Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gandhian engineering-A Food for thought

There is a nice saying ..“Life was simpler when "APPLE" and "BLACKBERRY" were just fruits..!!!”. A nice world without the burdening list of “to-dos” and the pinch of schedule. Alas, but life has taken its course, and any man with a dream to fulfill, has to trade the racing path. So the fruits turn into gadgets and the life into a timetable. Everybody wants to claim his pie in this glorious economic growth and leave his mark in the industry.
Even amidst this smog of industrial revolution, there are some visionaries who dream of sustainable future. Working towards “ more from less” motto, and targeting the large mass at the bottom of the pyramid, they follow a mission called “Gandhian engineering”. An eminent scientist and a visionary leader, Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, threw this idea at the entrepreneurs and he had a large cult following. The core of this initiative is “Science for Solution, Technology for Transformation, Innovation for Impact”. The idea revolves around highest quality of product / service at lowest price. Dr. Mashelkar also gives an immense importance to optimize production processes to reduce waste, promote reuse and recycle. This is the need of the hour.
He quotes very apt example for sustainable future, surprisingly coming from a boy in rural area. Boy says nearly 120 liters of water is consumed to produce one kilogram of vegetables and how it was not sustainable. That is where Gandhian Engineering will begin. The heart of it is sustainability.
Every process is dependent on the raw material, which by god’s grace is abundant at this hour. But stock of metals, oil n gas would soon deplete, and every core process and the digital world that depends on these inputs, will feel the shortage. In the state of abundance, the thrust to recycle and reduce waste takes a backseat. But We cannot go on just consuming. We need to reuse. Recycle.
Dr. Mashelkar quotes C K Prahlad, that our aspirations should always be higher than our resources. If you feel you are resource rich, the aspirations go down, you are on a downhill. So always use resource critically and wisely. The thought provokes the requirement of a “Green initiatives”.
The three major hurdles we see in such initiative, is one lack of awareness, two unavailability of an easy medium to recycle, and third less access to experts for optimizing our processes. We need to start a movement to reach the masses and motivate them to use renewable energy resources, utilize natural resources wisely. The entrepreneurs are already striving to create quality products for less cost, especially in health and consumer sectors to reach the bottom of pyramid in India. What we need to emphasize is to properly handle the end-of-life cycles for these products. The same also need to be propagated to corporate for responsible manufacturing and recycling.
Million dollar question. So how do we contribute in this greater cause. As a miniscule part of this society, do I have power to take on this big challenge? Why not….We are ideating one such movement through the web media, with our technical skills, for the urban masses to start with. We would try to address every possible avenue to work towards the Greener India. We wish to take this movement subsequently to reach every citizen of India and inculcate the habit of responsible usage and engineering. We will like to put in use our technical experience, in-house expertise. We also encourage other volunteers to help in this cause and contribute as per their competence.
As Dr. Mashelkar say, we live on earth on a lease of our lifetime. Some people do some good for humanity, some people do otherwise and some just don’t do anything, they consume and go away. We want to be of the first kind, and contribute towards our Nation.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

World Environment Day June 5th 2010

Today is World Environment Day. Last year I had launched my blog on this day. So A Greener You is 1 year old today. Its time to take stock of where we are.

Environment is our all encompassing natural surrounding. When people study the impact of human activity on the environment we refer to the five elements of the environment : Land, air, water, noise and the biological environment. Any substance introduced by human activity into these 5 environments in quantities that are harmful for humans are termed as pollutants. We humans have rendered our environment polluted to such an extent, that it is beyond the capability of nature of cleanse itself. Humans understand that well - so we devise terms such as mitigation - which means to undo the harm - which is like putting the paste back in the tube!

So when the sustainability movement started - it understood that we have to involve humans and economics to undo the damage on the environment. Environment does not stand alone but when human realise that it is in their favour to not pollute and not use more than required the environment stands to gain by embracing a sustainable lifestyle.

There are many blogs telling you what each one of us should to live greener -a blog of note is maddock douglas - Green innovation blog.
Leverages the human ingenuity to overcome all odds, using innovative minds to tide the wave.
While skeptics still abound wondering what this hulla bulla is all about, it takes gentle coaxing to so that people start to spare atleast a thought to our all encompassing natural environment. Once the thought takes root, we would coax further to turn it into action. Like domino effect the green movement has already taken the world by storm. Business who choose to ignore it will stand to face risk of regulation, litigation and brand value loss. Individuals who choose not to acknowledge or revere the environment will eventually be scorned by a growing section of society who have by choice embraced green lifestyles. It will be realised that we have no other way to live but to live holistic, closer to nature lives.

