Between September 2020 and January 2021, there was a spurt in economic activities as the lockdown restrictions began to ease. Simultaneously, the global vaccination drive picked up pace and the road to recovery triggered the talk of a post COVID-19 world. With policy makers across the world pitching for a green recovery that highlights use of renewable energy sources, and sustainable industries leading to job creation, MetroPlus talks to three field experts on what lies ahead.
Going green with renewable energy
Chetan S Solanki
“I am on this journey so that green recovery does not remain merely lip service as a policy. It has to become a mass movement,” says Chetan S. Solanki over phone from his home-on-wheels, a solar-powered bus, currently stationed, due to the lockdown at Vedic Vidyapeeth premises in Harda, Madhya Pradesh. A professor at the Department of Energy Science and Engineering, IIT-Bombay, Chetan is currently on an 11-year bus journey called Energy Swaraj Yatra across andar bahar rules to convince people to “adopt solar solutions to fulfil 100 % of their energy needs.”
He started the journey in November 2020. At Vedic Vidyapeeth, a 24-acre residential complex, he has convinced residents to surrender their electricity connection and go off the grid. “I taught them to cook rice using broken solar panels and encouraged them to cook in the day. The conversation on using renewable energy has begun,” says Chetan, who believes that walking the talk “is the only way to convince people.”
As a youngster, he had challenged his family and community to do away with the “excessive consumerism” of andar bahar rulesn weddings and became a part of mass marriage movement. Two years ago, he began a campaign called ‘This winter, shut your fridge’. His Mumbai home does not have a refrigerator, a television or an air conditioner. Speaking of his lifestyle, he says, “ I wake up with the Sun — he is busy connecting with people and spreading his message.”
Last April , he launched the Energy and Climate Keep UPP (Understand Pledge and Progress) programme and hopes to register one million pledges this year through the App. “We will work with people to reduce electricity bills,” says Chetan. He releases a daily video on the subject to spread awareness in rural areas.
At Vidyapeeth, he has also inspired the community to plant 2,500 trees. “Plants and panels are two methods that can help in energy Swaraj. Plants and panels saveenvironment from carbon-dioxide emissions,” he says. His family, who also follow a Spartan life, will join him occasionally during this long journey.
Recyle and reuse
In 1992, with the opening of the multi-designer store Melange in Mumbai, Sangita Kathiwada introduced sustainable fashion to the country’s fashion lexicon. Handloom, khadi and the handmade were celebrated as much as archival materials like old photographs and antiques. Recycle and reuse became new fashion. A member of a royal family from Madhya Pradesh, Sangita became a part of the Karkhana Chronicles ( a collaboration with the Refashion Hub) in an effort to review a pandemic -afflicted industry. As a part of the initiative royal families connect with artisans and help them create sustainable ways to reset their livelihoods.
Sangita believes in ‘backward integration’. “From end- to-start and start-to-end,” she says explaining that a garment shouldnot leave carbon footprint from creation to disposal. In keeping with this, she waited six months to get bamboo hangers from Manipur when she first started her store.
She ensures green practices among the artisans too by encouraging hand-block printers in Bagh to stop polluting water bodies with residues from synthetic dyes.
One of her methods is a 30:30:30 principle. “I take a 30-year-old designer and help her establish a 30 employee unit and guide her to create fashion that is sustainable for the next 30 years.” Sangita explains that waste management is an issue with large factories. She believes that change can come through small, action-driven groups, like the ones she champions. “The way forward in cities such as Mumbai is to work with such groups and spread awareness. Cash awards are important, as they help in bringing better facilities,” she says as she shows a glass jar that has replaced plastic to package cashewnuts.
Local, sustainable, clean and green are the core values that drive Bangaram Island Resort created by entrepreneur and hotelier Jose Dominic at Lakshwadeep way back in the 1990s. When Kochi-based Jose introduced sustainable tourism , his father (who founded the city’s Casino Hotel in 1957) encouraged him. Jose, who worked in Mumbai as a Chartered Accountant before returning to join the family business in 1987, says that COVID-19 has taught that tourism is extremely vulnerable. “No economy should be wholly dependant on tourism. Kerala has an inherent advantage of having highly paying, non-polluting, small-scale high-tech factories. This can coexist with tourism. The next big draw can be homestead farms, which almost every Malayali owns .” Jose, who has handed over the reins of the business to the next generation, is now a start-up farm entrepreneur growing turmeric, moringa, and birds-eye chillies at his rubber estate at Pala in Central Kerala.
“Once we ensure that we are a safest destination with COVID-19 protocols in place, we can expect a revenge demand sooner than later. The entire world is waiting to go out and experience the destinations.” Green recovery in tourism, according to him, should take the benefits of the lowest hanging fruit, which caters to local demand, “even ultra local, like places within a city and immersive experiences,” says Jose.
On his personal connect with values he introduced in his business, he says, “I am a product of this environment”, and explains, “A post- pandemic world should be more about social equality and learnings from prevailing health and climate emergencies.”