Sunday, April 17, 2011

Go Green - Start with yourself First

'Be the change you wish to see in the world' - Mahatma Gandhi

In the last several years I am noticing a rapid decline in flora & fauna around me. A decade ago, Bangalore had lot more trees, lot more birds, and a lot more wild animals. In the last decade the following animals have gone extinct in Bangalore city - Sparrow, Frogs, Crabs, Vultures, Robin. Several other species are on the verge of disappearing in the city: Crows, Squirrel, Parrots, Crane, Cuckoo, Fishes, Owls, Vultures, honey bees, bats, snakes, etc.

The root of this problem is over exploitation of nature. Human population has exploded in the last decade resulting in exponential increase in air pollution, water shortage, noise pollution, Electromagnetic pollution, soil pollution etc. Today if one looks at the Virshabavathi river that flows in Kengeri, the river is nothing but a toxic soup of all possible pollutants, and the stench is so strong that even stray dogs do not venture near that river. At this rate, the city will grow itself into an Armageddon - resulting in mass extinction of all other animal and plant species.

We are close to wiping out much of the planet's wild life. At the current rate, the India's national animal - Tiger will be extinct in the wild within the next decade, and along with it will go the elephants, leopards, cheetah & lions. At the same time, we are close to wiping out the entire marine life as well. Our forests are being decimated. The once fertile agricultural lands are being converted into barren land. The rivers are being killed with fertilizer & pesticide run-offs.

If we want to avoid this doomsday scenario, we can. We need to change our lifestyle to be more environment conscious ourselves first, and then expect others to do the same. It is relatively easy to green at the first level - small changes in lifestyle will lead to big gains. For example, not using air conditioning in summer, or using a scooter/bike instead of a car has a big impact on the amount of fuels consumed and the consequent drop in CO2 emissions.

To avoid this dooms day, we need to change, and we need to change fast. To begin with, we must reduce our pollution foot print. Irrespective of where you are in the economic ladder, you can reduce the pollution you are creating. A small change in your behavior will have a big impact to the world, much like the little rain drops can form an ocean.

By going green, you can force the companies to become green, force the government to enact laws to discourage pollution and finally become a role model for your children. It all has to start with you as an individual.

The first steps

As individual, you can take few simple easy to do steps to become greener and save the planet. These simple steps can have big impact.

1. Do with less:

Today's biggest environmental problems are due to excessive consumption. People in USA & Europe consume way too much, and this excessive consumption is being promoted as "developed" lifestyle - which people in developing countries are trying to imitate. This excessive consumption will destroy this planet and we need to stop this consumption first.

You can start anywhere. Take a look at your wardrobe and if you are reading this blog, I can take a wild bet that you have more than 7 sets of clothes. In my opinion having more clothes is a sheer waste. Mahatma Gandhi had two sets of clothes, he would wash every day and wear the other set. While this kind of simplicity may be too tough for us, the ordinary folks. But I am sure that we can definitely do with less. In my personal life, I have taken a route to reduce the number of clothes, over the last one year - I have donated/discarded half of my clothes, shoes, & books. The objective was to reduce my cub board/shelf space usage in the house by half.

Making all those new cars, gadgets, clothes etc., eats up raw materials & energy. Instead learn to live with less. Where ever it is possible, try to use secondhand or recycled products. There is no shame is using second hand products - instead be proud of using second hand products as you are saving the planet. For example, at Go Green Works office - All the furniture we used are second hand. The work shed was also build with second hand steel. All the computers & printers are second hand - and we are proud of it.

Remember, minimize buying. Instead try to reuse & recycle. Reducing - living with less is the best and simplest solution.

2. Opt for greener products

The next step is to change your buying habit. When ever you walk into a shop to buy something, look around for alternatives and buy the one which has the least environmental foot print. You can start with groceries.

Opt for local produce

For example, choose the locally grown fruits over the imported ones. I am sure that the apples grown in Himachal Pradesh as just tasty as imported Fuji apples. Similarly opt for vegetables/grains grown in the local area. I am sure we all can live happily with the local food. Similarly the local Nandini butter is just as good as Amul butter, but Amul butter has to be shipped all the way from Gujrat. So its greener to choose Nandini over Amul.

