Spotlight Series: Q&A with Operations Director at Lightsource BP, Rumesh Chauhan

We caught up with Rumesh who has worked in the utilities sector for many years and recently transitioned to renewable energy

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am a British born Indian, with my parents coming over from India during the very late 60’s/early 70’s. 

I graduated with a degree in Chemistry at Leeds University and have built on this with my Lean Six Sigma qualifications. I am a very highly experienced Operations Executive/Director, with an extensive portfolio of skills and attributes which are demonstrated through leading very large multifunctional teams of professionals to new levels of success, in a variety of highly competitive business functions and fast-paced environments. My professional work background is heavily immersed in the utilities sector.

Can you tell me about your career so far and what inspired the shift towards the energy and renewables sector?

Following my graduation, I was fortunate enough to join the chemical sector to utilise my degree to full effect. It was during my first employment that I was given the opportunity to be involved in the design, build and operation of a “first” chemical and biological treatment facility, allowing chemical waste to be treated to the highest regulatory standards before being discharged into the river. This was the catalyst that shaped my career, moving across two Water companies, Yorkshire Water and then Severn Trent Water to deliver huge environmental improvements, with renewable energy playing a significant part. 

Utilising and harnessing waste from our homes and commercial businesses to produce green energy in the form of gas and electric through state of the art production facilities. My recent move to Lightsource BP moved my career into a new sector, 100% renewables driven through solar parks/farms, utilising the sun’s irradiance to produce green energy.

What does your role at BP involve and how are you working towards the net zero carbon target?

Lightsource and BP are a 50:50 joint venture, and my role sits in Lightsourebp (LSbp) which is one of the key pillars to help realise the huge ambition that BP has set, as part of its Net Zero strategy. The ambition is to be a very different kind of energy company by 2030, with a big scale up investment in low carbon and making headway on reducing emissions.

My role at LSbp is an O&M Director, where I am fully accountable to deliver the contractual and commercial outputs of solar farms across the UK landscape. As well as this, I’m establishing the benchmark of excellence across planning and scheduling work activities, Health and Safety, engineering and client relations, to then take onto the global scale.

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

Several big successes have been both personally as well as ones I have delivered as part of my role in companies I have worked for. This includes delivering a huge reduction in environmental pollutants such as ammonia in rivers, to mothballing carbon polluting incineration processes and facilitating the introduction of combined heat and power plants (which harness the gas produced from waste domestic and commercial entities to produce renewable energy). This fundamentally changed the UK landscape over the last few decades and paved the way for green energy processes, on which further optimisation continues today.

Other successes are across the water sector delivering outstanding water quality improvements for the Ministry of Defence contract.

My biggest personal success was the recognition through the Severn Trent’s company awards across various categories, however, to win “Leader of the Year 2018” was a big highlight in my career. More recently the reach out from LSbp to move my career there has been the best move I have made, a truly ambitious “Green” company focused on delivering sustainable energy for future generations to thrive on.

Learning for me continues and always will, to date include but not limited to the following:

Not to accept the norm. Six Sigma has taught me a huge amount about continuous improvements, making small incremental changes on a regular basis and not accepting the base standard

Stopping the knee jerking to point data, use data in the right way to make fast paced data driven interventions

People by far are the backbone to any company, creating and having the right beliefs and values brings success. I am a firm believer in creating the right environment for others to succeed in.

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

I am very honoured to have such brilliant and supporting parents, family and friends that have always encouraged me to do what I feel right in terms of jobs I have taken on. The simple advice from my parents sits in my head today: “Study hard, work hard and you will see the fruits of your labour”. What I have achieved and the position I sit in today is simply down to that guidance.

At the same time when the opportunity has come along to broaden my knowledge in a different role or even a different industry, I have taken that leap of faith. I have learnt so much about transferable skills that one can take into so many sectors.

I am super grateful for the opportunities that came by me over the years, however I do feel that one must have the appetite and ambition to chase/follow up on such a dream that could be seen as niche or unfamiliar. 

The environment around us globally has and continues to change significantly and the concept of “Net Zero”, or increased sustainability is no longer in the background, a distant dream or tucked away in a cupboard, so to have been a part of this over so many years and now living and breathing this in my day job is just awesome.

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

My roles have allowed me in some cases to naturally come around to the idea that I/we need to become more sustainable to protect the earth for future generations. A lot more talking of these interventions has allowed simple concepts to be taken on board and to incorporate these into my /families daily life. From recycling at home, water conservation, deploying energy saving tips, going paperless, donating unused items and so on. Some of these have been far easier to adopt and bring into one’s lifestyle whilst others have been a personal and conscious decision, something you have to have the belief in, in terms of the “so what” for it to actually happen.

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?

My personal belief is somewhat two-fold. On one hand I believe it’s the environment in which we live in on a daily basis, not having the understanding of any/limited climate crisis (that is someone else’s problem to sort) and the other hand, have many communities in the South Asian culture truly paved their career paths to want to go make a difference on supporting/creating a greener world? In all honesty with discussions at a UK and global level on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, electric cars etc, there is a lot out there for us to take notice of. 

However this could be seen as eutopia so let’s bring it home to reality – yes there is an element of lack of understanding, is there a widespread understanding of what carbon actually is and what this means to the human race? What about the rush to get to zero carbon? How is this possible? What is my role in society? Lots of questions I would be asking to get underneath the stark fact that amongst our society this is not a burning topic, not one that excites all.

So how do we go change or even try to scratch the surface on something so topical yet so crucial on a global front.  It must start with “me”, having the interest and the urge to go seek “what is all this about?” My career paths have educated me on such issues and I have been part of some of the solutions which I have spoken to family and friends about, so they understand, and it goes on from there.

Now I have to turn the lens to the government, authorities and governing bodies in terms of how much are they or have they truly shouted about such issues, back into all communities, bringing to life what it actually means in terms of the carbon footprint and my role to reduce this, there is a lot to do here. There are huge networks, communication channels where we can establish this as the forefront of all conversations – making it real for people to see how these correlates in their daily lives.

