Spotlight Series: Q&A with Harnish & Smital, Founders of Bombay Trade Co.

We spoke to husband and wife, Harnish & Smital who are on a mission to reduce textile waste from one of the world’s largest populations.

What is your ethnic and professional background?

Harnish and Smital are both of Indian descent. Both of their families immigrated to the US in the 80s. Harnish is a Healthcare management consultant by day and Smital is a People and Organizational Management consultant.

What is Bombay Trade Co, how did it come about and what are your main values as a business?

Bombay Trade Co is a platform to allow users to buy and sell, new and pre-loved, South Asian fashion. The idea came to be in 2019 during our wedding shopping experience. We had tons of outfits sitting in our closet that had all been worn once or twice and were just collecting dust. Smital had gone to India to purchase her wedding outfits, while Harnish purchased his from LA, Chicago, and NJ. The process of buying was so difficult and the process to upcycle our current wardrobe was non-existent. We value making the process easy for the buyer and seller and ultimately help us on our mission to reduce textile waste from one of the world’s largest populations.

How does the platform work?

A seller who is interested in listing their outfit would fill out a quick form on our website. We’ll reply via email with shipping instructions, and once you send us the item, we handle the rest! Once we receive the item, we get it professionally cleaned, photographed, and measured to list it on the site for resale. Once the item sells, we’ll send a check to the seller for their portion of the price.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

At first this started as a good way to sell clothes and purchase more in a simple and streamlined way, but as we dug deeper we learned more about textile waste.  We became so engulfed in the issue that the mission of our business changed from just offering a marketplace to buy and sell, to really trying to minimise the effects of textile waste and fast fashion. We added additional services to contribute to this mission such as responsible recycling clothing, donations, and small business solutions that partner with brick and mortar boutiques to expand their reach and sell more of their inventory to a wider audience.  

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for your sustainable business idea from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

We certainly did and still do. Circular fashion is becoming more and more normalised in the world, but there is still a stigma in the South Asian community.

We constantly reiterate our value proposition as well as the macro impact textile waste has on the environment.

This is definitely an uphill battle as this “trend” is just about becoming normalised in everyday wear, we have a ways to go to normalise it for ethnic or fancy wear – but we’re up for the challenge!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

We had always been pretty conscious in our purchasing behavior, but we started to make some changes around the house to be better about wasting unneeded items, recycling, donations, etc.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I feel there is a stigma and lack of understanding in all communities around the climate crisis. We think the issue is two-fold: 1. it is not an immediate impact you see within minutes or hours so it’s much harder to believe through experience vs education; 2. The climate crisis is a byproduct of many other crises such as textile waste, air pollution, water pollution, light pollution, and others; because there is so much that feeds into it, it’s hard for the average consumer to connect all of those dots instantly to make an informed decision. 

We try to educate our consumers in the more micro sense; for example, close to 80 billion cubic meters of water was used by the textile industry in 2015 vs one of your t-shirts used enough drinking water for 1 person to drink for 2.5 years: the second fact is much more real, more micro, and more actionable and connects back to the same root.

Do you find such a lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging? 

Yes, but the good thing about consumer behavior in 2021 is that people are willing to learn and make smart choices and not get tricked by sales lingo.

In your opinion, what’s the future of South Asian fashion? 

One of our brand partners said it best, “we come from a place that values its craftsmen and artisanship to the point where items are carefully produced over an extended period of time, then saved and shared for generations.” Fast fashion and this idea of “can’t wear the same thing twice” has completely thrown that value to the side.

South Asian fashion may never become majority secondhand, but what we hope to see is a larger emphasis on sustainable materials and more conscious production practices.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

They are giving US the advice! This younger generation is so smart in their purchasing decisions. They don’t only look for a cheap price tag and a familiar “swoosh” but dig deeper to learn about the company, the founders, the mission, and the impact. They are doing it in numbers and in every corner of their life – we all need to learn from them.

What have been your greatest successes and learnings? 

Greatest learnings are definitely centered around how much we didn’t know about textile waste and what goes into production of garments.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you? 

Stories are difficult since some of the most impactful ones are very personal, but just as a general rule of thumb, we like to live our lives in the pursuit of doing good for others. It makes others feel good, and it makes us feel good – what more can you ask for!?

Find more about Bombay Trade Co.:

Website: https://bombaytrade.co/ on Instagram and Facebook

Spotlight Series: Tia Kansara, Director of Replenish Earth

We feature Tia, award-winning entrepreneur, moderator, lecturer, author and founder of the first ISO quality controlled sustainable lifestyle consultancy, Replenish Earth.

