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Celebrate but ‘responsibly’!

Let me start by wishing all of you a very happy and prosperous 2014 – may God bless you and your dear ones with simplicity, love and happiness…stay happy, make happy!

Today, I am writing to all those of who wish to do ‘something’ different for the new year, something creative – something unique! I believe that I am not the only one in the human race who symbolizes ‘celebrations’ as earsplitting music in crowded discos/night clubs or flooding restos in ‘happening’ places…I disdain that kind of ambience, and so I know do some of you…insane we are, right! Haha…sometimes its gimagesCAEVC5R5ood to be ‘uncommon’..

But then, how do we still ‘celebrate’? How can we feel elated during a special occasion by doing something different, something? Why not try something that’s a little more ‘responsible’?

As the saying goes, ‘its difficult to be simple’…for those of you who to celebrate the new year in a simple yet responsible way – here’s some tips for you….they are’nt that difficult, are they?

  • Beat the crowds – try having parties at your home, terrace or society…call your friends over and enjoy the fun and frolic. You cut down a lot on your transportation emissions that way…
  • A click, that’s all – drop a message electronically inviting your friends for the party..gone are the days when you post invitation cards or notes – do we even have a postbox in our homes now?Well, i dont…
  • Go paperless – try not using paper in any way for the party – invitations, plates, glasses, wrappers, decorations etc etc….forego anything made of paper! What then? Just use your grey cells…there are plenty of alternatives(glassware, non-disposable festoons, recycled paper decor are just few)
  • Healthy eating – try some organics for the menu…trust me, they are as delicious as any conventional cuisine!
  • Raise a toast – why dont have a choice of organic beverages from a local microbrewery…you neva know, it might just do a better magic to our souls!
  • Always share – any party brings with it tonnes of food, that’s wasted…figure out a local group, society which can help you distribute excess food to the homeless…even they deserve something ‘special’, dont they?
  • Be Safe – This is of utmost importance…as the host, or should I say, a ‘responsible citizen’ you should ensure safety throughout the event…its’ just one life…so understand the value and spread the message!

These are just a few ideas for you to welcome your new year in a ‘simple’, ‘responsible’ yet ‘unique’ way – you may have even better ones in your mind!

So go for it…start the year by doing good…an etheral feeling of satisfaction will follow, that’s a promise!

What. How. Why…..or reverse?

Though I intended to write this to commemorate the WED 2013 theme, ‘Think.Eat.Save’, it took me a while to think how much I practice what I believe in…..

Shall try to pour out those ‘beliefs’ to you…and to what extent they can be practiced….

I was listening to a TED talk by Simon Sinek the other day on ‘inspiration’. The speaker was just too good while explaining the Golden Circle that governs human actions – ‘What, How, and Why’. Consider any human action and you would find that this logic can be applied to justify all our intentions. We generally start by asking ourselves ‘What’, followed by ‘How’ and ending with ‘Why’. And you are not the only one…a general consensus says that 86% of the human population follows this sequential logic to draw a rationale on their actions.

Let me try drawing this logic in the context of food consumed by us, ‘Humans’. Think of a situation when you are at work, lots of tasks pending, hands of the clock is just striking 12 noon and there is still one long long hour for the lunch break to start! God you’re hungry and the moles in your tummy have started their marathon already!! Immediate question – “What do I eat now”? You answer yourself promptly…”I can eat ‘x’.”Next Question “How will I get it”? Another answer, “The packet of chips is in the pantry”…Lastly (if at all), “Why am I eating ‘x’ and not ‘y’? Rarely can we sustain our hunger till the last question….as soon as we know what to eat and how to get it, we have almost won the challenge. ‘Why’ remains unanswered as usual…

Strangely, it has been found that an answer to this question ‘why’ could be the magic key to  open the treasure box that contains unheard facets of human survival. In other words, if we knew ‘why’ we are consuming as much as we do, we would discover how we can reduce our consumption and what should be the action for doing the same. Instead of following the top-down approach we need a bottom-up approach where we should question our consumption – Why do we eat ‘x’…..next question, ‘how do get to eat ‘x’….the last one, ‘what should we do to eat x’.

An example at this juncture will give a clearer picture of my logic. Irrespective of the fact whether we are vegetarians or non-vegetarians, do we ever question ourselves at the dinner table, “why are we eating a curry made of frozen peas or salad with preserved chicken sausages’? “Why couldn’t we prefer the fresh ingredients instead of buying packed and preserved food”? “Who would have grown these vegetables and how”? “What would the poultry have been fed with”?…….The Q&A session goes on till long….

