असंबाधं बध्यतो मानवानां यस्या उद्वतः प्रवतः समं बहु । नानावीर्या ओषधीर्या बिभर्ति पृथिवी नः प्रथतां राध्यतां नः ॥
Asambaadham Badhyato Maanavaanaam Yasyaa Udvatah Pravatah Samam Bahu | Naanaa-Viiryaa Ossadhiiryaa Bibharti Prthivii Nah Prathataam Raadhyataam Nah ||
Meaning: 2.1: Salutations to Mother Earth who extends unimpeded Freedom (outer and inner) to Human Beings through Her Mountains, Slopes and Plains,
2.2: She bears many plants and medicinal herbs of various potencies; May She extend her riches to us and make us healthy.
This is the 2nd shloka (verse) from an ancient Indian scripture of wisdom and knowledge called Bhoomi Sukta from the Atharva veda. Bhoomi means Earth and Sukta means Hymn. The Vedas were scriptures written by Hindu sages, that contained detailed information on Mathematics, Science, Astronomy, Health and Life Sciences. In 1500 BCE, Hindu Sages predicted the degradation of the Environment and instilled a value for Planet Earth in people, by reciting hymns and shlokas on it. They predicted climate change, as they realised how every utility of (wo)mankind is based on the five elements of Nature – water, fire, wind, space (sky) and earth (soil) and how humans would have to continually exert pressure on Nature to sustain. These Shlokas were written in the scientific language of Sanskrit that were unfortunately lost to the brunt of invasions on the Indian subcontinent, and were only partially preserved through chanting and memory. Today, life seems to have come to a full circle as we go back in time to revisit the intellect bestowed upon us by learned (wo)men of the past – only to be blown away by the relatability of it all. It’s mesmerising how Hindu Sages captured the essence of environment preservation thousands of years ago whilst speaking about how Mother Earth provides human beings with food to eat, medicines to protect and asking for her blessings of abundance.
For those of you dear readers who do not know, I started an Eco Project last month through which I aim to try my hand at sustainable living, promoting a lifestyle which generates negligible waste, and recycling harmful items that would harm the Earth. I decided to undertake the project for 18 weeks and chronicle my entire journey through weekly articles here. At the end of it all, you would have access to my ultimate guide to sustainable living, broken down in the simplest parts, keeping in mind the busy lives we all lead.
You will find the beginning of my Eco Project chronicles of the first few weeks, including the changes I made, with some inspiration from the historic Vedas in:
- Part 1: Guide to Sustainable Living and a Zero Waste Lifestyle
- Part 2: Eco Friendly Restaurant Etiquettes
The third week of my Eco Project has come to an end. As promised, I’m back with the 3rd part of my eighteen-weeks diary which will include a helpful Guide on Eco-Friendly Workplace Ethics.
Eco Friendly Workplace Etiquettes
Cometh Monday, and along with it the weekday blues. Any desk, be it one belonging to a teacher in school or to a corporate employee in a board meeting, has the ability to make us feel drained – especially after a thrilling or relaxing weekend. Monday morning deadlines are the most stressful, at least in my personal experience of Corporate when I was working for a coveted and fancy financial firm. Coffee becomes our best friend and all we can think of is lunch hour, when we can talk to our colleagues about the show we binge watched in the weekend or the new patisserie in town – that is, if you have colleagues that you can befriend.
As I strolled past several desks in my limited experience of the corporate world in different multinational companies, donning the hat of an intern and an employee, I noted how several of the white and brown ones had a hint of green on them – desks with a tiny plant to cheer you up on days when you miss a deadline! There’s just something about plants, greenery and nature that has the ability to uplift your mood. It truly changes the vibe around you and only reverberates positivity. There are several things that you can do to make sure the world around you stays green for your kids who are yet to step into it.
Air Purifying Plants
The easiest eco friendly step that you can take towards leading a sustainable life is to keep a small air purifying potted plant on your work desk. They’re low maintenance and can bring a smile to your face everytime you sit down. Imagine the amount of fresh oxygen in the room if every desk had one? Bring green into concrete buildings and make your life much greener!