Replenish Earth

Replenish Earth (RE) is focused on ecosystem restoration and has a multidisciplinary approach to creating a positive impact on earth including and not limited to education, eco-therapy (physical and virtual), eco-products, eco-futurism. The vision is to work passionately every day on projects which cultivate a deeper connection with our planet, create beautiful and exquisite experiences to ultimately inspire people to save it. An ecosystem where everyone understands their responsibilities and the governing principles of the global commons. Where living in harmony with nature is an everyday routine and where everyone is excited to wake up to a new day because of the exciting world that people create together.

Innovation

Replenish Earth runs on a kind business model whose core lies in replenishing the earth. It believes in taking preventive measures that are in the best interest of our environment. The environmental advisory firm takes pride in the eco-alignment of the services that it extends to its clients. Their innovation stems from the thought process of the Chief Executing Officer, Tia Kansara whose tryst with the environment started long ago in her childhood. Having realised the crucial role that the environment plays as the primary provider for all business needs, it became of utmost importance for her to re-integrate its role into our existing economic models. 

In today’s world where sustainability is used as a buzzword and enacted upon for the sake of formality, Replenish Earth is trying to build a foundation for a better future. It is provoking thoughtfulness in corporations and other such organisations, guiding them in the right direction, towards more aware business practices that care about giving back to their environmental sources. What makes this organization more special is that apart from its core business area of environmental consultancy, Replenish Earth aims to innovate the mindsets, lifestyles, and consumption patterns of each one of us in lieu of protecting our dear planet Earth.

Inspiration

“Replenish Earth is the philosophy of living in harmony with nature; it is a cause and a collective action to protect the global commons – the natural resources we all share.” People tend to live in their own realities which they believe are true to them. But people need to go beyond their truth to have empathy for each other. This will help us appreciate the fact that transformation is in the hands of the people and in their daily lives, where the smallest of actions have a big impact and thus help in replenishing the earth. 

“I feel Replenish Earth started in my childhood, with the litter busting we did at school, to keep Britain tidy, a campaign the government ran to encourage the clearing-up of our streets and common places that were littered. It started with my mother, born and raised in a village in India, who taught us to recycle before the word became known, using all items beyond their first use and reincarnating them into incredible forms. It started with my father switching the TV from cartoons to David Attenborough’s nature programs. A highpoint for me was when I realised, this has been a cause I’ve championed since I can remember.” These words by Tia Kansara, the CEO, highlight the initial inspiration for the company. 

Replenish Earth is based on a movement that is about giving back more than we take from planet earth. 

Replenish Earth follows ISO 14001 guidelines and champions B-Corps. The Replenish ecosystem is founded on the principles of the World Replenish Index, a marketplace that believes in including all aspects of waste into GDP to 100% compostable products to have better accountability on their environmental impact. Replenish Earth investigates the impact of waste disposal habits beyond national borders and positively reinforces behaviours and businesses that are aligned with this.

Overall impact

Replenish supports and facilitates environmental, social businesses and invests towards a green, circular economy. Net positive is naturally amongst their themes of Replenishment, as are Green Impact Investment and infrastructure that is in harmony with nature. The projects that are being handled by RE have created a huge positive impact on society, corporate, and the environment. RE has been involved in advising the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Bio Trade initiative for 3 years exploring how the largest and most prestigious fashion houses, like Prada, Burberry, Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna could lead the transformation of their industry and replenish the earth. 

‘Who does the sea belong to?’  -an exhibition that was created by RE in collaboration with NID, Mudita Pasari has had over a million students visiting and learning about ocean protection, and climate action. Thus, they pioneer citizen awareness on their responsibilities towards nature. The impact they are able to create is primarily due to how purpose-driven each employee at Replenish Earth is. As Mr. Bhavyajeet Singh Gehlot, mentions, “During my initial few weeks while talking with Tia, I realised how hollow the world has become towards our planet and how important a cause like Replenish Earth is. This realization fundamentally changed me as a person, and I now realise the importance of creating the Replenish Earth experience for the future.” 

Business benefit

Replenish Earth has advised more than 120 businesses and 90 governments on their strategies to transition away from fossil fuels, designing business models and products with a net positive impact on the environment. The company also organises Courses, Speaker Series, Art Installations & Exhibitions, Urban Development Projects, Research Retreats, and its own Replenish Festival about Event Management and Design in VR. 

Tia, the CEO says, “Our business model is an end-to-end replenishing the earth, as a forethought, not an afterthought”. This differentiates the brand and helps create a competitive advantage which opens up an entirely new market of organisations who are looking to adopt preventative sustainability. This ensures the longevity of Replenish Earth. 

Replenish Earth has worked with high-profile clients like Coca-Cola, Bloomberg, and the European Commission. CEO Tia recalls an experience at the Replenish Earth Smart Cities at CEPT University, where they were recognised for their contribution by the Prime Minister of Bhutan and invited to sit with Parliament. Replenish Earth has repeatedly been featured among lists of successful eco-businesses.

