Sharad K Sakhare, along with his wife and teenage daughter, spent a unique Sunday at the GreenTokri farm on the outskirts of Pune some time back. From understanding sustainable farming operations to getting lessons on how to grow wholesome and healthy food, the Sakhare family had the enviable pleasure of walking through tall grass, wading through water, or simply enjoying the wide open spaces. Sharad’s daughter, Malini, was taught how to plant salad saplings and the family indulged in picking their own salad and fruits. The team at GreenTokri practices sustainable farming to offer the freshest produce to households across Pune and Mumbai. Gurgaon’s Organic Farmers’ Market is a citizens’ initiative that aims at making pesticide and chemical-free food available as a basic right. The market is a platform for organic farmers and environmentalists. The Delhi Organic Farmers’ Market also hosts organic farmers and primary producers—some from as far as Rajasthan and Ghaziabad—who use traditional techniques to grow their produce.
In these times of global warming and environment crises, contradictions and diversity rule India. The densely populated country holds one-sixth of the world’s people and is poised to surpass China as far as population is concerned in less than a decade. It is the third biggest generator of emissions. This year, 11 of the top 15 hottest places in the world were in India. It also has eight cities in the top 10 polluted cities of the world. Most metros in the country will run out of groundwater by 2030, say, environmentalists; while metros such as Mumbai sink and drown every monsoon.
Besides, health and poverty are perennial problems. All this put together make sustainability a challenge. But some people are trying their best. Recently, Corner House, Bengaluru’s popular ice-cream chain, started a ‘Bring your own bowl’ initiative. Customers are encouraged to get their own bowls and boxes so that the enterprise can cut down on plastic use.
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that by 2050 there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic in landfills, the environment, and oceans. Of this waste, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, food wrappers, and plastic grocery bags are the biggest contributors. Little wonder that RAW Pressery recently launched RAWCycle, an eco-friendly initiative to recycle raw plastic bottles into clothing. The brand has already collected 1.2 million bottles for recycling and has launched the first edition of T-shirts that are made of 95 percent recycled plastic polyester and 5 percent dri-fit spandex. CEO Anuj Rakyan says, “Our company has consciously considered environmental impact as part of our larger strategy. We want to set an example.”
Anoop Jaipurkar from Pune is many things—writer, filmmaker, teacher—but probably one thing he is most proud of is being a farmer supporting sustainability. Says he, “It all started with my wish to grow vegetables devoid of chemicals. I started with a small terrace vegetable patch that once in a while produced enough veggies for my small family of three.” Anoop was hooked to detox lifestyle before he knew it. He recently got a mud house built at his one-acre farm. A man of principles, he even made sure to source old doors and windows rather than chop more wood for new ones.
“Fellow villagers think I am wrong because they find it old-fashioned.” How did he come about building one for himself? “I needed a shelter at the farm to complete the daily farm chores with efficiency and also to store farm equipment. I could have built a cement house, but that would have required labour and raw material from the nearby city. Instead, I found local artistes who could build a house using mud from my own farm. The only binding material they used was fine paddy straw. I got old wooden doors and windows sourced from my sister who recently renovated her home,” he says. The old roof tiles too were brought from four different people at dirt cheap rate. Almost everything in the house is reused material, which means minimal strain on natural resources. “Next on my agenda is an ecosan toilet, which will allow me to use my own waste to improve soil fertility,” he smiles.
Sustainability is a tight-rope walk. It calls for a collective effort to build our present by learning from the past and without affecting our future assets. From fashion, to food, to art and culture—each one of us owes it to the planet to realise an inclusive, resilient and sustainable future. And the three key elements that will help us in this path are—economic growth, environmental protection and social inclusion. In order to contribute to sustainable development, Wimbledon this year ditched its plastic racket covers. This will result in 4,500 fewer plastic bags this year. British supermarket Waitrose is reducing packaging and offering loose fruit and vegetables. Customers are also encouraged to bring their own containers to buy and refill produce such as pasta, grains and cereals. In Thailand, too, the Rimping supermarket decided to do away with packaging and wrap its produce in banana leaves instead. Vishal Bhandari, Founder, SoulTree, which promotes biodegradable and environ-friendly packaging, says, “Made with natural substances such as paper, starch, cotton, wood, etc, biodegradable packaging breaks down easily by the actions of microorganisms. Once decomposed, the compounds either return to nature or disintegrate, leaving no waste behind. There isn’t any release of toxic waste, so the land and soil don’t get affected either.” The brand has introduced paper wraps and paper tapes along with biodegradable sachets. They have also set up a bio-gas plant at their factory in Bhiwadi, Rajasthan, which helps reduce the organic waste.
