Quest for Global Sustainable Development

by Shaun May, EIT

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

I am always looking for innovative approaches to achieve sustainability. In late 2014, I wrote an article exploring energy efficiency and energy conservation strategies used in Europe. From broad-level policies and government funding to net-zero energy design strategies and support for transportation modal share, many European countries maintain a strong stance for sustainability. In early 2015, I followed up with another article, which looked at exciting sustainability developments here in the greater Seattle area. From updates to our energy code to the action plan laid out by the Office of Sustainability and Environment, we discovered that our region is also playing a leading role in the sustainability movement.

I recently attended a presentation put on by the World Affairs Council, a non-profit organization that “provide[s] opportunities for everyone in greater Seattle to be a global citizen by advancing a deep understanding of international events and culture.” The theme of the presentation was “Global Sustainable Development,” and featured Dr. R. Chidambaram as the speaker and Ambassador (Ret.) Asif Chaudry, Vice President for International Programs at Washington State University as the moderator.

Dr. Chidambaram is the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet, and Chairman of the High-Level Committee for the National Knowledge Network. His presentation focused on the role of science, technology, and innovation in setting, managing, and achieving sustainable development goals in India and around the world. Many technology strategies he discussed echoed my own research findings. Following the presentation, I had an opportunity to chat with another attendee about fundamental concepts in education and empowerment that help drive sustainability forward: all change happens as a result of understanding plus conscious effort on the part of individuals, communities, and countries.

I very much enjoyed the presentation and was given the opportunity to ask a question! I’d like to share my thoughts and takeaways from this presentation here with you. Let’s dive in!

Shaun May stands up to ask a question at the World Affairs Council presentation on Global Sustainable Development. Photo source: World Affairs Council blog

Shaun May stands up to ask a question at the World Affairs Council presentation on Global Sustainable Development. Photo source: World Affairs Council blog

Empowering Technologies

Dr. Chidambaram highlighted many facets of promoting global sustainable development and cautioned that there is no one “cookie cutter” solution to this great challenge of our time. He outlined India’s capacity to develop and produce groundbreaking scientific and sustainable technology. He explained that India is united with other nations in sharing information and sustainable technology breakthroughs. He urged the United States to partner with India to expand our joint spheres of influence and encourage sustainability in growing economies.

Solar and nuclear power generation are on the rise in India. Dr. Chidambaram reiterated the value of building diverse energy generation portfolios, including nuclear (soft and hard water), solar, and coal (with reduced emissions). He also featured eight established and emerging technologies that could empower a sustainable India: mobile internet, cloud technology, automation of the knowledge network through smartphones and apps, digital payment capability, verifiable digital identity, the Internet of Things movement, intelligent transportation and smart grid technology, and advanced geographic information systems (GIS). Currently, many of these technologies have low adoption rates yet could potentially grow exponentially over the next 10 years. For example, there are currently around 370 million mobile internet users in India, and this figure is expected to rise to between 700-900 million by 2025. Additionally, smart grid technology currently accounts for less than 1% of India’s power grid and by 2025 that percentage could be 60-80%.

He also introduced the mission of the National Knowledge Network (NKN). This organization is focusing on creating a secure and reliable communication infrastructure that will improve access to knowledge throughout India. Their plan is currently based on a fiber optic network that can scale and adapt to future requirements.

Education and Empowerment

After Dr. Chidambaram’s presentation, I had a follow-up discussion with a fellow attendee. We talked about his home in India and discussed energy conservation challenges. Our discussion turned to what individuals can do to help promote conservation. He spoke of a “sourceful structure” approach to increase energy conservation: educate women about energy conservation, empower them, and encourage them to educate their children in kind. This solution (education and empowerment) is integral to the source of information sharing from women to their children. The next generation carries on lessons learned again and again. General education for women is a vital global movement. It was enlightening to hear him identify women’s empowerment as integral to the sustainability movement.


We will continue our sustainability dialogue. Sustainability includes development, integration, and optimization of new technology, and how we go about it makes all the difference. From this presentation, I took away a sense of something bigger than myself, bigger than my relationships, bigger than my organization, even bigger than society. My hope is that we share our lessons learned worldwide. Global sustainable development calls for our participation and the participation of everyone we do and do not know. I will continue to educate myself and empower those around me with this awareness, and I encourage you to do the same! See you at the next discussion.

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