Sunday, May 24, 2009

How GREEN are you


As I was sitting at home a fews days back and leisurely browsing the internet - deeply soaking in the soft rustles and pampers of the nice, cool breeze blowing through the room even during this hot summer day in mid-May, suddenly I woke up to some serious realisation.

Yes, I had not switched on the fan in the room since morning and it was already about 3 pm in the afternoon. What’s more, I also realised that I have not been using fan or light in this room for the past quite many days, ever since I returned from Patna !! It is so very well ventilated and well-lighted that you simply do not need a fan, AC or lights !! (though, others may feel obsessively compelled to put on the fan or even AC ) Actually, our apartment is south-facing, looking over a large stretch of vacant land; so we are extremely lucky to have been blessed with Nature’s most precious gifts – air and light- in abundance !!

Recently, to harness this blessing all the more, I had re-arranged my furniture in the living room – shifting my dining set to the huge window facing the balcony. During morning hours, I just love sitting there, having my steaming cup of tea, reading the newspapers and working on my lappie, caressed by refreshingly nice n cool breeze and ample light. No need for fan or light again ! During the last three decades, I had almost forgotton this amazing feel of natural breeze, that we used to have in our childhood at our residence at Puri ( located near sea )!!

I really feel very happy that at least mine is a GREEN home and relish giving myself a pat on the back once in a while over the fact that I have got into a habit of making conscious moves to keep it that way ; saving on electricity consumption to the last bit possible. I switch off all lights, fans in rooms other than the one I am in – almost obssessively now. But for this energy-consciousness, I would have liked the entire house to be lighted especially when alone ( and most of these days , I am alone ) !!

So to cut the long story short : I am deliberately trying to reduce energy consumption / wastage – not only it saves my money spent on electricity – it does something much more significant for this planet: it helps in energy conservation- the insignificant quantum of my personal contribution notwithstanding! Every unit of energy saved is equivalent to a unit of energy produced !! Because the stock of natural energy is finite and availability of energy in usable form like electricity is also finite by the extent of production. So if I save a unit by curtailing my wasteful usage, it becomes available elsewhere for a genuine need. Just imagine, what the gross impact could be, if each individual makes a conscious effort to reduce wasteful consumption of energy at one’s own level first !! Add to that the impact of green initiatives that are possible at an organisational level !

Actually, by now most of us know( but the point is how many act as needed ) that the physical survival of our race and our Mother Earth now is severely challenged by three major environmental issues, off-shoots of our high industrialisation and urbanisation :

i. climate change / global warming mainly due to emission of carbon and other hazardous pollutants to air on one hand and rapid erosion of green cover ( forests , trees ) on the other.

ii. rapid depletion of natural sources of energy like coal, oil , gas ….and even water mainly due to excessive usage of the same to maintain our modern lifestyle which would come to a complete halt without these. Can you imagine even a day without electricity ? without fuel for your car ? without energy ? Run a quick glance through your everyday items of use and the lifestyle of even a common man – you will shudder to think of a situation without energy !!! The real challenge is that these natural ‘stores’ of energy sources are finite and are getting exhausted at astronomical rate. So, the challenge before us is to conserve energy to the last bit, have better and better extraction technology with improved ability to tap the available natural deposits of oil, coal etc. and most crucially, to find and harness alternative sources of renewable energy, like solar power, wind power !

iii. Waste management : solid waste, chemical waste, industrial waste etc. ; perhaps now e-waste can also be added as a menace in not-too-distant a future.

As far as our physical environmental hazards are concerned, these ‘trio’ form the crux of the menace – acting and interacting on one another !!

[Of course, when it comes to our survival in its real sense, economic and social ‘pollutants’ affecting the sustain-ability of the human race also need to be addressed on an equal footing. Truly, ‘rising temperatures’ are equally a consequence of unadmissible entrants into air, water and earth as of unadmissible entrants into our value syatem – of ‘falling values’ !!! How ? Worth reflecting by anyone genuinely concerned beyond self –interest.]

Coming back to the environmental hazards, my take is : although these issues to be meaningfully addressed, the corporates and the goverments must play their role at an organised level, we, as individuals, can also play an equally significant role through our conduct in our day-today-life – in fact, I would say, a far bigger role than that meets our eye on first thought.

This reminds me of an interesting concept called “Waste Hierarchy ” that I had read about somewhere, which I think, is a wonderful way to internalise green consciousness in both individuals and organisations.

This is a ranking of possible environmental actions in increasing order of environmental benefit:

  • To burn material for energy is better than sending it to a landfill.
  • To recycle it is better than burning it.
  • To reuse material is better than recycling it.
  • To reduce the amount needed is better than reusing it.
  • To eliminate the need for material is better than reducing it.

