What You Need To Do To Be A Sustainability Champion

This was the question we began the year 2019 with. The beginning of the year is usually a period of introspection at Indiahikes. We reflect on our vision, our core values — where we stood last year and what we hope to achieve this year.

When it came to our practice of Green Trails, I realised that to truly encourage sustainable trekking among the trekking community, you need to be able to practice it strongly in your lifestyle.

Most of us at Indiahikes are environmentally conscious — a by-product of the fact that we emphasize so much on making our treks ecologically sustainable. But we could all do better. We could all be “sustainability champions.”

This was the birth of the “Sustainability Champion Program.”

I designed this program for everyone at the organisation to imbibe a core value that trekking teaches us: moving towards minimalistic, and possibly a zero waste lifestyle. We started following this six months ago.

Researching this, as well as getting our staff to embrace this program, has taught me a lot. Now, I want to open this program for all of you as well. This is so that you become a part of a bigger community of people who are mindful and embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

So, what is the Sustainability Champion Program?

The Sustainability Champion Program is a three-level program that will ease you into a minimalist lifestyle. The program was built on the crux of individual waste generation. The levels were designed with that in mind.

Each level has a specific outcome and runs for a duration of 4 weeks.

Here’s a brief outline of the three levels.

Level 1 – Handle your organic waste at home

This level is meant to kickstart your journey of handling organic waste at home through composting. It also means that you’ll have to set up a two-way basic segregation process at home.  Here are the steps.

  1. Segregate dry and wet waste at home
  2. Start composting at home
  3. Get your friends started with composting!
  4. Start blogging your journey on a social platform.
Start composting organic waste at home. You can easily buy a mud khamba for the purpose.

Level 2 – Know and segregate your inorganic waste

This level focuses on the dry waste, since organic waste is taken care of. This level will focus more on understanding your waste generation patterns through waste audit.  You will also learn to segregate inorganic waste in more elaborate classifications.

1. Watch the Story of Stuff and have a discussion about it with your family and friends.

2. Do your own waste audit. This waste audit will be for 15 days. If you are not able to store your waste for 14 days, take a picture before you send it out to your municipal waste collector.

  • For the waste audit, you will carry one bag around with you. (Don’t worry, it is simple enough to carry it in your backpack!)
  • In the bag, you will collect all the trash items you generate throughout the day. Only dry waste – your organic waste goes into your compost!
  • At the end of the day, record all of the waste that you generated for the day. Remember to include every item – even if it’s small or personal!
  • Identify which items are recyclable, compostable and landfill.

3. Introduce three way segregation at home – recyclable, compostable and landfill. Do a waste audit again for 15 days. This time, after the audit is done, divert the compostable and recyclable waste away from the landfill. The compostable waste goes to your compost, while the recyclables will go to your kabadiwala next to your home.

4. Keep blogging about your progress.

Start to segregate your dry waste in further categories – recyclable, compostable and landfill.

Level 3 – Reduce your inorganic waste. 

The last level focuses a lot on reducing your waste, thereby easing into a possibly zero waste lifestyle.

  • Send me your waste audit (lakshmi@indiahikes.com) and we will work together on an action plan to reduce your waste.
  • Reduce your monthly waste to 80 percent of your general waste. Journal your experience – your challenges, how you found alternatives and reflections.
  • Finish one upcycling product to handle your non-recyclable waste. Give it as a gift to someone. Share this story on social media!
  • Continue to share one post per week on social media about your journey of becoming a sustainability champion.
  • Organise a clean-up of your neighbourhood and introduce them to composting and segregation. (Try to get 10 participants, at the very least!)
Upcycled Pillows
Get creative and upcycle your plastic waste! These are upcycled pillows made from old clothes filled with cut up soft plastics. Picture by: Karthik Maddineni

The rewards and challenges of the Program

Now, if you follow the steps correctly, it takes somewhere between 3-4 months.

As of today, I hardly generate more than 7 waste items every month. You should know, I still cook elaborate meals and indulge in necessary self-care – two major areas we tend to generate a lot of waste.

