A vegan restaurant in Koramangala looks distinctively green, with small plants decorating every inch of open space, metal or ceramic ware adorning the old wooden tables. But unlike conventionally hospitable messages, a sign board reads, “If you waste food, you will be charged 5% extra.”
Sowmya Reddy, the 33-year-old proprietor, believes in sustainable living. Her eco-friendly lifestyle is reflected in her restaurant, which is also an activist centre for public discourse.
The environmental engineer believes in the ‘cradle to grave’ concept, which looks at the amount of environmental impact a product has from the time it is manufactured to when it is disposed.
This is one of the reasons why Reddy is vegan. “A huge amount of grains that humans eat are fed to these animals in factory farms. In turn, they are killed and it ends up becoming just one meal.”
She used to cycle her way around the city before switching to an electric car recently. Plastic has been a strict no-no in the Reddy household for years now. To discourage use of disposables, she carries a mug and spoon everywhere. Her high-profile wedding last year was a completely eco-friendly and zero-waste event.
“Most of us forget that everything that we use and everything that we do has a certain impact on the planet,” says the proponent of sustainable menstruation which uses a long-lasting menstrual cup in place of thousands of sanitary napkins that have no way of safe disposal.
Bengaluru has a great community of the environmentally conscious. From Facebook groups to citizen groups and NGOs, there are so many ecosystems and role models for those who intend to start leading a more sustainable life. They lead by example and are ever-available to offer their expertise.
Take for instance, AR Shivakumar, who has not paid for water for the past 20 years. The senior researcher at the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is popularly known as the “rain-catcher of Bengaluru”. His 2,400-sqft house has an elaborate rainwater harvesting system, with two overhead tanks and underground sumps and three water filters at various levels.
“Rainwater harvesting is a known practice but unfortunately, people who want to adopt aren’t sure of many things -the equipment, who will do it or if it is dependable,” he says. “It struck me that unless you practice and prove, people will not follow.” Shivakumar’s Vijayanagar home became the test centre for all his research. It has done greatly , collecting 1.8 lakh-2 lakh litres of water every year, of which the family of four uses 1.5 lakh litres and recharge the groundwater with the rest.
Shivakumar’s water needs are sorted, with water from the washing machine discharge and kitchen sink used for toilets and gardening. A background in mechanical engineering has helped him build filters and purification procedures. He holds seven patents now.
The rainwater harvesting theme park run by KSCST and BWSSB in Jayanagar, the first of its kind in the country, was Shivakumar’s brainchild. It exhibits various technologies that are available and assists those trying to install a a RWH system.
His sustainable house has no fans or water heaters. Trees and mini ponds in the garden ensure natural air conditioning. Solar-powered LED lights are used at night. All organic waste is composted to replenish the garden. “If you incorporate these while building a house, it requires minimal investment,” Shivakumar says.
At the other end of the city , when 55-year-old Chockalingam M started building his 3,500-sqft home off Bannerghatta Road, he decided to make it self-sufficient. The 2kW rooftop solar panels are his only source of electricity .His family of four is completely off the city’s electricity grid, meaning there is no leeway for indiscriminate usage. Hence, all his home appliances and electronic devices are downsized to remain within limits. Chockalingam and family depend on 10,000 litres of rainwater for a portion of their water needs and have an open well too. “The water level in the well is increasing gradually. So the plan is to do away with the water connection in a couple of years,” says an optimistic Chockalingam.
The entrepreneur believes that green living is a sustained effort that does not end with building a house with mud instead of cement, recharging water and putting up solar panels. “It is a constant, conscious living where, when we tread this earth, it has to be softer and softer, so that it heals.”
He supports community efforts as large-scale sustainable practices are more economical and have greater impact. “In our own gated community , we have generally agreed not to have bore wells. A lot of people are digging open wells. Over a period of time, the community will not be dependent on Cauvery for water.”
Architect Chitra Vishwanath, who designs eco-friendly homes and has been living a sustainable life for decades, concurs. Sustainability has to move beyond individuals to communities, she says.
“Sustainability also means sharing and equitable distribution. More encouragement should be given to sharing of resources than hoarding,” she says.
The architect and her husband Vishwanath, a civil engineer and urban planner by training, live in a home built with bricks made out of soil excavated from the plot itself. In addition to terrace rainwater harvesting systems, they have a greywater system that treats water coming out of washing machines, bathrooms and kitchen appliances and directs them to plants. Whatever is excess is shared. Her advice to sustainability enthusiasts: “If you produce extra electricity, share it with your neighbours, rather than selling it and making money . If you have extra water, share it so we can have community taps.”