Tissues are one of the worst uses of paper. There are very few brands that manufacture them from recycling paper waste in an attempt to save time and money. When you look at a tissue from afar, it’s a little tough to identify if it has been made from recycled paper, if it is compostable or if it is biodegradable. Also, the disposal of these tissues is not in your control when you use them at an office. In corporate, the amount of tissues that people used (myself included) was unbelievable – for every meal and coffee break one person used an average of five tissues. I also noted that these tissues were not disposed off separately and the waste management wasn’t efficient – every kind of waste, be it food or paper or tissues were thrown into the same bin. This prevents tissues from being recycled and it puts the onus on us to either not use tissues at all or ensure their ethical disposal. When I was a child, my late maternal grandmother gave me hand-stitched handkerchiefs, seven of them in different colours with the days of the week stitched onto it – one for every day of the week. My paternal grandmother too kept restocking my collection whenever I caught the flu and my handkerchiefs were in the laundry. I used them throughout my school days but once I went to college, I replaced them with tissues as I thought they were more convenient. They are actually – just picking up a tissue and tossing it in the bin when you’re done sneezing is quite handy. However, as I write this article surrounded by canopies of trees in different shades of green around me, I can only wistfully think of the forests that were cut down to make those tissues for me – all because I couldn’t carry a handkerchief to class in college. Thinking of the majestic creatures living in forests that lost their homes due to (wo)mankind’s need for saving time, I switched to a handkerchief and am back to basics again. I wish naniji was still around, she would’ve made the prettiest handkerchiefs for me with beautiful Indian patterns embroidered on them. Then again, that’s how life teaches us the value of things only after we have lost them.
I cannot emphasise enough on avoiding paper towels and tissues in restaurants and their bathrooms. Carry a small handkerchief with you at all times and use it to dry your hands or a pre-installed air-dryer when you’re done using the office bathroom. It’s always good to be mindful of the waste you are generating. For the lovely ladies, opt for bamboo-made sanitary napkins for that time of the month or a menstrual cup if you’re comfortable with one. It’s always more hygienic and green to dispose your napkins the right way in the allotted bin and not the regular bin/water closet. My previous office was a very swanky building and the best thing I liked about it was the sustainable drainage system. All the water from bathrooms would go through a filter and be used for watering the huge wall garden and other plants in the building.
Twenty years have passed since the new Millennium began and Technology is an irrefutable part of it, perhaps the most revolutionary. Yet, both government and private offices are highly reliant on paperwork – be it a new client’s portfolio or permits for highway tenders. Going digital is the way to be, although I understand that there are risks that come along with it, such as data recovery in case of loss, vision impairment due to excessive usage of technology and many more. The idea is to create a balance, which is difficult to achieve but has unfortunately become a necessity today. Think about it, do you really need that post-it note or can you just type it on the to-do list in your phone?
For example, you’ve just taken a new client onboard and have designed a portfolio for him/her, you’ve finished the work and have the results ready – instead of making paper copies and printing them out fresh and hot from a fancy printer, you can always email it to the client and store digital copies. The same thing applies to banking forms, HR oriented forms in Corporate, letters to Government offices that basically pile up and become an ocean of paperwork which may or may not be recycled in an eco-friendly way. The next time you are about to click Ctrl+P on your system, take a moment to think if you really need it on paper or if a digital form will suffice.
Digital Signatures are not in use as much as they should be, and signatures are one of the foundations for the requirement of printing out forms in every office/workplace. Although, I understand the need for security and at a time when cyberthreats are at a peak, it’s difficult to rely on digital signatures which may be forged easier than those made with a pen. However, one can identify the need for security in different documents – use a digital signature for mundane/redundant forms and a paper one wherever unavoidable.
In my corporate experience, everyone always printed documents on a single side and I honestly don’t see a reason to not avail the double-sided printing option. Not only does this reduce the number of pages you would need for printing a file, it also eliminates the need for reusing a stack of papers. The best way to use a document to it’s fullest and compensate for the trees that were cut down to make it, is to use single-side printed documents for scribbling notes etc instead of using fresh pages and books.
The world has been using disposable and single-use plastic pens for over 50 years now. Single-use plastics and microplastics are the most harmful kind as they cannot be recycled, reused or disposed off in a harmless way. They either end up in landfills under the ground or garbage cans on the road which in turn can choke animals that might consume the plastic accidentally as well as the Earth’s soil. Think about the stationary you use at work – staplers, pens, tape, glue-sticks in plastic containers, post-it notes, sharpies, markers among many more. Where does it all go? Into the soil, suffocating the Earth which is detrimental to flora and fauna all around.
