We spoke with Pavan, Environmental Science Undergraduate and Co-Founder of Sustainable Water Use, Birmingham
What is your ethnic and academic background?
I am Punjabi and before starting university I spent a year working as an Agriculture Relationship Management Apprentice at Barclays. I am now in my second year of a BSc (Hons) Environmental Science at the University of Birmingham and am co-founder of Sustainable Water Use Birmingham – an environmental action campaign that began on an environmental leadership programme with an organisation called Uprising.
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?
I grew up watching documentaries by David Attenborough which made me interested in the natural world and climate change.
These experiences guided me to studying environmental science which explores environmental pollution, climate change and effective environmental management.
Can you tell me about any specific interests you have within your degree?
I have a specific interest in UK water security issues. Not many people know that by 2050 the UK won’t have enough water to meet its demands. It’s such an important issue that will affect the population, yet it’s often forgotten about.
I am also interested in ways of measuring sustainability. Carbon footprints are commonly used as a measure of sustainability which provides companies with a single number to work with. This is a risk as it may mean other important issues regarding sustainability aren’t considered such as ecosystem services. Hopefully, over the next few years measuring and modelling these services will become more advanced.
Can you tell us a bit more about water pollution and the campaign you’ve launched?
Our campaign aims to spread awareness of how important water sustainability is and share simple tips to help people use water more carefully. We’ve got Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well as a website where we post blogs, share resources and highlight ways people and businesses can reduce their water consumption. On our website there is an e-toolkit focused on ways businesses can incorporate water saving features into their offices.
Recently, we held a webinar event with the UNESCO chair of water science, David Hannah, about the UK water crisis, patterns of drought within the UK and how we can reduce demand on water supplies through some simple measures. We hope to collaborate with more universities, by collaborating with their respective student union and professors within hydrology to spread awareness of the water crisis.
What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?
Starting the environmental action campaign called Sustainable Water Use Birmingham. Particularly, having to start and run the campaign over lockdown. This campaign has brought my team and I closer to those working within the water industry and it is inspiring to see the work that is already being done within the sector to address the issue.
The campaign has also taught me the power of social media. We have had interest in the campaign from professors and those working within the water industry through the power of social media. It’s made working with people across the country feasible and we hope to engage with an even wider audience over the coming year.
Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for stepping into this relatively unfamiliar academic path from family, friends or society at large?
None of my family work in the industry so there was some confusion regarding what my degree involved and the career prospects following it. To this date my grandmothers don’t know what I do which makes talking about what I do difficult! However, with the increasing public and political interest in environmental issues, it’s an area more people are able to understand and career prospects are increasing so it’s easier to justify to family.
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?
I think there is a language barrier to explain the concepts surrounding climate change and sustainability especially amongst the older generation. However, from my experience the older generation already live quite sustainably opting for public transport and generally being vegetarians.
You touched on finding a barrier with your grandma when it came to her understanding your degree. What’s the best way to change this?
I have shown her some of the work I have done whilst on my course.
I think this approach is a good way of raising awareness of environmental issues as it can clearly show the impact of human activities.
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?
My course mates are vegetarian, and they have inspired me to change my diet. I became a vegetarian 3 months ago and believe it’s something I will continue.
Running the water campaign has meant I am more conscious of the water I use in the household, so I ordered water saving fittings from my water supplier South Staffs water. This includes a low flow shower head, shower timers and cistern displacement devices. Everyone can order their own by going to their water supplier’s website and signing up for a free box of fittings.
Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference?
One way of reducing your carbon and water footprint is by using water saving fittings. These can be ordered for free and only take a few minutes to fix.
Becoming vegetarian is another way of reducing your carbon and water footprint. The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-eaters.
Both these methods are inexpensive and are accessible to all who wish to lead more sustainable lives.
What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?
The environment is a growing industry with different areas to suit peoples varying interests. Looking forward, we will need inventive ways of measuring and tracking the sustainability of companies, transport, diets and fashion which makes it an exciting time to get involved.
What’s it like studying and looking for job opportunities in the environmental industry?
There is so much happening within the industry it can be difficult to keep up with it all. I like to attend webinars and read journal articles that the professional bodies I have signed up to produce. This is important, especially when it comes to job applications as you need to have a strong understanding of sustainability, climate resilience and UK net zero for all jobs within the industry.
In terms of job opportunities, I find that there is a lot of volunteering within the industry but not as many paid internships. Recently I have been applying for summer internships and I have found a few in environmental consultancy roles which is great to see. The industry is competitive, but I am hoping that more companies start to offer sustainability roles over the next few years.
Website for Pavan’s campaign: https://www.sustainablewateruse.co.uk/
Connect with her on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/pavankaurbains