Spotlight Series: Q&A with Navneet Bassan, Pensions, Risk & Compliance Manager

We caught up with Navneet, qualified solicitor currently working at Ernst & Young in the Pensions, Risk and Compliance team about the rise in importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Asian British born in the UK. I am a qualified solicitor.

Can you tell me about your career so far? What was the catalyst for you to take on ESG Pensions at EY?

I worked in a few City law firms in the early days, worked at PwC and also Thomson Reuters, I’ve been working at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms (EY) for the last five years. I no longer work in the capacity of a solicitor, since having children, I took a side step and now work in the Pensions HR Team at EY.

The UK has an investment market of roughly £8 trillion with UK pensions assets c.£3 trillion, so as a very rough estimate pensions assets are a third of investable assets. Given this proportion, switching pension investment to back the sustainability agenda is a strong lever to deliver real change and a mechanism to fund green growth. In line with the EY global commitment to tackling the climate change crisis, EY made recent changes to the investment strategy of its UK staff pension plan and as part of this introduced the EY Sustainable Fund. At present 10% of the default investment strategy is invested in the EY Sustainable Fund, a “green” fund that supports sustainable causes. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this is only the beginning and EY is doing much more to ensure it invests its pension contributions into companies that are focused on reducing environmental impact and delivering sustainability. Watch this space!

What does your overall role at EY involve and how are you finding working on Sustainability compared to your other work?

I am the Risk & Compliance Manager for the EY in-house pensions team, so my day-to-day role involves ensuring EY remains compliant with all legal and regulatory requirements in relation to its pension arrangements within UK&I. However, I’ve recently become involved in a new cross-firm sustainability initiative created to focus on “getting our house in order” which is an aspect of EY’s Global Sustainability Strategy. So whilst EY is not only tackling sustainability in relation to services provided to external clients, it is also doing so with its own internal operations.

From a personal experience I did actually start to notice many small changes happening in our office pre-covid… Disposable cups within all EY offices were replaced with reusable cups, they ceased producing branded EY carrier bags and even dish sponges were removed from communal kitchen areas to reduce plastic microfibres in wastewater. It’s such an exciting area to be involved in at present and is a definite change from my usual day role!

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?

I didn’t feel direct pressure from my family, but I think it was the norm when I was growing up to either go for medicine, accountancy or law – so I just went for the last one given I loved English and History at School! If I had an opportunity to choose another career when growing up it would probably be around nutrition and diet but that wasn’t a well-publicised career path back in the day!

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

The biggest change I’ve made was a few years ago in changing from a petrol vehicle to a fully electric one. It’s been the best decision made in terms of being more “green” and definitely cost efficient, the only challenge has been in planning the charging points for longer journeys!

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?

I don’t believe there is any form of stigma, I think it is more of a lack of understanding and knowledge of the climate crisis. For me, it really hit home when I attended a work-related conference where Lewis Pugh presented and spoke about his experiences of climate change, especially when he first swam in the waters of Antarctica compared to more recent times. He’s a very inspiring speaker and really hit the message home.

I believe more education and publicity is needed in this area and suggestions on what changes people can implement to make a difference.

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?

Everyone can take “baby steps” to make changes in their day to day lives. It doesn’t have to be costly, even just ensuring rubbish is sorted and recycled where possible or using reusable shopping bags even helps. In recent times vegan lifestyles and products have come more to the forefront, which has helped with promoting foods that have less impact on the environment, so I believe being carbon conscious is more accessible than previously. Even making a few changes can help the cause.

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

Really start making a difference now by becoming more sustainable in your day-to-day lives. When I was growing up, this wasn’t a “thing”, but now it has been brought to the forefront through the likes of many individuals and climate “influencers” trending on social media platforms (i.e. the Greta Thunberg effect). Going back to pensions, which is typically an area where apathy is a challenge particularly amongst the younger generations, recent research has shown that

Millennials are most likely to believe that a measurable ESG impact can make a difference and for their investments to reflect climate change concerns. Hopefully this will mean the younger generation are more likely to engage with their pension if they can see if has a positive impact on climate change.

Coming from a background in law and working in a major financial company, would you say a career in the environmental sector would be just as financially and economically viable and stable?

Yes I believe in this day and age, a career in the environmental sector can be just as rewarding financially as well as from a job satisfaction perspective. Many companies are jumping on the “sustainability wagon” and if you do a quick google search for jobs in the sustainability field you will see many listed. I believe the only challenge may be a lack of awareness of what is involved in these types of roles.

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

Yes of course – when on holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, I found it quite alarming when we came across so much dead coral on the beaches. We also went on a glass-bottom boat excursion, where we could see first-hand all the dead coral. When you compare this to living and healthy coral which you view when watching David Attenborough programmes, the difference is shockingly stark. While there was still some fish there, it was abundantly clear to see how much climate change had impacted a large proportion of the coral reef surrounding this beautiful island.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Climate change has been brought to the forefront in recent times, taking one example of the Australian bushfires, which I believe impacted many when you could see the devastation caused. The next step now is to take action and remember that as an individual you can make an impact by starting to make changes yourself and also educating others. The best way to do this is to “speak the language” of each generation e.g. the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y) and the Centennials (Gen Z). Generally most people switch off when I start talking about my line of work(!), however,

I have noticed that if you can find the right hooks to discuss sustainability within the context of pensions, I have been able to engage both my parents’ generation as well as my nieces and nephews. 

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 CEO & Founder of ChargeInc, Akshay Mukesh

We caught up with Akshay about his tech developments in all things Electric Vehicle charging in India, Middle East and North Africa

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I was born to a North-Indian family residing in South India so one could say that I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan-kind of environment. Essentially, I am a self-taught entrepreneur with minimal formal education and a handful of practical experience. 

I started working when I was 16 and I have diverse experiences in industries like publishing, realty, IT and a digital agency upholding senior executive positions. I love to dig into customer problems and solve them with modern tech and out-of-box solutions. I create, scale and optimise portfolios that matter.

What is Charge Inc and how did it come about?

When I founded ChargeInc back in 2018, the company was headed towards setting up smart charging infrastructure across India and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In the process of developing the charger (EVSE), we realised that over 5000 companies with a similar product were going to deploy different solutions by 2026 making it difficult for the end user to charge the electric vehicle (EV) with different hardware/service providers. A user, at one time would not subscribe to more than 2 service providers, dividing the charging infrastructure and making adoption of EVs more difficult.

To curb this menace, we decided to focus on building a software platform that could manage and power hardware from any manufacturer or service provider. In simple terms, We would do what ‘Windows’ did for the computer industry and what ‘Android’ did for the cell phone industry. 

What are your main values and aims as an organisation?

We have one clear focus. A unified charging infrastructure irrespective of the type of vehicle, the service provider, the manufacturer of hardware or the geographical location of the charging station. The sooner we are able to achieve this, the faster we can see people choosing EVs over internal combustion engines. And, in this process, we as an organization, are imbibing the values of globality, collaborations, integrity and utmost commitment towards customers

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

The movie ‘2012’ caught my attention in 2010. Though the movie was overly dramatized, it depicted the imminent disaster that is in looming unless we reacted in time. This was just, as I realize now, paving my path forward.

Being an automotive enthusiast, I started to notice advancements in the industry. The kind of buzz Tesla and Lucid Motors were making at the time made me more interested in the EV industry. I transitioned to the IT sector in 2016 where as part of my job, I was fortunate to meet with prominent government figures from across the world and pitch for projects defining the future of the public transport system. 