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?

My pure existence as a human being gives an output of carbon, whether this relates to eating, drinking, what means of transport I use, what waste is produced, how this is segregated for recycling, the list can go on. Government backed initiatives have been the catalyst for short term sign ups such as solar, home insulation etc. Water companies have pushed to get water conversation gizmos sent out to households free. However, the big producers of carbon require some big changes and to that, costly changes. 

My thinking is simply small steps to create a belief and culture that yes, I can and will make the difference. If the global population followed just the basics of reducing carbon, we could strive towards our goal. This alone will not be enough, in fact far from it, the sheer magnitude of the footprint we see today will take big bold moves, new energy solutions- wind, solar, hydrogen, changes to the way we live and so on.

Most importantly it must be accessible to us all in a simple usable way. Look at smart metering, controlling your entire home’s heating, lighting, turning on the coffee machine… all remotely via wonderful apps. Technology has transformed our lives, why can’t carbon reduction initiatives be the same?

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

We take the world for granted and there may be an ill perception that global problems don’t impact me directly, so what. My view is about creating the environment around you and I today, for future generations to want to live in. The actions of us today will be the landscape of the younger generations to live in tomorrow. It’s all about a lasting legacy. This cannot be hidden or excused from anyone, younger people must bring this to the forefront of their education, embark on those careers that will be fundamental in making wholesale changes driven by long term plans, such as the Government’s 10 point plan. Don’t hold this within, talk about it, do something about it amongst your family, friends and communities.

How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD, 10 point climate change plan?

Exciting times and a big commitment, I suppose better late than never. We have seen several of the oil giants making huge commitments, Shell and of course BP, which will pave the way for lots of other industries to step up and be heard on their plans.

There isn’t much of a choice that you have to join the “green” race; if you don’t you will get left behind. Legislation and regulatory drivers will be key for organisations to commit to their part and must be applied with rigour and pace.

There will still be a huge amount of uncertainly on the government plans, it’s about having the confidence in the UK government to go deliver this with support from us all. Not just the financial investment required but the timescale to deliver wholesale landscape changes and the way you and I live a daily life will change. I am very encouraged and fully supportive of such a bold move, is it too late? Who knows, but the words from the PM defining this as a Green Industrial Revolution has to be the start of something special.

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

I step back to those times in my life when my grandparents were alive. We all have a truly special bond and connection with our grandparents. For me it’s those seeds they planted in me at those times of challenge and uncertainty that today are the foundation and strong roots of who I am. The legacy continues with my parents providing that nourishment on a day to day basis.

The simple yet very effective advice they gave was “be a good human being”. The qualities of my grandparents and parents today are resembled through a few key words: “Respect, Trust, Selfless and Integrity” and it’s this what has deeply impacted me and will do for the rest of my life.

Connect with Rumesh on 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 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 Policy Advisor & Founder of Climate Bites, Aman Grover

We spoke to recently appointed Nuclear Policy Advisor and Founder of Climate Bites, Aman about his experiences navigating through the industry mid-pandemic, his MSc climate adaptation research in Punjab and more

What is your ethnic and academic and professional background?

Hi, my name is Aman Grover, and I’m a Policy Advisor for the Nuclear Directorate at the UK Civil Service (Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), where I contribute towards overseeing the new nuclear build power stations as part of the government’s energy infrastructure and net-zero commitments. I’m also a recent Master’s graduate in Climate Change: Environment, Science & Policy from King’s College London, having specialised in climate adaptation within the Punjab regions.

I wanted to use this background with my experiences as a public speaker, poet and facilitator to empower and engage with my local communities and networks. So I recently founded Climate Bites, a new educational platform designed to make climate science accessible, engaging and easy to understand for young people, through concise digital content and workshop programmes.

I believe change will happen through discourse and discussion, and at the heart of that lies the uptake of knowledge and education about climate action. That’s what Climate Bites hopes to shape, the conversations in our living rooms around climate change.

Away from environmental discourse, I co-founded the Two Rupees Podcast, a platform that discusses issues surrounding the South Asia diaspora here in Britain.

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

I don’t have a groundbreaking story to be honest. Like many graduates, I wasn’t sure where my career would take me and chose to pursue consulting and the technology sector after leaving university. I was building applications for clients to transform their business, and it was definitely worthwhile, but I found that I was lacking internal satisfaction towards the work I was doing. It didn’t feel like there was a bigger picture. And when looking at my options, I realised that I had been keeping up to date with articles and books around various aspects of climate science. So I went back to university, choosing to immerse myself in climate policy and environmental change.

I strongly believe robust policy serves as a catalyst for environmental change. And I hope to use this aptitude and drive in my current policy role, to utilise nuclear energy in supporting the UK’s drive towards net-zero and improve how climate change is communicated to the public.

Can you tell us about your MSc research? What were your findings and has it had any significant impact beyond academia? 

Sure! I studied the effectiveness and role of climate adaptation strategies in the province of Punjab in Pakistan, and the drivers and barriers affecting local capacity to build resilience towards climate change.

Both of the Punjab regions represent an important case study in this field, due to their high physical vulnerability and economic significance as an agricultural hub, as well as significant for me since it’s where my family stem from. My research found 4 key themes based on primary research of climate adaptation contributors within the province:

Adaptation strategies in Punjab were difficult to differentiate with other development efforts. Climate adaptation was essentially ‘pasted’ onto bog-standard agricultural irrigation by international donor agencies, and promoted as climate adaptation for appearance and reputation purposes. Respondents from the study implied a disconnect between stakeholders on the ground and external organisation with their climate initiatives.

Coordination and collaboration amongst local stakeholders is key to the successful implementation of climate adaptation in Punjab. Where there has been buy-in and participation from farming communities at all project stages, climate adaptation is largely successful in improving resilience. However, limited communications between departments, as well as external funding being withdrawn when projects finish, threaten the sustainability and longevity of climate projects. 