Social and Environmental benefit

Replenish Earth has looked into strategies to transition away from fossil fuels, designing business models and products with a positive impact on the environment for many companies. The overall impact has been very large. The company believes that “a solution that is touted without a consistent product and a reliable maintenance plan is one that will always be short-lived”. This is not just a country-specific issue. They believe that this is a global matter. 

It is important that companies think about switching to renewables so that they make changes in the infrastructure to make it viable for all users. An issue such as climate action requires a lot of conversation. A lot of people aren’t aware of the peril we are in and even if they do, do not see its urgency. Therefore, one of the biggest achievements of Replenish comes from the conversations they’ve initiated. They’ve spread awareness around these issues in very unique ways, online and offline. Talks such as “a day in the life of a piece of crap” have initiated conversations on exploring the psychology of waste and what it tells us about ourselves, and where we think it’s ok to hide our waste. 

A few other initiatives such as Space-Waste which is focused on urban cities, policies, and physical spaces. They came up with initiatives like Plastic Resource and Designer Products wherein people tried to change the output from waste resources through simple and practical methods individually or in communities. 

Replenish Earth is working and will continue to work passionately until each individual and each business is encouraged to emerge beyond shortsightedness and be fully responsible for their actions on the planet, and not hide behind increasingly tall landfills and other externalities that we are taught will look good as GDP.

Find out more here: https://aim2flourish.com/innovations/towards-a-better-future-with-replenish-earth 

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Taruna Seth, Founder of Encompass Experiences

We caught up with Taruna about her expert insights into the future of travel and how she views sustainability in the slow travel industry.

Travel might just be part of Taruna’s DNA. Having spent the most formative years of her life studying, traveling and working abroad. Taruna has had a passion for travel ever since she can remember. She has lived in 3 continents and her travels have taken her across the world. Her passion to explore the world, along with her education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and University of Manchester in International Relations has led her to a 15-year career in marketing, public relations, alternative education, developmental work and a stint in television media. 

At her latest venture Encompass Experiences, she swifts through the melange making connections to conceptualise immersive experiences for their circle of explorers. Taruna’s life experiences and work have allowed her to define her skills and relationships in radically different ways. She thinks working within diverse setups allows us to celebrate our common drivers: curiosity, the need to give back, and an unabashed passion to learn something new. 

Taruna was bestowed with the award of ‘Exceptional Women of Excellence creating a better world for all’ by the Women’s Economic Forum in 2017 and the ‘Women Super Achiever Award’ at 7th Edition of World Women Leadership Congress in 2020.

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I was born and raised in New Delhi. After completing high school I went to University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA for my higher studies in Political Science and Organizational Studies. After graduation, I travelled around Europe and after returning home, I joined an international PR firm. After getting some work experience, I attended University of Manchester to attain a MA in International Relations. 

Since then I’ve had a short stint in Germany in a corporate set up but soon realised it was not for me. After returning back to New Delhi, I joined Youthreach, an NGO that works as a bridge between grassroots organizations, corporates and international organizations to facilitate funding and projects in the development sector. Post that I joined NDTV a leading television media company as a journalist and anchor. Since travelling and experiencing new cultures was something I was always passionate about, I started Pearl Luxe, an experiential travel consultancy which has now evolved into Encompass Experiences.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

I visited Soneva Fushi, an island resort in the Maldives back in 2012 and I was really impressed with their sustainable practices, whether it was growing their own organic vegetables, recycling all their waste on the island, giving back to the local communities or encouraging biodiversity on the island – I was deeply influenced by all their practices. It formed a blueprint for sustainability for me as far as the tourism and hospitality industry was concerned and what we as a travel company can encourage our clients to experience over other mainstream tourism offerings in the market.

It’s still a niche in our business but we take pride in creating awareness about conscious and sustainable tourism and how travellers can demand experience providers to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious if they indeed want their business.

It’s still a long road ahead but we are at a solid start. 

Can you tell me about your career so far and work for Encompass? What inspired you to take on and promote sustainable travel?

I’ve been into the luxury experiential travel space for over a decade now. Sustainable travel is the only way forward for us on this planet. Educating our audience and raising awareness about sustainable travel is our way to make an impact in a space where we feel we can make a difference. I believe in the positive influence travel can have. Not just for individuals and their experiences but for the destinations that receive them and the world as a whole. Travel has always helped fund local economies and in recent years, in particular, become increasingly adept at preserving the culture and supporting conservation of lands and protection of ecosystems.

Travel creates empathy and understanding, can inspire and educate. It creates the human to human and human to nature connection that the world needs right now.

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date? 