Their valued opinions and feedback on national problems they face owing to transportation were intriguing for me. I was also witnessing how a few lines of code were able to reduce the efforts and drudgery of millions of people. This was the tipping point. It was here that I knew something bigger could be done.

I started researching what the EV industry was missing and every person I spoke to pointed towards 2 things. First being the range anxiety and second being the lack of charging infrastructure

The vehicle manufacturers were working on developing better battery technologies to fix the problem of range and a lot more charger manufacturers were working on setting up the infrastructure. But with such a diverse approach to the charging infrastructure a much bigger problem was awaiting to be addressed. Unlike refuelling a gasoline powered vehicle, an EV would require the user to reserve a charging point, before they get to a charging station or any business premises supporting it; but the user would be limited by the subscription from a service provider they opt in for. We were now clear on what we wanted to pursue, using our expertise to make a difference. 

I believe I am in the right place at the right time with the right kind of people. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career decision from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I would consider myself blessed to be surrounded by people who have always supported me in my endeavours. It surprises me sometimes yet gives a feeling of gratitude to have such an arrangement around. Almost everyone I reach out to for help, guidance or connections, they do the best they can. 

I make conscious efforts to ensure I pass on what I receive in a similar fashion.

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

With the kind of work I do, I land up travelling a lot. I currently drive to most destinations because of the pandemic which adds to the carbon footprint. Within the organisation, we often talk about ways to offset the carbon footprint we incur. We are tirelessly working towards deploying our solution at the earliest as it would enable faster adoption of EVs which in turn will offset quite a bit of carbon coming from vehicles on the road.

While this is a part of our primary objective of the organisation, as a personal commitment towards sustainability, I turned vegan back in 2019 and started to ride to most destinations within the city on a bicycle. We also try to limit Air/Long Road travel, use less paper, re-use most resources and reduce electronic waste by donating what is not in use or use electronics for a longer duration than intended. Soon we’ll work on policies where we will incentivise colleagues who eat locally (as that reduces the need to import products from distant locations), share rides to work and replace their ICE vehicles with EVs. While most of these are plans for the future, we intend to take them up gradually to ensure there is less resistance and we are able to sustain proposed changes in our lifestyle. 

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?

It is a harsh reality but most people today wish to switch to an EV for the financial incentives and not the environmental benefits. Environmental reasons and climate change often get side-lined.

I often hear a conversation about “Climate change being real” when people realise that summers are getting hotter or winters are colder or when we experience natural calamities. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to prevent this? 

Something as basic as waste segregation is not widely adopted in most places in India. It’s surprising to see that most developed nations in the MENA region also do not enforce segregation of waste in households. It’s of prime importance that we understand this and self-regulate our lifestyle or the Government will have to step in, incentivise or enforce people to change to be more sustainable in their lifestyle. 

Just running ads or campaigns for awareness are not going to be enough. Stricter regulations have to be put in place and environmentalists have to be taken more seriously before it’s too late. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings?

I personally don’t think I have experienced success as yet. My contributions have been minimal and I would consider them negligible. The vision is to make an impact which reflects in the life of millions for a long period of time. Whilst I am not someone who runs a company which is valued at over a Billion USD, it is difficult to convince people and make them align with the vision. 

There is also a subtle difference between being persistent and being clingy. As an entrepreneur, it’s necessary to know the difference and to know who to have around you for the journey. Unless the person travelling with you matches your vision, they will only end up being a hindrance. 

There are 3 main things I have learnt on this journey and remind myself of these.

You are going to hear a lot of “NO”. You will meet a lot of people who will disregard your idea, do not let them de-motivate you. Self-motivation is one of the most expensive resources and it’s scarce. Use it wisely so you don’t run out of it.

Assuming you do find a person, they may not always be able to align to your vision, learn to let go of people and focus on those who do. If you do not have a person who aligns with your vision, don’t stop searching for them. If you are on the lookout for such a person for a long time, it’s probably the vision that needs to be adjusted. 

It is important to be persistent, but one must know where to stop. Sticking to something that may never work is putting yourself at massive risk. It is okay to fail at something and apply the learnings from that onto the next one. Knowing where and when to pull the plug is an art not many can master. 

What are the biggest challenges being faced in the EV industry? Has any one country got it ‘right’ so far?

The EV industry is MASSIVE. The challenges that lie ahead are bigger than one person, one company or one country. The problems will continue to remain as long as there is range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure and long periods of time taken to charge the EV batteries.

Norway and China are leading the EV adoption race and other countries need to learn from the, but even in these countries, the charging infrastructure is defined by the companies that manufacture the vehicle. 

Imagine if brands like Mercedes or Volkswagen had to step in to sell fuel because no one else will do so. The vehicle manufacturers are currently charging service providers because they are forced to do so. They have invested massive amounts of money in developing these vehicles and it is in everyone’s best interest to get them on the road as soon as possible. 

If experts from the charging domain step in to fill in the gap, vehicle manufacturers can focus on the battery technology and develop better vehicles rather than focusing on providing charging services.

It needs to be a joint effort between domain experts from the charging infrastructure and vehicle manufacturers to enable faster adoption of EVs.

What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future? 

My advice to the younger generation would be to look around and analyse the situation for themselves. Refer to historical data and look at how things have changed over the years and try finding the reasons for those changes. 

They will soon come to realise that it’s us who are responsible for these changes and unless we do something right away to fix these issues, shortly there would be no room left for us to be able to step in and fix them. 

These shortcomings are not too far ahead in the future. Today when you read about the technical advancements, you would often read about companies trying to colonise Mars or space travel and alternative places on Earth for the existence of the human race. 

Looking at billions of $ being poured into making it happen must ring loud alarm bells within us so we wake up to reality and realise that we are already late. We either start to fix the problem right away or fixate over it for the reason of not doing so for the rest of our lives. This choice needs to be made by our youth.

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

I have had far too many ups and downs in my life. I have experienced a steep raise and fallen too quickly. These ups and downs made me value quite a few things that I took for granted. 

A few instances during the initial phase of my career made me realise how important it was to be financially secure. I started to pursue projects in the realty sector as they paid well. Every project I would take up would be of decent value and if something came across that did not pay well, I would not take it up. 

Shortly after I was left with no work and with depleting finances it would become increasingly difficult to live below means after experiencing a lavish lifestyle. The reality of life hits you hard when you are down and the first thing that goes out the window is faith. 

I consider myself extremely blessed to be surrounded by people who truly care for me and stand by me in every situation. Some helped me reinstate my faith while others helped me find work and some helped in stabilising the situation so I could focus on work.  

It’s often said that only a few get a second chance. I can, with gratitude say that I have received quite a few ‘second chances’ and this keeps me grounded.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I may sound like a hypocrite when I say this as my previous answer reveals how I reacted, but I now believe faith is the driving force behind everything. Be it faith in The Almighty or the faith in yourself to do something. 

Be rest assured neither the good nor the bad is going to last for too long. Life will be a roller coaster, it will flip you upside down over and over again. I can scream but it’s my choice whether this is because I am scared or because it excites me.

Company Website: www.chargeinc.in

Akshay’s Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/amukesh/

ChargeInc on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/chargeincindia

ChargeInc on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charge.inc/

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Dr Poshendra Satyal PhD, AFHEA, MPhil, BSc (Hons) Ag

Read our deep dive into Dr Poshendra’s academic journey, with key interests in environmental development, agriculture and conservation in the Global South

What is your ethnic and academic background?