The bureaucratic systems in place are the biggest contributor to the effectiveness of climate adaptation. This includes power relations between province and district level on who is responsible for climate change management, climate change priorities changing with government transitions, and even corruption. 

Farming communities use very different terminology to that within climate policy, with some communities not even acknowledging and attributing the environmental changes within the region to climate change. The discourse around climate change is written predominantly in English and by external agencies, with little discussion in native dialects and factoring in localised impacts and vulnerability. This weakens attempts to build resilience, since these attempts do not factor those communities that they are trying to help.

The aim of this research was to explore what defined effective climate adaptation in relation to Punjab, which could inform policymakers and international agencies on how best to formalise adaptation and account for vulnerable communities. I presented these findings at a Sikh Research Conference in December 2020 and hope that these efforts lead to more focus and literature on climate change with Punjab.

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

No backlash from my immediate family and close friends, they are very supportive and know enough about me to know that I enjoy my work most when I am creating change and trying to make a difference.

I think I experience ignorance mostly, from people who are distant or don’t know me as well. Sometimes it is frustrating, when you get lots of questions or off-handed comments, or where it’s difficult to engage and have conversations with others because they make no attempt to understand other career paths outside of the orthodox ones. But I believe it’s part of the role, to raise awareness of your career, crucial challenges you’ve faced, etc. Since you’re the one engaging with environmental activities, when you speak about it, you are in the best position to articulate this in a concise and engaging manner to others.

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

I definitely acknowledge that I have a long way to go in order before I can classify my lifestyle as sustainable. But there are ‘quick wins’ which I think anyone can do, and build the momentum to make small changes that feel relatively easy. I don’t eat meat very often anymore, maybe once or twice a week maximum, which has taught me to be more conscious about my dietary choices. I’m a big fan of the variety of plant-based milk available, and have switched between soya and oat for my cereal, coffee, etc. I’m conscious about my shopping habits, and try to make fewer purchases and purchase quality clothing that I can make last much longer, as well as thinking twice before making a car journey.

Making incremental changes takes the fear out of change, and opens you up to make larger adjustments to your lifestyle and way of thinking. The black and white way of viewing the world does not work for sustainability, and it’s okay to accept that you are not perfect.

I see my role primarily as having a voice and being able to articulate myself, in order to project and champion causes and hopefully inspire, so I’ve embraced that as my contribution towards social action.

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?

As a community, we have placed our trust in education and believe it to be an empowering platform across all aspects of our lives. Education provides the refinement and the tools to contribute to society, shape our future and live meaningfully. It is what has allowed South Asians to succeed in many fields. But, when it comes to environmental concerns, I’ve found my communities to adopt a ‘someone more specialised or knowledgeable than me will fix it’ type mentality.

It’s as though we believe we are inferior, or we must be an expert, that we can only act when all the conditions around us are perfect. So this is the biggest blocker – disassociating ourselves from the mentality that we need to be all knowledgeable to act.

Fighting the climate crisis is a continuous learning process, both on a deeply personal level and on a large international scale. And in order to empower this, the technical and policy knowledge on why we need to tackle the climate crisis and tangible strategies that we can all align with needs to be easily available and digestible. 

Climate Bites does this through informative weekly videos on a range of environmental topics, from sustainable behaviour to new technologies. I hope to use my experiences, of seeking this knowledge out myself, working in the education sector and being a public speaker, to make this process easier for others. And in turn, with the right information delivered through an approachable medium, we as individuals feel a greater competence, and can support and align ourselves with local organisations that are doing the hard work. Whether that’s holding our local authorities and governments accountable, tree-planting in your town, community-clean ups or pushing for changes in our school curriculums.

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

The largest barrier I’ve seen when working with young people is the belief that one person alone cannot make a difference. It causes us to question whether our voice and the value we project out into the world is worth listening and watching. If we are heard, we feel as though we are unworthy or a fraud. I continue to experience it myself regularly. I felt it when I left my job to pursue a Masters degree, and questioned whether I’d be able to keep up with everyone due to my inactive study skills. I experience it when I run workshops with young people, and wonder if I even have anything valuable to pass on. Experience is the best teacher. Planning and strategizing is useful, but it can be debilitating as well.

I realised that I want my career to focus on contributing towards humanity’s biggest challenges, in any way I can, which would make me feel like my efforts are worthwhile. So I was drawn to climate change, and I’m just beginning that journey.

My advice would be to pay attention to the causes that mean something to you, that bring out real power and passion when you speak about them. Then, throw yourself wholeheartedly into them and ask questions later. I have a favourite quote that I fondly remember when someone asks what impact one person can make. ‘Those who question what difference one alone can make, have obviously never been trapped in a room with a fly’. That keeps me smiling. 

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

The entire process of public speaking for me has been defining. I’ve always loved speaking and narrating from a very young age, but I found myself gravitating at it towards university. I thrived in situations or scenarios where I could influence and inspire simply by using my presence and voice. That realisation was incredible. I feel very complete on any ‘stage’, whether it’s performing at poetry slams, at the front when delivering a workshop or keynote speech, or on a screen presenting to clients and stakeholders in my career. It’s a very grounding feeling, and it’s one I want to continue building towards and pursue every opportunity to do so, as I champion the causes I care about – including education reform, climate and sustainability, creativity and the South Asian arts, etc. So that’s where I hope to end up, with a microphone in my hand, creating change and opening minds. 

What was it like trying to find a job in the industry during challenging COVID-19 times? Do you still think you made the right decision to choose this industry?

It was immensely difficult, for a number of reasons. Like other graduates across multiple sectors during this tough time, there was a lot of self-doubt and internal turmoil that comes with job searching. I think that there is less awareness about the environmental and sustainability sectors overall, so I definitely found it harder to seek career advice and expertise, both from close family/ friends and professional contacts.

