Q4. How important it is to have a sustainable workplace and what key challenges you faced made you think in this direction?
I started as a farmer almost 30 years back, the farming soil that I bought was not healthy and was in very bad shape. Moreover, I decided to do only Organic farming. So, in organic farming, The first thing is to make the soil organic and increase the nitrogen level. To do that there should be living microorganisms in the soil. So, if you need life in soil increasing the carbon in soil is a must. In reality, it had poor soil carbon. So, I had to come up with strategies to improve the carbon in the soil, and it should be cost-effective.
My farmland was around the Pollachi belt, which is famous for coconuts. Once the coconuts and coconut fibres are extracted the coconut husk from that was a waste product and people started burning them. which was a very serious environmental issue 30 years back, just imagine all the farms burning the coconut husk, just like Punjab where Delhi is facing air pollution because of it. Also, another environmental issue is that lots of dust are getting mixed in the atmosphere. Watching all these things, made me think to use the fibres and thus solutions for converting the fibres into enriching the soil was born. Later after lots of research, I had started making them into various products like a growing medium for farming and lead from into a composting medium.
That was the way I went about converting a problem into an opportunity.
Recently I came across an article where tiles are made from plastic and also sawdust has been converted into boards for making lots of furniture.
Since then lots of research and innovations have been happening on how to convert waste into something useful. At the same time into a profitable business and there are lots of successful stories.
Q5. What would you say have been the most defining moment in your career?
I should say, whether by divine grace or not, for me there have not been just one or two points of excitement It has been a series of such exciting moments in the last 30 years.
The first one was when we could convert this coconut fibre waste into a soil conditioner. When I was trying to build my farm. Then a pleasant surprise a company from Australi was looking for anyone who can convert the coconut fibres into a growing medium. As I already had some success in they invite me to convert it into a growing medium to be used for farming. I got the contract and was supplying it to Australia in their brand name.
That was a very exciting moment because something which was till date a waste product. When we converted it into a value-added product. We got an import order which unimaginable for someone who was desperately looking to save my farm. I used to call it those who try value creation, something which had no value or negative value suddenly has been converted into something valuable. When this kind of intervention happening there was a lot of positive value. Today corporate companies are manufacturing products related to coconut fibres.
I think it’s become a very big industry now.
So, another major exciting moment is that when I was working on this material for my farm, I was asked to help a village of 30 farmers. Who wanted to join me, and we could convert the whole uncultivated land for about 30 to 40 years it could be converted into productive farmland. These successful experiences were the foundation of my path of waste management initiatives.
Another major exciting moment was that after we developed this village, the Government of India came up with this concept of primary producers company, the producers can join together and form a company that Companies Act was amended and this concept was initiated in 2002.
As part of the program, I was involved in incorporating the first one a first of its kind company in India, with around 5000 farmers. So that was again, a major moment of excitement because all those years we have been working alone. Then when we realized that unless we come together and form a powerful entity there was huge unexplored potential in the market.
Then on seeing this, I was invited by a multinational company to address the process waste created by producing gelatin. They were producing a lot of sludge, and as there was no proper disposal process it was creating an awful smell. They’re struggling with that, which they asked me if I could help manage this problem with the base protocol for converting that sludge into compost.
In about 30 days without sludge problem was converted into a big opportunity After that I have been lots of exciting projects all over India.
Q6. How do you feel about the future of sustainable living professionally and personally after the coronavirus outbreak which has altered our way of living?
There is going to be a lot of change in the business environment because of two reasons, not only because of the coronavirus outbreak.
One major reason is new technology. If you take the automobile industry, now there is a very serious shift towards developing an electric car which is going to reduce the need for fossil fuel so the whole fossil fuel industry is going to take a hit. Fuel requirement will slowly change.
Another shift is actually. There is serious research going on to make a driverless car. So once that happens the new generation will probably not look at owning a car. So the new generation will not look at owning a car, because of the extra expenses involved like Parking charges and Insurance. If you can get a vehicle just on a phone call instead of getting into the whole trouble of owning, driving and maintaining. You can just make a call and get in and get out where ever you want. You will leave the car. So what is going to happen is each car is going to be shared by a lot of people.
So the whole automobile industry is heading for a major shift, so the number of car requirements is going to come down. The accessories requirement is going to come down and a lot of activities surrounding that is going to come down. The entire industry is going to be a major shift
So people who are already in this kind of industry will have to come out of it and change the industry. So there will be new opportunities, so when one type of activity comes down automatically new activities will be coming up.
Then we are talking about work from home, so on that, we don’t need people to travel. So we don’t need to spend a lot of fuel moving here and there. So with the new technology and advanced communication with virtual meetings. Just sitting at home or own office space we can be a part of meetings anywhere in the world almost on a physical level. So there is going to be a lot of changes in the way we travel and communicate.
Because of that the need to live in a city also changes and we can move to places in the suburbs. You are more available at home and we can do a lot of things at home. So people are available at home because of the corona. There has been a change in the mindset of people after the outbreak. So a lot of people are looking at home gardening and other activities at home.
So there is also the concept of reducing food miles, food travelling to so many distances from the production to the consumption. Instead of that, we can grow at home itself. So there is going to be a lot of shift in the way we do things. So all these things are going to change and impact environmental sustainability situations.
Again climate change is going to be another major influencing factor. Like technology, climate change will influence the way we do things.
Same like that if we do not have public functions and meetings we will not require dresses and the hospitality industry is also going to have a tremendous impact.
Technology impact is also going to impact on other industries like Forex, and Lawyers.If we need any advice on legality and laws, we do not require to visit the lawyers. Companies like IBM have come out with software we can be installed and when we input our problems, the computer will give advice. As they can easily scan lots of cases and give you results. Similarly in the medical profession technology can diagnose and give precise answers much better than doctors. Some robots are performing surgeries.
We cannot afford to have a layback attitude now, because things are going to change at a much faster pace than we have been thinking.
So it is very important to change our thought process, we have to become more disciplined and more flexible and more proactive, because if we are not empowering ourselves in a very positive way. The change can destabilise you at a much serious level.
Things are going to change there is no second thought about that. Every aspect of our life is going to impact by lots of change. So unless we have also willing to keep pace with the change. We will be put into a lot of conflicts mental and physical conflicts. So how do we manage and keep ourselves with the speed of change how? So that is our challenge.
Another major drawback in the system is that people from our generation like 40 -50 were all born into bigger families there are more siblings there were more sharing and healthy habits.
Now always the resources were less than the actual demand, so there were healthy training in our entire growing phase.
Today the no of children are less, so there is more resource than the need. There are no healthy personal habits. So these new generational people flexibility level is very low. So with that rapid change in that environment, they will face much more challenges in their life. Unless we make a positive effort in training to face these rapid changes. They will lose hope.
Editor – in – Chief