Pens are given away at conferences or as part of gift bags and marketing strategies – is it really necessary? Absolutely not. The alternative is to switch to Pencils wherever possible or a Fountain pen or pens made up of paper material wherever a pen’s ink is required on an official document. Pencils are made of wood and the lead is made of Graphite, both are fully compostable. Pencil shavings too, when you sharpen one, are compostable and good for the soil. Collect sharpening waste wherever you can and just throw it into the soil of a plant nearby – it’s basically food for flora.
You can also purchase eco-pencils and eco-pens that you can directly plant into the soil after it’s use, and then watch it grow into a proper plant. These pencils have a seed at the end instead of the eraser usually fitted there. It’s time to switch to such products that we didn’t know of but are fully available in the market. As a consumer, our job is to create a demand for eco-friendly alternatives and shift the industry as a whole.
Although a stapler is reusable, it’s tiny staple pins are not. They are too small to be recycled and are not disposed off in an eco-friendly manner. Japan found a solution to this in staple-less staplers. These staplers collate all your pages for you without using any metal pins that could poke your fingers or the loam on Terra.
Switch to eco friendly brown paper tape that come with an adhesive instead of plastic ones. If your workplace doesn’t know about them, you can always pitch the idea to your HR/administrators and tell them how it would be great for the company.
Food and Beverage
The first thing to keep in mind when you’re ordering a beverage is to note if it comes in a packaged bottle or freshly served in a glass. For example, freshly squeezed fruit juices served in reusable glasses are healthier and more eco friendly than the ones served to you in a plastic container or tetra packs. This is because it eliminates the need for waste disposal – you wouldn’t have to worry about the office unethically discarding your bottle or you carrying the empty bottle home to reuse it. Non-biodegradable containers comprise of Polypropylene plastic which is one of the most popular kind of plastic used for packaging across the globe, only 1% of it is recycled and 99% of it lands up in landfills in the soil. These take 20-30 years to decompose and eventually pollute the ground. Polypropylene plastic also contains toxic additives such as lead and cadmium. There are workplaces that serve coffee in disposable cups which just adds to the amount of waste being generated by an office/company/person. The ideal case is when your coffee is served in reusable ceramic cups, as it usually is in corporate offices. For people rushing to work and picking up a cup of coffee on the way, have you noticed the disposable glasses are not biodegradable at all? They heavily contribute to choking the Earth’s soil.
The solution is really simple – carry your own metal flask to the place where you pick up your coffee everyday and ask them to pour it in. It might seem cumbersome initially, especially if you walk/bike to work – but you’ll get used to it and you really don’t have to do it everyday, even if you carry your own flask for 3 of the 5 working days of the week, it makes a huge impact once the year comes to an end. The same logic applies to your food – you can always avoid food packaged in disposable/single-use plastics. Use reusable plates and cutlery or eco-friendly disposable bamboo ones at work. The moment you see plastic or non-biodegradable cutlery, steer clear from it. Plastic spoons and forks that usually come with food delivered at your doorstep are one of the biggest contributors to single-use and micro plastics that cannot be recycled and land up in landfills. In India, most corporate offices serve freshly cooked lunch in reusable steel plates with reusable cutlery. It’s only fast food outlets in the cafeterias that serve food in harmful packaging.
Carpool with your colleagues from and upto whichever place possible, hop onto the metro and use public transport wherever feasible. When I was working last year, I would take my car to the office everyday because the metro station was a little far from work. But I realise now that if I had put the effort of carpooling with someone from the metro station, the amount of vehicular emissions that could have been prevented would have been immense. In an attempt to save time and catch up on those (not so) precious ten minutes of extra sleep in the mornings, I stuck to my own schedule and took the car out as I pleased. Thankfully, I learned to be better after I started my Eco Project and I now carpool as much as possible, picking up friends along the way. During COVID-19, the NYK Daily office is closed but when we do reopen it, I plan on continuing to carpool and taking the metro whenever feasible.