Whilst there are people to connect with on LinkedIn and aspire to reach a similar position, I feel as though the options for resources, job boards, forums, etc are all fewer than more orthodox pathways e.g. Finance, Consulting, etc. But I don’t regret aligning myself with this industry, and I am so pleased I am now contributing meaningfully to our government and low carbon energies.

I found the feeling of continuing to contribute whilst job searching kept me going, through volunteering, speaking at events and raising awareness, as well as creating educational resources. Climate change represents a substantial challenge spanning across all sectors, so all of us have a role to play.

How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD & 10-point climate change plans?

I think the greatest aspect of the 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is what it represents. It shows initiative and intent, and a degree of gravity about achieving net-zero. Better yet, it incentivises green jobs and community involvement.

Economic gains will always generate the most interest in the current society and systems we operate within, especially to large investment organisations, so stressing that environmental measures can also be economically viable is definitely the way forward. So it is definitely encouraging. But it just represents the beginning, and an opportunity to demand more from the organisations that we interact with, for increasing environmental transparency, accountability and action at every stage of their processes. 

Find out more about Aman and Climate Bites

Spotlight Series: Deep Dive Q&A with Dancer Nandita Shankardass

We spoke with Nandita, Founder of Welcome Movement about her creative dance journey and inspiration behind ‘returning to nature’.

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am British South Asian born and brought up in London to Punjabi parents. I’m a performing artist, choreographer and movement facilitator and hold a BA Degree in Humanities and Innovation.

Trained at The Royal Ballet School, my dance career has taken me to work and perform with dance companies across Europe and U.K – Zürcher Ballet, Victor Ullate Ballet, Ballet black, Scottish Ballet and Compañia Nacional de Danza, touring internationally in a range of classical and contemporary repertoire.

I choreographed ‘Capture’ for the Zürcher Junior Ballet, ‘Synergy’ for Ballet Black and ‘Anjaane Ajnabee’ as part Young Choreographers of Compañia Nacional de Danza. I was commissioned to choreograph and perform for Television for Environment (TVE) Global Sustainability film awards and I co-created and performed with Flux in the collaborative work “In Other words” at Kings Place, London.

I embarked on my freelance journey in 2017 to focus on creating my own work and to explore more collaborative work. I have since collaborated with Beta Publica in Madrid, Sujata Banerjee Dance Company, performed with Adrian Look Tanztheater and with The Royal Opera house for their family events. I choreographed the solo works ‘Sundown’ and ‘Rainsoaked…’, the duets ‘Lightweight’ and ‘Umbra’ and most recently choreographed my latest collaborative dance film ‘Returns to Nature’. I assist artists in movement direction and dramaturgy and I have been teaching and facilitating a range of dance classes and movement workshops for over 10 years, across age groups and in various environments.

You recently created a piece of work on nature and connectedness. How did it come about?

Over the last few years I have felt increasingly inspired by nature in both my creative and teaching practices and simultaneously began to develop a curiosity and awareness towards its connection and relationship to our human race, our human nature and our health.

In 2020 I was commissioned to create a new work for ‘The Naked Truth’, an online fundraiser for World AIDS day to encourage awareness around HIV. Motivated by the year we were having, despite the pandemic restricting access to studios to create work and the use of stages off limits, my most natural instinct was to embrace the great outdoors as my creative playground and performance space in this new work. I was excited to explore different natural terrains under my feet and the different spaces I could move in and interact with. In deciding to manifest the piece outdoors with nature for company, I was presented with a fresh experience of scenery, backdrop and offering of props! 

The frequent walks I embarked on during lockdown had such a positive effect on my wellbeing, which led the way for me to take my art outside to create ‘Returns to Nature.’ During the creative and performance journey of the work, I recognised how significantly charged I became in improvising and dancing outdoors. I began to listen to the Earth, get closer and more intimate with its textures and movements. I enjoyed working in different dance gear than I’m used to; in outdoor boots as oppose to ballet shoes or socks and I welcomed a chance to dance bare feet on the grass. I am a big believer in the energy transmitted to our bodies from being in direct contact with the Earth!

I was humbled by being up close to the bark of a tree, in all its greatness, supported by the soil and refreshed and nourished by the fresh air I was breathing in. 

‘Returns to Nature’ explores a renewed curiosity and relationship with nature, engaging with all its qualities. Journeying through moments of exploration, nourishment, courage and hope, we are reminded of the infinite possibilities we have in returning to the natural world, to embrace our human nature and reconnect to ourselves.

Amidst a global pandemic and the challenges humankind has been facing over the last year, the work aims to inspire a reconciliation with nature and recognition of how it can beneficially impact and influence our physical and emotional wellbeing and our peace of mind. Time spent alone and with others in nature to observe, connect and absorb natural nourishment is healing and an invaluable source of strength. We are all spending our time in different ways according to our personal situations in this crisis.

By sharing this work, I wanted to remind us of the gift of nature, inspiring us to cherish our surroundings, wherever we may be and to stimulate awareness around the environment’s need for a sustainable future. Especially right now, in the moments we find ourselves in. I believe we have been offered a great opportunity to shift and gain new perspectives.

The process of researching and creating this work offered me an opportunity to deeply contemplate and experience how nature can influence and impact my own states of being. I found reflections in the dynamics and movements of nature, which allowed me to relate to what exists within our own human nature. Also how what we think and feel on the inside might be reflected in our actions towards the space and environment which we inhabit. The process became an inward journey of awakening, empowerment and an acceptance of the states within my own self, through observing and tuning into nature’s states, in all their variety, shades, textures and colours.

This awareness has become a guide and a source of inspiration to evolve my own states and realise more within myself. We can find a sense of harmony and presence between our inner landscape and the outer landscape, reflective and supportive of each other in so many ways. I am gaining a deeper appreciation and respect for nature and its benefit towards our perceptions, emotions and actions – how we choose to live and behave. All it took was stepping outside to be with nature, to initiate and spark this new evolution within me!