If only we could think this way, would we realize what impact our choices as a ‘consumer’ would have on the environment, the economy and everyone’s quality of life in the ecosystem.

If only we could make a responsible choice and align it with the natural cycles of the earth, we, as individuals would have taken great leaps for survival of mankind.

Human consumption of food marks a confluence of economic, environmental and social sustainability. When we know why we are eating a pack of chips that is contained in a plastic or a non-biodegradable bag, we would ourselves discover how to get rid of the habit, and what other options to look for as a ‘crunchy munchy’ with the evening tea!

To make your kitchen and your eating style sustainable, here are a few tips from my side (I am trying to follow them myself, so trust me they aren’t that difficult)-

  • Buy locally sourced or grown food
  • Avoid packaged and preserved food. They are mostly energy consuming, non-biodegradable burden for the earth.
  • Try shopping from farmers’ markets or local ‘mandis’. Those red and yellow bell peppers in shopping malls’ refrigerators may look good….but they are unfortunately taking away some hours of your or your dear ones’ lives by being preserved and refrigerated
  • For vegetables and greens, keep in mind the health hazards caused by pesticides. Try opting for organic vegetables. They might seem expensive now….but would actually turn out to be ‘profitable’ for you in the near future
  • For non-vegetarians, try opting for farmed meat or fish than the wild ones. Also try questioning about what poultry had been fed with, whether they were injected with antibiotics or whether they were grazing on sustainable lands?
  • Try composting or recycling your kitchen waste to complete the cycle. Wherever possible, try growing a kitchen garden.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season – they are the best ones in nutrition and flavor – and of course better for the earth.
  • Lastly, consume as much as you can, and try reducing on your waste.

An article in TOI on 6 June 2013 is titled as “Food worth Rs 58k crore goes waste in India every year”….with 33% of the world poorest people in India, can we afford to lose so much just because of our irresponsible and unethical attitudes…WHY???HOW DO WE STOP THIS?? WHAT SHOULD WE DO NOW???

Are you a Green Consumer?

Have you heard this line from John Donne’s poem, “No man is an island unto himself”…..

Few words but with a real heavy meaning!

My logic deciphers the inner meaning of the above line as follows: We all belong to nature and our daily activities are tuned to the rhythms of the ecological system that we find ourselves in…Hence, a distortion in this system caused by our activities today, might act as a boomerang for us in the near future. For example, the impounding effects of global warming, a phenomenon which has been triggered by our irresponsible attitude towards the environment, might lead to havocs like spread of epidemic, food shortage, destructive floods, groundwater contamination, stunted growth for crops etc, thus questioning our survival.

Realizing the aforementioned damage and contemplating the solution into action is what defines the attitude of a typical ‘Green Consumer’.

A Green Consumer is one who not only makes eco-conscious preferences of products and services available in the market due to his concern for the environment, but also disseminates knowledge to his fellow citizens about the ‘benefits’ of purchasing green.

Buying green (and buying local) is a kind of investment for a sustainable future with the following benefits:

  • It reduces pollution and the associated health effects;
  • It strengthens communities by retaining and creating jobs locally;
  • It reduces domestic reliance-and vulnerability-to disruptions that occur elsewhere; and,
  • In the long run, it saves money without mortgaging our children’s future.

Have you come across someone in your life till date who matches the above definition correctly? Ask that consumer sitting inside you, who visits a shopping mall with ‘exquisite’ branded outlets, or a ‘cool cafeteria or a lip-smacking food joint almost every new day!!Are you a ‘Green Consumer’??

Let us talk about the city of Mumbai.

When I came to Mumbai two years back the city seemed to be appeal to me a lot at the first go…I could feel the pulse of a ‘fighter’ in every Indian citizen here, who struggled to win the best for himself. Somewhere I also had a hunch that if sensitized, ‘green’ can become a buzzword in this city…all what is needed is awareness.

You would possibly agree with me on the fact, that if found profitable, Mumbaiites generally accept challenges the way they are and try to win over it with all their might. Hence, if explained the simple logic behind consuming ‘green’ I bet it would not be difficult to inculcate the spirit of greenness amongst the citizens in Mumbai.

