The day of the ecopreneur

Moving beyond NGOs and political initiatives, a few good men—and women—have launched consumer-friendly products that are equally good for the environment, and make them good money.

Published: 13th January 2013 04:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th August 2013 02:05 PM   |  A+A-

If King Edward had met Neha Juneja and Ankit Mathur sometime in the 13th century, he would have knighted them. After all, he was the first ruler to ban the burning of coal because the fumes were poisoning London’s atmosphere. Juneja and Mathur design low-smoke stoves that are healthy for both the atmosphere and vegetation. More than eight polluting centuries later, ecopreneurs are addressing issues that are fundamental to living, and in the process also making money. Indian innovators have broken the engagement of NGOs with green issues and have created innovations such as biodegradable cooking stoves, low-cost composting machinery and recycled paper. India is leading the world in cleantech investments. A recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that India’s cleantech investment growth rate is 52 per cent—the highest growth figure of any significant economy in the world—with $10.3 billion invested in 2011. “Independent studies have shown that each stove saves the equivalent of 16 trees a year, saves the household one hour of fuel collection and kindling time daily, and mitigates nearly two tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per stove annually,” says Juneja. Says Glenn Croston, the author of 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference: “EcoPreneurs have got to believe in the importance of working for a greener future and a sustainable economy.” It’s also important to “be a solid business person, someone who knows a good product and can deliver it”. Investment in the eco-market is growing. The environmental technologies market in India has been estimated at $9 billion per year with an annual growth rate of 15 per cent. Young Turks are proving that environment is the new entrepreneurial front. Meet some of these green businessmen:

TO BEE THE BEST

In 2007, five friends Abhijeet Makhijani, Gaurav Modi, Neeraj Quadras, Praveen Crasta and Rohit Bhandari got together and started a venture to reinstate and utilise the green cover in the Garden City of India. Their idea was simple. They developed and manufactured honeycomb paper made from a combination of plywood, steel, plastics, FRP and many other materials as its sandwich faces to form some of the strongest composite panels for its weight and dimensions. Their product made from recycled kraft paper and eco-friendly glue is 100 per cent bio-degradable, non-polluting and eco-friendly.

“Having witnessed the destruction of green cover across Bangalore in the mid-1990s, we wanted to make something sustainable. As a business venture, we zeroed-in on a product that could make a major impact in saving consumption of wood and from extremely harmful materials like thermocol which are used simply due to the lack of a greener option. This is where HonECOre and its products came into picture,” says Makhijani, co-founder and director, Lsquare Eco-products. Pvt. Ltd, the parent company of HonECOre.

 With an investment of `25,000 per head, HonECOre started with a focus on two main streams—construction and packaging. “Our innovation replaces plywood, wood, thermocol (EPS), foam, made mostly from recycled kraft paper and is also bio-degradable. Our products are gaining popularity across the automotive and engineering industries countrywide,” says Modi, co-founder, HonECOre.

He adds that HonECOre provides raw materials, semi-finished and finished range of products, classified by their application in the construction and the packaging industry. “While HonECOre Paper Honeycomb Core is supplied to both these industries, we provide an end-to-end solution to manufacturers as well as to users. These also include HonECOre Paper Honeycomb Core, doors, panels —with faces of particle board and MDF, with or without frames, tuck-away as well as flat panel furniture,” says Makhijani.

The company currently sells approximately 10 to 15 tonnes of paper honeycomb every week. “This translates to saving of 60 to 80 tonnes of wood. Work this out for multiple years and you will start to see a major difference in the consumption of wood. This is jungle wood as well as pine and rubber wood. Today, India imports a lot of pinewood from South-east Asian nations, and every time we are able to win over a client we are saving India precious foreign exchange,” says Quadras, co-founder, HonECOre. The five young entrepreneurs are also working closely with the Indian Institute of Packaging. Bhandari, co-founder, HonECOre, says, “Being a product of industrial use, it is restricted to where it will be needed, but yes, we’d like to be present in all major industrial zones across the nation.”

