Leonardo DiCaprio once famously said that dark green was his favourite colour because it was the colour of nature and the colour of money.
It seems as if he is not the only one to make the connection between Mother Earth and Mammon. While eco-friendly initiatives were seen as the domain of NGOs or do-gooders, more and more people are operating successful businesses along these lines now.
Shubhendu Sharma of ‘Afforestt’, a service provider for creating natural, maintenance free, native forests, is one such person. The former engineer at Toyota gave up a corporate job to found the for-profit social enterprise. “I happened to meet a scientist who came to make a forest in the Toyota factory. His presentation, especially the before and after pictures, struck a chord with me and I decided to try it out myself. I experimented with the methodology in my own backyard and was impressed with the results.”
Asked about how he imagined it as a source of revenue, Shubhendu says, “I researched even the NGO model and found that the main activity of the leader was raising funds and this process was very long and complicated. My focus was on profit making and I wanted to keep the process very simple. So why not a business? People also find it very easy to understand — they give us the money, we give them the results or there are liabilities.”
For other organisations like ‘EnviGreen’, which produces biodegradable substitutes to plastics, it was the huge demand that prompted them to set up an enterprise. EnviGreen’s products are made from natural starch, vegetable oil derivatives and vegetable waste and are non-toxic. “The idea hit the founder, Ashwath Hegde, in 2012 when there was a complete ban on plastics in Mangaluru,” says Maneesha Yadav, an official of the company. “But cloth bags and other alternatives were expensive and the local markets couldn’t afford these. So he joined with a few of his friends and scientists to come up with an affordable alternative. Thus, the concept of completely biodegradable bags was born.”
The business element came in when they saw the huge demand for their products during just the pilot test. Consider this — they count ‘Reliance Fresh’ and ‘Paradise Biryani’ among their clients even before the official launch.
“We realised the scope
and potential of our product after it was conceptualised; it could wipe out plastic completely. And we foresaw how an increasingly aware consumer group was waiting for something like this,” says Ashwath.
H R Jayaram quit his job as a lawyer to take up organic farming and has started a movement called ‘The Green Path’ that brings together several eco-friendly initiatives like organic farms, stores, eco-stays and hotels.
“I realised there was a lot of talking but not enough action,” he explains. “When you talk about creating awareness and convincing people, you should be able to show them results or a tangible model. I set up an organic farm in 1998 and slowly branched out into other areas. People are aware of the need for healthy living now and they are receptive to such initiatives.”
People are also willing to pay for services and business is something everyone understands, according to Shubhendu. “We have put up the methodology to grow such forests on our website but a client like L&T will not download the process and set out to do it themselves. If people want our services, they have to pay for our time and efforts,” he says.
The grass may seem very green on their side but such eco-friendly companies also have to face their share of challenges, despite the laudable objective and unique nature of the industry. While Maneesha talks about intense pressure and lobbying from the plastic industry, Jayaram talks about the strain of travelling on a path not much trodden on. “It is a new model so there is no past experience to draw on. Also, getting to people to work for us and to train them is difficult; not everyone understands the concept.”
But all said and done, there is no lack of appreciation and support for such ventures; much more than what regular commercial ventures get. Money does not grow on trees but it seems money can be made from those trees.