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By Marianne de Nazareth

24 June, 2011

It’s become fashionable today to ‘green wash’ everything. From supposed bio degradable plastic packaging to hotels going the ‘green and eco friendly’ way, to even buildings which are supposedly ‘green’ along with our smoke belching ‘green’ autos plying in the city. How many of these ‘green’ initiatives are really and truly green? The concept of being 'green' is obviously being abused across different areas, out of sheer ignorance, for commercial or political reasons or maybe going ‘green’ is just fashionable today. So we decided to scratch below the surface and find out what are all the supposed ‘green’ initiatives floating around our city.

There are several real estate developers in the city who advertise with flashy brochures the ‘green buildings’ that they have constructed and that are on sale. Besides the lawn which swallows huge quantities of fresh water, there is nothing particularly ‘green’ about their buildings. Rahul Johri, senior vice president and general manager, Discovery Channel ( India) revealed that the Ecopolis series that his channel aired on Discovery Channel was primarily for this reason. To educate people on what it means to be truly ‘green’.

“We are all addicted to oil which is a fossil fuel and will eventually run out. The series we ran gave us innovative ideas formulated by scientists of how we can help ourselves work towards a more sustainable way of life,” said Johri. “The series showed us innovators who have turned acres of urban rooftops into farmland and grow food there. Look at solar lighting for large buildings, green roofs to cool our cities, nano-solar PV cells where photovoltaic solar technology powers homes successfully, landfill islands among other innovative ‘green’ solutions to halt run-away green house gas emissions. Essentially builders should look at an Ecopolis rather than a Metropolis for our future cities,” he explains. Obviously what Johri is talking about needs to be taken seriously by our builders.

During a recent Buildarch Exhibition held at the Bangalore International Exhibition Center, in February 2011, the Zero Energy Space model building conceptualized by Isabelle Hasleder from Austria was the cynosure of all eyes. Isabelle manages the operations of Inspired to be Green, a leading publication on Green Buildings & Sustainability, and is actively involved in the green building industry. “With my research we are showing that every single building out there has the possibility to be energy efficient and generate all its power needs on its own, that implies that it is possible to reduce the word’s energy consumption by 30% to 40%. This is a great solution for climate change, power shortage and clean energy generation all addressed at one time,” said this 23 year old. So it is when builders realise that just a green lawn is not going ‘green’ in a building, then we have turned the corner towards a more sustainable way of living!

Recently covering UNEP’s World Environment Day 2011 in New Delhi it was amazing to see how politicians and governments used the ‘green’ card to score brownie points despite being indifferent to or ignorant of the issue. Of course Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, CM Sheila Dikshit and their team were far from ignorant, with a Green Delhi campaign on in full swing with tree planting and greening very obviously in full throttle. On being asked how the air is much cleaner in Delhi than in Bangalore, the minister replied that a strong crack down on the use of only CNG by buses and autos has brought about this change in the last 10 years. However here in Bangalore, transport minister R Ashok had launched a campaign called ‘Green Auto’ which was just painting the autos green. Stop behind an idling auto at the traffic signal and you will be coated with black smoke from head to foot even today in Bangalore.

The latest news is that Ananth Hegde Ashisara, chairman, Western Ghats Task Force has rejected the UNESCO World Heritage tag for the Western Ghats. One wonders if the timber and the iron ore quarrying lobby had anything to do with the decision. However it was heart warming to see Anil Kumble speak on TV and say we should take the tag as an honour bestowed on the Ghats, as the forests belong to the world and not just to India. And of course we Bangaloreans have been crying ourselves hoarse about all our old and heritage tree cover in the city being hacked away in the name of infrastructure. How will we ever replace those trees which were the lungs of our city and helped us breathe? “There should be a policy of replanting the trees, two trees for every old tree removed,” said Minister Jairam Ramesh when asked about the issue.

Most hotels across the city too talk about being ‘green’ and signs in baths ask one to re-use towels to avoid waste of water. That’s a very laudable request, but could they also learn to compost their wet waste rather than chuck it out unsegregated along with plastic and paper to fill up the landfills on the outskirts of the city? Cutting back on wetwaste is as ‘green’ as they could go, along with all their other energy saving methods. We could do with much less thrown into land fills and having the leachate sink into the soil and contaminate the ground water.

Karnataka has banned the use of plastic. But if you go to upmarket stores like Nilgiris, or All Saints, there are boards saying ‘No plastic bags’, but the cashier will automatically pull out one, should you purchase more than 3 items. We just need to go back to the days when our grand parents carried cloth bags and went to the market to shop for loose fruit and veggies which were not supermarket packed in plastic like today. Let us really tighten our belts and learn to use a bag and force our hands to carry one around with us.

“And going ‘green’ when it comes to planting trees means planting indigenious varieties like Ashoka, Peepul, Tamarind, Jamun etc rather than exotic imports,” says Dr. Yelappa Reddy, noted environmentalist of the Bangalore Environment Trust and former Indian Forest Service Officer. “ Indigenous trees also support a variety of bird life which is essential for a developing city like ours,” he says. Even the traffic circles around the city could do well with beautiful trees like they have in Delhi rather than imported lawn grass and exotic foliage. Tankers of fresh water go to water these circles sponsored by large corporations wanting to prove how ‘green’ they are. Instead if they looked at using recycled water and nuturing berry bearing shrubs, maybe our feathered friends could get a feast whenever the bushes fruit.

Finally, as a caution to hotels and multi nationals wanting to show the world how ‘green’ they are. Do avoid using cliches like: “All kitchen exhaust air is treated with ecological units” or “Most of the food is cooked in effective low-stock, non-smoke stoves” which was seen in a PR leaflet in a seven star hotel recently. For heavens sake what does that mean? Guests are not dumb and anyone can see when a place is trying too hard and going over the top.

Just be honestly ‘green’ in small ways with water saving and recycling, energy saving devices, and fixing rain water harvesting and solar heating for water.
Then you really are going ‘green’ and helping towards moving our city onto a more energy concious and sustainable path to growth and hopefully helping to save our planet.

Marianne de Nazareth is Former Asst. Editor The Deccan Herald Freelance Journalist Adjunct faculty St. Joseph's College & COMMITS



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