Change agents

Change agents

These eco-warriors are not only helping the environment, but are also pushing against consumerism and its bleak footprints, writes Neeta Lal

Bamboo

The biggest takeaway for us from the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the world is to not mess with nature. By pressing the pause button on our lives, Mother Earth is forcing us to reflect, review and reboot our lives. With World Environment Day around the corner on June 5, let’s learn from the groundbreaking inventions, ideas and lifestyles of a few eco-warriors who are encouraging people to go green and turn zero-waste.

Bamboo, a sustainable alternative

After eschewing a flourishing corporate career as associate vice president of Barclays Bank in Germany, Yogesh Shinde plunged into bamboo farming followed by the launch of a start-up in Pune in 2016. Why bamboo? “Well, because this is a wonder grass which has over a thousand species, is a versatile medium to craft everything from houses to furniture to musical instruments. It is stronger than steel, and is earthquake-proof. Did you know bamboo even survived the nuclear bombing at Hiroshima?” asks the erstwhile banker.

The biggest motivator for Shinde to choose bamboo though was to eliminate the plastic epidemic that has engulfed modern urban lives. “Plastic, a by-product of the destructive fossil fuel industry, takes a thousand years or more to biodegrade. Studies suggest that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish,” he says. “I’m only trying to minimise its use by suggesting sustainable alternatives.”

Thus was launched Bamboo India, in the village of Velhe near Pune which sells bamboo products, sensitises people to stop using plastic and work towards conservation. “India is the second-largest bamboo-growing country in the world, with about 125 species of the plant being found in our country. But unfortunately, it contributes to only four percent of the global bamboo product market share. It is time to change this asymmetry.” Shinde currently exports bamboo items to over a dozen countries and has saved 20,000 kg of plastic waste from landfills while employing farmers gainfully. Mentoring farmers/artisans to set up their own micro bamboo businesses is up next.

Yogesh Shinde
Yogesh Shinde

For responsible tourism

At a time when terms like ‘sustainable tourism’ and ‘responsible travel’ were gobbledygook to hoteliers and travellers in the 1990s, award-winning hotelier Sonu Shivdasani knew they would be key to future hospitality businesses. The twin concepts form the bedrock of all his luxury properties — Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in Maldives and Soneva Kiri in Thailand. “Sustainability may not necessarily be a priority for many tourists, but it is vital to us,” says the alumni of Oxford University who pioneered the trend for back-to-nature luxury holidays. “We are always striving to limit the negative environmental impact of our activities.”

Praveen Chauhan
Praveen Chauhan

Luxury at Soneva properties never strays from core ethical concerns. Recycling water, using solar panels, protecting biodiversity and eating local are integral to all his resorts. Plastic water bottles are banned. Instead, water at all properties is desalinated on-site and served to guests in glass bottles. 

Sonu Shivdasani
Sonu Shivdasani

Flower power

Disconcerted with mounds of flower waste generated at temples as offerings to deities, Praveen Chauhan realised it was coming at a huge cost to the environment. This set the alumnus of National Institute of Fashion Technology, thinking about ways to address it. Experimenting and researching, the thirty-something designer slowly started transforming floral waste into natural dyes. He launched his social enterprise, MATR or ‘mother’ in Sanskrit from his hometown Gaya in Bihar. He uses floral waste for production, provides employment to local weaver communities and is possibly pioneering a framework for religious organisations to tackle used flowers in an eco-friendly and profitable manner. Chauhan’s vision is premised on building a sustainable future through environmentally responsible initiatives. He is also resuscitating the khadi culture by collaborating with local artisans. He is helping them gain a better knowledge of market trends and grasp the underlying need for changing with time.

Bamboo India products
Bamboo India products

Crockery bank, anyone?

You’ve heard of a money bank, power bank and piggy bank, right? How about a crockery bank? Well, waste management activist Sameera Satija, a central government employee, launched a unique steel utensil bank two years ago to shine the spotlight on tonnes of plastic waste generated during Indian functions.

Appalled by the sight of disposable plates/glasses littering streets, clogging drains and choking stray animals post festivities propelled Sameera to set up her Gurugram crockery bank with just 30 steel glasses. Within weeks, the noble enterprise had dozens of volunteers queuing up to help. The bank estimates it has saved thousands of disposables from ending up in the trash. The Facebook group ‘Crockery Bank for Everyone’ runs 12 chapters in Gurugram through a network of volunteers, three in Delhi and is affiliated to two groups in Noida. The bank is helping people save money on buying disposable crockery while also conserving the environment. There is no rental/charge for using the crockery. Anyone can ask for them, take them, use them, rinse them and return them. One has to simply drop a message on the FB page and volunteers will do the rest.

Sameera Satija
Sameera Satija

 

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