Corporate employees are usually found to be heavily dependent on nicotine during working hours for a quick bout of relaxation from strenuous deadlines. Smoking causes toxic emissions in the air and the cigarette butts are not biodegradable even though they may look like they have been made of paper. The butt of a cigarette is primarily the filter, made of a type of plasticised cellulose acetate. If you’re a regular smoker, the first step you can take towards a sustainable lifestyle is to reduce your cigarette consumption by at least half. Not only will your lungs stay green, so will the trees around you. The more you give to the Earth, the more you will always receive. I did spot a box of organic cigarettes at an Organic grocery store I visited last week but having never tried them (and I never will), I can’t speak for it’s health or environmental benefits. If you’re passionate about both smoking and wanting to save Terra, you could perhaps give it a try. The best thing to do is to give up the habit entirely, of course. We’re already inviting cancer by eating chemical-injected food cooked from vegetables grown in degraded and artificially fertilised soil everyday.
Conferences, workshops, trainings, seminars and events are a regular part of the professional world. Unfortunately, every single one of them comes with a fancy notebook, pen, plastic bottles and other non-biodegradable goodies on your tables. The next time you attend one, carry your own water bottle and use the water cooler to refill it, carry your own pen and notebook instead of using brand new ones on your table which eventually end up getting discarded. Even the food is unfortunately served in plastic plates with plastic cutlery – drop in a suggestion to the organisers to serve food via ecologically efficient alternatives and be conscious of the waste you are throwing into the bin. The key is to remember that even small steps like these make a lot of difference to the way our planet breathes.
It is very essential to segregate waste in an office before it is taken away for final disposal. There are so many different kinds of waste that are generated in an office space – paper waste, discarded cardboard boxes, food/beverage waste and plastic stationary among more. Keep separate trash cans for paper waste and food waste, this really ensures that paper waste can directly be sent for recycling to a paper plant, and food waste can be used for compost for flora around the office. When food waste is mismanaged, it is discarded in landfills where it harmfully decomposes to produce Methane that finds it’s way into the atmosphere from the ground. Methane is a greenhouse gas with more than 20 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide. Segregation of waste gives the office an opportunity to directly use food waste as Compost or to send it to a factory that converts it to energy. The energy conversion happens when food waste is sent to a factory and passed into sealed heated digester tanks that allows the safe production of Methane. This gas can then be used to generate electricity. Keep a separate bin for plastic waste such as discarded stationary, so that your office can directly send it to a plastic recycling plant. There are NGOs today, that collect plastic waste from homes and offices for free and recycle it at factories to make something else out of it – such as bricks, jewellery and other interesting items.
I had a bad habit of leaving my phone and laptop adapter plugged into the switch boards in office. It was only now that I realised how harmful it is to Sustainability, as any switched on charger that is plugged in will still use electricity, even if the device is not connected. I think we’re all guilty of leaving our chargers plugged in at home or in the office even when we’re not around, and being conscious of the fact that precious electricity is going to waste will help us turn off the switches whenever unnecessary. In India, especially in middle class homes, there is a common example told to children to inspire them to work hard – the story of the poor man who studied under the streetlights all night as he didn’t have electricity at home, who then eventually becomes a successful man. The story was told to us kids to teach us the importance of conservation of electricity as well as hard work. Electricity is so revered in India, that in rural areas you will come across a village worshipping a transformer or an electricity tower. People belonging to few Indian rural areas view electricity as a supreme source of energy and power that sustains them, and it’s not uncommon to see a village celebrating as well as worshipping electricity oriented objects as per Hindu rituals.
Ever since I have started leading a zero waste life, I feel much better – both mentally and physically. I feel like I have a social purpose now more than ever, along with running an entrepreneurial venture. It’s a responsibility that weighs me down occasionally but also liberates me at the same time, knowing that I am playing a role in ensuring we all get to enjoy the therapeutic hues of green that our beautiful planet has to offer. I feel safer, knowing that the plastic bottles I refrained from discarding will hopefully not find their way back to my family in the form of Cancer. I hope you find light in doing your bit to save our soil, and I hope you implement at least some of these recommendations with ease. Whenever I try to take steps on the ladder of social initiatives that benefit the entire community as a whole, I find this quote from the Atharva Veda written by Hindu Sages very encouraging:
“This earth is His, to Him belong those vast and boundless skies; Both seas within Him rest, and yet in that small pool He lies.”