Nature is literally right before our eyes, every single day, in some shape or form, expressing multitudes on a real life canvas. If we recognise that returning to nature and interacting with it is beneficial to us, we can express our gratitude through our actions by taking care of it, granting us the possibility to the return to the endless wonder and inspiration it continually offer us, day after day. If we can surrender to the power of nature and learn to appreciate and welcome it, in all its diversity, we can reach an acceptance that same power and diversity lies within ourselves and all of humankind.

We are nature, and nature is us, we are not separate but a part of this whole ecosystem and it is our responsibility to take care of what we are a part of and enjoy playing our part. We will only lose out on living well within our own inner ecosystem, if we separate or isolate ourselves from nature’s ecosystem.

By embracing nature I come closer to accepting and valuing my own natural states and cycles. It is an exchange that is vital for our wellbeing and nature’s potential to heal and thrive, supporting the longevity and health of our environment for now, and for generations to come.

Becoming more conscious and relating to nature in new ways last year nurtured and supported my life greatly. I feel I am just on the surface of discovering how much more nature can and will impact my work moving forward and it motivates me to find solutions in how I can work in harmony, in a fruitful exchange with nature in my life. 

What has inspired you to focus on the environment in your art form? Is there a particular story you can share?

Since becoming a freelance artist, a collaborator and an independent creator, I am experiencing a growing awareness around costs, creative labour and production processes in the Arts. Especially during the pandemic, we have seen artists go on to create innovatively with a lot less. Hopefully this allows us to reassess how we use our resources – personally, collectively and environmentally moving forward.

Right before the first lockdown, I was beginning to wonder how we could create our work in the dance sector in a more sustainable fashion and felt motivated to re-consider how much material and energy is needed and used to create a theatre production. I also realised how responsible we are in our practices within the industry towards waste and recycling.

When contemplating on more sustainable practice, I think about how we care for the humans – artists and collaborators we work with, how we market and publicise our work, the lighting and materials involved in designing and running a production and how we recycle materials post production.

Last year, I was invited to support difficult dialogues as a Youth ambassador with a focus on the environment in collaboration with TVE (Television for the Environment) for the 2020 Global Sustainability Film Awards. My body and spirit felt ignited and invigorated after coming together with the young activists I met via this platform, from all over the world, tirelessly contributing and finding ways to support the environment and encourage their nations to take action towards a sustainable future.

2020 was a year I felt encouraged to challenge myself to create with less and realise what is truly essential and necessary to express and create a piece of work. I am motivated and excited to continue this journey in sustainable creation and production processes in my own work, amidst the pandemic and moving forwards. 

My dance journey started with learning Ballet at the age of four, moving on to creative movement and contemporary styles as I grew older. Swimming was a big part of my childhood where I found the weightlessness of being in water very comforting and liberating, and a welcome balance to the time spent on my feet dancing. When my full time dance training and my performing career began at the age of 11, I encountered challenges such as injuries, stifled creativity and expression and struggles to conserve my energy over long periods of time.

In managing myself as a professional, there came a time when I felt I needed to address and nurture the state of my mental health. I found supportive practices to keep my mind healthy, positive and determined and started to understand how to maintain my energy levels more efficiently.

When I slowly started giving up eating meat around five years ago, I noticed eliminating it from my diet impacted the longevity of my energy levels, overall mood and thinking patterns, finding increased vitality and vibrancy and less stagnation of energy flow within my body. I had always previously believed that I needed meat to supply my muscles with its protein for dance, having a pretty fast metabolism and not keeping weight on easily. I was always trying to eat to put more weight on! In this process I learnt how much protein we can receive from alternative, non-animal foods. 

I feel blessed and grateful to have met some incredibly transformational coaches and mentors during the challenging times along my way, who all steered me to return towards natural approaches of moving, thinking and being. 

A particularly severe injury forced me to take time off from dancing to heal, rehabilitate and retrain. At this time one of my closest and dearest dance friends introduced to Boglarka Hatala – Embodiment Coach and Physiotherapist in Dresden, Germany, who reeducated and reawakened my body’s potential and capability. She encouraged me to recognise the power my body had to heal itself and strengthen through her blend of biomechanical and psychomotor approaches.

The process with Boglarka opened up space and opportunity for me to find efficient and empowering pathways to heal, communicate and express through movement. Boglarka’s guidance enlightened me in how I could work more functionally and with a more inclusive approach to my body in motion; taking into account and incorporating my personality, inherent nature, my culture and ancestry to understand my body on a personal level, holistically and within my working context or environment.

She suggested I retrain my ballet technique with Renato Paroni in London who teaches a sustainable approach to the form, (inspired by the late Tina Bernal) where taking care of the health, alignment of our bones and use of the joints and muscles in our body is the priority over the general aesthetic.

Ballet technique, as all dance forms, is extremely demanding on the body, inducing wear and tear on the joints over time if not training intelligently and well. I learnt from both Boglarka and Renato how to take care of my body and train in a sustainable way. This was a turning point in my career, becoming aware and understanding the best ways for me to dance within my body specifically, in both practice and performance.

I am enlivened and renewed by a holistic way of being and doing, in reverence to my spirit, energy and emotions and my body’s longevity, as I evolve, change and grow. I want to be responsible for my health to dance and live as long as I can, rather than the possibility being brought to an end by injury or not taking care of myself, which I have faced on occasions.

My pathway in understanding sustainability is through my body and its movement. In the fast paced society we live in today we want to push the body to the limits and see how far we can go to produce as much as we can, we risk over use, wear and tear and burnout. Just as we need to balance and manage our movement and rest periods for the longevity of our bodies, we can find this parallel in our environment and how we respond to it and to nature, which works around the clock for our benefit – in just the same way, it needs our care, love and attention.

