The Air Pollution Menace and How Avaya is Fighting It

The business communications software, systems and services player provides insights on how enterprises in India, with the help of modern day technologies, can reduce growing pollution levels in the country.

November is the cruelest month and winter, the worst of seasons, breeding smog episodes in India’s capital at a level unheard of elsewhere on this planet. Globally, if three consecutive days report ‘severe’ (worst category) air pollution on the air quality index, then that qualifies as ‘smog.’ November 2015 had 73 per cent of days in severe category. And in 2015 winter alone, Delhites have seen 11 such episodes, according to a study by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a city-based public interest think tank. Alarming levels of toxic air in Delhi is  prompting authorities into crisis actions like the odd and even system, in which a private car and two-wheeler will be allowed to run on the streets on alternate days depending on whether its license number ends in an even or odd number. A 15-day trial run of this vehicle rationing plan has just concluded on January 15. In some ways, it might be comforting to think that Indian cities are not nearly as polluted as their peers in China but facts prove otherwise. A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) a little more than a year ago, says 13 of the top 20 cities with the most polluted air are from India. Delhi tops the list of 1,622 cities worldwide assessed by the international public health agency for PM2.5, a fine cancer-causing particle 2.5 micrometers across or less that can penetrate regions of our lungs. Meanwhile, very small ones can slip into the cardiovascular system, brain, etc. Delhi had 153 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter; contrast this with the WHO advisory of less than 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter. Along with Delhi, 13 other Indian cities also stand named and shamed to the ignoble list of the world’s most polluted urban dwellings. What’s more, more cities in India than in China see extremely high levels of air pollution. In terms of PM10 (particles smaller than or about 10 micrometers in diameter), Delhi’s stats are 28x more than what experts would typically consider safe. PM10 is responsible for bronchial and pulmonary health problems, and, in sum, the suspended particle in the air is the main culprit for diseases like lung cancer and respiratory diseases, heart conditions, strokes, premature births, birth defects, and premature death. Apart from shrinking lifespan, toxic air also takes the edge off workforce productivity. As medical cost soars, it brings an additional burden on the already-stretched national health spend. Still again, it’s not just Delhi that’s the problem. Even two Indian cities that met the national ambient air quality standards had air pollution levels at six times the levels prescribed by WHO. Overall, India crashed 32 places down the ladder in the global Environment Performance Index (EPI) rankings 2014 - where air pollution is a key parameter - to settle at a low of 155 among 178 nations! Indian cities owe their bad reputation for air quality to several factors. India is a diesel-guzzling republic; diesel accounts for about 42 percent of the country’s fossil fuel consumption. 42 percent of passenger vehicles sold in 2013-14 were diesel-powered ones that belch out large amounts of PM2.5 particles. Since 2012, diesel engine exhaust is being considered a “known carcinogen” for lung cancers. Seen in this light, the recent Supreme Court ban on the registration of diesel SUVs and high-end vehicles in excess of 2000cc in the capital city until March 31 makes eminent sense. Low emission standards in the country are also to blame. As things stand, Bharat Stage IV emission standard (based on Euro IV) applies only in a few cities while the rest of the country is still on Bharat Stage III (based on Euro III). On the emission standards front, there is a lot of catching up that India badly needs to do, so the government has recently decided to leapfrog to Bharat Stage VI (based on Euro VI) by 2020, skipping Stage V. This quantum jump calls for significant commitment from auto makers to produce Euro VI-compliant vehicles. Oil companies must upgrade refineries before they can start churning out superior Euro VI fuel. Despite that, this is a welcome move since it shows the potential to cut air pollution by particulate matter by as much as 90 percent. Other factors responsible for poor air quality include adulteration of higher-priced fuels with cheaper ones, vehicles burning fuel less efficiently at low speeds, diesel-fuelled generators in apartments, and coal-burning factories. At INR 37.20 per kg, compressed natural gas (CNG) for automobiles in Delhi is only 17 peercent cheaper than diesel at INR 45.27. In 2002-03, CNG was cheaper than diesel by about 46.71 percent. Lowering the price of CNG, billed as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels, will prove a shot in the arm for public transport buses, minibuses, taxis, and CNG cars. Rural India is not better off either in the matter of air quality. Animal dung fuel and kerosene stoves result in significant pollution, especially of indoor air, in rural homes. As electricity grid extends to India’s villages and rural households enjoy improved access to cleaner fuels (including biogas produced from animal dung), air pollution levels are expected to come down, notably. There are plenty of ways businesses can join this conversation, open some windows, and help clear the air we breathe. The journey, in my view, starts with a public disclosure of their greenhouse emissions. As Jack Cranfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series once said, “You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge.”  Year on year, they must share where they are on their carbon management journey. That kind of transparency ensures the difference between companies that do and don’t is stark. For example, UK-based CDP works with many large businesses, helping them put in place a carbon emission strategy. Adoption of videoconferencing systems, for instance, can help businesses cut air travel, air fares and hotel bills, not to speak of jet lag significantly. More importantly, it will reduce the environment impact of air travel. Because air travel produces far more emissions than road, rail or ship. Besides emissions at cruising altitudes (25,000-40,000 ft.) have a far more negative impact on climate change. Fuzzy, shaky and low-quality video images of the old days are out. And in comes high-definition crisp video with smooth user motion. Meeting in-person is largely about being able to see eye to eye and talk heart to heart. Contemporary video conferencing solutions mimic this in-person experience down to the last detail. Also, joining a video call is nothing complicated – even first-time users know that – and doesn’t require support from the IT team. With the latest solutions, participants can talk anytime, from any network (home or office or public network). No matter what device you are on – smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, you can engage your audience and communicate more clearly and effectively than before. The stats on greenhouse emissions saved by using conferencing systems is also pleasing to the ear. An MNC with revenues with more than 13,000 employees worldwide cut CO2 emissions by 46 percent and travel by 44 percent, within the first six months of adopting desktop and mobile videoconferencing systems across the business. During this time, more than 100,000 meetings were held, with over 310,000 participating. No doubt, transporting products by ship requires extra planning compared to air shipment. But a little planning can pay off not only by way of reduced cost of ocean transport but also through decreased greenhouse gas (e.g., CO2) emissions. Changing product design is another way to reduce space and packaging material. (Seemingly) little things can make a difference here. As an example, replacing the ‘U’-shaped foot stand of a telephone with a ‘T’-shaped one will allow the product to be shipped in smaller boxes. This means more phones can be shipped per pallet, the piece of equipment that enables the handling of stacked goods. The result is reduced air freight weight and ocean/truck freight space. In turn, this translates to a significant drop in CO2 emissions. It is difficult to pin down just what it is that drives a business to restyle a product in a certain way; it could be intuition, math, logic and what not. In case of another model of phone, maybe, a flip stand is seen to consume a lot of space. Why not, uninstall the stand and nest it in the package it was possible to reduce the package size by, say, x percent. Later at the site of installation, the stand can be very easily snapped in place. At Avaya, we ship 8 out of 10 products via ocean rather than high-emission air travel. Certainly, it demands of us some extra planning, but the positive effect is worth all that effort: Substantial reduction in transport costs. And what’s more, associated greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by as much as 47 times! (The author is Managing Director, India and SAARC, Avaya)


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