Greenbyte

HonECOre, Bangalore

Innovators: Abhijeet Makhijani, Gaurav Modi, Neeraj Quadras, Praveen Crasta and Rohit Bhandari

Innovation: A brand of eco-friendly honeycomb paper made from  recycled kraft paper `80/sq m for paper to `400 for packaging panels

NO WASTE LEFT BEHIND

A Bangalore-based company makes commercial compost pits that can be purchased online. The greatest challenge was to convince people of the usefulness of such waste management. Daily Dump keeps 7,000 kg of organic waste from Bangalore’s landfills every day, and is a hit with residents.

Poonam Bir Kasturi started her career working as an industrial designer in 1984, but soon moved on to her “true calling”. By 2006, she had founded Daily Dump, a service that helps people manage their household waste and convert it into useful high-quality compost using terracotta. “My training in design helped me understand systems. I learnt and taught around the ideas of sustainable living, so finally I guess Daily Dump grew as an idea within,” says Kasturi.

 Started with an investment of `10 lakh, Daily Dump today helps keep 7,000-plus kg of organic waste out of landfills every day. Kasturi says, “Composting at source is good for water, air and land. We have 10,000 committed customers and have partners in six other states. We have a successful clone in Chile.”

 Even though her model is being followed and used by many in and around Bangalore, Kasturi says, she also faced a fair share of opposition in the beginning. “Every ‘scientist’ of composting said it could not be done, but I had to remind them that I was not making gourmet compost, only managing it,” she says.

The first challenge was convincing people of its use. “People told me ‘I do not need compost, so why should I do this?’ They said, waste was easier to throw away and has no use.” Kasturi says today we talk of not wasting water, but 10 years later, we will be talking of not wasting waste. “This is Daily Dump’s biggest challenge, to get people to see that waste is connected to health, good food and better cities,” she says.

The company’s most popular products have been its three-tiered composters called Kambha and containers named Manthan. “In Kambha, you put your organic waste in the top unit and add dried leaves or sawdust everyday. Once in four days you need to stir the contents to aerate the pile, and if your dry-wet ratio is good, there will be no smell and microbes will break down the material into compost over the months,” explains Kasturi. For Manthan, she says, the waste from each home is taken to the composter. “They add dried matter and accelerator, and then rotate the Manthan drum to homogenise the waste. When half-full, the material is removed and stored in pits or terracotta containers to mature,” she adds.

Packaging is a big concern. So are toxic materials like bulbs and tube lights. “Unless we have more manufacturers thinking, designing and building their business values out of life-cycle thinking, India will have more toxicity than is good for us. This  will have huge impact on healthcare costs in the future,” she says.

Greenbyte

Daily Dump, Bangalore

Innovator: Poonam Bir Kasturi

Innovation: A service that helps people manage their household waste and convert it to useful high-quality fertiliser using a three-tier composterKambha Three-tier Compost: `1,300; Manthan: `29,770

KEEP THE FIRE BURNING

Two Mumbai-based engineers design a low-smoke cooking system that saves up to 16 trees per annum for every unit put to regular use

After several visits to the rural areas of Karnataka and Kerala during early 2010, engineers Neha Juneja and Ankit Mathur realised that even with the introduction of gas stoves, several households continue to cook on traditional mud chulhas or indoor open fires that consume copious amounts of firewood, were laborious to use and polluted the indoor environment. In December 2010, they launched Greenway Grameen Infra (GGI) and the Greenway Smart Stove.

“We wanted to provide households alternative fuels to LPG and kerosene. Transforming the ubiquitous chulha into an efficient and low-smoke cooking system seemed like the perfect opportunity,” says Juneja. Starting in Karnataka through a self-developed distribution rural retail network, the GGI has recently started operations in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh in the south, and Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Kashmir in the north. “We are addressing deforestation and its impact on climate change, and the local ecology, along with health issues that traditional stoves cause,” says Juneja.

The design was simple—an all-steel durable product that saves 65 per cent fuel savings and 70 per cent smoke reduction by using a unique air inducer (patent pending) that ensures that the air-fuel ratio—and hence the quality of combustion—is proper at all times. In mud stoves, women are required to blow air from time to time to keep the fire burning.