The last one is the best option and last but one is the second best and so on. If as an individual, as aslo as a part of an organisation, I imbibe this thinking, then instead of giving lip service to the environment issues, I would act in a conscious manner everyday – at least to reduce consumption, curtail wasteful consumption, reuse to the extent possible and find out other modes of doing things which are not dependent on scarce resources or produce lesser solid waste for disposal, plant trees in office and home/neighbourhood, walk down to the neighbourhood shop instead of using my car etc. etc.

a. At home and office, I can desist from switching on fans, lights and ACs, if not truly needed.

b. I can switch off TVs/computers , when not in use, instead of leaving them in stand-by mode. Contrary to common belief, stand-by mode consumes a significant amount of electricity .

c. I can pause a moment when I see numerous fans and lights on, proclaiming that the office is open even when higher animals called employees to adorn their seats are not in sight; I can simply switch them off - without listening to the clamour of voices inside ringing with cynicism company ka maal, darya mein dal ” !

d. I can be very careful about use of paper !! After all, where from paper comes ? Is it not one of the major reasons for felling trees, erosion of green cover ??

e. I can stop taking those n number of photocopies of official communications to be sent to numerous units of operation, to which I have already sent these communications by e-mail or fax ! I will do well to remind myself that the recipients of these faxes/emails must have already kept hard copies !! ( I mean, if at all, hard copies are to be preserved in each damned case .)

[ And no offense meant to anyone, but what about the common practice in many organisations to keep a copy of every communication received from top and passed down the line, at literally every point it passes through ??? For operating units at the grass root, most of the time, one ends up getting at least 6 to 7 communications with same/similar contents around the same time – by letter, fax, email print-out etc. It used to amuse and amaze, and then hurt, me while in service to think of the colossal wastage of time, paper, fax rolls, fax ink and so many other resources due to this one single reason ! One should imagine, with 10000+ operating units alone and hundreds of controlling /administrative units across the organisation, how much resources must be getting wasted in maintaining this kind of a working culture !! In fact, I used to get wild to get faxes on the same matter from five different places around the same time and all on official letter heads ( you can imagine, how much costly fax ink gets used up just in printing these logos and other detailed stuff that appear in all letterheads !!). I have even called up many of them to say … please, for heavens sake, stop this ! But, unless an organisation-wide awareness and sensitivity develops, this will go on unabated. ]

f. I can use the reverse side of the envelops/letter covers/obsolete stationery for drafting, noting etc. instead of wasting fresh plain paper for these purposes . I have the moral right to say this, because I actually do this.

g. I can ‘sell’ the letter covers etc. along with newspapers, old notebooks, books etc. – instead of dumping them in the dustbin – obviously not for the price ( which is just measly), but because it ensures that it goes to the recycling factories eventually. Dustbin wastes mostly get disposed off by burning. My uncle once mentioned about this practice that he follows and the reason for it and I really appreciated.

h. I can maintain separate dustbins, at home and office, to dump paper-based waste separately, which will facilitate their disposal in a way as to facilitate recycling or reuse.

i. I can plant or maintain green plants / gardens in my neighbourhood and office premises.

j. I can close running water taps , if noticed at public places. I can draw the attention of the concerned authority to broken / leaking pipelines.

k. I can use public transport or pooled car, whenever and wherever feasible, instead of feeling pride in speeding away all alone in a huge car with AC on and blocking half the road all by myself. I can also prefer walking down or cycling, if feasible, of course.

l. I can at least enquire about the emission levels or compliance certifications and fuel efficiency while purchasing new motor vehicles – consciously, out of concern for global warming. Similar display of concern by large number of prospective customers would ultimately push the manufacturers to improve green-compliance of their products. ( Obviously, govts and policy makers have a big role in setting regulatory framework in this regard, but I am talking about my role as an individual only – so not discussing that aspect).

m. I can sacrifice my lust for ‘earth’ and decide in favour of an apartment in a multi-storeyed building for my residence over a stand-alone house.

n. I can resist the temptation of going to that bigger shopping mall at a distance, by car, to window-shop and get my branded stuff; instead I can walk down to the neighbourhood mall where all these same things are available.

o. I can plan my visit to multiple shops / visit points ( say, the tailor, the dry-cleaner, the grocer etc. ) on the same day, instead of dashing off in my car to these places on different dates, just because I have time to spare.

Well, so on and so forth …. But am I really trying to do similar things?

If green consciousness sounds not-something-to be so finicky- about, then please think twice .