I identify as a Nepalese and South Asian living in the UK (for the last nineteen years). I was born and raised in the foothills of Nepal Himalayas (near Mount Makalu, the fifth highest peak in the world). Our family later moved to Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) where I completed my secondary schooling and A-level education. I also did my BSc there before going to Haryana in India to study for my 4-year BSc (Honours) Agriculture degree (1994-1996). After finishing my degree I went back to Nepal, taught for a year in a private agricultural college and got involved with a couple of environmental NGOs working in the issues of sustainability and natural resource management. 

I came to study for my MPhil in Environment and Development at the University of Cambridge in 2001. Since then, I have been based in the UK. I continued for my PhD in Environmental Policy at the Open University (2005-2009) and then worked at various universities, institutes and organisations, broadly on different areas of environmental development (including climate change, forest governance, conservation and natural resources management). 

I now work as Global Forest Policy Coordinator with the Policy Team of the BirdLife International (an environmental NGO), based in Cambridge. Prior to that, I worked for five years as a senior researcher at the University of East Anglia (UEA)’s School of International Development (2014-2019). I also serve as a Trustee of the Mount Everest Foundation (Royal Geographical Society), an affiliate fellow with the UEA’s Global Environmental Justice Group and a visiting senior fellow of South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies (Nepal). I have also worked as a research fellow at the Warwick University’s Department of Politics and International Studies (2018-2019) and Crichton Carbon Centre and ClimateXChange – Scotland’s Centre of Expertise on Climate Change (2012-2014). 

In the past, I worked as a researcher, lecturer and consultant with a number of institutions and organisations in the UK (The Open University, UNEP – World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Fern, and Forests Monitor) and Nepal (Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Forum for Sustainable Development Nepal, and Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Nepal). I was also an affiliate fellow of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (2014-2018), University of Glasgow’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies (2012-2014) and Open Space – Centre for Geographical and Environmental Research of the Open University (2009-2012).

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

Having spent much of my early childhood in a tiny remote village of Hedangna in Sankhuwasabha, a district of Eastern Nepal, I had witnessed the local villagers’ very close relationship with nature. The place was very rich in biodiversity, forests and other natural resources (the area later became the Makalu Barun National Park).

While the local indigenous Rai communities had a very simple lifestyle, most of the villagers had very basic standards of living, with no electricity, no proper medical facilities and other services (which we take for granted in the West). I also witnessed (and experienced myself to some extent), poverty, underdevelopment and spatial inequity arising from the remoteness.

This made me hyper-aware of the circumstances that make people vulnerable, due to a range of social and environmental issues (e.g. socio-political marginalisation, climate change and natural hazards). This sparked my interest to explore the dynamics of social, environmental and climatic issues that can impact local livelihoods. More particularly, my concern about injustices in the context of natural resources. This was the beginning of my interest to study and research these issues in greater depth.

Having studied and worked previously in the field of agriculture and natural resource management in India and Nepal, my interests, concerns and desire to understand the underlying causes of injustices in the natural resources context; based on what I had witnessed in the field, had a bearing on the choice of my research in environment and development. 

In fact, I began to realise and question the limitations of my own technical knowledge in agriculture that I had gained through my BSc (Honours) Agriculture degree in India when I returned to Nepal. I started to question whether natural resources and farm management involve not only technical and scientific issues, but also a number of other socio-economic and political issues.

I had concluded that, in order to solve problems in agriculture, forest management and natural resource governance, issues of justice should come to the fore.

This led me to apply for the MPhil in Environment and Development degree at the University of Cambridge, which would equip me with social sciences approach to environmental analysis in my chosen career. 

Can you tell me about your research over the years in conservation and what has interested you the most? 

With a background in natural and social sciences, I have a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary and policy relevant research in environment and development issues, particularly conservation, forest governance, and climate change in the context of developing nations. 

My interest in engaging with the theoretical debate on social and environmental justice and in exploring the empirical understanding of environment and development problems is related to my academic, personal and professional background.

In that sense, my work has a biographical connection. The underpinning research interest on various environmental and development challenges faced by the developing world, is primarily rooted in my background as a Nepalese and South Asian. While this was a starting point for my interest, there are also further reasons for choosing a research topic in social and environmental justice. 

My interest in exploring North-South differences in tackling the twin challenges of environment and development, progressed more prominently during my MPhil degree in Cambridge, exposing me to a broad range of ideas and concerns regarding the debate on environment and sustainable development.

As a new researcher and practitioner from the “developing world,” but studying in the West, I was constantly confronted with new ideas, including those on justice, in my participation in academic discussions; which further pushed me to engage in research that could explore the real tensions and differences in priorities between the developing world and the developed world, in terms of social and environmental dimensions involved in sustainable development and sustainability. 

Reflecting upon these issues led me to conclude that a productive research avenue would be to use an environmental justice framework. My PhD project thus worked on and developed theories of social and environmental justice, drawing from in-depth field research on community forestry and natural resources management in the Terai of Nepal; looking into issues of social equity and forest ecology in the context of environmental and socio-political change in the region. 

Building on my PhD, I have further used the environmental justice framework in policy research and analysis in the context of climate change adaptation, forest governance and water security, with various organisations in the UK.

The most recent role that I have in BirdLife involves supporting our Policy Team and advising project partners on forest policy issues. Forests have received renewed attention in recent years (particularly in the debates around Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and climate change policies) due to their potential for a ‘triple win’ in terms of addressing biodiversity loss, mitigating and adapting to climate change and providing other local and global ecosystem services. 

Ending deforestation, advancing forest conservation and restoration and sustainable management, of all types of forests and trees are vital for the purpose. Hence I see that there is an important role for advocacy and policy work on forest, biodiversity and climate change issues, at global and national levels to help develop and operationalise effective environmental policies across different scales of governance. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

There have certainly been various milestones, but I do not consider that I have achieved any big successes as of yet. Also, it depends how we define and measure ‘success’. I believe that we need to continue doing our Karma with persistence, trust in ourselves, and success will appear in different guises and degrees. In my case, the progress has been gradual as I have built and continue to build on some of my achievements. 

To begin with, I consider two of my early achievements (before coming to the UK) as the ones that still guide my passion for learning and hardworking: (1) in 1991 I stood among the top three positions during the national School Leaving Certificate exam (GCSE equivalent) among more than 150,000 students taking up the exam in Nepal; (2) I was also a gold-medalist scoring highest marks among more than 400 students in the BSc (Honours) Agriculture programme in India. 

In retrospect, my turning point was when I was selected for my MPhil degree in Cambridge, which I consider a significant milestone that opened subsequent opportunities and shaped my future. Coming from a remote Nepali village, I felt quite lucky to be selected for Cambridge Overseas Trust Scholarships for my postgraduate study in Cambridge, among many competent candidates from around the world. My MPhil degree laid a foundation for my interest in further studying the environment and its development.

My selection for a fully funded PhD studentship was another milestone in my life. My PhD and post-doctoral research at various institutions further provided cumulative and progressive impacts, towards my personal and professional development. For example, building on my original doctoral research on social and environmental justice, I developed a climate justice framework for policy research and analysis in Scotland, which was very well received by the Scottish Government. 

I also consider my wide-ranging academic and professional experience, working on various projects and in different organisations useful experience. Through these works, I now have a good record of publications and my published items have ranged from peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, to policy reports, briefing papers and general articles. 

I have also widely presented in various forums and meetings involving a variety of audiences (e.g. international conferences, workshops, interaction programmes, and policy engagements).

I see my unique position as a South Asian researcher based in the UK as a strength. I’m placed in a prime position with exceptional potential for North-South collaboration and trust. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for choosing to work in environmental research from family, friends or society at large? You originally wanted to study medicine – what changed?