2020 has been a great learning experience and the whole sustainability movement has become more mainstream than ever before. This year has taught us to slow down and be in the moment. Even when it comes to travel the trend of immersive travel experiences has gained momentum and is here to stay. People will travel to fewer places and stay longer at each destination, really engaging with the locals and experiencing a destination in depth. The coming years will see a growth in travellers establishing repeat connections to people and places that have captivated them before, ditching “bucket list” tourism in favour of putting down roots and creating a home away from home. “Slow travel” is here to stay. Travellers now realise it’s the best way to discover a destination’s nuances and, over time, to feel like a local. 

Being South Asian, did you face any pressure from family, friends or society at large to choose the career path you did? Would you have done anything differently if given the opportunity again? 

Not really… I was always encouraged by my family and friends. (I guess my experience would be different from how South Asians migrated to Europe, for eg.)

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

We have our own organic kitchen garden at home and we create compost from vegetable waste that is used as manure for our organic garden. Now I buy much less fast fashion and invest in fewer classic outfits that are evergreen. I’m also trying to buy almost no plastic toys for my daughter.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

Vibs, I think this will be different for Indians and South Asians in the UK or the developed world… Because each country is at a point on the trajectory of awareness and taking action. In India traditionally, we have been a country with sustainable practices, but lately due to the recent economic boom, liberalisation and development – pre-covid –we have become consumption oriented. 

We have major issues we need to tackle – managing pollution levels is the top of the list right now. There is part of the population that understands the climate crisis but there is a lack of a solid game plan to tackle it. Having said that, India’s contribution to carbon emissions is still lower in comparison to some developed economies. 

We need to tackle these issues sooner than later. 

I guess there is a lack of political will at the moment due to other more pressing issues that take precedence over the climate crisis here in India. 

Being carbon conscious on a practical day-to-day basis but also for travel and life experiences can be quite costly (e.g. vegan/organic food supplies, electric powered transport, resorts/culinary experiences more expensive overall). How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

It is easier than I thought – especially here in India. Since it has been a way of life for most south Asians for centuries. It’s just about going back to the basics and trying to adopt practices that our forefathers used. In 2020 many people here, in urban centres have started growing organic vegetables in flower pots, for instance. But each country is at a different developmental trajectory. Consumption and economics go hand in hand. A vast Indian middle class just saw an economic boom in the last two decades so mass consumption has been on an upsurge – which as we know is not always sustainable. 

Why should everyone start to consider more sustainable travel? What is there to gain? Are you seeing any growing trends in the travel industry? 

In an ideal world, yes. In the high end travel space it is slowly becoming a reality with raising awareness but in the low end / mass tourism sustainable travel is definitely not a priority, yet.

With transport and particularly air travel being a huge contributor of carbon emissions on a global scale, do you believe tourism and travel truly can be sustainable or even net-zero? 

One could argue that tourism cannot be sustainable, that sustainability is impossible. Negative effects on the environment are inherent to the industry, such as the emission of greenhouse gases and waste generation, that are currently difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.

Slow travel might be the answer.

It should never be about ticking off the boxes, but staying at one place for longer and immersing. Take fewer flights. It’s a long road ahead. We hope there will be a day when we can power airplanes with zero emissions. Battery operated cars are already becoming reality… So we are treading along on the right path. 

Broadly speaking, however, the tourism sector’s commitment to sustainable development is rather weak. It’s understandable when considering tourism, which is, like most other industries, growth-oriented and profit-driven with a relatively short-sighted approach to planning and development. The primary focus is generating a return on investment to increase shareholder value as quickly as possible which is similar to many politicians, to appease constituents to foster the probability of re-election.

You mentioned ‘sustainability’ being a buzz-word used by all businesses now, both in a good and bad way. Good as it shows there is some level of engagement, progress and education even if small, but bad because some companies brand themselves as sustainable without knowing what it even means. How are you ensuring Encompass truly is sustainable and spreading awareness of climate change effectively?

The term sustainable tourism means different things to different people in the industry. But like ecotourism, sustainable tourism has become virtually meaningless as it is often tied to cursory efforts, which are very limited, rather than organization-wide commitments, strategies, and actions.

We at Encompass promote sustainable travel experiences as part of our portfolio and do our bit to raise awareness. We can’t claim to be 100% sustainable, but we take conscious steps in this direction on a daily basis. We do this by being transparent in our communication and educating our audience about the best practices in sustainable travel and promote conscious tourism. 

If we feel one of our partners are in gross violation of sustainability protocols we red flag them. However, in the high end travel space most hotels and experience providers are already on the conscious tourism bandwagon – so it’s a good place to be in. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Keep educating yourselves. Demand sustainable practices from experience providers. We are nothing but the sum total of our experiences so invest in them. Seek out destinations and hotels that leave minimum carbon footprint. It’s a long road ahead and every little action will have a long standing impact.

