Network, students show the steps they have taken to make IIT-M a model campus

Among the most prominent green patches in the city is the IIT-Madras campus in Adyar. Deer graze under its forest-like canopy, spotted owls inhabit the trees and the temperature is cooler. But a few years ago, the students realised that the campus was going through a sustainability crisis. To spread awareness and create a model campus, the alumni and students of the college began the IIT Sustainability Network (SNET) five years ago.

Fighting plastic

One of the major reasons was the abundance of plastic. “The deer were eating the plastic,” says Adithya V.S., who works with the Engagement core team. “There is a separate group of students that takes care of the plastic waste in the campus, but SNET is also a great platform to create awareness.” The network talks about concepts such as energy efficiency, water management and Nature, and has made sure that the corridor lights are switched to LED, Earth Hour is observed at different hostels, and is requesting campus restaurants and snack joints to shift from plastic to paper or stainless steel. The students also conduct workshops on sustainability issues and beach clean-ups.

Getting technical

This year, however, the group has evolved from its awareness-spreading role to a more technical and active one. “Three years ago, we did our first energy audit, where we calculated how efficiently we used power, water and other resources within the campus. From this year on, it will be an annual report. We are also concentrating on a lot of technical projects,” says T.P. Sanjay, who is on the Technical Affairs team. “We’re working on a prototype of a device that can measure waste-water toxicity. Other solar-power projects are also happening on the side.” The students hope that once the prototypes are tested, they could be used outside the campus as well.

SNET is directly under the Dean of Students and runs on four teams with 32 members. All members are students of the institute. “Our hope is to make IIT completely plastic-free in five years. It would then serve as a model campus for educational institutes in the country,” says Adithya. “The waste management system here is not efficient. We’re planning to introduce recycling and waste segregation at the grassroots level by bringing in separate dustbins soon.”

Apart from this, there are debates under different themes every month. A Sustainability Summit is held at the end of every academic year. “We invite alumni in companies that work with renewable energy. The summit has lectures, workshops and other activities. We’ve had good participation so far.”

But how easy is it to realise sustainability goals in a campus as big as the IIT? “Having a campus this size is an advantage, really,” says Sanjay. “It serves as a pilot model that can be copied. We have a heterogeneous mix of people here and so it’s relatively easy to achieve some goals.” Adithya feels small initiatives will lead to bigger things. “We’re trying to expand and collaborate with other colleges, possibly from next year, and we also want to introduce a cycle-sharing system. We’ve submitted a proposal for this,” he says.

And the members themselves do their bit for the campus. “We avoid taking elevators as much as possible and also promote using cycles in the campus. We also take our own water bottles and containers everywhere so that we needn’t use plastic. And we always make sure we switch off the lights when we’re leaving a room,” says Adithya.