A few days back, there was a news item in a Daily ( TOI issue dt 06th May, 09 , reported by : Nitin Sethi) – captioned :

“ Disaster date may move up 21 years to 2029”

It said, the world must restrict its carbon emissions to 190 giga tonnes by 2050, if it is to have a chance of escaping the consequences of global warming. These are as per the latest findings published in “ Nature” magazine, which puts aside all earlier calculations and warned that our planet could take even less of the greenhouse gases than imagined before. There is 75% chance the world can hope to escape the danger of global average temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era only if it can keep its carbon emissions below 190 giga tonnes over the next 41 years. Although this inspires some hope, there is much to be worried over, as last year alone, the world emitted 9 giga tonnes of carbon by burning fossil fuels. And the rate at which we emit carbon is rising 3% every year. If we continue to burn fossil fuels and gases at this rate, the safety mark of 190 giga tonnes will be crossed by 2029 !! Every single tonne of carbon thrown into the air thereafter will reduce progressively our chances to survive the havoc of catastrophic climate change .

Some wake up call, I swear ; but seriously, are we listening ??

Well, that is only about the issue of global warming and climate change due to carbon emissions. But it is not this single issue alone, that needs to seize the attention of anyone walking on this planet. It is the entire spectrum of issues concerning our SUSTAINABILITY - from emission of carbon and other toxics/pollutants into the air, rapid erosion of forest cover / water mass, rapid depletion of energy sources like coal, oil, gas and water levels to …… well, a host of other things that affect the sustain-ability of this planet, that may well include how we conduct ourselves as individuals as much as how the corporates run their businesses from a perspective of corporate social responsibility( CSR) - everything to do with rising temperatures and falling values that may affect the sustain-ability of our current generation as well as the coming generations !! I reiterate this at the cost of repetition .

In short, “Sustainability” is the ability to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs.

And “Go Green” is coming up as a metaphor to represent the entire spectrum of sustainability issues and not just planting trees or addressing global warming. When I say how green are you or your organisation, I am simply keen to make you introspect on all these issues from a long term perspective and do whatever you can to address this at your level – as an individual, as part of a corporate, as part of policy makers n government, as part of the global community.

The volume of carbon emissions and rate at which it is increasing - should there be a prize to guess whether the ability of our future generation to sustain themselves is compromised or not ? Are you, as a person, not a party to this if you are unnecessarily using a motor vehicle when you could have avoided using it ? Are you not a party to this if while buying or marketing cars, you have not given even a thought to know how much carbon it is going to throw up into the air/its compliance with emission standards? Are you not a party to it if you are not trying to have enough green trees around to help nature convert the carbon emissions to life-saving oxygen and lessen impact on environmental temperature ? Think about it and you will be amazed to discover in how many small ways you can make a positive contribution to make this problem a little less. I have already mentioned a few earlier in this post.

Yes… I catch what you are thinking right now. The corporate world, the manufacturers, the financiers, government etc. have a big, big role to play, so far as this particular issue is concerned. In fact, I was a little sad when “Nano” came to market and the bankers started falling head over heel to finance the cars – with slogans like “ Nano for each Indian” - that too, without anywhere coming out with any public announcements on the emission-performance of this little common man’s car. Obviously, the target is the two-wheeler owners who would be tempted to upgrade. Would it lure the big-car owners to give away their swanky status symbols for a Nano for the similar services it offers as a city-ride at a ridiculously low cost ?

AND, LORD SAVE US – how would the traffic scenario be, if actually each Indian possesses a small car, with nothing improving as far as the roads are concerned ??? Honestly, personally, I feel, it is time for huge public transports and not small cars for a multitude. It is high time for a twin action - a robust and efficiently managed public transport system that can inspire confidence in everyone that it is better than driving own vehicles AND disincentives for buying vehicles for personal use (say, by way of high taxes, stricter permissions like in Singapore ) as also disincentives for using motor vehicles during certain distances/ time periods. Such govt. imposed disincentives can work a miracle in taking the status-symbol out of personal possession of four-wheelers. What no amount of social awareness campaigns can do in this regard can be achieved overnight and the message will spread that it is no longer the happening thing to show–off a car ! A word of caution ! The disincentives, without developing an efficient public transport system first, will not achieve the objective at all.

In Office premises, go for centralised air-conditioning as much as possible, instead of numerous window ACs or split ACs, design your interior aligned to natural light and see the savings on energy consumption !