Email: taruna@goencompass.in

Instagram: www.instagram.com/taruna_seth

Website: www.goencompass.in

Encompass offers unique, authentic and sustainable experiences for the mind, body and spirit.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Geena Rait, Founder of Garmi

We spoke to Geena who saves South Asian fabric cutoffs from going to landfill, transforming scraps into culturally rich and environmentally friendly handcrafted products.

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My ethnic background is Punjabi and my academic background is in materials science and also mechanical engineering. 

What is Garmi? How did it come about and what are your main values as a business?

Garmi creates quality handcrafted products made from 100% recycled South Asian fabrics. The fabric is saved from landfill and something beautiful is made at the same time. 

My idea for this business came about after realising just how much fabric waste is generated when sewing traditional South Asian clothing. This waste comes in the form of fabric offcuts which are often too small to turn into other garments and as such are usually thrown away. 

In the first national lockdown I started experimenting with these beautiful fabric offcuts to see what I could make and garmi was born. 

The core values behind my business are sustainability and culture. I am committed to only using waste or recycled fabrics to make products and I endeavour to have a completely zero waste business. 

In terms of culture, I wanted to create a brand that incorporated South Asian culture, through its vibrant fabrics into Western fashion. In this way, these fabrics and South Asian culture are easily integrated into everyday life. Additionally, these fabrics are able to reach and be appreciated by a much wider audience.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

Since I was a teenager I have been interested in the environment, climate change and sustainability. Over the years this has manifested in changing aspects of the way I live and the products I buy. However, I always knew that I wanted to create a business one day that would actively solve an environmental or sustainability issue.  

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for your sustainable business idea from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I didn’t face any backlash for creating this sustainable business but I am used to family and friends not thinking much of this idea and dismissing it as a hobby. I have overcome this rhetoric by continuing to follow my passion and build my business. Hopefully one day all the naysayers will see that this idea has tackled a real problem – but I’m also content if they don’t! 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I have consistently made small changes in the way I live over the years to be more sustainable. For example, using soaps and shampoo bars instead of packaged toiletries, and reusable cotton pads to remove makeup instead of single use wipes. I became a vegetarian 10 years ago, partly for environmental reasons. I also avoid single use plastic unless absolutely necessary and try to be conscious of the amount of water I use every day.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think generally there is some resistance from older generations to adopt sustainable practices and take climate change seriously. I think this stems from a belief that one person’s actions won’t make that much of a difference in comparison to large corporations. I also think that there is more resistance to sustainability if it involves practices that are more costly or time consuming than the norm.

I think these issues can be tackled by firstly educating the younger generation and empowering them. This will act as a catalyst for older people to change their routines and adopt new and more sustainable practices.

Additionally, as sustainable products and practices become cheaper and more commonplace, it won’t seem like such a drastic and unfamiliar change for those who have been reluctant to change their habits.  

Do you find such lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging? 

I think a lack of understanding has impacted my business slightly, for example, I’ve often been told to go and buy fabric that I need, even though that goes against what this business and I stand for.

Thankfully, I think more and more people are starting to appreciate and actively seek out sustainable businesses to buy from.  

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

I would tell younger generations to incorporate sustainability into their life wherever they can. Large companies only change their habits and the products they sell when there is consumer demand. The more we all spend our money consciously in places that are sustainable, environmentally friendly and don’t use cheap labour the more we will see positive changes in the world.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

This year I hope to launch my website and expand my business so that I can receive fabric donations from all over the country and make a tangible impact on this fabric waste issue! If you would like to follow the journey and support please follow garmi on Instagram.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Co-Founder of Sustainable Water Use, Pavan Bains

We spoke with Pavan, Environmental Science Undergraduate and Co-Founder of Sustainable Water Use, Birmingham

What is your ethnic and academic background?

I am Punjabi and before starting university I spent a year working as an Agriculture Relationship Management Apprentice at Barclays. I am now in my second year of a BSc (Hons) Environmental Science at the University of Birmingham and am co-founder of Sustainable Water Use Birmingham – an environmental action campaign that began on an environmental leadership programme with an organisation called Uprising.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

I grew up watching documentaries by David Attenborough which made me interested in the natural world and climate change.

Growing up around my grandparents meant they would share their experience of farming in the Punjab. It seemed like another world from the city life I was used to. This also drew my attention to environmental issues within Punjab such as water security.

These experiences guided me to studying environmental science which explores environmental pollution, climate change and effective environmental management.

Can you tell me about any specific interests you have within your degree?

I have a specific interest in UK water security issues. Not many people know that by 2050 the UK won’t have enough water to meet its demands. It’s such an important issue that will affect the population, yet it’s often forgotten about.

I am also interested in ways of measuring sustainability. Carbon footprints are commonly used as a measure of sustainability which provides companies with a single number to work with. This is a risk as it may mean other important issues regarding sustainability aren’t considered such as ecosystem services. Hopefully, over the next few years measuring and modelling these services will become more advanced.