Do your bit for the environment. Live naturally...and don't tell me what can I do? If you can read and write you already know what you can do.
Remember ABC
Spread the awareness, feel that the earth belongs to you, and care as if it is your own child and do it everyday.
Happy Environment Day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How much Green do we need to become?

Green has a become buzz word with everyone talking or doing something about it. Business have started printing Sustainability Reports to show their commitment towards environment and green. So much that some people from my personal circle have quit jobs and have become social entrepreneurs of green activities. Really inspiring.
And above all, there are so many seminars, webinars, podcasts available on green that one cannot be ignorant about our climate and planet. However, what is most interesting to see is that any session you attend on Environment, Green Change, Water prevention etc., there would be a high chance of one speaker who would give example of having bath with one bucket of water or has switched to conventional methods of living. And I have a serious problem with such kind of unwordly remarks. What do they want/expect from common man?
  • Do they expect us to go back to medival period?
  • Do they expect us to think so much green that even while buying basic commodities of home one should look for carbon footprint?
  • Do they mean that world which was becoming flat sometime back is getting territorial again? With the fact that buy local to go green and reduce one's carbon footprint.
  • Do they expect us that anything with label green is the right choice irrespective of other important parameters to me as an individual?

and so on. The point I am trying to make here is that people should be made aware becuase that is in the common interest for our planet. We have to go green. Period. But how? Has anyone got any clear view on that. There are various means and roles each country and individual needs to play here.

Reduce carbon footprints means what? I have not been able to comprehend the right definition still. Yes, I have read the official definition but when it comes to buying products the one needs to know carbon footprint also covers the emissions from the source. Now, if I am sourcing from China because it gives me manufacturing and product pricing advantage. Shall I not go for it? Purelybecuase it involves the mode of goods transport i.e. air is causing more emissions that does not mean I should start buy locally. There are certain business challenges like speed to market, pricing, quality and service which come into play while a product is being produced.

Basic point: If I am not going to be in business and make profits, will green really matter ?

Yes, I am in agreement that we should be "responsible" and must consider impact on the environment while doing our daily jobs in life. However, just we being responsible will not help becuase we need to use the technology to our advantage to reduce the impact further. We have left behind medival period centuries ago so why quote such examples.

For example : I read about this washing machine which would use just one glass of water and one spoon of powder to wash all the clothes ( Now that's technology in use & behaving responsibly.

Another example: Grohe has come out with showers with Eco-Button which reduce water usage upto 40% ( Not only this they have whole lot of bathroom accessories which can help save water and thus enable us to become more repsonsibly. Rather than asking us to start taking bath with one bucket of water !!!

There are some printing of paper setting which one can see in offices like double sided printing. Absolutely makes sense. Infact, I was reading some days back about some special fonts to be preferred as they use less ink while printing. Another invention in this area is the "Eco-Fonts" ( Awesome ! Mind Blowing !

Having said all this what I have realised is that we need to go green because it is the question of our survival and future of next generations. But we also have to use our common sense as well not just driven by labels proclaiming green and some NGOs coming in with big sponsors to advocate the same.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My home has a garden and my city my garbage strewn all over the place!





Nothing pains me more than garbage strewn along roads. As if casually by walking past I have dotted my streets with the garbage from my home. It is indeed a very painful thing to walk along streets which smell and look dirty at the same time. We Indians have mastered the art of doing just that! We have amazing resilience to stench and visually disheartening streets. Its the pollution that we are all responsible for but no one feels responsible for it.

I see people of all classes in India with little civic sense. Not that we Indians have no sense of beauty or cleanliness. We are very clean people. We do not venture out without a bath. Our homes are cleaned everyday sometimes twice a day. Air inside our home is purified with burning incense and dhoop sticks. Our homes have neatly kept courtyards, which are swept and sprayed with water (to reduce the air borne dust). Yet our garbage finds its way just outside our homes, as if it is the job of someone else to collect our waste and take it else where. Callousness marks are attitude about garbage. Garbage is considered ‘ashudh’ in hindi i.e unclean. Hence needs to be kept away from our immediate surroundings. Hence our entire cleanliness routine is based on the above. When we are within our homes, everything is neat and clean, but just outside lies our own garbage, that is so paradoxical. Hence Indians ensure that they clean their feet when they come back from a visit outside their homes. The outside shoes are not worn inside the house and vice-versa. We do not consider our cities as our own homes, we Indians are pretty selfish in this respect. It is painful however to even acknowledge this fact. We are so paranoid about garbage that we cannot bear to hold even a small piece of Lays packet that our child has eaten outside. We discard the piece as if it is so heavy that it cannot be carried with us to be disposed properly.