I am often inclined to dig a little deeper and research what I think I know and challenge what I am being told or asked to do living in a western working world. I have missed out on eastern and South Asian approaches to the body, mind and soul in my early training in ballet; initially being away from my family and home at boarding school from the age of 11 and then moving to Europe at the age of 19 for work, all the while in predominantly white institutions and surrounded by cultures other than my own. Later in my career I felt drawn to acknowledge and engage with my own South Asian roots and approaches to movement.

Initiating this responsibility within myself and taking my dance journey into my own hands and feet also meant that as my body changed, my inner world yearned to express itself in different ways. I welcomed the diversity and freedom of contemporary movement approaches in dance, as well as different practices and approaches such as Meditation, Yoga, Feldenkreis, Alexander technique, BMC, Tai chi and somatic processing. These all continue to nourish and support my journey, allowing me to access greater awareness, grace and possibility to discover and explore the diversity of movement within myself.

Yoga and Tai chi – the ancient practices of the body and mind from the east, invite us to connect with nature and move in harmony with it rather than against it. The foundations of Yoga and Tai chi, each in their own ways, take their inspiration directly from nature, human nature and the animal kingdom at their core, allowing us to embody the nature within us and connect to what is around us, becoming a part of it and joining with it through our movements.

These practices help us realise how the effectiveness and quality of our mind and body can be measured by our awareness, not by the length of time or quantity. This gracefully allowed my movement experience and practice to become more sustainable and heightened. To practice these techniques, few materials needed, if any at all, working only with the bare essentials of your body and its relationship to the Earth and the space in and around you. I find movement practices that come to life through nature’s laws and our connection to them to be deeply authentic and organic.

Taking care of my inner landscape has in turn, turned my head and perception to look in different directions and find parallels in how we can take better care of our planet earth and the environment more genuinely.

Learning to understand and train my body as an individual, respecting and honouring both its limits and boundaries whilst developing its capacities, permits me to start to understand this concept of the sustainability of our environment in all its elements and resources. 

We can choose what we feed our minds, bodies and souls with from our external environment, we can be shaped and informed, guiding us to eliminate toxic elements from our consumption. In turn, we may become aware of any toxicity we may be contributing to our environment which impacts the quality of the food we eat and the air we breath and water we drink etc.

How are we taking care of what we have? How do we use resources and consume? How are we renewing and replenishing our environment to last, without getting utterly depleted and burned down? I have come to realise that the times when I have been faced with burnout and extreme exhaustion and pain, occurred when I wasn’t feeling entirely connected to what I was doing or the environment I was in.

Transformational life coach Yashwant Patel gently guided me towards observing nature around me and has been a mentor to me in this infinite journey of discovery of listening to my body and soul. Yashwant introduced me to Bhavin Solanki, wellbeing physiotherapist, who brought my attention to Gary Ward’s Anatomy in Motion, at a time in my career when new assessments of how I was moving were greatly needed.

I am so grateful to have met the right people along the way in just the right moments to inspire, support and guide me on this path, as I pick myself up after challenges and keep on walking and dancing forward! It gives me great comfort and assurance that dance, health, life and our environment are intrinsically connected and we can find ways for them to be mutually supportive to live our best lives, in harmony. 

At low points in my dancing career, where I felt unsure of what direction to take and yet empty enough to receive, I had the opportunity to meet two incredible pioneering women in dance and movement, whose approaches and practices were holistic and broadly encompassing what it is to be human. Susanne Linke – whose approach to training includes movements of the body inspired by animals, the drive of our emotions and the energy of our spirit and Minako Seki – whose methodology combines the practice of developing a conscious mind, our attention towards nature and a healthy diet. 

Movement can be exhausting and draining mentally, emotionally and physically and I learned that in understanding our true inner nature and how we navigate and manage that across the spectrum of being human, we can create and move from a source of joy, abundance and unlimited creativity and expression.

This brings me more sensitivity towards how we exhaust our Earth of its resources and I started to learn more about the nature of our environment and what can contribute to its health. Becoming more individual in my practice and learning about the possibilities in my nature and of the body, made me more aware of the diversity in nature and humanity, along with our commonalities and the power of coming together in our communities to work together and support each element.

We observe and learn about patterns in nature and how each individual part feeds into the whole, to support the collective. This generates an understanding of a similar dynamic, in how each individual’s actions feed into the wholeness of our environment and contribute to climate change and other environmental issues.

The elements, movements and dynamics of nature continue to inspire me in how to take care of my body. Connecting with the elements of air, water, fire, earth and ether influence my practice greatly, inspiring and guiding the quality of movement for a deeper understanding and experience as we learn to embrace and feel our own way through them. The elements give life and quality to our movements, allowing them to blossom and evolve.

We can 

Connect to the lightness of air to create and breathe space within us,

Invite the flow of water soft and yet so powerful to gently cleansing away stagnant energy within us,

Develop a sense of groundedness within us through the support and fertileness of the earth below our feet,

Ignite the fire within us propelling us into action

and we can Grow an awareness of ourselves in the space we inhabit and how we interact with it.

Connecting with the elements has helped me find new pathways and uncover intuitive and natural movement within myself. Observing nature I learn about growth, resilience, renewal and rebirth and connect to those qualities and energies within myself. Nature is an endless source of inspiration for us, and one of our greatest teachers. The movement and shift towards sustainable living is an action we can involve ourselves in daily, in how we go about our day and asking ourselves if our choices are healthy for our body and for our Earth. More times than not we find they are one of the same.

Learning about sustainability through my being, on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels is like looking at the ecosystem, holistically. Renewing the energy sources of our body, mind and spirit allows us to understand how we treat the resources in our environment. We learn to understand that how we create stress on Earth is not too dissimilar from how we create stress on the joints of the inner Earth of our body, both through a pressure and desire for more.

Just as we become conscious about how we reach exhaustion within ourselves, we understand better how we might be exhausting and taking advantage of our environment. I feel that the practice and experience of dance and movement is about how you manage and use your energy, emotions and ideas and how you express them and go on to keep being able to express them.