Can you tell us a bit more about water pollution and the campaign you’ve launched?

Our campaign aims to spread awareness of how important water sustainability is and share simple tips to help people use water more carefully. We’ve got Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well as a website where we post blogs, share resources and highlight ways people and businesses can reduce their water consumption. On our website there is an e-toolkit focused on ways businesses can incorporate water saving features into their offices.

Recently, we held a webinar event with the UNESCO chair of water science, David Hannah, about the UK water crisis, patterns of drought within the UK and how we can reduce demand on water supplies through some simple measures. We hope to collaborate with more universities, by collaborating with their respective student union and professors within hydrology to spread awareness of the water crisis.

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

Starting the environmental action campaign called Sustainable Water Use Birmingham. Particularly, having to start and run the campaign over lockdown. This campaign has brought my team and I closer to those working within the water industry and it is inspiring to see the work that is already being done within the sector to address the issue. 

The campaign has also taught me the power of social media. We have had interest in the campaign from professors and those working within the water industry through the power of social media. It’s made working with people across the country feasible and we hope to engage with an even wider audience over the coming year. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for stepping into this relatively unfamiliar academic path from family, friends or society at large?

None of my family work in the industry so there was some confusion regarding what my degree involved and the career prospects following it. To this date my grandmothers don’t know what I do which makes talking about what I do difficult! However, with the increasing public and political interest in environmental issues, it’s an area more people are able to understand and career prospects are increasing so it’s easier to justify to family.

Before starting the degree I had been working at Barclays and when I decided to leave to pursue my passion there wasn’t anything people could say to stop me!

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think there is a language barrier to explain the concepts surrounding climate change and sustainability especially amongst the older generation. However, from my experience the older generation already live quite sustainably opting for public transport and generally being vegetarians.

You touched on finding a barrier with your grandma when it came to her understanding your degree. What’s the best way to change this?

I have shown her some of the work I have done whilst on my course.

The images of environmental degradation transcend the language barrier and are such a clear way of representing the issues I am studying and working to address.

I think this approach is a good way of raising awareness of environmental issues as it can clearly show the impact of human activities.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

My course mates are vegetarian, and they have inspired me to change my diet. I became a vegetarian 3 months ago and believe it’s something I will continue. 

Running the water campaign has meant I am more conscious of the water I use in the household, so I ordered water saving fittings from my water supplier South Staffs water. This includes a low flow shower head, shower timers and cistern displacement devices. Everyone can order their own by going to their water supplier’s website and signing up for a free box of fittings.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? 

One way of reducing your carbon and water footprint is by using water saving fittings. These can be ordered for free and only take a few minutes to fix.

Becoming vegetarian is another way of reducing your carbon and water footprint. The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-eaters.  

Both these methods are inexpensive and are accessible to all who wish to lead more sustainable lives.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

The environment is a growing industry with different areas to suit peoples varying interests. Looking forward, we will need inventive ways of measuring and tracking the sustainability of companies, transport, diets and fashion which makes it an exciting time to get involved.

What’s it like studying and looking for job opportunities in the environmental industry?

There is so much happening within the industry it can be difficult to keep up with it all. I like to attend webinars and read journal articles that the professional bodies I have signed up to produce. This is important, especially when it comes to job applications as you need to have a strong understanding of sustainability, climate resilience and UK net zero for all jobs within the industry. 

In terms of job opportunities, I find that there is a lot of volunteering within the industry but not as many paid internships. Recently I have been applying for summer internships and I have found a few in environmental consultancy roles which is great to see. The industry is competitive, but I am hoping that more companies start to offer sustainability roles over the next few years.

Website for Pavan’s campaign:  https://www.sustainablewateruse.co.uk/

Connect with her on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/pavankaurbains

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Environmental Charity Partnerships Manager, Poonam Gill

We caught up with Poonam about her insights working in the environmental charity sector, as WWF’s Corporate Partnerships Manager

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My ethnic background is Indian, my family are from the Punjab. I also identify as a British Indian woman. I’ve always had an interest in social and environmental justice so studied Geography undergrad and a Masters in Sustainability. I now work in corporate partnerships for one of the largest global environmental charities.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

We used to go on family holidays to India every few years and as I grew older I started to recognise the impact my life has compared to that of my cousins living in the village. It inspired me to learn more about sustainability, and understand the relationship between different cultures and lifestyles and how they regard the natural environment.

Can you tell me about your current role? How did you get into the charity sector?

I work in corporate partnerships for one of the largest environmental charities, working with businesses to reduce their environmental footprint and engage with their supply chains, employees and customers on sustainability initiatives. This is the first green charity I have worked for, as I was applying for lots of roles after taking a career break to do some solo travelling, and was lucky enough to land the job!