When I did quite well in my GCSE exam in Nepal, the expectation from my parents, family and wider network of relatives in Nepal was that I choose some high-demand career such as medicine and engineering for my further study. 

Everywhere you go, people would ask you what you want to become in life. Most children in Nepal are still taught that “they will become a doctor or engineer and serve the society”. With such societal ‘pressures’, I also naturally aspired to become a medical doctor. However, there were only a few medical colleges in the country at that time and the competition was very high.

I did not manage to get a place and was feeling very low, thinking that my dream was shattered. It was only after that, I began to consider other subject areas for further studies, and I decided to go for an agriculture degree with a scholarship from the Indian government. 

Even then, many of my friends and family would sometimes tell me that I could have done better choosing medicine or engineering. In their minds, medicine and engineering subjects would land you a secure job and high salary, while those preferring agriculture, forestry or environmental studies would not have comparable future prospects. 

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

While wider policies and plans are needed across different sectors and scales of environmental governance, these would not be successful if we do not feel responsible to operationalise, practice and monitor, in whatever way we can. In that sense, every individual has the responsibility to change their behaviours and actions and adopt a sustainable lifestyle, while also engaging in some form of citizen activism. 

The reason for this is because every day we make choices in our lives that can affect the environment, the climate and biodiversity. From what we buy and what we eat to how we travel to work, there are a lot of things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact. 

On a personal level, I have been conscious of all aspects of my daily life (e.g. how my shopping behaviour can impact the environment, going plastic free, switching off the lights when not in use, reducing unnecessary water use etc.). While this may seem a very small effort, individual actions are important to collectively address the enormity of the challenge we are facing.

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?

South Asia as a region is vulnerable to climate change. While rising sea levels and flooding threaten the coastal states of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives, landlocked Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal face rising temperatures, drought, and glacial melting. 

The climate crisis can further exacerbate environmental degradation, natural disasters, extreme weather events, food and water insecurity and economic disruption. As high temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns and climatic variability and change have already started to impact people’s daily lives and livelihoods in the region, I think South Asian communities living in the region (and also South Asians living in the UK, to some extent) are aware of the climate crisis. 

However, when it comes to individual actions to mitigate climate change and environmental issues, there certainly seem some cultural barriers. For example, while simple measures like using public transportation more often, reducing energy consumption, becoming more eco-friendly can help reduce our environmental impact and make this planet a clean and safe place, our society seems to have a tendency to ‘respect and value’ those who drive fancy cars, wear ‘big brands’, own big houses and earn and spend more. 

I also think that there is very low uptake of a ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ culture among us, as many of us feel hesitant to go to a charity shop and buy second-hand clothes. This is generally true for both South Asians living in urban or peri-urban areas in the region, as well as British Asians living in the UK. Having said that, I think it will be unfair to point a finger and put a blame just on South Asian communities, because the behaviour is common across all of us.

We all as human beings are responsible for this crisis and we need to work collectively to address the challenge. 

While our South Asian culture is generally considered to be based on the ethos of sharing and caring for each other and a common respect for the Mother Nature (e.g. there are references to this philosophy in most of the major religions in the region, including Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism), our modern lifestyle has made us more greedy and needy, as we are attracted to materialistic culture and consumerism. 

South Asian culture is also considered to take a more collectivist and holistic approach on social relationships and, supposedly, by extension on environmental issues. However, we have now become more selfish and individualistic and such dichotomy of culture does not seem to be valid anymore, both for urban and peri-urban South Asians and British Asians.

You mentioned your experiences in Africa and how you were misunderstood for working in a different profession. Why do you think South Asians are underrepresented in the environmental sector? Has it been challenging for you over the years?

I’ve had an interesting mix of experiences in the sector. My work experience has been both intellectually challenging and enthralling. In a good way, this experience has also changed my way of life and thinking as it has taught me to think critically and out-of-the box, at times. 

Of course, there have been a lot of challenges too. As an immigrant exposed to new culture, getting used to the new way of life in the UK was one of my initial challenges. I also found initially that there was a lot of competition in the job market and I had to get myself prepared to compete amongst the best in the subject area. 

Once in the sector, I realised that there are only a few South Asians with whom you could relate to or look up to for a ‘role model’.

The reasons for under-representation of South Asians in the environmental sector may be, as I highlighted earlier, due to the cultural preference over high-demand and well-paid STEM subjects (such as medicine and engineering) and more importantly, due to lack of diversity in the sector in the UK. 

Many of the organisations and institutes have not yet embraced diversity and inclusivity in policy and practice, hindering access and participation of BAME (Black, Asian and and Minority Ethnic) communities. 

In my personal case, there has also been a funny side to it. As part of international development research projects, I had to travel to new places, often in remote areas and countries. At times, I have been misunderstood for coming to set up a business or work as a medical doctor (in Uganda and Kenya, as many Indians go there for the purpose) or as a field support or research assistant to our research team (which mostly consisted of UK British White colleagues and local country partners). 

In some cases, I have been interrogated extra in immigration (e.g. Mexico – a country where many South Asians are trafficked for illegally entering into the USA) or sometimes being let go easily: in Liberia, when an immigration officer checked my passport and I said I am a ‘Nepalese’ but he heard ‘Lebanese’ (as Lebanese and Indians go there to set up businesses, the officer was quite relaxed on further checking). 

Similarly, I was once on a 16-hour road trip to a research site in Southern Ethiopia from Addis Ababa and we had to stop at a few places for meals. As the area was quite remote, local people were not accustomed to seeing ‘brown’ people traveling to their area for research or tourism. A waiter in a small motel came to me and said: “I think I have seen you before…probably in Bollywood movies” – I took that as a compliment!

Leaving aside the funny part, the upshot of my experience is that the area of international development and environmental sector is still massively underrepresented for South Asians and BAME communities in general. 

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?

I agree – there are some barriers to practice sustainable living at an individual level. For example, public transport is not timely and sometimes it can be costly too (e.g. train travel is sometimes costlier than driving or even flying in the UK). Similarly, organic products are more expensive than other products on the shelf. Theoretically, sustainable farming, shortening supply chain, cutting down water and energy consumption, reducing packaging etc, should also lower the cost in the long run. 

In order to change attitudes and behaviours into positive actions, we need some incentives and penalties (e.g. financial contribution to switch to renewable energy). Also, we need increased awareness and a socio-cultural shift towards sustainability, which will make consumers conscious about the climate emergency and damaged ecosystems; so they understand and are willing to pay a little bit more to help the planet (e.g. carbon tax added to our airfares). We also need to recognize, embrace, and reward sustainable values and actions of environmentally conscious consumers in ways that increase the uptake of sustainable consumption more widely.

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

For younger generations, I would like to encourage them to reflect on the urgency of saving the planet and embrace sustainability, making it more ‘mainstream.’ Sustainability, in essence, is about “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. In that sense, it is an intergenerational issue.

The younger generations have both the responsibility and power to change the world for the better so that we can bequeath the planet to our future generations safely, respecting their right to a healthy planet. More specifically, I would like the younger generations to see sustainability as a justice issue in our relationship to the nature: intragenerational justice (poverty alleviation and social justice); intergenerational justice (justice to future generations); and inter-species justice (justice to non-human nature, including other species and biodiversity). 

As younger generations also have the power to change the status quo and make the world a better place to live, I encourage them to actively engage in some form of environmental activism. We have already seen a number of youth role models in recent years (e.g. Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Licypriya Kangujam from Manipur, India) and their activism has started to bring some positive results in terms of increasing awareness on the issues and bringing some policy change. 

