Among the best Bollywood songs from the last two decades is this AR Rahman number from one of SRK’s, arguably, most iconic films, Swades. One of the lines in the song, titled ‘Yeh Taara Woh Taara’ speaks of the power of unity. Like the line from Julia Carney’s poem Little Things — ‘little drops of water make the mighty ocean’ (‘Boond, boond milne se, banta ek dariya hai, boond boond sagar hai, varna yeh sagar kya hai?’).
It is well to recall this clichéd, but oft-forgotten line, that finds parallels across cultures on World Environment Day, simply because it is a matter of great urgency and a shame on humanity if not implemented.
Most of the following tips on the various aspects of building or running a sustainable home are well-known. The problem is that we don’t implement them, as with most of the lifestyle decisions we make. These decisions, however simple they seem, work when implemented collectively. Each contribution, as is so often stated, makes a difference. Let us remind ourselves of these choices today, and take a step towards a cleaner, greener future.
Construction: If you are building a house, it would be a good idea to use traditional or sustainable materials such as rammed earth. Ensure the house you are buying or living in is well-insulated to conserve energy by incorporating dual panes and low-emittance windows. The house must enable passive cooling, this can also be done through reflective coatings on windows, roofs, and outer walls.
Interiors: It is best to opt for a house with a lot of natural light as this not only saves on the costs of having the lights on in the daytime, it also feels good. It is best to use non-toxic paints and use white paint to keep the house cool. There are several eco-friendly flooring options from cork to red oxide or reclaimed wood. There is also a whole world of more sustainable options for home décor and furnishing from recycled material to local handloom upholstery and artisanal bamboo or reclaimed wooden furniture. The longer these stay in your house (you do need to wash, change and reuse your upholstery, of course), especially the furniture, and the décor, the better for the environment.
Waste management: One of the best ways to manage waste is not to create any. Buy less and in bulk to save on packaging, carry reusable items from straws, mugs to water bottles even to the restaurant or to the coffee shop. Recycle or reuse, everything that can be given a second life. All the biodegradable (food waste) can be composted and either sold or used in your kitchen/terrace garden. Refuse to take bills in stores, unless necessary. Request for e-bills where possible.
Water: This is one of the most devastating aspects of environmental degradation in the world. Industrial pollution has destroyed so many of the Earth’s freshwater resources, soft drink companies suck up so much water that can otherwise support livelihoods. Let’s take responsibility by refusing aerated drinks, which don’t, let’s face it, really benefit the body in any way. Within the house, we could manage our waste water by recycling and reusing for cleaning or gardening.
Rainwater harvesting is also a great way to depend less on groundwater or riverwater. There are several DIY rainwater harvesting options, just Google, or find an organization that can help you set-up a system. Install low-flow showerheads where possible.
Food: It is still surprising for many to learn that it is the meat and dairy industry that is responsible for depleting a large portion of the world’s water resources. It is also one of the leading causes of deforestation, along with the palm oil industry. Even if 10 per cent of the world’s population turns vegetarians, it would save thousands, if not millions, of litres of water, and save the lives of millions of animals in farms. These industries are known to consume disproportionately more resources than they add to the food chain. It’s also a good idea to eat local, to lower the Carbon footprint of your food, this is also better for your health as your body is more used to indigenous food. As always, let’s remember not to waste food and if there is any leftover, find a way to reuse or recycle.
Gardening: There’s nothing like growing your own produce and cooking with fresh ingredients you have toiled to grow. That way, there is less packaging to unwrap and fewer trips to the market. There is also more oxygen around the house. Planting shade trees helps cool the house during summers. Opt for xeriscaping, by planting drought-resistant species, if you want to further conserve water.
Power: LED lights can drastically cut your electricity bills, which can be further reduced by the use of energy-efficient appliances such as front-loading washing machines. Switch to solar heaters wherever possible and speak to an expert to see how best you can make use of the sunlight on your terrace. Renewable energy is the way forward.
Hygiene and cleaning: Swap your chemical cleaning agents with natural, biodegradable ingredients such as borax, vinegar, lemon, baking soda, and salt, among others. There are several online resources that offer DIY lessons on home-made cleaning products. Swap your floor cleaner, dish soap and laundry soap for natural, biodegradable options, there are plenty in the market now. And to the extent possible, make the switch to eco-friendly bathing soaps, and shampoos as well, there are plenty of options for these as well. Or you could make your own personal care products. Attend a soap making workshop, it could be fun. Opt for a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic toothbrush and switch to biodegradable sanitary napkins, menstrual cups or cloth pads.
Storage: Buy all the glass containers you need at one go and store your ingredients and other home-care essentials in these. Glass containers (though resource intensive in terms of production) last long and eliminate the need for plastic storage boxes, which are often toxic and non-biodegradable. Install a water purifier instead of bubble top water cans for drinking water or simply use a matka (mud pot filter). Eliminate all kinds of plastic containers from your kitchen, wardrobe, or toilet and switch to glass, cloth or steel wherever possible. Opt for local, artisanal products that last a while so you don’t encourage needless production. Remember, reuse and recycle or upcycle where you can.
Lifestyle: A sustainable lifestyle is a choice, it may need initial investment but it saves bucks in the long run. It also puts a stop on dangerous trends like unchecked consumerism or fast fashion, that are among the major sources of pollution today. Make a visit to a nearby landfill if you don’t believe me. Instead of making a trip to the mall, why not check out a clothes swap event in your city? Dine-in, and cook as much as possible instead of ordering, to save on waste. The philosophy is simple: most things that are disposable (unless it’s something like a syringe or a personal hygiene product, excepting sanitary napkins) aren’t good for the planet. The less you buy the better, you will also be richer, not just in the bank but also as a person. Why not apply minimalism in your life as well?