People are buzzing about ‘green’ in newspapers, tv shows, ads, social networking sites, workshops, educational events, social gatherings etc. However a common misnomer which spoils the spirit is that green products cost a wee higher than equivalent brown products.  Have you ever questioned whether it is worth to pay more? Have you tickled your grey cells ever to understand why you are asked to pay Rs.5-6 for that extra plastic bag at the billing counter of shopping malls? The answer is simple…so that you save at least 5-6 times on your quality of life from getting deteriorated.

From plastic bags you use for your grocery to electronic appliances that you have accommodated at your office and residence to enjoy all the comforts of life…..every object in the universe follows a life cycle. Each life cycle consists of five stages: extraction, production, distribution, usage and disposal.

Thus, from the stage the raw materials are extracted to its disposal, there is an environmental footprint created at each step of this cycle. You may debate with me saying that as a consumer there is not much that you can do because the first three stages are beyond your control, But what about the last two and maybe the most important ones?

If you act more maturely and responsibly in making your choices as a consumer, not only do you move into a sustainable mode of living but you force manufacturers to produce ‘green’ so as to meet your demands.

Thus, you as an eco-conscious consumer stand undefeated as a ‘Leader’ who has the ability to force the system towards a ‘greener future’ just by making the correct choice of a product.

Would you not want to be called a ‘leader’ at least once in your lifetime??

Climbing up the ‘Green Ladder’!

With ‘green’ being the buzzword in present times, it is the best time for SMEs (Small and Medium Businesses) to gear up for climbing up the ‘green’ ladder…

A Green Ladder??? What on earth does that mean?

Well…..by using the word “green ladder’ I mean the strategies or the practices which ought to be taken up by organizations in order to switch to an environmental friendly mode.

A ladder is required to climb from a lower to a relatively higher level—a term we all  learnt  during our kindergarten days…

Taking it from the grassroots ‘a green ladder’ can be imagined as the set of practices or strategies which are incorporated by an organization to rise from a region of lesser security, market competitiveness and social recognition to a region of higher efficiency, competitive advantage and more than all…profitable returns!

Instead of a steep jump which can be risky…a ladder-approach is safer…it’s gradual, step-wise… a systematic approach thus ensuring greater chances of success.

………………………………………………………………………………………

Last few years have witnessed a number of large multinational companies like Vestas, Suzlon, Philips and Siemens, and even some small start-up businesses taking the ‘green’ issue seriously and willing to offer a helping hand to tackle climate change and ensure a healthy planet for ourselves.

But while a negligible number of Indian corporate biggies, and mainly the European businesses are showing their eagerness to go green, the situation in India is far away from satisfactory as a whole;  a few businesses are doing it willingly, others, particularly those that are energy-intensive, have the requirements to do so to some extent as a result of government legislations.

Overall, the concepts of greener strategies are not gaining enough popularity in the country – neither among the large businesses nor among the SME community – partly because of a lack of awareness and social responsibility, and partly because the businesses fail to understand fully the extent of devastation that is being caused by the menace of climate change and global warming.

But sooner or later, Indian businesses will have to change their attitude and rectify their procedures – if not because the earth is going to melt down due to global warming or some new environmental legislations will make them to do so, then only because of growing awareness of their customers – especially the importers from the European countries and the US.

Let us discuss the situations in European countries as a case example. According to the Eurobarometer survey on “SMEs, resource efficiency and green markets” published on 27 March 2012, 37% of EU SMEs have at least one full or part-time green employee. Green jobs are largely created in SMEs as opposed to large firms: In 2012, 1 in 8 employees of small and medium-sized firms had a green job or almost 13% of all SME jobs (in large firms it was only 1 in 33 equivalents to 3% of all large company jobs). Green jobs in SMEs are also estimated to expand dynamically with a rate of 35% in the next 2 years.

The Eurobarometer survey also reveals other sources of untapped potential which could be used by SMEs. For example, less than a quarter of SMEs take advantage of the single market for green products or services. Bureaucracy is considered as one of the obstacles: 20% of SMEs says that it would be easier to do green investments if cross-border administrative and legal procedures were not so complex.

SMEs in green industries are also maturing. Three in five (61%) SMEs selling green products or services have been active in green markets for more than three years compared to 52% in the US. Food and beverages (25%) and electronic and mechanical machinery and equipment (23%) are the most commonly sold green products and services by SMEs in the EU.

