Written by A K Tripathi
Where to Start the Sustainability Journey?
These days Sustainability is the buzz word and there is a free-for-all situation. Numerous experts, managers, academicians, reporters, publications and companies are talking about it, in their own ways. The talk on sustainability is overflowing and overwhelming. It is on the coffee table, on the podium, in the class rooms, in the editorials, in the board notes and everywhere else.
A humble but pertinent question is – how and where do we start?
Fortunately the answer is simple and lies in the famous saying – charity begins at home. Yes- sustainability also begins at us, at our homes.
Connecting to the Five Elements – The Panchtatvas
How do we conduct our lives has a direct bearing on the concept of sustainability.
And we all know it. Our country India, has given to the whole world, the concept of panchtantva which means that the human body and all natural creations emerge and get ultimately merged into panchatatva viz; Earth (Prithvee), Fire (Agni) , Water (Jal), Air (Vayu) and Void (Aakash). This concept comes from the philosophy that what derives itself from nature; comes from and gets backs to these five basic elements. The human existence, including its body, habitat and workplace has a natural affinity to these elements and therefore they must connect, replicate and communicate with these five elements, in order to be sustainable and enjoyable. This means that they should connect easily to the panchtatvas. Unfortunately, our life today is far disconnected from these panchatavas and therefore it creates, stress, anxiety and un-sustainability.
In this series of articles called Sustainable Living Series, an attempt has been made to analyse what is actually meant by connecting to these five elements and how this connect would address the issue of sustainability. Each article in this series discusses about connecting to these elements taking one at a time. In this article we begin with connecting to the Earth- Prithvee
Also Read: Sustainable Living – Connecting to Fire
Also Read: Sustainable Living: Connecting to Air
Connecting to Earth (Prithvi)
As was mentioned earlier in the article, the sustainability has to start at us. We give lot of emphasis on controlling pollution in powers stations, factories, vehicles etc but miss a vital point that we are at the centre of everything. We drive the crazy demand for all that we consume or what surrounds us today. In the process, we are running in total disconnect with the earth. The irony is that ours is probably the only culture in the world which has given the status of mother to our beloved earth. But unfortunately all of it is in words and nothing in the deeds. We need to come home to the mother earth.
Connecting to Earth has various aspects like connecting our bodies, our food, our belongings and our surroundings.
Connecting to Earth- Our body
It is well known fact that the force of gravity keeps our bodies pulled towards the earth. Principle of Potential Energy explains that a body which is contact with earth is considered to have zero potential energy. All elements in nature have an affinity to come to least energy state. If an object is kept at a height from the earth level and then released, it moves towards the earth, touches it and then comes to rest. That is the most stable state.
Similarly our bodies have natural, physical affinity to earth. Our body attains rest and peace when we stand and connect to earth. Have you ever tried walking barefoot on a soft grass ? It is a feeling of pleasure and peace. It also has a therapeutic value. The point here is not to throw our shoes and start walking barefoot. The point is that it is our natural, most peaceful, most sustainable state when we are in contact with the Earth. Walking has been medically proved to be the best exercise for human beings. While physical benefits of walking are well understood, walking surpasses other forms of exercise because of its connectivity to Erath and the nature. Because of this connect, walking provides calmness and exercise for the soul as well as for the body.
When we mechanically move or transport our bodies, we consume energy and create stress on our bodies as well as on the environment. Here comes the element of un-sustainability. Rampant urban transport in the form of vehicles, lifts, rails, aeroplanes etc are counter sustainability. The sustainable cities of tomorrow should be planned in way that people walk to office or at least use less and most efficient transport methods. And the underlying sustainable theme is we should walk, touch, feel the Earth, rather than commute mechanically, wherever feasible.
Connecting to Earth – What we eat
The other aspect of connecting to the Earth is the food that we take. The food we consume also has far reaching consequence on sustainability. The rawer the food is, the more near it is to earth. The more we process it, the more un-sustainable it becomes.
Processing requires energy, unhealthy additives and sophisticated packaging. On global scale, processed food has very high carbon footprint because it consumes enormous energy and creates huge packaging waste.
Whenever I visit malls in developed countries, I get amazed at the variety and vastness of processed food. Do we really need so much variety? We find that the poor, probiotic, plain simple curd has lost battle to about hundred varieties of flavoured yoghurt and new flavours are still being added everyday. Who drives this demand ? We.
We all know that processed food not only requires precious energy to process them, it also requires sophisticated packing which are often created out of non eco friendly material.
Disposal of the packing martial is a huge problem for today’s civilisation. You might have noticed the filth that is created at busy Indian eateries and even in trains and aeroplanes through unending variety of packaged food. Where will it all go? Will the poor mother Earth be able to handle millions of these little scars?