There is really no need for food that has to be transported hundreds of kilometers. Just think of the fuel that is wasted to just transport that food. by choosing local foods over imported or food that has to be transported hundreds of kilometers - you will save tons of pollution.

When buying food, first understand where it is produced, and then choose the one that is produced closer to your house.

Opt for products with less packaging

Industrially produced food products tend to use excessive packaging. For example cookies produced by Danisk uses a Tin box, paper to wrap individual cookies, a box is sealed in a shrinking plastic cover. Compare this with the cookies from neighborhood bakery who uses just a simple plastic cover, and he more than willing to pack the cookies in your box if can carry it to his shop. While shopping carry a reusable cloth bag & avoid plastic bags. Where ever possible take a cloth bag to avoid plastic bags.

When it comes to packaging, note that paper packaging is better than plastic, recycled paper is better than virgin paper, reusable cloth bags (made of Jute/cotton) is better than recycled paper. So at any given moment, always opt for the greener option.

For example, today I was thirsty and for a minute I thought of drinking a soft drink, but then I thought again of the choices I had: Soft drink Vs Packaged Fruit juice Vs Tender coconut Vs Fresh fruit Juice Vs Bottled water Vs Filtered water. I went through the choices - and I knew I could reach home in next 5 minutes, so I opted for filtered water at home. This was the best green solution, not only it was green, it also save money and it was also very healthy. Other choices had calories & chemicals which are harmful for my health.

Make a deliberate attempt to choose products which use less packaging, less transportation when buying.

3. Reduce energy, chemicals, water wastage

At the personal level, going green means consuming less of everything. This includes electricity, fuels, chemicals & water. Use of fuel efficient vehicles. Use a bike or a scooter whenever possible instead of a car, use public transport instead of a scooter, Walk when ever possible. At homes use the most efficient lighting - LED lights or CFL lights, use a lower wattage bulbs where ever possible.

I live in Bangalore & I do not use Air-conditioning at home. At office I don't have a choice - the central AC is always on. I have made a pledge not to use air conditioning or air coolers in my home. I use the fan instead. Even in fans, a table top fan is more energy efficient than roof fan. Back in 2000-2003 when I lived in Texas, I used a table box fan in summer and avoided using AC. It was both being eco friendly and it saved money. It was a little uncomfortable in the heat, but after a while one gets used it.

As a first step, write down the electricity used in the last month & make a pledge to reduce electricity consumption by 10% in one month - without compromising on the quality of lifestyle. Similarly reduce your gas/petrol bill by 10%.

We tend to waste quite a bit of water. Though we Indians consume just 5% of water used by an average Americans, there is still some room to save water. Just look at your life and see how you can reduce the water usage - in particular look at how you can prevent wastage of water - in terms of rain water harvesting, recycling waste water for gardens etc.

At Go Green Works, we set up a rain water harvesting tank into which all the rain water drains into & recharges the water table.

If you are reading this blog on Internet, then I would bet that you are likely to have a car - and that means you have several opportunity to reduce your water/fuel usage.

Another pollutant we use is - Chemicals. Unknowingly we use lots of chemicals in our daily lives - mostly for cleaning purpose. Floor cleaning phenyl, dirt removers, detergents, etc. It may not be easy to reduce chemical usage as it requires deliberate actions to reduce chemical usage.

Start with cleaning things with natural cleaning agents - such as lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, etc. or other organic cleaning agents.

Natural cleaning products offer environmentally sound, cost-efficient alternatives to the toxic and potentially lethal household cleaning products used in many homes today. Use of these natural options is especially critical as most traditional cleaning products eventually contact the air, water, and/or soil, where they can cause significant and irreparable harm to animals, plants, drinking water, and food supplies.

The green mantra with chemicals goes like this: Avoid, Substitute and Minimize.

First try to avoid using chemicals. There are several chemicals we can avoid using: Room freshners, insect repellents, insecticides. If you can't avoid using a chemical - try using an organic alternative - especially for cleaning. Use of flowers or natural oils instead of room freshners, or use of incense sticks instead of mosquito repellents etc. Search on Internet & you can find lots of organic alternatives to chemical agents.

Finally if you can't avoid using a particular chemical, then minimize its use. Use such chemicals as sparingly as possible. Consuming fewer chemicals will reduce indoor air pollution and give a healthier life - with fewer problems like asthma, allergies, cancer etc.