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship unveiling today the Eurobarometer results said: “I am happy to see that SMEs are taking on this huge untapped potential which will pay off with more innovation, more competitive SMEs and more jobs. However, there is still a lot of work to do. Only very few European SMEs extend their green business to foreign markets. Knowing that the EU makes up roughly one third of the world market for environmental industries this reveals a huge potential for SMEs to grow.”

Customer demands play a major role in Europe to encourage SMEs to think green. In fact, in the European countries, the number of a new group of customers classified as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) is growing at a rapid rate. This LOHAS group of customers takes their purchasing decision depending upon how a business operates itself. They have a profound sense of social responsibility and they are most likely to buy environmentally responsible products.

In India, we lack such customers till now but days are not far away when Indian businesses will have to deal with such consumer groups. And when it comes to the SMEs, engaged in export, particularly to the European countries, they are already in a race against time to turn green and tap into the wielders of a new economic power – the LOHAS.

What businesses are going to lose or gain implementing a ‘green’ strategy into their business? Let us take an example; it is estimated that a company with 1,000 employees and $100 million in revenue uses 30 million pages of paper a year. It equivalents to cutting down 1,369 trees and producing approximately 300,000 pounds of CO2 every year. If the company uses e-papers instead of papers, they can not only save a huge sum of money but also contribute keeping the environment cleaner.

So, going green is about saving the environment and saving money. India is a large country with thousands of SMEs (as compared to large companies and MNCs) catering to a population well over one billion. If these SMEs adopt a green strategy, it could help a lot in reducing negative environmental impacts or, at least, stop aiding in global warming.

So, where should SMEs start? They are free to experiment with ‘going green’ as there are no pressures of meeting compliance regulations. Instead of accepting the ‘going green’ concept as a lofty ideal not practical enough to be implemented into daily operations, businesses should start concentrating upon using raw materials efficiently, choosing renewable raw materials, reducing and recycling of waste, reducing energy use in production and transportation related operations, using alternative energy sources like solar power instead of electricity, and anything that prevents negative environmental impacts.

There is not a ‘one size fits all’ formula to going green, and small steps are enough SMEs can take to make a start. Green machinery such as wind turbines, solar panels; green fuels such as bio-diesel, biomass power; green production house such as low carbon factories; green transportation means such as electric vehicle; green office accessories such as papers, fabrics, building materials, packaging materials made of recycled materials; green housing accessories such as bamboo flooring, furniture made of bio-plastics; and many more nobody has even thought of yet –  every product, every activity, every industry can have a shade of green.

So, small businesses can experiment with anything while taking their first ‘green steps’. It will not only help them to reduce global warming emission and save input costs but also to earn immediate recognition from their customers, employees, shareholders and even the media.

Remember that green will soon mainstream and it is the right time for Indian domestic businesses and exporters – small and big – to capitalize on the phenomenon. The SMEs can even find a lot of opportunities in the ‘green’ sector. For example, there is enough growth opportunity for SMEs in the organic product sector. Again, they can even consider new uses for a specific garbage item which could be a business in itself.

Concluding, it is time for SMEs to start climbing up the green ladder, not just merely to escape the cold hands of legal compliance or an easy means to win over customers’ preferences. A green strategy helps cost savings through efficiency or productivity gains, offers unique opportunities, and the best thing about it……..

In this game, we all win!!

A short-skit for all age groups

Was watching ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ when suddenly this idea struck me to pen down a small skit/role play(whatever you call it) for all of you…..let me know if any of you liked it or feel like enacting it!

“One Step for Man….But a Giant Leap for Mankind”

Timings: 10-15 mins

Characters: 5 actors+ 1 narrator

One person each represents the following phases of life:

  1. Childhood-With parental influence/infant stage
  2. Teenage- With teachers’ influence
  3. Young professional-at preliminary stages of career
  4. Professional at the peak of the career-authoritative
  5. After retirement-dependent

Type: Rhythmic/Musical Mime

Plot: The stage opens with all the 5 characters, each representing one significant phase of life. They assemble in chronological order of their occurrence commencing from ‘childhood’ and ending with ‘after retirement’.

As the spotlight moves from one character to the other, each character portrays (mimes) the most significant ‘bad habit of harming the environment’ which he/she has developed at that particular stage of life. When one character is acting, the spotlight is on him/her while the rest of the 5 characters remain frozen on stage.

