Let’s switch to simple living, high thinking/World Environment Day

Last week, as the World Environment Day was approaching, I asked a group of ten-year olds to write a short essay on the topic “less is more”. They were clueless and confused and nonchalantly asked me how could less be more. I took them to my childhood days when sharing of clothes and books were common, there was less wastage, and we thought of ingenious ways to recycle things. Those were the days when everything carried a higher “perceived value” and less was indeed more. I went on to explain to them that for every single thing that we produce, we consume some precious resource such as energy, wood and water etc, and that it high time that each one of us took a re-look at our daily living and consumption patterns and make “ethical” and “mindful” choices.

Today, it is not economic compulsions, but the plight of our environment that is compelling us to adopt sustainable ways. While we do talk about managing resources wisely, there is still very little focus on reduction of consumption. Buying more things than we actually need seems to give us some sense of security and ownership. So, we end up owning more assets that we need – more cars, bigger homes, more clothes, more food items to stack up our refrigerators. Besides, the more stuff we buy, the more shopping bags and packaging material we bring home. Till recently, we never understood the connect between environment and consumerism. But now we do. We are beginning to realise that our consumption ways are responsible for depleting resources, shrinking forests; and deteriorating air and water quality.

How do we make the qualitative shift? At our homes, we need to shift to equipments and processes that consume less energy, recycle waste and conserve water. This could be done through a variety of things such as switching to energy efficient devices such as LEDs, CFL bulbs, energy star rated appliances, solar power and sunlight during the day, opting for a bucket bath rather than shower bath, recycling water, using taps and faucets that conserve water, installing rain-water harvesting systems and composting kitchen waste and using compost for your kitchen garden. Opting to walk or cycle shorter distances, using public transport and avoiding use of diesel cars are greener choices in transport. There are endless possibilities – all we need is readiness to switch. In fact, new houses and buildings can be designed in a way that conserves resources. Communities including RWAs too can install rainwater harvesting, recycle grey water, switch to solar and reduce reliance on DG sets and undertake community kitchen waste composting. 

Several retail products ranging from jeans, t-shirts and shoes to fruits and vegetables are available that have been produced using more sustainable products and processes. Clothing from recycling plastic waste too is available. Sustainable choices today may be more expensive or hander to find, but they are the right choices. Sustainable packaging too could be a differentiator when choosing what to buy. As demand for such products increases, consumers will find them easily and cost too will reduce over time.  

Besides, as a society, we will have to make “sharing of resources” more popular. Car-pooling, for instance saves cost and planet’s resources. Technology platforms and mobile applications today have made sharing resources a very viable and practical options. Uber (taxi service), Air B&B (housing) are classic examples of how cost-effective solutions and services can be provided without creating additional assets. In fact, technology is also enabling people to “work from home” or “free-lancing” and it may not be long before physical office spaces may become redundant. In future, cities too would have to be designed in a “hub and spoke” transit manner where residential areas, schools and work places are all in the vicinity of each other.  

Some innovative concepts that are fast-catching up are worth taking a note. A crockery bank of steel utensils run in Gurugram lends free crockery for parties and events, negating the need to buy thermacol or plastic cutlery for one-time use. Feeding India is a non-profit organisation that channelises food from individuals, weddings, restaurants and corporate offices to people who really need it. Other mobile applications too are preventing food wastage by collecting food from hotels and restaurants and distributing it in night shelters and orphanages. Recently, in Suncity, in Sector 54, Gurugram a first-of-its-kind community fridge was inaugurated where-in residents keep food that can be used by anyone anytime. More such open fridges are being put up in Gurugram in the coming months.

So the next time you feel the urge to buy something, ask yourself if you really need it. Make informed choices and make “sharing resources” your second nature. The children, meanwhile, promised that they will create a “sharing club” in their class to share books and games and buy fewer new things from the market. Way to go! 

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