As population explodes and resources shrink, concerns are building up. Bees and insects that traditionally pollinate food and drive production, are going extinct, thus affecting food security. According to the 2016 Food Sustainability Index, nutrition is one of the biggest challenges that India faces today. The high prevalence of undernourishment and nutria-deficiency places it almost at the bottom with a third-world country such as Ethiopia. The biggest agriculture hurdle for India is water. Crops and livestock are at stake every summer as the country still depends on the weather gods to make life easy. Water recycling and rainwater harvesting are still unrealised initiatives, despite excessive monsoon in some parts of the country.
Surbhi Gupta, Director, Rasika Research & Designs, says, “We live in the times of excess. The side-effect results in overload of consumption of our natural environment and its eventual depletion.” She adds that use of low thermal energy building materials such as fly-ash bricks, vitrified tiles, unpolished stone, mud etc can also help achieve sustainability goals. Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India, a collection of boutique hotels, palace stays, wildlife life lodges, homestays and retreats, says, “Sustainability in the 21st century addresses many concerns and tourism and hospitality projects have to ensure that they include best practices into their very DNA and it becomes a part of their operating procedures. Water-shed management, locational sensitivity to avoid over-tourism, adaptive reuse of heritage building, low impact architecture and design to save energy, local employment opportunities, preserving local cultures and buying local produce, reducing litter and safe garbage disposal; the list can be endless for those who are serious about a sustainable tourism model.”
At the same time, sustainability has always been a core component of Indian culture. From yogic principles of living to a tribal lifestyle, the country has always promoted a sustainable way of living. Not to mention art and culture. The annual Bengaluru International Arts Festival (BIAF), which hosts over 1,500 artists from across the world, ensures that artists are also part of a green drive. Visitor camps, stage and stalls are made of bamboo, log wood, tyres and bottles sourced from scrap yards. Navjot Altaf, one of India’s leading contemporary artists, regularly collaborates with rural artistes from Bastar and the transgender community in her effort towards social inclusion. Artist Haribaabu Naatesan scrounges scrap yards to make art. Carnatic legend and rebel TM Krishna merges his craft with environment activism and collaborates with transgender Jogappas to transcend boundaries.
Charmi Gada Shah, recipient of FICA Emerging Artist Award, works with built spaces that are either abandoned, neglected or in a state of disuse. Artist Akshay Raj Singh Rathore, who through his art speaks of mindless unsustainability, says, “Coming from a farming background, I have managed to crisscross a large tract of dry land where water is dear and life revolves around this precious commodity. This precarious position has created a culture of extreme frugality in my works.” Artist Seema Kohli is more emphatic, “Sustainability for all has to start from home. It is something that has to be passed on from the parents to the child. In our craze to ape the West, we are letting go of precious Indian ways that can actually sustain us and take us to a better future. We can still roll back the bad that has happened.” Some are taking heed. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways recently proposed exemption of registration fee for electric vehicles in a bid to boost their adoption for a sustainable lifestyle. DOT, the first company in India to offer green mobility services through its fleet of 100 percent, two and three-wheeler electric vehicles, was quick on the uptake. The company is present in over 22 cities and plans to expand to 600 towns in India by 2020.
Perhaps one of the most important elements about sustainable development is sustainable fashion and personal care. To achieve this, one uses environment-friendly materials, judiciously employs energy and water in production, uses natural dyes, minimises garment travel—hence reducing carbon foot-print, creates awareness and support for locally made garments, and more. The process also stresses ‘designing for disassembly’. It means clothes should be made in such a way that they should be easier to recycle or upcycle. Pooja Khanna, Founder, Venn, a sustainable fashion brand, says, “Fashion is the second most polluting industry today. Dyeing of fabric is one of the biggest contributors to water pollution and the manufacturing of synthetic fabrics releases a huge amount of greenhouse gases.