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

My biggest success – landing the jobs that I have had so far! After I graduated, I found it difficult to get a job in sustainability and at the level for my qualifications. But it has been a great learning opportunity and each role helped me develop skills and confidence to succeed in the workplace. I especially appreciate all the friends, colleagues and mentors that help broaden my worldview, provide support and encouragement, and those who accompany you to the pub after a challenging day at work!

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/unfamiliar career path? Has it been challenging?

My parents still don’t fully understand what I do, and worry that working in the green sector I will not be as financially comfortable as my siblings, who work in the legal and pharma sectors. They tried to encourage me to take a more traditional professional route, but being 2 of 4 children, I was able to persuade them that this would be a good and fulfilling career path.

It’s been so great to build a network of fellow South Asian environmentalists, who have a similar story. The challenging part is being a minority in the sector, but this is slowly improving.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I have – I now eat mainly a vegetarian diet and make conscious food choices as the global food system has the biggest impact on climate change and biodiversity loss. I also try not to waste where I can – whether that be food, energy, resources and buy environmentally conscious or second hand clothing and products.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think the culture of consumerism has a big impact on understanding the climate crisis. Having easy access to anything you could want at affordable prices by a click of a button is still novel, and not many people will understand the multitude of impacts. I think it’s up to businesses to be more responsible so they can help to influence everyday life choices. 

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

If you eat meat, try to cut that down to 2/3 meals a week choosing good quality options – share veggie and vegan options with family and friends. Buy second hand when you can – it means they come preloved. Don’t waste energy – turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Make gifts instead of buying them, and ask your workplace what they are doing to be a sustainable organisation. Sustainability is accessible to everyone – you just need to know where to look for information and support. 

You touched on representation and developing a POC (people of colour) network group with other charities. Can you tell me more about this and why it’s particularly important for there to be more representation in the environmental industry?

The environmental crisis affects everyone on a local and global level, which means all voices need to be heard.

It’s hard to engage with issues when you don’t see yourself reflected, and having diverse thoughts and perspectives, particularly in the charity sector which has a history of paternalism, is so important in taking the movement forward.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

Keep fighting. No matter what age you are, you can be an activist. Also the importance of self-care when learning/working on these issues, as they can weigh down. Lastly, your voice matters and is your power!

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

Recently, it has been the lack of response to racism. It really made me aware of power and privilege, and how it shows up in your life. More than that, it was just deeply saddening to see the effect it had on my friends, family, colleagues and community. 

Connect with Poonam on Instagram and LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Climate Change Journalist Sharlene Gandhi

We spoke to Business, Climate Change and Food Systems Journalist, Sharlene about her insights and experience covering stories from the point of view of marginalised communities

What is your ethnic and academic/professional background?

I am a Hindu Gujarati Indian, and I am a journalist with a focus on small business, climate change and food systems.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

In my final year at Lancaster University, I was chosen for a special bootcamp-style module to attend the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s liaison-delegate meeting. Before this, I hadn’t had any specific interaction with the environmental sustainability movement, but I had always been involved in social justice and grassroots community initiatives. Going to the liaison-delegate meeting was so eye-opening because it not only revealed the science behind the climate crisis, but also all the many social, economic, cultural and community impacts it will inevitably have. That was in April of 2018, and I’ve since been enthralled with the subject, reading widely, going to talks and eventually embedding it into my journalistic practice.

Can you tell me about your career in journalism and how you got into writing about climate change and environmental injustice/race intersectionality? 

It was really a matter of luck – I had always wanted to be a journalist because I loved writing, but often struggled with the difficult question of whether to become a specialist journalist or stick to general reporting. I decided to start specialising as a climate and business journalist on a freelance basis, mostly to also be able to learn about some of the work that was being done on the ground by communities and small / micro enterprises. 

The more I researched and reported, the more I started to learn about the intersections between the climate crisis and marginalised communities and came across the term climate justice as a result. That’s been one of my key focus areas ever since, because once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

I’ve been involved in writing about agricultural justice, housing inequality and land redistribution, as well as Indigenous rights. 

Find Sharlene’s Portfolio here: https://muckrack.com/sharlene_gandhi

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

For me, I’ve always been deeply inspired by the work of Indigenous, Native and Aboriginal communities around the world. There is just a wealth of information to learn from them and how they have championed an approach to living that is in harmony with nature. 

My biggest successes have just been people giving me the opportunity, time and time again, to write about, speak about and explore this deeply intricate and important topic. I was super honoured to be part of shado magazine’s editorial team for their Climate Justice issue, which was published in September this year, and earlier in the year, I also researched and wrote up an investigation about the design and psychology of emission tracking apps for the American Institute of Graphic Arts. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/unfamiliar career path? 