I am warning you now, the program will push you out of your comfort zone several times. However, the rewards are beautiful.  The immense pride and satisfaction in knowing that you are not adding to the increasing problem; your ability to influence countless others who are looking for guidance and support – these are priceless.

“One of the greatest things about the Sustainability Championship Program is that it makes you answerable to someone. I was already environmentally conscious, but now, since I had someone to answer to, someone who looks into my waste generation, my efforts towards a minimalistic lifestyle  doubled.” says Akshay, one of our Trek Leaders.

“Before the Sustainability Championship program, I was already doing my bit in terms of – carrying my cloth bag everywhere, taking my reusable cutlery outside. However, what the program ended up pushing me to do was to embrace menstrual cups. I was intitially uncomfortable with the idea of them. However, after a talk with my colleagues, I gave it a try. And I am so glad I did! It doesn’t even feel like I am on my period when I am wearing it!” says Sreelakshmi, former Trek Coordinator..

See? As much as the program may push you out of your comfort zone, it is not as hard as it seems. The beginning might take getting used to.  Once you get in the flow, you’ll feel comfortable and at ease. Countless people have embraced a minimalist lifestyle.

One of our Trek Leaders, Aashay’s, waste audit.

Additional quick tips you can follow 

Well, here are a few simple tips that you can follow in your everyday life as you dip your toes into being a sustainability champion.

  • Carry a personal kit – cloth bag, reusable bottle, small tiffin box and mug and spoon. This helps you avoid most of the single use cutlery.
  • Invest in long lasting clothes. Clothes are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in long lasting clothes reduces your carbon footprint significantly. Repair them. Don’t throw.
  • Go for second hand stuff. With websites like Quickr, this just becomes easier to do. You can almost furnish your entire house on second hand stuff.
  • Carry containers to buy produce in bulk. The easy way to do this is to carry 3-4 bottles/ containers around in your bike/car.
Carry containers to buy monthly rations in bulk, to avoid plastic packaging.
  • Say not to plastic in all forms – no  plastic/ paper covers from anywhere, plastic straws, plastic spoons, styrofoam plates, plastic juice glasses .  If you find plastic covering groceries in your supermarket, try to find an alternative.
  • Compost bio waste.
  • Say no to wet wipes in your life.
  • In terms of transport, reduce driving car as a single person. Avoid taking flights as much as you can. Use as much as public transport as you can, or car -pool.
  • Segregate bio and non-bio waste. Wash and dry plastics to be cleaned well before thrashing them.
  • Use bills to make a notepad of your own – the back is usually plain.
  • Use menstrual cups/cloth pads.
  • When it comes to cosmetics, consume less or have no cosmetics/ perfumes/ deodorants/ squeezies for shampoos and face wash. Ideally, you should buy big sized versions of consumables and reuse smaller bottles by filling from bigger bottles. Don’t buy personal care products with microbeads – like face wash/hand wash.  The microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic that ends up draining into our lakes, oceans.
  •  Also, buy a mineral based sunscreen instead of a chemical-based sunscreen. In fact, you can also make your own chemical free toiletries.

Whether you are already doing a lot of steps outlined or whether you are starting from scratch, I hope these help you in leading a more sustainable lifestyle.

I will also write a few more articles about the program, detailing out each step and providing guidelines on what you need to do. Write to me if you need some specific guidelines from me, or if just want to share your progress with us.

If you’d like to receive my e-mails on the Sustainability Champion Program, sign up in this link.

We are always open to learning, so let us know if there is something you feel can be added to the program in the comments below.

(This article was authored by Lakshmi and edited with inputs by Aswati Anand. Read the second article on Sustainability Champion series here. )

Lakshmi Selvakumaran

Lakshmi Selvakumaran

Lakshmi Selvakumaran is the Green Trails Lead at Indiahikes. She holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She's currently working towards making trekking a more sustainable sport by bringing in fresh innovations and ideas that leave no carbon footprint in the mountains.

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