Networking and partnership with like-minded individuals and organisations would help maximise the impact of advocacy, hence I would like to advise everyone to work together in this collective goal. With a right mix of inspiration, aspiration and networking, I am sure we can make some real impact. 

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

I guess my roots and early childhood experience have impacted me deeply to continue working on areas of justice and sustainability.

As I elaborated earlier, my growing up in a small remote village of Nepal, witnessing local communities’ proximity, dependence and respect for nature, their sufferings and simple lifestyle had an empowering impression on me. 

Additionally, as I see similar circumstances that a majority of people in the developing world experience (pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in Ethiopia and Kenya, indigenous Batwa peoples in Uganda, ethnic minorities in Vietnam, community forest users in Nepal), I am even more determined to continue working to understand and bring to the fore their specific needs, concerns and priorities; so that their roles and rights are recognised and respected in global and national policies. 

There have also been some unique insights and experiences gained through specific incidents. For example, in my trip to Southern Ethiopia, I saw how long and harrowing a journey (sometimes up to 6 hours) that agro-pastoralist girls have to make to fetch one to two gallons of water for their household. This made me more conscious of my own use of water for daily use. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I do not have more to add but would like to thank you for providing this platform and opportunity to share my experience to fellow South Asians. I hope this was interesting and useful. I want to engage with young South Asians in the region as well as British Asians living in the UK on efforts to raise public awareness and activism in areas of sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity conservation in the coming days. I wish you all the best for your campaign and efforts. I look forward to working together.

Connect with Dr. Poshendra and follow his work on Instagram

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Carbon Net-Zero Researcher & Consultant, Vichitra Chandra

We caught up with carbon net-zero and ESG specialist, Vichitra about her diverse cross-sector experience

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My mum is a British Indian from a traditional Punjabi family brought up in greater Manchester, and my dad is a south Indian mix of konkani and Telugu, from Hyderabad, India. This is to say I have a mixed Indian background, with different india cultural influences growing up. I lived in India during my schooling years and moved back to the UK permanently when I was around 16. 

I pursued Physics at University upto a MSc, after which I spent half a year trying out teaching. I moved into the world of finance, specifically investments and became interested in the growing world of ESG, sustainability and impact investments. 

Since then, I have been working as an independent consultant for environmental and data-focused non profits and other companies, using my research and analytical skills to research industry’s transition to carbon net-zero in light of our national targets. 

Additionally, I work with entrepreneurs and start-ups helping their corporate development, marketing and fundraising strategies, with a particular interest in ethical, sustainable and environmental-focused businesses, such as ethical fashion, financial inclusion and environmental data.  

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

Growing up in India helped me realise from an early age the scarcity and unequal distribution of essential resources such as water, energy and food, the impact of the lack thereof. I was brought up to be mindful of consumption, minimise wastage, reduce unnecessary usage and reuse where possible. The first time I realised just how unsustainable we are was at University, when perfectly edible whole packs of food were routinely discarded with no second thought by my housemates! Why? “because the veg is wonky, because the packet said it expired yesterday, I don’t fancy that today, blah blah blah”. I was horrified. 

I noted how excessive and consumption-focused society is and our blissful ignorance (intentional or not) around it. I began realising that our day-to-day activities, consumption choices and thus how industry runs and business is carried out are entirely unsustainable and at odds with the ever increasing consequences of climate-change we continue to face.

I wanted to be a part of the “green revolution” and a generation that demands better, more supply-chain transparency and care for our planet and communities by shifting from short-term financial gains to longer-term wider considerations. 

We live in a world where making more money is considered an indication of success and prosperity, even if at the expense of nature and our environment. Inspiring work has been done to raise awareness and bring to light how unsustainably we currently live, but there is so much more to be done!

I especially believe in capital being used as a force for real change, and focus on the economic benefits of sustainability, especially disproving myths about the negative financial impacts of employing sustainable practices. I am inspired to use my background in science and finance to communicate this to a wider set of audiences and stakeholders to catalyze further decarbonisation, sustainable business practice uptake and investing for the greater good. 

Can you tell me a bit about your work and how you got into it? 

While working in investment advisory, I worked with investors and asset managers wanting to create impact through their investments. Here, I was introduced to the work of ESG, impact and sustainable investing. Through this work, I began working with IB1, researching and bringing together industry stakeholders harnessing data to make strategic and financial decisions in light of our net-zero carbon targets. 

Sectors I’ve covered include renewable energy, insurance, recycling biotechnology, space-data for climate change, and environmental start-ups. I did not follow a clear path to where I am now, but using my broad set of skills and experiences, and my passion for sustainability and impact investing, I have managed to find work and forge a career in the environmental and sustainability space. There’s a lot more to do and learn though! 

The challenge was finding like-minded organisations and individuals that you can learn from and work with, while also feeling like your work has a positive impact. I continue to look for further projects and groups to expand my work. 

Are there any top tips you can share for people wanting to invest in green tech/ funds but unsure where or how to start?

Through initiatives such as open banking and continued digitalisation of our world, investing has never been easier and more accessible to the average consumer. Many platforms offer ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing and you will see more and more such products due to their growing demand. Some platforms include Nutmeg, wealthify, Pension Bee and many have the easy option to invest in ESG portfolios. If you want to directly invest in clean technology, check out Thrive Renewables, who offer individuals and businesses easy access to investing in renewables in the UK. 

Additionally, investing apps such as Hargreaves Lansdown, Moneybox and others allow you to pick your own stocks (say, if you’ve heard of this really cool cleantech company and you want in!). If you don’t have an ISA, get one! Make sure it’s a stocks and shares ISA (you can use the above mentioned investment platforms for this) where you can either choose a managed portfolio or pick your own stocks (if you feel confident enough!) Familiarise yourself with how the bonds market works, and read up on various online resources to help you get started. And remember, google is your friend and a fantastic teacher.  

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

My biggest success to date is perhaps finding fulfilment and pride in my work since becoming self-employed, working directly within the environmental sector and with inspirational start-ups building impactful businesses.

My biggest learning to date is just how much more learning there is to do, with many people, organisations and countries making huge strides in the sustainability sector — I want to learn about and speak to them all!

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large?

I am fortunate to have supportive family and friends around me. Sustainability and impact investment is growing in importance, perhaps mainly due to my generations’ desire to do good with their money, so the opportunities in this sector are ever increasing and better remunerated. I would say the biggest challenge is the older generation and their thinking, especially their dismissiveness and scepticism towards sustainability, and the need to make changes not just for financial returns, but environmental, social and other reasons. 

My family continues to encourage me to pursue the intersection of finance with the environment, so I am spared the backlash! That said, I have been lucky. A few years ago my sister finally decided to pursue her life-long passion by leaving her career as a surgeon to work for the Environmental Agency — an inspiration to myself, my family, her friends and colleagues. It was initially hard for my parents and other elders to understand why, but they eventually understood and supported her wholeheartedly. She still gets the odd comment from the family and acquaintances, but following her heart and becoming a key spokesperson for the environment is worth more than any uncle or aunty comments. 

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

I think little things go a long way. I find that sustainable, responsible and conscious living can be achieved through small behavioural changes. Although buying sustainably sourced or ethical products is still not economically achievable for many, I am a strong believer in market forces.

Sustainable practices will become the norm only if there is strong demand for it, and as consumers, expect more and better of our industries. 