I was luckier than most in that I didn’t face any particular backlash when choosing my career path, but I think being from an immigrant family – particularly one where money wasn’t always floating around freely – means that you have financial security in the back of your mind. So while I wasn’t pushed into medicine or engineering or law, I was certainly gently encouraged to do a degree that would lead me to a job. That is how I ended up with a business degree, because it would lead to a financially stable career.

And my parents weren’t wrong – I spent the first two years of my career as a consultant, with a very healthy paycheck attached. But ultimately I wasn’t happy with myself in that role and wanted to transition into a career that meant more to me in due course. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

Shopping locally and from small businesses has been a large part of the shift for me. It takes more time and more effort, but at least I know that I’m contributing to someone’s wellbeing and financial stability much more directly than if I were shopping from a larger supermarket that squeezed margins for their farmers and producers to make sure the end retail price was as cheap to the consumer as possible. 

Nearly three years ago, I also gave up all fast fashion and high street shopping, favouring secondhand, vintage and charity shop purchases for clothes, accessories and shoes. That hasn’t been easy, particularly because of the convenience and speed that fast fashion affords you as a consumer, not to mention the attractive pricing. But for me giving up fast fashion is crucial not just to planetary health, but also to climate justice. It signals to these companies that we can’t put up with the terrible conditions that they expect their garment workers to produce in.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I wouldn’t say there is a stigma more than there is a lack of understanding. But that is highly ironic because a lot of the things that South Asian families do naturally are sustainable. It generally starts with low-income, immigrant families championing these practices, with the most famous example being using containers repeatedly to store curries and daals. South Asian cooking often involves using entire fruits and vegetables in order to minimise waste. South Asian culture is slower and more deliberate than capitalistic, time-driven Western culture, and a slower lifestyle impacts our surroundings less. South Asian food practice has always been about buying local and supporting grassroots shop owners, where possible.

Religions and cultures that are prominent in South Asia favour a lifestyle that works in conjunction with nature as opposed to extracting from it.

So, in other words, sustainability comes to South Asian communities easier than we might think, but the way that modern day sustainability is wrapped up and packaged makes them feel like it’s far away and unattainable. 

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Naturally, being sustainable is supposed to be accessible to everybody, because it actually requires us to live slowly, more locally and more deliberately. A plant-based or vegetarian diet can be cheaper than a meat-based diet. Shopping locally shortens the supply chain from raw materials / ingredients to the final consumer, which reduces the end price and makes sure that the original producers are adequately compensated for their effort.

However, the marketisation and mainstream branding that has now been attached to sustainability has meant that there has been a premium price attached to it, which has also in turn made it unaffordable for a lot of people to make sustainable choices. Starting small and stripping back your routine is a good place to start though, rather than thinking you need to invest in additional products or services at a cost to you. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

Personally I think younger generations are much more knowledgeable about social justice and environmental sustainability than we are, simply because they don’t have a choice. So there is probably more than we can learn from them than they can learn from us!

I think for those interested in making a difference, I would advise starting small. Start with yourself and your sphere of control, extend that to your social circle, then to any impact you can make in your local community through conscious consumption, volunteering and raising awareness. Only then can you learn about the issues on the ground, on a grassroots level, which help you understand the system at large and why it functions the way it does. Otherwise, starting with the system and its flaws can seem too monumental and overwhelming to be able to make a tangible change. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I’m just humbled that I get to do so many wonderful things and continue spreading the word about sustainability! In the last couple of years, I’ve been so honoured to speak at the Almeida Theatre, at Global Action Plan, at Amnesty International, for IKEA, and for various smaller organisations looking to educate and inspire change. I’ve been able to interview amazing people, including Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm and Sana Javeri Kadri from Diaspora Co.

In one of my earliest pieces of work, while I was working with the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, I got to interview Arctic climate scientist Dr Oran Young. He has dedicated his whole life to the study of climate and spoke so passionately about the links to aspirational lifestyle and the worsening climate crisis. It really hit home then that this is more than scientific. It’s about how we define happiness and success. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

For South Asians, there is an absolute wealth of literature to delve into in terms of prominent writing about environmentalism, anti-capitalism and racism. Two perhaps obvious voices are Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy – they give a great introduction, in the content of South Asia, of why environmental sustainability needs to tie into social justice.

Find some of Sharlene’s work here:

Supply Chain Transparency: https://mailchimp.com/courier/article/building-transparent-supply-chain/

Carbon Tracking Apps: https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/principles/app-design/how-carbon-tracking-apps-are-designed-to-foster-responsibility-and-why-this-might-be-flawed/

How Green is UK’s New Deal?: https://www.ourstosave.com/feature?id=ckda46h78000p07234osxdkme

IKEA project: https://lifeathome.ikea.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/IKEA_Life_At_Home_Report_2020-2.pdf

Follow Sharlene on Instagram and LinkedIn