Looking and feeling through the lens of the body and how we sustain ourselves, not only to survive but to thrive, we understand how our actions contribute to the quality of resources and how much it actually takes from the earth to be healthy and function at its best. Respecting the elements of nature around us is in turn, good for our health; maintaining healthy soil for crops, clean water to drink, unpolluted air to breathe. It is apparent that caring for our environment serves it well to keep on taking care of us.

Learning to treasure our bodies and human experience within the ecosystem and the part we play in it, creates a deeper, on-going relationship with the Earth.

I do believe that it can work both ways – in starting to become actively conscious about the environment’s health and how we contribute and care for it can in turn motivate one to take better care of themselves and others.

Our environment is here to support, feed and nourish us to live and thrive upon it and to enjoy these benefits, we must value and honour this exchange and find the ways in which we can give back and support its replenishment – if we are to continue to receive nature’s gifts and co-exist in harmony with it. Becoming aware of how we live, how we consume and being more mindful and efficient in our practices, helps us to understand what really is necessary and enough.

In my experience, what is humanly sustainable for me opens up a portal to appreciating what is sustainable in nature. The delicacy of a flower, that can literally break in your hand and yet its stem may have such strong roots that it can breathe new life and flower again- in resilient splendour. Likewise as humans, we can recognise how delicate we are, yet can recover and experience a sense of rebirth within one lifetime and renew ourselves and our own energy resources, before our time is up. Understanding how delicate, vulnerable and yet resilient our Earth is for things to grow, flourish and rebirth too, we must take care of it before natural resources run out. 

Just as the current state of many issues have come to light during the pandemic, giving us time to wonder, contemplate and begin to figure out how we can begin to heal the necessary, we have been offered an opportunity to realise just how much we are destroying on Earth and reassess our impact on the planet through our choices and decisions. Has the Covid-19 virus come perhaps as a spiritual signal directly from nature about how we are interacting with it and what we need to improve? 

Living with and through nature at our core, humbly with a sense of wonder and appreciation, might just bring us more into sync with Earth for collective benefit and the good health of all species and our environments.

Nandi in a forest setting, looking up to the sky with her arms in the air. She's wearing a long brown and maroon printed dress and has dark curly hair
Image credits: ©Simon Richardson

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

We have all had a little more time to really sit and think about the environmental emergency this last year. A year of different possibilities and a clearer 20:20 vision of so many issues which have come to light, which have existed for a long time and yet still increase and are on the rise. I have been less distracted by a busier lifestyle during lockdown to take more time to digest and feel my responses towards things such as sustainability and what actions I can implement right now. 

I progressed a little further during lockdown in eliminating fish from my diet and most animal products. I have found this much easier being at home and preparing every meal I eat, due to time saved in not commuting for work journeys and grabbing food on the go. I hope to keep this up. I would like to be more responsible in how I consume plastic packaging which cannot be recycled too.

Moving back to London in 2018 and reconnecting with the South Asian community, I have been brought closer to its traditions and practices in health. Connecting with Dr Indira Anand, I began eating with more awareness through the Ayurvedic approach to diet and nutrition. The principles of Ayurveda are governed by the elements in nature and connected to our emotional tendencies, mental abilities and physical traits.

Ayurveda analyses our physical, emotional and mental attributes to guide our eating habits and routine with the foods that suit and compliment our nature best. Dr Anand introduced me to the practice of Yoga Nidra – deep rest in the conscious state before between being awake and asleep.

I am encouraged and motivated to take more time to assess and research the products I consume moving forwards, across food, fashion and beauty, learning if products have been ethically sourced and if their production process damages our environment or the animal kingdom.

In beauty, I am becoming more aware of the products I choose to use on my hair to take care of its inherent curly nature, choosing products with less to no chemical ingredients, that are sustainably sourced and produced and therefore better for the health of my hair. In embracing my natural curls I have realised the value of accepting your natural self, and discovering and staying true to your own nature. These are some of my life’s biggest personal challenges, which have helped generate and guide that awareness in me towards nature and the environment. This journey feels so NATURAL and organic!

I have switched over to drinking loose-leaf tea or biodegradable tea bags, shocked by research proving that some brand’s tea bags still contain plastic. It has been encouraging to notice over this last year that packaging from some retailers now come in paper bags instead of plastic. I have yet to research deeply in fashion production processes, but I hope to address how I consume in that area with more awareness moving forwards, towards more sustainable options such as vegan clothing lines, which I see are on the rise and some brands having started consciously made lines of clothing.

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?

In South Asian communities as in any community, I feel we can readily explore and journey deeper into our roots, culture and ancestors to help us understand and solve current issues. We can ask more questions – what wisdom can we still access and bring forward, which ancient practices and philosophies are there for us to keep alive and breathe new life into, to support us in today’s world? We can look back at how indigenous tribes survived and managed, when humanity was not over producing things at such a rapid rate and in such large quantities.

This is our challenge to manage in today’s world of consumerism, we can ask ourselves what we can do with less, what we truly need and what is merely a distraction? 

We can come together as a community in facilitating and having more discussions, dialogues and talks by professionals and activists in these fields, to educate, bring more awareness and inspire our South Asian communities to move forward. We can engage and take part in activities and projects together, use storytelling to communicate messages in a multitude of forms, share our discoveries with each other, and encourage support and togetherness in our actions.

We can trace traditions and practices which have been recorded or passed on from our ancestors and learn how they managed with what they had. The youth of today can actively converse with senior members across the community to find out what they can share with us from the past to inform their practices and efforts to tackle current environmental emergencies.

I believe it starts with us, as individuals, making conscious changes and improvements and simultaneously coming together to share what we have come up against and the solutions we have found to generate change in our environment with our community.

Our South Asian heritage and culture is ripe in its practices to support our wellbeing in accordance with nature and environment  – from Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda – connecting to our bodies and minds in an essential way, wisely and safely in our own habitat. We can encourage a ‘waste not, want not’ perspective and way of living. I am beginning to acknowledge and value what we can learn from our heritage and ancestors and India’s ancient past. We can choose to actively seek out guidance to understand more about our South Asian roots in education and practices. 