At Venn, we use sustainable fabrics, which are biodegradable and decompose without any toxic remains.” Some other brands which follow this process in India are: Doodlage, which focuses on upcycling and recycling old clothes and experiments with fabrics such as cotton polyester, corn, eucalyptus and banana fabrics. Ka-Sha India, a division of Change by Design, uses natural fibres and aims at zero-waste, while celebrating handcrafts. No Nasties is an organic, fair trade, vegan clothing brand. Every time they sell a product online, or get a new email sign-up, they plant a new tree. Vajor, a modern bohemian fashion and lifestyle brand, has replaced plastic buttons with shell, wood and metal, and is using natural fibres. For Spring 2019, H&M has launched a line—Conscious Exclusive—that explores the healing power of nature, while also embracing sustainable fashion.
Organic has been the buzzword for a while now. From an upscale grocery store/shopping mart, to the beauty shelf of a personal care store, or a restaurant menu, it is everywhere. Rahul Agarwal, CEO of Organic Harvest, a personal care brand, says, “There is a need to increase ‘organic footprint’ and indulge in an organic and sustainable lifestyle. We are the change and we collectively can start to design a positive influence on the planet.” The F&B industry is one of the flagbearers when it comes to sustainability. From farm-to-table options to locally sourced ingredients or native grains and vegetables, or even completely changing farming practices, sustainability seems to be the war cry. Inesh Singh, Chief Sustainability Officer, Sula Vineyards, says, “Our vineyards use solar energy. We also reuse 100 percent of the wastewater generated. Besides, 99 percent of the packaging material is recycled. We have also installed water ATMs in nearby communities, which provide water security and safe drinking water to approximately 600 families. Our vision is to carry this forward and become the most sustainable winery in Asia by 2021.”
In India, city municipalities spend crores in just managing the after-effects of poor disposal of plastic. Over 300 million tonnes of plastic is created each year with India’s top 60 cities generating 15,000 tonnes every single day. Monica Bindra, CEO and co-founder, LAIQA, a premium, biodegradable sanitary pad brand, says, “At this point, it is not enough to adopt sustainable habits and practices. These will be the end days if the tables aren’t turned soon. A 100 percent conscious effort is needed from every member of the human race. One has to adopt sustainable practices in their personal; professional and community fields while also constantly work towards creating awareness about the same.”
Recently some heartbreaking images have gone viral that prove how we are killing our planet—a bird was clicked feeding its chick a cigarette butt; a stingray was found dead with a book, a camera, a cigarette pack and a glass bottle in its stomach; whales are washing up dead on to beaches; an exhausted and starving polar bear ended up in a Russian industrial town scavenging for food, more than 700 km for home—all these images only prove that for the human race survival matters, sustainability doesn’t. But ironically, it is sustainability that will ultimately keep doomsday at bay and help us survive as a planet.
Based in Kochi, its vision is to make marine transport more efficient. NavAlt aims at a more efficient water transport system, which doesn’t use fossil fuels.
Avani is a community built on the principles of local empowerment. It creates opportunities for rural people to find employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain.
It is a worldwide movement to give back more than we take from the planet. It is a collective action to protect the natural resources.
It brings a wide range of certified organically grown foods and eco-friendly products to your home.
Daily Dump, Karnataka
A design-led company, the objective is to reduce waste, improve material recovery, enable better livelihoods and do this through voluntary collective action.
It recycles old shipping containers into eco-friendly, mobile buildings that can be sent to any location in the country.
Aspartika Biotech, Karnataka
This Bengaluru-based organisation’s major focus is on utilisation of locally generated waste and by-products of agro and palm oil industries.
Oorja Energy Engineering, Telangana
It provides sustainable solutions for industrial and commercial heating and cooling, to either eliminate or reduce the need for fossil fuel consumption for these processes.