The fact that waste management is the least in the minds of people is borne testimony by the fact that no thought is given to waste management while designing even the best of buildings. India Inc. has no time or thought  for garbage. Waste is always an afterthought to be handled when it arises. To be dumped into land without a thought. Hopefully things are changing and builders and town planners are giving thought to waste management.

Municipalities struggle with keeping the cities clean and waste collected is often burned (contributing to air pollution and toxic fumes and GHG gas emissions). Where the west differs from the Indian thought process is that they consider their towns to be their own. Hence everything is clean, homes as well as their towns. There is no distinction in which shoes are to be worn inside the house or outside.

Its time Indians change their perception towards garbage and give thought to proper and thoughtful disposal of waste.

For those who are not aware our country has waste management handling and disposal rules which were passed in 2000.

There are fines spelled out for littering and improper disposal of waste. However these are not strictly imposed anywhere in the country. There are however few states in India which have done a good job of waste management. One of them is Goa.

There is a lot of technology available to handle and manage waste. Only will and people’s cooperation will ensure that we clean up our towns and cities. I wonder why we feel insulted when Mumbai was shown as a dirty pigsty in Slumdog Millionare. It is the truth and its time we accept it. Acceptance that we Indians love to litter and that this litter bug tendency transcends all classes. 

Just like my domestic help puts it “why should I bother when everyone else does the same thing”. Like a goldfish I looked at her…wondering what could be done to increase the levels of awareness amongst one and all. Just the other day I took my soon to a store and got him a box of chocolates. Two other kids bought the same thing. Within minutes the chocolates were devoured. My son held onto his box and showed me the other two on the shop floor carelessly thrown by the kids(their parents were with them neither set of parents told their child not to litter). I was appalled, the shopkeeper smiled and said people do it all the time. Never mind, garbage is just a small thing…Indians just don’t have time for garbage! Truly Indians live in beautiful homes and dirty cities.

Watch this wonderful film by Parasher Barua. It deals with the lives of people in Dharavi who recycle waste thrown away by us. Dharavi recycling is an unaided, enterprise by the ever resourceful people of Dharavi.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Leading the way-Wegmans

I am writing after a long gap. I was caught in the flow of events that relates to a move. I moved from New Jersey to India. Just before leaving I went to Wegman’s in Woodbridge to get a jar of organic peanut butter (store brand).

Wegmans used to be and is still is my most favored supermarket in Woodbridge. And the reasons for it being my favorite is much more than just what is available in the store. It has a commitment towards sustainability and towards the local Woodbridge Community. I used my last visit to speak with Ashley Aspres who showcased Wegmans’ commitment towards sustainability.

Wegmans has a line of great organic products which are:

1. Free from pesticides and fertilizers

2. No artificial ingredients

3. No hormones and antibiotics.

Wegmans sources its products from New Jersey and nearby areas thereby supporting local farmers. Check out their Jersey fresh fruits and vegetables. Check out their locally sourced orchids.

One visit to the seafood section shows their commitment to sustainable fish farming. What is special about their shrimps? or all the seafood at Wegmans?

“We encourage suppliers to adopt farming standards that reduce the negative impacts on local wildlife and ecosystems and minimize or eliminate the use of wild fish in the feed, pesticides, and antibiotics.
When appropriate, we work with organizations (such as the Environmental Defense Fund) that specialize in understanding the intricate challenges surrounding farm-raised seafood.”

“We will only work with wild-caught seafood suppliers that have been certified (such as by the Marine Stewardship Council) to acquire seafood that is caught responsibly and prevents the depletion of natural resources. If we find that a better alternative is not available, that item will be removed from our selection.”

Wegmans has put in tremendous amount of effort to rethink about what it is offering to its customers. Its caring attitude towards environment and its customers is endearing.

Wegmans started selling reusable plastic bags since 2007. One reusable bag eliminates the use of several plastic bag. Wegmans also accepts used plastic bags which can be recycled into other plastic products. It has tied up with the Woodbridge township waste management department to enhance its waste management program.

I feel happy to see their efforts. In future, Wegmans will use their commitment towards environment to further influence their supply chain to embrace sustainable practices.

I hope in future Wegmans would introduce many more initiatives which are environmentally friendly. At Wegmans they are always “all ears” to suggestions from its customers. Ask for drop offs for plastic fives(Gimme5). Ask for reduction in packaging. Check out their sustainability page at and happy shopping.


Jason Wadworth (Sustainability Coordinator at Wegmans)

John Cortina (Service Manager at Woodbridge)

Ashley Aspres for showcasing Wegmans sustainability efforts and walking me through the stores showing their different product lines.