Taking an extra minute of your day to appropriately recycle your waste instead of throwing it all into the main bin, supporting your local high-street for locally sourced every-day items (some even have delivery services through apps!) and switching to buying products which have been sustainably sourced, are some of the smallest ways we can address unsustainable living.

Even small things such as turning off lights or using energy saving bulbs, checking if your “expired” groceries are truly expired (use your eyes and nose — millions of years of evolution has gone into refining our senses for survival!) and being conscious of the amount of single-use plastics you use. I love using apps to help guide small changes, such as JouleBug, SDGsinaction and Waterwise pledges to name a few. Be vocal about it, and wear terms meant to insult you such as “SJW”, “eco terrorist” and “environment militant” with pride! 

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?

South Asian communities are driven to achieve financial success, I believe more so than others. Our idea of “success” is tied to the “developed world” and is warped by this concept of excess (e.g. quantity over quality), and we are obsessed with attaining “developed” status much the same way the West did through rapid industrialisation (and we know how unsustainable, polluting and damaging that was and continues to be…). 

The challenge is to change the mindset that we can attain success only by these means, and what that “success” looks like. We have smarter, more sustainable solutions to polluting sectors such as infrastructure, transport, buildings and materials. We can solve these problems by supporting and investing in cleaner technologies and sustainable business practices, and discontinuing supporting businesses that are not. 

You touched on feeling a great moral obligation to the future generation. For those who don’t know, why should people care about the climate emergency?

A moral obligation to the future generation is only one reason to care about the climate emergency. The effects of climate change are being felt here and now. We do not own this world, and we share it with many other living beings. It is selfish to carry on as is.

For our generation, and especially those who are privileged to have an education, I feel it is our duty with the information and resources we have at our fingertips to undo the unsustainable existence we lead. 

If decisive action is not taken now, climate change is capable of eroding the very foundations of life — access to food, water, shelter, etc. we enjoy today. We owe it to future generations to inherit a world that they can thrive in. 

Of course, there is an economic argument for the climate emergency also, with adverse weather conditions and eroding ecosystems leading to constrained supply chains and increased prices, sustainability gives longer term success through enabling financial stability and resilience in the face of climate change. If we continue to take more than is given, we are damaging our own home and livelihoods. The expression “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” comes to mind.

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?

Agreed, truly sustainable living is not attainable just yet and is inaccessible to many. Although sustainable living is perceived as costly, often the sustainable solution works out cheaper in the long run but the lack of upfront costs is a challenge.

Cost is one challenge, another is access.

Some sustainable solutions require more time, resource and expertise to achieve, which may not always be available or attainable. Solutions that are efficient, accessible and cost effective need to be further developed, invested and commercialised, and we look to the government and industry to stop dragging their feet. I strongly believe in the power we have as consumers to demand more from our industries and leaders; so find sustainable and ethical alternatives and stop supporting polluting and unethical companies and industries not doing enough. 

Other smaller steps we can take include taking an extra minute to separate your land-waste and recycling, stopping single-use plastics, supporting locally sourced products and ethical businesses, buying an electric car instead of a petrol/diesel car, switching to a green tariff with your energy supplier, and pulling your support for polluting multinationals. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Is it a viable industry to enter?

Of course! Our generation’s biggest challenge is to carve a new way of life. There’s much work to be done to overhaul an entire way of living including localised resource management, supply chains, behavioural and cultural beliefs, investments and financing, ecological and environmental impact, and so on. 

One thing is certain, things cannot carry on as “business as usual”, and significant impact is made from those willing to step outside the comfort zone of the “known” and embrace the challenge of carbon net-zero.

It is currently considered a stand-alone industry, but sustainability will become an integral part of any industry and function. 

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

Stories about the consequences of climate change around the world deeply impact me every day. Every news story about a bleached coral reef, devastating droughts, farmers ending their lives over one too many failed harvests, unexpected floods leading to loss of life and its long-term impacts on people and communities… it is hard not to be. 

However, success stories such as growing renewable energy uptake, banning and regulation of plastic uses by various governments, revival of “farmers markets” and local produce, climate change insurance products, ESG investing, and net-zero legislation are all positive steps being taken to mitigate and adapt to climate-change. 

These steps and those leading the charge on the climate conversation serve as an inspiration to tackle my generation’s biggest challenge. Well… that and pandemics, shrinking economies, brexits and the death of tv to name a few. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

It is important to remember that a little goes a long way. Small changes on their own may not seem like much, but together we can make real change. The internet is a wonderful resource and privilege — use it.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Sustainability Campaigner Nina Jatana

We caught up with Sustainability Campaigner and Corporate Social Responsibility expert, Nina about her global experience in community development and implementing SDGs in the not-for-profit sector

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am British-Indian and both my parents are from and were born in Punjab. I have a BA (Hons) in Economics from Manchester Metropolitan University and an MA in International Relations Theory from Warwick University. Professionally speaking this is more difficult to explain! I have a cross-section of experience but, I suppose you could say I am an experienced policy and campaigns generalist in the not-for-profit sector, working my way up to manager roles. The subject areas of which I have experience include community development, CSR and sustainable development issues including the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

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

When I was studying my MA there was one module called International Business and it explored the role of business as a global citizen. At the time the premise of CSR (corporate social responsibility) focused on the roles of big businesses operating in foreign countries so the likes of Shell, BP, Nike. Their supply chains and the impact they had on local communities was only really articulated by the likes of Transparency International and Greenpeace – hardline campaigns which acted to raise public awareness of issues very rarely addressed by big business or in the media.

This led to me writing my dissertation on the role of the media and CSR and whether or not the media is a hindrance or support for good. After I completed my MA I looked for intern roles in London for organisations ‘that were doing that sort of thing!’ My first sustainability/ CSR role was as an intern for AccountAbility. 

Can you tell me about your career in CSR/ Environmental consultancy and policy and how you got into? 

It started from my role as an intern at AccountAbility (3 months long). Once that role finished I had to find a paid role to stay in London and managed to get myself a policy officer role for a consumer watchdog called Postwatch (part civil service but no longer exists). This was a stop-gap. It enabled me to stay in London and gave me much needed work experience, but the issue itself wasn’t of massive interest to me.

Whilst there I went on a one month course about international development issues from the perspective of a developing country; 20-25 graduates and non-graduates met in Mysore, India for a 4 week course led by fantastic development experts from India. I came back fired-up wanting to change the world. My line manager at the time told me she didn’t want to see me at Postwatch when she came back from maternity leave. Within 3 months of being back, I got myself a role as a researcher at New Economics Foundation and the rest is history really… I moved onto other roles for a variety of reasons (redundancies, leaving the UK, coming back to the UK etc.)

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

On a personal level, building up a cross-section of experience that has enabled me to move into different types of organisations at home and abroad. I used to think this was a disadvantage – not being specialised in one particular area but recently found it isn’t! On a professional level delivering and running the leadership programme in Mysore, India (I went back there in 2012) for the Global Institute for Tomorrow’s executive education programme. Taking 25 middle managers and executives from across Asia to India and organising a 2 week programme of lectures and field trips. To be able to reignite the networks and friendships I developed all the way back in 2005 was very rewarding as well as useful to other roles – a key learning.

Another key learning is that the range of commitment and understanding of sustainability is vast and it’s really important not to feel intimidated by those around you who appear to be fully ‘woke’. Being interested in sustainability isn’t a competition. If you don’t want to give up meat, it’s okay!

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 or isolating over the years not having your peers fully understand your job?

I wouldn’t say backlash at all, just more indifference and a look of concern mixed with confusion. As I write this it does make me laugh. The lack of apparent interest in my work did annoy me when I was younger, you do feel a bit left out.