Go Green & live better

A green lifestyle is a better & healthy lifestyle. By going green, you will notice that you have actually reduced the pollution around you - and that immediately translates to better health. Green lifestyle calls for walking - which is beneficial to your health.

It takes only three weeks to create a new habit. Start today and over the next few weeks - you may find it difficult to be green, but then once you have created this habit of being green - you will feel proud of yourself. Don't fret about things you don't control - i.e., a factory polluting a river. Such things will require a bigger action - which a single individual can feel helpless. Start with taking responsibility of your own pollution, and then you will slowly create a moment that can stop that factory.

Do what you can for the nature. Focus on what you can do, and do not lament on things that you can't. Don't blame on others for not doing your bit, do what you can do now, try and influence other to adapt a greener lifestyle. Even if you are doing it only half the time is better than doing nothing. And once you have successfully built a green habit, be proud of it and talk about it to all your friends and at every possible occasion. Soon they too will join you in the green lifestyle.

Going Green also means saving money & our planet. Most of the green choices you make today actually help you consume less and that saves lots of money. In today's world - we often confuse consumption with lifestyle, but the reality is that excessive consumption is unhealthy and thus leads to a poorer lifestyle. Once you come out of the high consumption treadmill, you will find that your life has become simpler, a lot less stressful and more enjoyable.

It is time to change and you have to change your habits/lifestyle first. There are several things you can do as an individual to help protect nature.

Learn to love nature

As one starts to adapt to a green lifestyle, one will also learn to love nature. You will soon learn how your pollution is killing nature and is also harming you. In the initial stages it may be tough for you to adapt to a greener lifestyle and in such moments - take a walk in the park or in a forest/wooded area. Think about how you can help you children live a better life, how wild animals can survive and flourish, and this simple act will give you the required strength to change for a green lifestyle.

When I look at my life and compare that with my father's life and compare with my grandfather's lifestyle, I find that in last 10-15 years I have created more pollution than what my grandfather did in his entire lifetime. My father consumes half as much as me and lives a better life than me. To me, this means only one thing. I still have a long way to go in terms of fully embracing a green lifestyle.

Be happy with less

We, as consumers have been constantly being bombarded with marketing messages to consume more and that consumption is also being seen a necessity and a symbol of wealth. But what many people do not realize is that most of this consumption is wasteful consumption which makes people poorer and leaves them worse off both economically and ecologically.

It takes a lifestyle change to get used to living with less and you can still have the same quality of life - but you are now being ecologically friendly.

Once you get off the high consumption treadmill, you will feel relived of all the stress that comes with the high consumption. This will lead to a happier and a better life.

Ecological Footprint

The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems. It compares human demand with planet Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle. For 2006, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.4 planet Earths – in other words, humanity uses ecological services 1.4 times as fast as Earth can renew them.

India's ecological footprint is 0.91 - i.e., it takes 0.91 hectares of land per individual to sustain his lifestyle. Given India's huge population and limited land availability translates to a deficit of 0.50 hectares per person. i.e., each one of us are consuming more than what the land (available per person) can produce - this in essence we are borrowing from our future generation so that we can consume today - leaving our children with a huge ecological deficit and a depleted land. See: Ecological Footprint of countries

Closing Thoughts

Going Green is not a government initiative. The responsibility for a sustainable planet lies with every individual. If everyone starts to have a green lifestyle, it will naturally change the government and corporate companies. It is our responsibility to save and protect this planet for our children and for generations to come. So you too can start now and change your life for the better by embracing a green lifestyle.


Saras said...

Good one Arun. Absolute must for all of us today.. Go Green.

Anuradha Goyal said...

Excellent article Arun.

Would like to add one more point - whatever space is available around you, put some fruit trees and grow your own vegetables and share it with people around you. The joy is immense and infectious and of course the best you can do to be in sync with nature.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to appear modernize people are consuming more than they need. These days before buying anything I ask myself, do I really need it and most of the times the answer is a clear No and I move on.

Josh said...

I actually use LED grow light inside to grow all my herbs and some vegies at the same time they are also the source for my home lighting needs as well. I think it is important to try to utilize as much as we can out of all we use especially electricity and usable space.