India’s rapid urbanization and industrial development have overtaken all efforts to protect the environment. This has led two of MIT’s doctoral students in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences to begin working on a way to address India’s high levels of air and water pollution issues that pose a threat to human health.

Nick Hagerty, a fourth-year PhD student is designing a cap and trade program with the intention of reducing pollution from industrial wastewater.  Ariel Zucker, a third-year PhD student is developing an environmental rating program for industrial smokestack emissions. Both of these projects were developed through MIT’s Tata Center for Technology and Design, whose mission is to address the challenges of communities which are resource-constrained.

Project One: Cap and Trade

Nick Hagerty is working with a team of professors from Harvard University, Yale University and the University of Chicago  to provide a financial incentive to polluting companies in India to clean up their act by enabling companies to work together to meet a proposed set of pollution reduction goals.

"What if there were a way to transcend this tradeoff — to reduce pollution without killing off industry? We’ve seen in other parts of the world that there is a tool that can achieve that: It’s emissions trading, or cap and trade," Hagerty says.

Hagerty and the team plan to work with an environmental regulator and a local industry association to monitor the industrial wastewater released by approximately 110 factories that share a treatment facility in the Indian state of Gujarat. They will then provide these factories with pollution permits and enable these companies to trade these amongst themselves.

This project makes it possible for facilities that face high clean up costs to pay another – such as one with cleaner operations and low clean up costs – to take on the emission reductions in order to meet the group goals.

Project Two: Environmental Rating

Ariel Zucker believes that even if you have great technology, you need some incentive for people to reduce pollution. At the moment India has high environmental standards, however the regulations are not very well policed and enforced. This means a lot of the standards are ignored by large organisations.

With the same team of professionals that Haggerty is working with, Zucker is planning to tackle this issue by giving companies a public reputation for environmental performance – for good or poor.

In the state of Maharashtra, Zucker and the team are collecting data on stack emissions from approximately 100 industrial plants and ranking them based on the total amount of particular matter they are releasing into the atmosphere. They plan to assign each plant with a star rating and publish the results online.

Zucker believes strongly in the incentive program as she says "It’s feasible and pretty low-cost for many of these industries to come closer to compliance. If it’s not worth their reputation to do it, they won’t do it. If it is they will.”

This program is planned to go into operation in the spring (northern-hemisphere), when the group will continually monitor smokestack emissions to evaluate the project’s impact.

"I think this project will give industry groups some incentives to start being better citizens," Zucker says. "We see a lot of room for small, low-cost improvements that can have a big impact on pollution."

MIT News