It is important to understand that real as-grown fruits, sprouts, milk, yoghurt, salads are not only full of health, they have significantly lower carbon footprint compared to their highly processed forms like packed juices, cakes, drinks, ketchup, ice cream etc.
We should therefore promote consumption of raw or partially proceeesd foods which are healthier, tastier and are friendly to Earth.
Connecting to Earth- What we wear
There is a huge and growing demand of personal care products. We wear or use these harsh chemicals on our bodies. Most of hair dyes, lipsticks, nail polishes, creams, powders, pastes etc are not Earth friendly. This market is still blooming and the global personal care market is expected to reach 487 Billion Euros by 20171 (About Rs 4139500 Crores). Where has the natural beauty gone ? Let’s pause for a moment and think whether these things really make us more beautiful and attractive? Are there not better natural ways of getting younger and more attractive? It would make huge difference if we demand products which are derived from nature and if we remain happy with less variety. This concept has nothing to do with indigenous or multinational brands. All are in fact, selling in the same boat and we fuel all the demand.
A minute of serious thinking by all of us would probably alter the way world manufactures and uses such products.
Connecting to Earth- What we possess
Connecting to earth is in fact a powerful, all encompassing philosophy. It applies to almost everything that we possess- our body, clothes, cars, gadgets, equipments, automobiles etc.
The pertinent thing is to ask how well these products connect to Earth. Take automobiles from instance. The very idea of automobile distances us from the Earth and on top of that, we have billions of energy guzzling, inefficient automobiles. The amount of oil that world’s automobiles consume, sucks large amount of money from the economies. This is un-sustainable.
Delhi alone today has close to 77 Lac cars and 1.6 Lacs are being added every year2. How much and how long can we buy oil and how long and how much can we pollute the air that we need to breathe for existence. This mad race must stop somewhere or al least slow down.
Similar is the story of all the gadgets, IT products which are mostly made up of non recyclable products. The list is endless. All this has to end if we do not want to submerge the Earth with garbage and plastic.
Connecting to the Earth- Our surroundings
Due to rapid urbanisation, millions of houses, high rise buildings, hotels, restaurants, offices, bridges and factories are springing up. Connection to earth is extremely important in this arena also.
This philosophy demands that materials used in the construction should be earth friendly, natural, recyclable, non toxic, chemical odour free and should have least impact on Earth. Consumption of material should also be minimal by adopting modern design technology.
Some of the methods to achieve this are as follows:
- a. Use of proven composite materials and structural systems which provide high strength and durability with the least amount of material used
b. Utilise recycled martial like blended concrete using fly ash, slag, recycled concrete aggregate or other admixtures. Aim for using of at least 15 % recycled content in building material
c. Identify ways to reduce the amount of materials used and reduce the amount of waste generated through the implementation of a “construction waste reduction plan”. Adopt a policy of “waste equals food” whereby 75% or more of all construction waste is separated for recycling and used as feedstock for some future product rather than being land filled. Implement an aggressive construction waste recycling program and provide separate, clearly labelled dumpsters for each recycled material. Train all crews and subcontractors on the policy and enforce compliance.
d. Explore the use of bio-based materials such as various types of agri-board. Some structural insulated panels are now made from bio-based materials.
e. Take adequate steps to minimize the creation and spreading of construction dust and dirt.
f. Make the building complex pedestrian and bicycle friendly
g. Minimise top soil paving, concreting and compaction
These steps will go a long way in producing, sustainable, peaceful and healthy habitats and structures around us.
No amount of talks on Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility will take us to any meaningful outcome if we continue to behave un-sustainably in our personal conducts, fulfilling our insatiable needs and greeds. The onus for a sustainable future lies clearly on us and connecting to five elements shows us the way forward.
This time we discussed about connecting to Earth ( Prithvee), next time on connecting to Fire (Agni)
References and gratitude:
- Cosmetics design – europe.com- Michelle Yeomans,
- Hindustan Times- Delhi: Cars, cars everywhere, just no place to park-13.08.2013
- Indian Green Building Council- Green Homes Rating System Version 2.0
- Toronto Green Standard Checklist
- Canada Green Building Council
About Author: A K Tripathi is additional General Manager and Senior Faculty in Strategy Area at the Power Management Institute of NTPC. He holds a BE (Mechanical) degree from BIT Mesra and MBA ( Gold Medal) from MDI Gurgaon. He is also certified on GRI G4.0 reporting from GRI and is a Certified Sustainability Professional from IEMA UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in the article are author’s personal views. All contents of this article have Copyright with A K Tripathi.