When Did I Get Serious About Sustainability?

It all started in 2008 when I was out shopping and discovered a stall put up by the National Geographic at Bangalore. I received an eco-friendly tote bag in exchange for a plastic cover. The volunteer informed me how plastic covers affect the environment and that cloth bags come in handy when shopping for things. 

In winter the same year, I visited Ms. Swathi Seshadri. She was my post-graduation thesis guide and it was at her place that I’d have meetings for my research. She was a social activist from Bangalore who worked for the Narmada Bachao Andolan and various other movements across India in the noughties. At her house, I noticed the balconies that lined three sides of the apartment were decked up with plants. 

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Next, in November 2009, I paid a visit to Dr. Regi George and Dr. Lalitha Regi of the Tribal Health Initiative in Sittilingi. These women empowered tribal communities in the region through their work. Their hexagonal house was set against a beautiful backdrop of mountains, open on all sides with tapestries for walls. What’s more? They also had an indoor pond. 

Indoor pond at Dr.
Indoor pond
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Indoor pond
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Indoor pond
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The Garden

Around the same time, I also stopped by Mr. Krishna and Ms. Anuradha’s house at Sittilingi, the architects behind Thulir – an NGO that worked on educating tribal communities. An interesting fact is that the couple and their students constructed the house, complete with plumbing and electrical work. The students called the house their pet project, the place where they put theory to practice. 

Source: Thulir.org
Source:Thulir.org

Seeing these beautiful houses inspired me to incorporate indoor landscaping in my own home…

…setting my Transition to an Earth-friendly Lifestyle in motion

The following year in 2010, I started working for an environmental NGO, ExNoRa, learning how our choices and behaviour adversely affected the environment we lived in. During this time, I learned more about waste management, kitchen gardening, eco-friendly products, recycling and upcycling. I also came across people who followed conscious practices. These included a person who sold biodegradable plastic covers. And, another acquaintance was Mathew from Paperman who converted trash to wealth by collecting waste papers from houses and selling them to factories. He raised funds from this activity for NGOs and scrap dealers. 

In 2011, I dove deeper by helping an environmental activist, Ms. Nisha Thota, operate waste management and organic farming projects at colleges and corporate companies. At the same time, I started kitchen-and-organic gardening at home. The plants included tomatoes, muskmelons, fenugreek leaves, chillies, and more. My kitchen waste was used as manure.

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Four years later in 2015, I underwent a personal change. Liquor, eggs, meat, milk and cheese entered my things-to-avoid list. Although, I still loved butter, buttermilk and ghee (clarified butter). 

Then, in 2017, I watched Cowspiracy based on a relative’s suggestion. That’s when things shifted drastically. I couldn’t place my finger on it yet but I began thinking about veganism and a possible transition into living a vegan lifestyle. 

These changes further inspired me to learn about terrariums and indoor landscaping. Terrariums help clean the air around us, beautify our home and combat pollution in their own little way. However, since terrariums were expensive, I used money plants and lucky bamboos. 

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A year later in 2018, Mahalakshmi – a fellow blogger – wrote an article on veganism for me. In her article, she suggested her readers watch Earthlings, a documentary. It was now that veganism became a real idea and I decided to adopt it. 

Through my transition to a sustainable lifestyle, I wanted to contribute to nature using different options. And so, I chose areas where I can make small but positive changes. Vegetarianism, waste management, kitchen gardening, eco-friendly consumerism, silk boycott, reduction in plastic use and using substitutes for harmful products (wherever possible) were some. 

Staying away from cow milk and butter was difficult. But I started substituting them with almond milk and peanut butter. I selected cloth bags and cotton clothes over leather bags and silk sarees. Instead of shunning vegan products, I wanted to explore them. 

Come 2020, I had to switch to vegetarianism for health demands. But that didn’t stop me from staying on the constant lookout for alternatives to environment-harming products. Or, innovations that can reduce toxic materials made of non-renewable resources. Eventually, through research and lengthy discussions with fellow eco-enthusiasts, I learned that not all ‘sustainable’ options help. Some are just stop-gap solutions or lesser of two available evils. These options are propagated by mainstream advertising. 

Further, I also found that our waste management systems are yet to catch up to robust innovations. Even for brands that promote recycling, reverse-logistics is expensive and hard to see through. However, I use my knowledge to decide what I should consume and how I can best dispose of waste. 

If you go through the timeline in this article, you’ll realise that the transition took place over a series of decisions and actions in a period of roughly 12 years. It may have been slow, but it was certainly purposeful.

My Ultimate Learnings from this Process may inspire You

My transition to a sustainable way of living wasn’t easy. But small changes make a huge difference. Boycotting all seemingly wrong practices and stereotyping everyone is not the solution. One significant learning I’ve had from several years in social advocacy is this – lobbying incorrectly for social and environmental issues only makes them worse. The Sivakasi child labour issue was one such example. 

Discerning what’s best for me and the environment happened after vast research. The education I had about various sustainability issues helped shape my views and behaviour towards the planet. 

Animal cruelty and environmental abuse has been around for a while now. But people are entitled to their own food, recreation and buying choices. Every individual is made up of different ideologies and ways of living. This write-up doesn’t call for drastic changes in mindset, attitude and behaviour. But there are certain choices people could be made aware of. 

A non-vegetarian may also be an organic farmer doing his bit to save the environment. A vegan could also contribute to pollution by smoking or eating food that’s non-organic. A vegetarian may not eat meat but have a wardrobe full of leather products or silk sarees that contributes to animal cruelty. 

I’ve seen a few pet owners who had dogs more than they could accommodate in their tiny apartments. They purchase these dogs from breeders and sometimes don’t even walk them regularly. They also feed strays in the area but don’t take care of their vaccination and health needs. Through these actions, they’re contributing to animal cruelty and yet, taking care of the strays. How does one label them?

I urge my readers to consider watching documentaries and do your own research, irrespective of your current consumption choices. It’s always better to be aware of what you’re consuming, and how those products came to be. This information will empower you to make informed decisions for leading a better, more conscious lifestyle.

Credits:

The featured photo is sourced from pexels

The article is written by Deepa Sai is the founder of ecoHQ and Quill Ink. And, the content has been edited by Ayesha Tari

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