My parents had such low expectations that completing my MA was more than enough for them and living in London without needing their help was also quite satisfying. If anything it was the fact I lived away from home which probably concerned more them than anything else. I suppose I was also lucky in that we were very much a nuclear family – unusually the majority of both my parent’s families all stayed in India, so there was far less pressure surrounding myself and my brother. 

Yes, I would also agree that not being able to explain what I do, or present a really clear job title was and is sometimes still annoying. Once I moved into campaigning roles that was all a bit clearer!

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

Hmmm… Not massively. I don’t like to waste food and use my own shopping bags.

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 it’s definitely a lack of understanding and dare I say a lack of priority for them (when I say them I am thinking of the older generation to some degree). No matter what, South Asians will fly home to see their families and visit for weddings etc. I would counter, that for specific communities in Asia there is more awareness. My family are traditionally farmers so they see the direct impact of climate change. Climate refugees in Bangladesh are on the rise each year. For those in developed countries their attitudes are somewhat removed and the issue is not so relevant.

Blockers – the mediums which they communicate and live within maybe don’t talk enough about climate issues. Zee TV and all those other channels just don’t emphasise the role individuals can play and how they impact. Businesses, and suppliers advertising on such channels should also perhaps make more on environmental credentials – consumers see these brands as an extension of their lifestyles. 

For the younger generation, I’m not so sure the stigma is there. I actually think they often seem slightly envious that someone has chosen their own career path, rather than following the path set out for them/ be approved of by their families. 

Another point – I think the way many South Asians consume food and understand its value is hugely impressive and positive. I think this should be celebrated – fresh, seasonal, cheap food is the staple for many families (lack of meat for many communities) and something other communities can only aspire towards. This is one way they can understand how they are already helping. Daily household chores are also quite carbon conscious without people even realising. The families I grew up with used their own shopping bags and recycled ones well before the trend was to do so!

I think if you break it down, South Asians are actually already doing a lot just by living their natural, cultural lifestyles.

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?

Firstly, people need to know what being carbon-conscious means. It always resonates more when you can say it saves you money etc. People need to be encouraged to do what they can manage, taking small steps and feel satisfied and accomplished in whatever they can do. In time, they will then learn what else they can do. I don’t think it’s costly in terms of money. It is costly in terms of research, understanding and then implementing it in your own lives. I think being sustainable is accessible to everyone – within their own parameters of how they can live. 

You touched on representation and generally only finding South Asians (majority women) working in D&I, but rarely ever in the environmental/ sustainability sector. Why do you think this is? Why is it important for there to be more representation in this sector?

I think it’s about some of the things I have mentioned above. A lack of peer networks going into similar careers but also I think a lot of it is down to understanding the types and breadth of careers you could have. It’s much easier to envision a career path as a doctor, optician, accountant etc.

It is really important to have representation in the sector to develop practices and research that can be applied across social and ethnic boundaries to affect change at a faster pace.

If you don’t have BAME representation you are perhaps less likely to get BAME engagement across the board through communities, business and families. 

You’ve worked in policy and community regeneration, across corporations and even in Hong Kong – what has been the most rewarding for you? 

That’s a tricky one! The community regeneration work was perhaps most rewarding because I engaged with beneficiaries more directly, whereas a lot of corporate work is directed to the goals of the company, no matter how ethical those are – it is hard to measure the ‘good’ you have done.

However, working with corporates is rewarding when, as I have, have those ‘penny drop’ moments when a senior executive sees a business issue through the lens of CSR and social justice issues. What’s more rewarding is seeing companies who have those moments make actual change.

Change is much easier and faster to achieve in a corporation than lobbying for local or national policy changes… If only more corporates realised this!

Having worked in such diverse organisations, can you confirm the industry is just as economically viable and stable as those of your peers?

Absolutely, if anything I would say it’s probably the safer long term industry than many others given COVID and the increasingly alarming impacts of climate change.

The insecurity of the industry lies in the roles that are in-house corporate ones. These roles are solely dependent on the success of the business however, business may well start to prioritise these roles more given the demand from consumers and employees to demonstrate ethical, environmental values. However, the industry operates in thousands of not-for-profit orgs as well as in local and national government agencies. 

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

I would say go for it if that’s your interest, passion or looking to be the next environmental entrepreneur. No business in the future can operate without understating diversity, environment and well-being. This is where CSR I believe is headed.

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

One of the executive education programmes I was part of for a company I worked for in Hong Kong took place in Balikpapan, Indonesia. This is one of the last resource frontiers in Asia with virgin forests being chopped down at a pace for their timber and agricultural land. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was a programme for 25 executives and middle managers from one company – a family owned Singaporean shipping company.

The CEO was relatively enlightened for a man of his background and age. He wanted a select number of employees per year to get a better sense of globalisation and open their eyes beyond their conventional business education. The trip was to the family-run new arm of the business – a palm oil plantation in what was once a virgin Indonesian jungle.

It was heartbreaking seeing hectares upon hectares of plantations all owned by different companies, the scale was breathtaking. It made me realise how much work needed to be done (or impossible to do) to accept that resource exploitation won’t end anytime soon.

The role of some of Asia’s biggest paper and oil manufacturers are on a whole other level. On the one-hand it made me think CSR is perhaps a futile exercise, on the other it made me realise how amazing it is when smaller companies can demonstrate the provenance of their products, at every point in the supply chain versus those who require a global supply chain where transparency will always be compromised.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think I have said enough! Although I have sometimes felt despair at doing something that can feel like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, whilst also having to contend with the fact that you mates and your family don’t even know what you do! It is an industry which is finally having its day of reckoning. If it wasn’t for CSR we wouldn’t have seen Sainsbury’s taking the plunge (although that is a ridiculous way to describe it) to have a Christmas advert featuring an all black acting cast; we wouldn’t have a modern slavery act, a constant push to close the gender pay gap and a recognition of workplace well-being.

CSR has come a long way from the days of greenwashing; although it is still out there, social media and activists in particular are constantly keeping companies on their toes in their responsibilities towards consumers, employees and shareholders and this is perhaps the best we can hope for! 

Connect with Nina on 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

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Shilpa Bilimoria

We spoke to Shilpa, Creative Director and Founder of House of Bilimoria about her ancestral roots in tailoring and how she ‘luxcycles’ South Asian textiles

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Indian, my mother was born in Kisumu Kenya, my father in Mumbai. My grandparents were all born in Gujarat. I have a BA (hons) in Design for Fashion & Textiles and have worked in the fashion industry for the last 15 years.

What is House of Bilmoria, how did it come about and what are your main values as a business?

House of Bilimoria was born from the gifts my ancestors have bestowed upon me – the craft of tailoring and making clothing. I was dissatisfied working within the fashion industry as a high street retailer when I first graduated. I came to very quickly discover that it had none of the energy, or substance that I felt designing and creating should be about. With that in mind, and being pregnant with my first child, I decided to take it into my own hands and start my label. 

The values of my label would be all the things I didn’t find in that first job: ethics, sustainability, culture, community and circularity. More detail can be found here.

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

My inspiration was and will always be my elders, my grandparents, my ancestors. I was so proud of what they did for a living, I was so proud that I had these skills embedded inside me and that they only needed to be ‘switched on’ in a sense. 