There would be no actual dialogues spoken by any of the characters. The narrator (who remains behind the screen) describes the activities which the character is portraying. The music and the rhythmical beats alongwith the recitation by the narrator would create the mood and the mime done by the characters would infuse the audience with the most alarming activity that we do in different stages of our life, catastrophic to our environment.

Subsequent to the ‘after retirement’ stage i.e the last character in order, the music stops and the narrator appears on the stage. All the characters now freeze and there is no other movement. The spotlight is on the narrator. He/she speaks to the audience.

The narrator asks 5 people from the audience to come up with 5 different behavioural patterns (one for each stage). Each of these patterns should reflect that most significant and environmentally-sensible activity which an individual should do at the particular stage of life in which he/she is in.

The stage ceases and the lights fade out. The narrator disappears and can only be heard from behind the screen. He/she now speaks that all the 5 patterns which were suggested by the responsible and eco-conscious citizens present in the audience, would now be represented and enacted in that particular stage of life. The spotlight now moves in the reverse order. It starts with the ‘after retirement’ stage and finishes with ‘childhood’. The musical beats together with the elocution now makes each character portray that crucial activity which should have been undertaken at that particular stage of life to protect the environment; all these activities were those suggested by the audience.

Once the character enacting ‘childhood’ finishes with his/her role, the stage again voids up and all the characters freeze. The narrator comes into light with the spotlight on him/her. He/she concludes in a positive note which indicates that it is  a sheer simple initiative which could be taken up by an individual in that particular stage of life in which he/she is in, to protect the environment.

This is exactly what we need to do- sensible, cognizant yet simple and responsible activities to protect the environment on an individual level. This not only sets an example for the fellow beings but also sustains the resources for the generations to come.

A little from you can do a lot to the Earth….

The ‘time’ machine…

Corporates need to consider short-term impacts but look at past quarterly financial results before making important decisions. They should know that maximizing shareholder value is not the same thing as maximizing quarterly profits. And they also need to recognize that proper analysis of some issues, including many environmental challenges, requires longer timelines.

It has been the general trend that companies make long-term business decisions all the time. They spend their pockets on R&D when the potential payoffs down the road are, at best, uncertain. They also enter tenuous new markets with the hope that business will boom. And they invest in leadership training to build up ‘bench strength’ and prepare future executives.  An Eco-Advantage Mindset would require that companies bring the same long-term perspective to environmental strategy.

How long is the strategic term for planning environmental returns? To answer that question for you, I have to leave you with a relative front – depends on business! It may be a year or two or much further out.

In the late 1960s, executives at Royal Dutch/Shell began looking out for ways to prepare an increasingly unstable oil market. The result was a planning group that focused on painting pictures of possible futures-scenarios that would help the company think about what its business might look over the long term. Among other futures the team famously imagined was the rise of OPEC and the fall of the Soviet Union.

You need to ask yourself, what long-term environmental pressures could sink your business? And which of them might offer opportunities for growth? Until you find answers to those questions in a serious and systematic way, the future will control you instead of the other way around. Big difference…

You need to broaden the scope of your ‘Time Machine’. Great, you might say, but taking the long view can create seemingly very tough choices now. And the market can be quite unforgiving in the short term. The trade-offs can look especially ill advised if you consider only the financial costs. Changing or retooling longstanding production processes or reformulating successful products often cost a bundle of money upfront. But not paying to changing circumstances and newly built up entropy in the system, including environmental ones can cost you a fortune more….

So time to ‘tweak’ your ‘time machines’??!!

Look at the forest, not the trees

Wanted to tell you guys about each of those points which I made in my previous post….why I made them…and what they mean…..

Here’s the first one…Look at the Forest and not at the Trees…

If Dick Fosbury had stuck with traditional high-jumping techniques, he would never have won an Olympic medal. However, he looked at a bigger issue which was getting over the bar. he then reasoned backwards to find out the best way to do it. By concentrating on the forest, he found the strategic advantage.

The corporate DNA should function exactly in the same way….

True, many business books push broad thinking, but taking up environmental lens requires stretching the mind in new directions. Nature after all, cuts a very wide swath.

In factoring environmental considerations into their strategic thinking, corporates need to broaden their vision across three critical dimensions. They need to consider issues on both short and long-time horizons. Smart companies need to calculate pay-offs more broadly than their conventional fellowmates and get more attuned to intangible costs and benefits.

Do not let traditional boundaries of business limit your vision….the need for the hour is to search for improved performance throughout the value chain.