Urbanization is one of the biggest challenges that India faces today. As an increasing number of migrants in search of opportunities move to cities, the pressure of this increasing populace is mounting on our cities. In most cases, this growth in resource consumption hasn’t been factored in or planned in our cities and this has resulted in our cities bursting at their seams to keep up.

While governments at the centre and state level have launched various initiatives and schemes to manage this explosion in our cities, the task isn’t one that can be outsourced to governments alone. A sustainable solution to the long term management of our cities is a decentralized approach where each individual participant within the city takes as much responsibility as the government in maintaining its health. In a densely populated nation such as ours, the large population can truly become a force for change.

India is expected to have a Gen-Z population of over 390 million by the year 2020. Most studies and reports indicate that this is a generation that is extremely concerned about the world that will be left for them by the generations before them. Their exposure to the effects of climate change and the benefits of sustainable development are high and they are exposed to both the harmful effects of mismanagement and the few stories of successful planning for sustainable development.

They have an opinion that they don’t shy away from expressing. Armed with the power of the Internet, they hold an influence today whether it is in society or within families to bring about a change. The recent protests by Gen-Z around the world driven by Greta Thunberg’s movement #Schools4ClimateChange and #FridaysforFuture are an indication of the growing concern in Gen-Z and their willingness to come out and question the powers that be about the action they are taking.

This step taken by the next generation, often (wrongly must we say) described as armchair activists, is welcome and it is upon all of us to ensure that we channelize this energy and translate it into positive action that can Solve some of the problems we face today.

The first step is to realize the opportunity that exists if this Gen-Z power is positively leveraged. Schools can play a crucial role in achieving this. They converge members from every part of society and the question to ask ourselves is, “Can we influence a positive cultural change towards building better cities, with the school as a catalyst and as a Primary Engine of Positive Change”? The answer is Yes!

The largest 5000 urban-private schools within the most populated cities in India converge anywhere around7.5 million households. Children in each of these 7.5 million households can influence how their families live. Educators & School Principals can ask their students to take up this summer activity of making their families more sustainable and contributors in making our cities more liveable. Household structures today have been democratized and children hold a lot of influence in the decision-making process within homes. By turning each of these Gen-Z members into Solvers for building Sustainable Cities, we can make our cities more liveable and also more importantly, transform Gen-Z into a Generation of Solvers!

While the task may seem daunting for any Gen-Z individual, parent or educator reading this, here are a few easy ways that this change can be implemented within homes. There isn’t a better time to implement this than during the summer holidays and the beginning of the academic year, the most conducive times within a student’s calendar. Here are a few ideas.

Gen-Z Homes & Families

Educate & Advocate – Gen-Z can use the family Whatsapp groups to educate members about the effects of climate change, the opportunities to take action, the economic benefits of being more sustainable and the larger impact of such actions. Research, find credible information and share it with members of the family. Get their buy in!

This can then be extended to other members of the household including household help, other members in the community such as drivers, watchmen, cleaners, neighbours etc. Everyone seeks better cities and each of them can be a Solver. Go beyond the Whatsapp groups and design posters that can be put up in the society. Make use of your multi-lingual skills and translate the messages into regional and local languages so everyone gets the message!

Make a pitch to your parents– India has a rooftop solar generation of potential of 124 GW. The current total energy generation in India is 330 GW. If a mere 1.3% of all households are solarized with rooftop technology, more than 30% of the energy capacity can be harnessed. Although rooftop solar requires an initial capital investment, the returns in the long run can be economically beneficial as well as environmentally sustainable. How about learning to develop a business-plan by making a presentation to your parents about the value analysis of solar power? This may be the first investment you raise for creating a better world! Will be great on your resume too!

Segregate waste and create a home compost – A really nice thing about nature is that most of its produce has use. A rotting vegetable, the peel of a fruit or even the leftovers from a meal. One of the biggest challenges that cities face is the management of waste. The landfills where waste is dumped are the third highest source of greenhouse emissions in India. A large part of the waste generated is easily compostable even within an individual home. Households that segregate waste and recycle a part of it can make a great contribution towards reducing the load on the landfills around our cities. The compost can then be used for gardening.

Collect old newspapers and get books made – Newspapers are one of the few well-segregated sources of waste within a household. It’s an age-old practice in urban households to store old newspapers and sell them to a scrap dealer. However, Gen-Z children can take the initiative to upcycle these newspapers and get them made into books that can then be distributed for children in schools that lack the resources. This can be a fantastic summer activity to run easily even within the community that one lives in.

Stitch cloth bags – Take inspiration from 14-year-old Riya Kulkarni. Riya wanted to support the plastic ban implemented by the government of Maharashtra. She decided to do this by providing local shopkeepers by making use of her sewing skills to make cloth bags for local shopkeepers to pack what they were selling. She made bags out of old sarees and started distributing them free of cost in the weekly markets. She not just made great use of a skill that she learnt at a young age, but she also contributed to reducing the use of plastic in our everyday lives.

Make your home resource efficient – There are many things that one can do within the home to make it more efficient and sustainable. You can start by ensuring that AC’s are operated at an energy efficient temperature, by installing low flow showerheads, reporting and plugging any leaks in taps around the house and even within your community, shifting to LED bulbs and unplugging unused chargers. These are just a few small ideas but a quick search on the internet will throw up some inspiring stories like this one-man army!

Make your summer vacation a sustainable one – According to the National Centre of Coastal Research, plastic litter from tourism alone accounted for about 40-96% of all beach litter. Chennai’s Elliot’s Beach, for instance, plastics left by tourists accounted for 40% of all the litter, while at Vishakapatnam’s RK Beach, it was as high as 87%. While this is a shocking statistic about the negative impact on ocean & sea water, there are various other aspects of a vacation where your choices can help in making keeping the cities you travel to sustainable.

Try and make your summer vacation a sustainable one. There are many things that you can do to support this, right from using public transport during your vacation to ensuring that you trash responsibly as a tourist. Another way you can support cities & places with good practices is to use your digital skills to promote the cities & recognize them on your social media. Reward & recognition will only motivate those cities to keep doing better.

Put up water sources for birds – The summer months are harsh and unbearable for birds as they run out of places to hydrate themselves with water bodies drying up. Birds are an important part of the biodiversity that sustainable cities require and one can help these birds by setting up some water in their compounds or terraces.

Write to a CEO – Recently a 13-year old girl tweeted the chairman of a large automobile manufacturer with a simple idea to reduce the amount of noise polluting in our cities by introducing a honk-limit in their cars. Organizations today value the opinion of Gen-Z and you can help solve problems by ideating for them and helping them make their products & services better for our cities. If you have an idea that your favorite brand can implement, write to their CEO on social media.

While these are a few simple ideas, a quick search on the internet will throw up a bunch of other ideas that one can implement within a home to contribute towards building better cities. More importantly, Gen-Z should use their creativity to come up with innovative solutions that can contribute to developing more liveable cities!

The author is CMO, Worldview Education.