The story I always come back to is when I was first gifted a toy sewing machine, I must have been about 8 years old and so excited! I quickly went to use it, but was so frustrated, that it wasn’t actually stitching. It had a needle, foot pedal, and was battery operated. What was going wrong? I took the machine to my Dada (grandfather), and he looked at it, and said to me “Shilpa, there’s no bobbin.” I was so disappointed. I can remember the shock, and being so stunned at how quickly he knew why it wasn’t working. He explained what the bobbin’s job was and I understood, and swiftly went on to use the actual sewing machine my Mom had – no more toys! I love this story because it was my first glimpse into the real technical side of sewing and the craft. I knew then I would need to know all of the parts of the machine and how it all worked. You could call it the moment that the penny dropped. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I did. I had people in my immediate family that were not supportive of it at all, that this was ‘going backwards’. If I really wanted to make any money and be stable I should be an accountant. That negativity was and has been one of the toughest things to navigate through, as all you really need and want in life is to be supported and believed in by those that are the closest to you. With the burden of failure already implanted into my mind, it had become a barrier to starting with the strength and belief in myself that would have been a great gift. But on the flip side, it made me even more determined. I would do this, and I’d do it with all the ideas they had which were so wrong about the industry in the first place. 

Alongside that, I must give total credit to my Mom and some of my extended family who have actually been nothing but supportive. I mean my Mama & Mami (uncle and aunty) were the ones that gifted me the toy sewing machine in the first place. I have many that are so proud and happy to see that this craft and legacy is continuing. This is how and what I use to overcome the negative aspects; being very in touch and in tune with my why – which is continuing my ancestors legacy, and that over any opinion wins, always. 

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

There are lots of things that I have changed and continue to do so slowly. It is not an overnight thing. I consciously choose our detergents, soaps, and cleaning products to ensure they are not harmful to the environment. I have grown up wearing and loving hand me downs, so this is something that has continued in my own home. My girls wear clothes that have been passed down to them, and even more special that they have also grown up wearing the very dresses I had worn, that were made for me by my grandparents. We don’t own a car and use public transportation. I also have a lot of second hand items of furniture in our home! Before I look at new things, I always check if I can source second hand items.

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 don’t feel it is a stigma, I think it is more the lack of understanding, alongside a cultural and societal success benchmark which is very materialistic. If we look intrinsically at many of the habitual practices we have at home and have grown up with, they are things like saving the empty yogurt container to use for leftovers. I am sure there are homes that have cupboards full of these ready to reuse. I am sure that before this boom of fast fashion, many have also grown up wearing hand me downs too.

I think the blocker is now having a greater consciousness and connecting the dots backwards, as to where and how the products we buy are made. 

It doesn’t take much to see that the products we consume are and have been made with the lives of our own communities and people on the line. Once this connection is made, I believe that it would be hard to look at things without thinking about them. 

The South Asian community is very fixated on the idea of what ‘success’ outwardly looks like and maintaining that picture to the world. This though is an outcome of what the generations before us have been through, it’s something that I am beginning to unravel for myself. I believe that it’s once this work is shared and done, that our communities can look at starting to break into these cycles, which will in turn have an impact on how they live their day to day lives and becoming present to the issue of climate change and what it is a bi-product of. 

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

Short answer YES! Educating our audience is 75% of the work, but I am happy to do this, and it is what I am passionate about so… I also see it as a challenge that I am ready to be up against. 

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

Choose and start with ONE thing that is important to you, ethics, animals, air, water… Start with that and see what you can do to live in line with ensuring that you approach life and purchases being conscious of that. Once you have got one working well, add another. You will often find that with one, others come automatically too. It’s a win win!

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

I lost my older sister at a very young age. She used to talk a lot about the environment, about not being wasteful, I can remember brushing our teeth. She would always tell us to stop running the water in between – it’s wasting. To cut up all the plastic rings the cans of soda used to come in back then because they would end up strangling birds…

As much as my grandparents inspire my deep love for craft. My sister inspired and instilled my passion for sustainability. It’s also a part of her I can keep living on.

In many ways she was a spirit that was here well before her time (this was in the early 90’s), and she left me messages that I can live through and by everyday. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I love to share, exchange ideas and collaborate with like minded people! Don’t hesitate to contact me or DM! 

You can find out more about Shilpa and follow her journey here: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linktree

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Shamika Salvi

We caught up with Scrapless App’s Marketing Director, Shamika about her zero food-waste journey: from Mumbai to Vancouver

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am a marketing and communication professional from India and I have spent close to 5+ years in this profession working for various ad agencies and brands like Ogilvy, Bajaj Finserv to name a few in India and Canada. 

Can you tell me a bit about your startup? How did it come about?

We at Scrapless are a food discovery and redistribution platform which connects people with businesses that have surplus food. We help food businesses reduce their food waste and promote their products on our platform. Foodies on a budget get food they love at a reduced price. 

Which groups of people have shown most interest in your startup so far?

We have an equal mix of client and businesses who have shown interest in our start up from large grocers to individual restaurants, influencers who promote food and sustainable living.

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

I have always been inspired by Ms. Sudha Murthy, a well-known Indian philanthropist who has dedicated her life to help people who are less fortunate. She always abided by the principle that just because one has something in excess does not mean they should waste it, but always think about ways to help others who are not so lucky. This learning is what cultivated the thought of sustainable living in me. It made me realize that if we make small but important changes in our lifestyle by doing simple things, we can help create an eco-friendly planet for us and our future generations. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your sustainable business career choice from family, friends or society at large? (Please feel free to share any relevant experiences)

I have received extensive support from my friends & family and they in fact now understand the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle and are too trying to do their bit for the environment. 

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

I have adopted simple practices like using more eco-friendly products, and have reduced the usage of electronic appliances that require a lot of electricity or water. For example, air drying my hair instead of using a hair dryer. Trying to reduce the use of a dishwasher, replacing plastic with sustainable materials like using bamboo-based toothbrushes 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?

Yes, there seems to be a lack of understanding when it comes to climate crises among the South Asian community and the major reason behind this is probably a lack of awareness and interest towards environmental stewardship – no one wants to go walking even if the store is nearby as we have cars at our disposal. One way to bring awareness in the minds of the people would be to have government initiatives to reduce causes that contribute to climate change and incentivize the same and also have sound education about climate change.

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?

Well, it can start with a step as simple as car-pooling or reduction of usage of things that are not eco-friendly. A plastic toothbrush can be replaced with a bamboo one, newspapers can be recycled into bags or bags for dry garbage, sorting garbage into dry and wet waste, buying products that can be easily reused or recycled – e.g. glass bottles for milk can be reused over and over instead of a milk carton or milk in a plastic bag. 

While sustainable lifestyle is being adopted by a lot of people, I feel it is not something everyone has access to and that is the gap that needs to be filled, by helping people who need help. It can be done simply by donating goods that we don’t need to someone else who can make good use of it. Donating things to thrift stores as they stop items going to landfills by providing a space for old items to find new homes. 

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

The time is now, take small steps now to help save the planet because we only have one. Emphasize on the importance of environmental science at school and practice sustainable living in whatever way you can, even if it means using your older sibling’s study materials instead of buying new ones. 

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

Being from Bombay India, I always loved being at the beach. I have seen beaches go from clean to being filled with some sort of waste at every step while at the beach. The beach clean up undertaken by Afroz Shah, a lawyer and an environmentalist of the Versova beach started around 2015 which had almost 5.3 million kilograms of trash before the clean up. The drive and the passion that was shown by Afroz and the team to do something for the environment was something that impacted me the most. It took him around 3 years to get the beach trash free and he did not stop until it was.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work at Scrapless?

We are always looking for new businesses to try our platform, new connections and leaders in food to support our mission. 

You can find out more about the Scrapless App here: @scraplessapp and here: scrapless.ca