Urvashi Bhatnagar: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability And The Environment
An Interview With Martita Mestey
Encourage outdoor activity! Fostering an appreciation for and interaction with the natural environment not only has health benefits but also helps nurture respect and love for the environment.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interview Urvashi Bhatnagar.
URVASHI BHATNAGAR, DPT, MBA is a healthcare executive whose career spans clinical care, research, advocacy and strategy and operations consulting for leading healthcare organizations. As a mission-driven population-health and sustainability expert, she has over a decade of healthcare leadership experience working with clients to advance health outcomes in underserved communities leveraging advanced analytics and strategy — to address barriers to care, advancing health equity, and improving access to life-altering high-quality care. Along with Paul Anastas, she is co-author of the new book The Sustainability Scorecard.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up between New Delhi, India where I spend the majority of my childhood, and lived in Long Island, NY for a brief period of time. Since I was a child, I was very interested in health and wellness. When I was five, I had an accident that required surgery and physical therapy. This interaction with the healthcare system gave me a profound respect for health and wellness at an early age, and I became interested in understanding how to improve access and delivery of high-quality care- especially to vulnerable populations.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
Early on in my career, I had the opportunity to complete my internship at St. Stephens Hospital in Delhi which was home to India’s only polio ward. It was run by Dr. Matthew Verghese, an incredible orthopedic surgeon who provided reconstructive surgery affected by the devastating impacts of polio and post-polio syndrome.
Eradication of polio globally since 2011 is still regarded as one of the most important public health achievements, but at the time that I was at the hospital, the disease was on the road to eradication. Most of the individuals that received care in the ward had post-polio syndrome or required reconstructive surgery to support their ongoing wellness, due to having had polio in their childhood. New cases were rare at best. However, Dr. Verghese’s perspective on care was holistic: he not only focused on surgery but designed care management to address social and environmental determinants of health and health equity and led robust public health efforts impacting wellness outside of orthopedics. Essentially, Dr. Verghese was addressing “whole person care” well before the global medical community recognized this as an imperative in more recent times. This internship and my direct interactions with Dr. Verghese’s instruction helped inform my perspective that human health and environmental health cannot be divorced from our economic activities.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
As my co-author, Dr. Paul Anastas often states, with every one of our actions we are designing the future — whether we realize that and do that intentionally or not. I’d encourage young people to think of sustainability as a design constraint that should form a component of their innovation and operations efforts; this prevents such efforts from being siloed or having a limited impact.
We believe that the next wave of unicorns and high-net-worth individuals will impact global economics and business practices by:
- Developing decarbonizing/ climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies.
- Investing in promising technologies that will shift us further towards a carbon-negative future.
In our book, we describe some of the most promising technologies and industry practices that are ripe for disruption: from the Haber Bosch process that is used to create a fertilizer to bioplastics- the landscape is littered with opportunities for innovators and business leaders.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you and your company your co-authors collaborators are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
There are many firms doing pathbreaking work to innovate products and processes to create inherently sustainable products and processes. I will describe a few below:
- Examples of Dr. Paul Anastas’s and my work in addressing climate change: Dr. Anastas and I are working to launch the Green Chemistry Trade Association: an organization that will focus on:
- Providing resources to innovators and business leaders globally to innovate and scale products using the principles described in our book.
- Further regulation creates incentives for businesses to adopt circular economy ways of operating.
- Examples of Dr. Anastas’s work in addressing climate change: Paul Anastas is widely cited and has conducted leading research to further the development of green chemistry products in every industry. A few firms that he has advised or co-founded include AirCo Vodka and P2 Science. Dr. Anastas serves on the board of several impact funds to guide investments into promising solutions.
- A small sample set of our collaborators (not exhaustive) to conduct work in the climate change space.
- Life cycle assessments in healthcare to help drive informed decision-making in hospital operations: Dr. Cassie Thiel.
- Green anesthesia: Dr. Cassie Thiel, Dr. Jodi Sherman, Dr. Harriet Hopf.
- Value based leadership, creating carbon negative hospital operations and driving community health: Dr. Jeff Thompson.
- Association of Medical Device Re-processors to create circular economy systems in the medical device space: Daniel Vulkelich.
- To support better research, communication and drive action by global healthcare and research communities: Arthy Hartwell.
- To increase the pace of adoption of cutting-edge research: Jon Lindberg, American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine.
- The worlds first carbon negative vodka: AirCo Vodka.
- Manufacturing green chemicals for a variety of industries: P2 Science (Neil Burns and Patrick Foley).
- Impact Investing: Spero Ventures and Marc Tarpenning.
- Carbon accounting and sustainability strategy consulting: Tim Mohin and Kristina Wyatt.
- Circular economy in the medical device and innovation in managing e-waste: Philips (team led by Robert Metzke, Harald Tepper, Simon Braaksama, Trent Gross).
- Circular economy work in fashion: Queen of Raw Stephanie Beneditto, Antoinette Klatsky.
- Creating circular economy systems in telecommunications: Charlene Lake.
- Green chemistry in the janitorial and cleaning supply space: Roger McFadden.
- Commercialization of green chemistry and leading academic advancement: Joel Tickner.
- Developing and manufacturing medications through ‘green’ pathways: Merck, Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb, etc.
- Effective climate communication and driving insights to action: Anthony Leiserowitz.
