Beyond green tokenism, what each of us can do

  • Shivani Singh
  • Updated: Jun 06, 2016 06:59 IST

Sunday was the World Environment Day. A day well spent in academic seminars, sarkari functions and corporate social responsibility events. An average citizen had limited interest in this discourse, except for a few who joined a run or a tree-plantation drive.

“The environment is everything that isn’t me,” said Albert Einstein. Many of us have taken it literally. But with every other day of the year dedicated to a cause, the cynicism towards tokenism is understandable.

While a day of activism can’t reverse any damage, our long-term commitment may yet arrest the trend. We need small meaningful steps every day of the year. Particularly in a city where the air is foul, energy is sourced from coal-fired plants, dumpsites are overfilled, and every third resident is living illegally on a stinking riverbed.

This Environment Day week is perhaps as good as any week to make a beginning, involve all of us responsible for the damage and explore how we can possibly make amends.


Our pipes leak and tanks overflow. We wash cars and water gardens with water fit for drinking. We also use potable water to wash utensils and clothes, flush toilets and bathe. Most middle-class households use water purifier and 80-85% water entering an RO system goes down the drain. Water wastage in Delhi is plain criminal.

While leakage control is the government’s job, every one of us can do our bit to conserve water. According to estimates by Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management, a running tap wastes about 16 litres of water per minute. Each time you flush a toilet, we use up to 26 litres of water. With a six-litre flush, a family of four can save up to 80,000 litres of water a year.

While renovating your home the next time, invest in waterefficient bathroom fittings. Make it a rule to store the ‘waste water’ coming out of your RO system and use it. And, instead of using running water from your showerhead or even wash basin tap, use water stored in buckets and a not-too-large mug whenever you can.


This summer is unusually hot and, understandably, air-conditioners are running overtime. Cooling (and heating) gadgets are the biggest power guzzlers in our homes. In May alone, the demand for power surged by 20%.

More power means a bigger requirement for coal, oil and natural gas, all top sources of carbon dioxide emissions that are the primary cause of global warming. Delhi anyway can’t meet such high demands in the long run. It needs a summer plan that is less to do with energy consumption.

A little home improvement can reduce the dependence on air-conditioners. There are many ways to make our homes climate-friendly. To begin with, let’s look at the idea of cool roofs. White reflective coating on rooftops can bring down the temperature inside the building by 30%. Every 2,500 square feet of roof that is coated can reduce the city’s carbon footprint by one tonne of CO2 and help fight climate change, states the New York City’s Cool Roofs project manual.


When it comes to consumption, Delhi has quite an appetite and, surprisingly, no plans to manage the waste it throws up. Landfills are packed to capacity, catching fire from the methane build up and fouling local air and water.

To beat the waste-and-want dynamics, we need to reduce, recycle and reuse. To begin with, let’s start carrying cloth bags to grocery stores and non-disposable water bottles and mugs to work. For inspiration, look at Kerala.

At the new LDF government’s oath-taking ceremony last month, steel tumblers were used instead of disposable plastic glasses. The green protocol under the ongoing Suchitwa Mission was first enforced during the National Games in February last year. At all 29 venues in Kerala, caterers were told not to use disposable bottles or tableware, athletes were given steel flasks to refill and the Games generated 120 tonnes less trash than a gathering of such size normally would.

None of these are big asks and yet can make a difference with mass commitment. And if you are in the mood for more, don’t wait for the government to make you leave your car at home. Volunteer to use the public transport once a week. Make it a lifestyle statement in our city of cars.

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