Grass Roots Efforts for Positive Environmental Impact

Title Image: From left to right, Haathi Chaap, PET Lamps, Conserve India, Ecofemme, Zambikes

"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them"

Albert Einstein.

We have long been busy tampering with the environment for the singular purpose of commercial gain. To generalise might be brutal, because there are communities and tribes that are inherently resource conscious. They have lived in harmony with the environment around them for ages because of the inclusive nature of their value systems. In some cases, this way of living evolves from limited resources like in the case of human settlements around deserts or other resource constrained places that are out of reach of modern amenities. Upbringing in such places trains a person to be conscious of consumption. However, modern systems that give little consideration to the environment are doing their bit in degrading the health of the planet and its influence is showing signs of disturbing the delicate balance that the tribes managed to maintain for ages.

On one hand the situation seems completely out of our hands and one could feel somewhat helpless. On the other hand, there are individuals who are taking things in their own hands making it a personal responsibility to lead lives harmoniously with the environment. Our evolving knowledge about global warming, extinction of flora and fauna, water crisis etc. have all stirred up debates across the globe and some path breaking work has been accomplished. While most big projects like LEED, Carbon Points, Save the Tiger, Power Shift get much media coverage, there are plenty of smaller, lesser known projects that are changing lives at grassroots level. This work is as significant as the rest because it brings about a change in individuals which means that the shift happens in minds and not necessarily as a result of laws and policies.

It is inspiring to see individuals rising above mere awareness and putting forth solutions. Such people have broken the boundaries of professions and are keeping the environment at the centre of their day-to-day lives. Here are some outstanding examples of such practices at the grassroots level, not surprisingly many of them are like undercurrents and most of them are sprouting up from the so-called under developed or developing nations if seen through the lens of western definition of development.

PET Bottle Lamps: Colombia

Alvaro Catalan de Ocon, the Spanish designer behind this project led by Hélène le Drogou who felt strongly about the Colombian Amazon being contaminated by PET bottles. Using the local skills of weaving, trashed plastic bottles were transformed into beautiful lamp installations.

Conserve: India

The project is an attempt to address the growing problem of waste, one of the biggest problems of which has been large amounts of trashed plastic bags. Like any successful model, this addresses more than just one problem on hand by providing livelihood, education and offering fashion products to an international market. The research for this project led to a new material called Handmade Recycled Plastic (HRP) which uses washed, dried and pressed sheets of plastic made from recycled plastic shopping bags. The process is referred to as ‘Upcycling’ as the simple recycled source materials are elevated in quality and value through design and process.

Daily Dump: India

Daily dump set out to clean the city of Bengaluru starting with household waste. The business innovatively encourages the practice of segregation of waste and composting of biodegradable trash. This model uses design as a tool to address issues related to garbage. It is also an open source model which shares information for it to be cloned in other places. It uses readily available materials across the country and simple production methods. Daily Dump gives the power back to the people by providing simple solutions to make small changes in their day-to-day life which can inturn make a considerable difference to the magnitude of the existing problem of garbage disposal.

Zambikes: Zambia

This is a project that started in 2007, has been offering high quality human powered transportation solutions in Zambia since its inception. The bikes are built with African roads in mind, and employs people locally. An innovative ambulance vehicle transports patients on a covered platform, another bike uses bamboo for its frame.

Ecofemme: India

Eco Femme is a global women’s empowerment initiative. Rising from rural India and reaching the world, it promotes and revitalises menstrual practices that are healthy, dignified, affordable and positive. They produce and promote cloth washable sanitary pads as an environment friendly alternative product to disposable sanitary napkins. The for-profit business model helps the initiative to reinvest by donating napkins to rural women. This is a great initiative that has brought to light the disastrous impacts of conventional sanitary napkins. Ecofemme works in the areas of education, environmental advocacy and livelihood.

1 litre bottle light: Philippines

Alfred Moser from Brazil and a group of MIT students were behind the movement which started from Philippines and spread to India, Indonesia and even Switzerland. The bottle of water simply refracts the sun light into an otherwise dark space through the day. This is also an open source project and is now a social enterprise under MyShelter Foundation that conducts workshops with Youth and business companies that are willing to volunteer time to build these solar bulbs for their communities.

Haathi Chaap: India

This is a company that makes paper using elephant dung. The paper is used for simple stationery ideas like notebooks, tags, bags and some more knick-knacks. The paper is naturally textured and is odorless.

Biolite Stove: USA

Applying efficient design to real world problems is the driving force behind this New York based company. Biolite produces energy products for cooking using wood. Unlike conventional stoves that run on wood and pose a health hazard, the Biolite stove helps in significant smoke reduction and uses almost half the amount of fuel. An added feature is the battery pack that is charged from the stove and can be used as a charging point for mobile phones, LED lights or other devices. A highly valauble product offering for the those living in areas without power supply or subject to frequent power cuts.

Mitticool: India

This is a work of true genius and clearly stands out as an example of initiatives at grassroots level.  The products are truly rooted in traditional materials and techniques that also happen to be affordable and eco friendly. The founder and proprietor, Mansukh Bhai of Gujurat is a craftsman himself. The product range includes water filters, refrigerator, pressure cookers etc. and all function without the use of electricity using the natural properties of clay materials to achieve the functional requirements.

In Conclusion 

Other than these projects that mostly have product oriented approach to environmental practices, there are a number of societies/ firms/ non-government organisations that work in the fields of law, policy making, films etc. and contribute to the cause in their own ways such as Chintan. Chintan is an environmental research and action group in India working with the urban poor who work as waste recyclers. Their initiatives include research, campaigns, policy interventions, material awareness etc. Such work can go a long way because a lot of it happens at policy level and therefore curbs many ill-effects at the production stage before it reaches the consumer and downstream to the waste-picker.

It could be concluded that the facts and figures around global warming and other environmental indicators point to an impending crisis. You might be doing your bit, but you cannot ensure whether your neigbour or the rest of the world is doing theirs leading to fragmented initiatives or even apathy. Many game changing projects have their humble beginnings in the minds of a few social innovators propelling awareness, action and promoting a collective consciousness.