Bankers and financing companies can contribute a lot just by containing their opportunism in coverting everything into a business opportunity and financing everything that comes to the market, without making a reasonable study of its long term impact on the environment/society/economy from a sustainability perspective. On the side of affirmative action, bankers and financiers can also contribute positively by giving incentives by way of reduced interest rates/service charges to manufacturing units or other industrial/service units, who invest in and implement green initiatives.

I feel a fresh gush of breeze when I hear about new concepts like ‘Carbon Credit’, ‘Green Home Loans’shifting to green suppliers’, ‘cut carbon out of the supply chain’ ‘stop transporting air’, ‘go local’etc.

As per some studies, industrial and transportation sectors—those that coincide with supply chain activities—account for 61 percent of carbon emissions in USA ! So, if only transportation aspect in the supply chain can be taken care of, say by rationalizing sourcing, assembly and distribution in relation to markets, travel distances, corresponding fuel use can be reduced. At times, even simple changes to a product design – from reducing weight to making it easier to disassemble or assemble — can reduce energy consumption and waste throughout the product life cycle. Someone made a brilliant point: a delivery truck filled with flat-packed chairs can carry the equivalent of six trucks of fully assembled chairs; so why transport air ?? The same principle can apply to all types of surface transport for goods and merchandise - enhance carriage space upward, you save dramatically on energy cost on transportation. { Indian Railways did something similar a few years back – kudos !}

Point is: the industrial world, even the service organisations – in fact the entire corporate world needs to gear up now to go green – invest in R&D for cleaner and greener technology, adapt green practices, orient their staffer towards appreciation of and compliance with green initiatives. Governments and Policy makers, as also NGOs and awakened citizens/citizen groups must do their bit in driving something like a Green Revolution through awareness projects and regulatory/punitive frameworks.

Ekks… suddenly I realise that I am going on and on. Well, my objective was to stir your conscience and consciousness about sustain-ability of our Mother Earth – obviously our race and our future generations included. I would like to believe, I have hit it ! And you are thinking for yourself: “how green am I ?”

Please think and act.


Rajeswari said...

It may seem a bit farfetched,but the biggest load of carbondioxide emissions comes from the meat industry.I have read this on numerous pro-vegetarian sites.I personally like to think it is true and stick to a vegetarian diet as i have been doing since one year.Its something worth contemplation.Most of us eat a poor creature happily when it is packed into a spicy dish or a cute looking burger.We do not take a moment to think of the after effects and the damage already done to the environment.

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snigdha said...

Hi, Raji, nice to know that u have spared some time to read my post, though u must be busy with yr studies. And thanks a ton, for adding something new to think about. It never struck me ... yeah.. as I think a little , it does not sound far fetched at all ; in that part of the world - processed meat is the staple food and must be consuming amazing quantity of energy and fuel in processing units , plus along their forward and backward links - and may be a big contributor to emissions !!! Feel a bit guilty too that, till now I am a non-veg eater . Thanks for reminding. Worth introspecting.

snigdha said...

Hi, Jared, thanks a ton for that. Truly wonderful on your part. I want to share my ideas, insights , learnings from others and the greatest master, i.e. own experience, with as many as possible across this planet. There is nothing new, I know - but reiteration/ reinforcement over time helps all.
Thks again.

Deba said...

Nice post! I’m agreed with you that every one should ask themselves how green they are!

The current scenario of increasing urbanization, growing industrialization, escalating migration of rural people to urban areas, rapid depletion of exhaustible natural resources, and last but not the least growing population on the Earth and their increasing demand for energy resources, is not only causing global warming, but also threatening about extinction of all the living beings. Under the circumstances, personal efforts are more important than organizational efforts; individual awareness is more preferable than collective awareness; and individual consciousness is better than mass consciousness. It is high time for everyone of us to awake to the environmental problems and take steps, notwithstanding how little that might be, for having a cleaner and greener habitat to live in. For this, we may give importance to the following 5 R’s in our day-to-day life:

Refuse: We should refuse to direct or indirect wastage of energy
Reduce: We should cut consumption of energy
Reuse: We should check all the things that can be reused before discarding them
Repair: We should repair all the machineries from time to time to avoid wastage of any sort of energy
Recycle: We should stress upon those materials which can be recycled, for example paper.

Do you know, every tonne of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 20,000 litres of water and the energy equivalent of 1,000 litres of oil?

Let’s open our eyes and be conscious towards this grave problem, and apply our mind for a better solution. When everyone, whether individual or organization, become conscious and do their best to solve a problem, there would be no grave problem. Let’s resolve to save the Earth and ourselves.


snigdha said...

Hey Deba, 5R's is a nice way to imbibe what each should do in this context. And the databased information on the impact of recycling paper must reach one and all . Thanks for sharing.