- ESG disclosures and stakeholder management: Daniel Esty and Todd Cort.
- Driving endocrine disrupting chemicals out of plastics and every-day items: Dr. Bernard Robaire.
- For the latest innovations in green chemistry that are poised to scale by way of investments, please consider the winners of the EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Awards that are announced here every year.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
- Consumer activism: Consumer demand has already created tremendous momentum for large organizations to re-evaluate their supply chains however bold promises are not enough.
- With social media, consumers and influencers have the power to research and share information regarding products that are truly non-toxic to humans and the environment and firms that are investing in solutions that will create a better tomorrow. I’d encourage these consumer activists to be well researched, demand action and investment from firms and vote with their dollars
- Buy upcycled and sustainably made products and create practical switches where possible in your daily lives
- Guide the shift towards better-made products: While we do not have the answer to many sustainability questions today (such as a carbon-negative fuel cell or a microchip), intentional investment in these areas will help commercialize promising technology. The public can guide this movement by:
- Serving as a mentor or advisor to startups that are working in the space to review products and provide input as “the voice of the customer” to help refine product performance and fit.
- Serve as ambassadors for sustainability in your organizations if such roles are available.
- Encourage your HOA or other local organizations to action their green agenda.
- Create intentional shifts where possible to reduce or eliminate waste.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
I think the response to the question above is relevant to this question as well. However, as a parent myself, I am passionate about designing a better future for our children.
As a parent, when I think about the implications of a future wherein the global surface temperatures have risen by 1–1.5 degrees (or more), I realize that our children will likely live in a different world they inhabit today: they will weather more frequent extreme weather events, droughts, and risk of desertification in certain areas and floods due to rising sea levels in others. Additionally, rising temperatures may activate previously dormant viruses and increase the potential for more frequent epidemics.
Five things that parents can do to inspire the next generation is:
- The first step for any parent to take is to acknowledge the risks posed to the future generation by way of climate change: Climate change is an economic shock that affects everyone, everywhere, and is here and now. It is not a phenomenon faced by someone else, somewhere else, very far way.
- Educate children and communities about the science of climate change. Children’s books such as “We are water protectors”, “Greta and the Giants” etc. are great introductions to the subject of climate change.
- Involve children in local activism and initiatives that integrate climate change mitigating actions into children’s daily lives. This helps demonstrate the power of personal and collective action in addressing climate change.
- Include climate science-based projects while studying different subjects. All industries and organizations are affected by the economic shock of climate change and developing innovative solutions will require an interdisciplinary approach. Depending on learners’ interests, there are various ways to include climate change science and research into their lives to deepen their learning. For example, the American Chemistry Society has several online resources for learners of all ages to learn and apply green chemistry and engineering principles. You can find more information here.
- Encourage outdoor activity! Fostering an appreciation for and interaction with the natural environment not only has health benefits but also helps nurture respect and love for the environment.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Businesses can become more profitable through adoption of sustainability by adopting the following principles:
- Waste prevention
- Maximizing efficiency and performance
- Using renewable resources
- Ensuring safe degradation
Firms that adopt these principles have been able to create leapfrog innovations. In our book, we describe several examples from pharmaceuticals to fertilizer wherein adoption of these principles would result not only in a closed loop, circular economy — products but also in unexpected by-products that can increase revenue, market penetration, and open up new lines of business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
While Paul Anastas and I are the co-authors of “The Sustainability Scorecard”, many, many individuals have been involved in researching, innovating, and developing the business models to develop and commercialize inherently sustainable products and processes.
While it is impossible to list all our collaborators, family, and friends here, I am grateful to Dr. Anastas for collaborating with me on this work. Dr. Anastas has had a tremendous impact across industries to create breakthrough products and processes. I’m thrilled to have been involved in this research, particularly in healthcare where there is a tremendous opportunity for such innovation to create an impact on patients’ lives. In addition, I’ve loved the opportunity to co-develop our scorecard- which is scientifically derived and tailored to help business leaders scale innovative climate-tech.
I first met Paul as a student in his “Sustainability Innovation” class during my MBA. I’m thrilled that a conversation over coffee on the need to translate climate science into business practices has resulted in this work.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m hopeful for the adoption of sustainable business practices by the payer and provider organizations. Healthcare is inherently a mission-driven industry, with clinical providers focused on improving outcomes for their patients. As awareness among healthcare practitioners and organizational leaders improves, and pressure increases on healthcare firms to decarbonize, I am optimistic that we can not only reduce our carbon footprint and innovate-out toxic by-products of our practices but also improve community health by eliminating exposure.
I encourage healthcare providers, patients, and everyone in the healthcare ecosystem to include sustainability (and our scorecard) into their product innovation process.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
I’m a big fan of Dr. Anastas’s quote: Doing a thing better is not the same as doing better things. In other words, we need to do the right things, right. Doing the right things wrong results in unintended consequences. However, by creating circular, closed-loop systems, we can help create regenerative and resilient processes.
This quote has always helped me guide teams and clients toward the north star: asking the right questions to ultimately arrive at a solution that will be a breakthrough or truly help solve a critical issue.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
I love engaging with fellow change-makers! You can find me:
On Linkedin here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/urvashibhatnagarmba/
On Twitter here: @Urvi_Bhatnagar
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Urvashi Bhatnagar: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability And The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.