The smart stove works on all solid biomass fuels such as firewood, cowdung, coconut waste and crop residue, and does not require any change in cooking style or habits. It has got the ISI’s approval as well. The company has started exporting the product to Bangladesh and East Africa. Juneja says Africa could be a possible major market. “Our target audience is rural households across the world that lack access to modern and clean energy,” she says.

Greenbyte

Greenway Grameen Infra, Mumbai

Innovators: Neha Juneja and Ankit MathurInnovation: Greenway Smart Stove which works on all solid biomass fuels such as firewood, cowdung, coconut waste and crop residuesThe Greenway Smart Stove costs only `1,299

SOLID GOLD

Three college friends get together to start an end-to-end decentralised solid waste management system and make it an environment-friendly option for Mumbaikars

In June 2010, college friends Debartha Banerjee, Jayanth Nataraju and Ritvik Rao started working on the blueprint of a decentralised waste management system involving waste-pickers. The college project soon turned into a professional venture. Today, their company Sampurn(e)arth Environment Solutions Pvt. Ltd, which was started with `2 lakh, provides context-based end-to-end decentralised solid waste management solutions in Mumbai.

“Based on this technology, more than 150 plants have been installed across India by different technology licensees. The locations include Maharashtra, New Delhi, Kerala, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh,” says Nataraju, co-founder, Sampurn(e)arth.

The unit includes a biogas plant to handle biodegradable waste, a secondary dry-waste segregation unit for non-biodegradable waste, and optionally, a unit to convert biogas into electricity for large plants. “The innovation is the complete solution package,” says Nataraju.

The zero-waste model, which they are currently working on, involves both wet waste (organic waste) and dry waste (recyclables). “We have installed a 500 kg/day biogas plant at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. We have taken up an operation and maintenance contract at the biogas plant at SEEPZ, Andheri, Mumbai. We are in an advanced stage discussion for a contract with two more corporate campuses in Mumbai, and with at least three more clients to instal biogas plants in the next six months in the city,” he says.

Greenbyte

Sampurn(e)arth Environment Solutions Pvt. Ltd,  Mumbai

Innovators: Debartha Banerjee, Jayanth Nataraju and Ritvik Rao

Innovation: A decentralised waste management system, involving waste pickers through a biogas plant

Provides end-to-end decentralised solid waste management solutions. For waste audit: `3,000. Handling dry waste: `4,000 (for 200 kg paper/plastic waste per day), Installation of biogas plant  (500 kg/day): `9 lakh to `10 lakh.

THE BIG EASY

Delhi-based Mahima Mehra has come up with a method to convert elephant dung into paper

While the Chinese are credited with making paper from trees, Indians will soon be credited for making paper from elephant dung. Since 1995, 42-year-old Mahima Mehra was producing handmade paper from cotton rags. But, on a trip to Jaipur, she discovered how similar dry elephant dung looked to the raw fibre from which paper is made. After much experimentation, she eventually came up with usable sheets of paper made of elephant dung, christened Haathi Chaap, meaning Prints of the Elephant.

“I’ve always been interested in recycling, and I wanted to create something which was commercially viable. Haathi Chaap came about in 2003. Once a papermaker, always a papermaker,” says Mehra, founder, Haathi Chaap.

Her method is simple. The dung is washed thoroughly in large water tanks until only the fibre is left behind, and cooked for about four to five hours with salt. It is then washed with hydrogen peroxide to make the paper bacteria-free. The dung is left to dry, followed by converting it into a pulp which is then placed in water-filled cement or wooden vats. Depending on the weight of the paper to be made, the required amount of pulp is mixed with water. To make sheets of paper, each layer of pulp is lifted out from the water using a flat sieve-like mould.

Mehra is not just producing paper, but has also created an assortment of handmade material including bags, frames, photo albums, notebooks, stationery, cards, tags and several other knick-knacks. Her products are available across the country and abroad. “We want to work with as many different raw materials as possible to make environmentally  safe paper, and to try make them affordable which is our biggest challenge,” she says.

Greenbyte

Haathi Chaap, New Delhi

Innovator: Mahima Mehra

Innovation: Usable sheets of paper made of elephant dungPrices of bags, frames, photo albums, notebooks, stationery, cards and tags and knick-knacks range between `20 and `900.

 

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