I’m not 100% aware of how active India is as a country in being sustainably responsible and how they are contributing to climate change in this present moment with increasing demands and economic challenges, but I feel that all generations of South Asian people globally, can exchange and share ideas of what we have learnt from our experiences and from other cultures to support tackling issues. We can pave a bright path ahead collectively through and across generational learning. We can embrace exchanging practices and knowledge between the east and the west to create innovative solutions. 

Meanwhile, currently in India, with the farmer’s protests and the future of farming and agriculture being challenged, one cannot help but recognise the value of this essential connection between humans and the earth and appreciating those who are literally working and caring for the soil and whom have dedicated their life to that mission.

We can understand how essential it is for humans to manage agriculture well, to honour and value their work, and recognise how much is being asked of them and nature to over produce. This is another avenue in which we can improve how this relationship between our selves as humans and our planet can be addressed, in how we care for it and contribute to its wellbeing. I support and can only hope that industrial methods will not win over traditional and indigenous methods of farming in agriculture and how we sustain a decent and good level of human rights and nature’s rights. 

Do you find such lack of understanding makes communicating the message through your art form more challenging or difficult? 

In the dance industry, being an artist in some instances can mean forming part of a mute culture where not every artist’s opinions and thoughts are always considered or integrated into a creation of a work. It is a challenge for all artists to recognise when this is happening and take a decision if they really want to participate in this and get used to or stuck in it. As a creator in the dance world, you are required to share, verbalise and express your opinion and thoughts via your marketing and publicity, as well as the work itself with your collaborators. 

The action of Dance itself being a ‘silent’ non-verbal art form, has immense power to communicate ideas, meaning and messages through movement, yet at the same time, I feel dance artists and creators can always compliment, supplement and support their messages and work via verbal communication in speaking out.

Audiences don’t always get a chance to communicate verbally with the dance artists in response to their work, yet we can create and facilitate this channel to welcome written responses, feedback and dialogue. Voicing and writing about what we do supports the message we are trying to get across and I think dancers and creators in the sector should provide opportunities to verbally express, talk and write about their work and creative processes, research and development and put it out there. You never know whom it could reach and or provide more available access to, to learn about your journey from an inspirational idea to a finished performance. 

So I feel, finding our physical voice, as well as learning to express it effectively through movement is important to support and create greater access, inclusion and belonging of our work and the comprehension of our message, in the bigger picture.

I have seen waves of insights and sharing increase over the last year through the lockdowns and art being shared so generously and innovatively, creating space for more interaction and discussions with artistic creators. I look forward to this movement continuing and evolving in the future!

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

My encouragement for the youth of today, is to start with yourself! 

How is your inner environment serving you and what does your outer environment and habitat look and feel like, how can you serve it better and treat it with the same respect that you could treat yourself? 

How are you taking care of your inner landscape and nourishing it – your inner earth, your inner fire, the breath that passes through you? Are you contaminating those elements within and around you with toxic habits? Do you feel you are only just surviving and existing? Do you feel you could thrive more? Ask yourself about it all.

Taking this responsibility towards ourselves in turn lends itself to teach us to become more aware of our actions towards our earth. Check in with how clean you feel the air and water to be around where you live and where you travel to and what actions of yours might be contributing to its quality. 

Get in touch with yourself, check in with you how you are feeling in any given moment, how you are nourishing yourself and your nature and replenishing your reserves. Spend more time out in nature and observe and feel what resonates with you, and see if and how that experience might plant a seed and inspire you to have a new perspective, take a new action or direction or simply bring you into an improved state of being.

Evolve your practices as you get older and in conscious ways that feel natural to you. Take care of the renewable energy of the Earth as well as you can of your own. Tune in to the phases of life, its cycles and those of the Earth, like the harvest season, the planting of crops, the energies of the day and the night, of the moon and the sun. 

The Earth has to survive and thrive well to support the next generation of humans. If we abuse it here and now, selfishly in our own personal timelines on Earth, we are not supportive of others receiving all the possible resources and experiences in the future, that we may have enjoyed till now. Find joy in being responsible. If you might believe in reincarnation, then think about what your soul will come back to, do you wish for a healthy Earth for yourself or at least for the next generations.

In starting a journey and enquiry for yourself, you may find yourself endlessly motivated. Throughout our lives we may face spells or periods of boredom, and this journey of discovering ourselves, as a part of nature and as an active force within the environment, is vast and I feel it doesn’t lets us down.

The learning process can be fruitful and infinite, through the states of nature we can welcome experience and understand the changing seasons of our life, along with the seasons of our environment. There is so much possibility of evolution that a human can go through in a lifetime, culture goes through over years, society goes through across eras and nations go through over decades and centuries. 

Its important for the youth of today to initiate journeys for themselves that can be continual in their education and development, opening up new pathways, avenues, diversions and branches that may lead to new enquiries as they move through life.

Dance has been this evolving and infinite journey of discovery within myself and how I relate to the world around me and more recently merging it with my interest in the sustainability of our environment and its health now only adds to my big adventure!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am soon to launch my website (www.nanditashankardass.com) offering my wellbeing service Welcome Movement which is available to all organisations and individuals. The service provides a range of movement and dance classes or tailored sessions from Organic movement, Yoga, Meditation, Ballet to Creative movement, drawing inspiration and guidance from nature, our human nature to encourage a better experience of ourselves and possibility for our growth and evolution. 

I look forward to learning not only how I can create sustainable practices and productions in the future of my work but also communicate messages of the environmental issues we face and spread awareness of the power of nature through my work. 

I am passionate about how creative and production processes in the arts can generate a sustainable future, for the environment which surrounds us, and the inner environment of our body, mind and soul.

Website: www.nanditashankardass.com

Returns to Nature: https://vimeo.com/510284291

Nature Feels: https://vimeo.com/505694179