Sage Narada and Sustainability

Sustainability as a concept is great but when it comes to practice, we feel that sustainability on this planet is perhaps not just possible to achieve. There is so much chaos and unevenness. We will always stay on a turbulent or unsustainable journey. Let us accept this bitter truth.

To address this challenge, we came up with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but we are not sure how could we sync our interests on quality of life with our limited and threatened natural resources. We worry.

My professor friend told me that the answer is innovation in the form of disruptive technology. According to him, these technologies will radically transform our patterns of production and consumption.   According to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, sustainable business has the potential to unlock $12 trillion in new market value.

What happens if we go disruptive? For instance, the organizations will apply machine learning to support intelligent analytics, processes and user experiences. As people, places, processes and “things” become increasingly digitalized, they’ll be represented by digital twins for simulation. This will provide rich opportunities for new event-driven business processes and digitally enabled business models and ecosystems. Here the concepts of sustainability could be easily embedded.

Advances in AI, the IoT, user experience and application architectures will characterize 2018. Attention will shift from security tools to business risk and trust management. Clearly, the physical and digital worlds are expected to merge to support sustainability. So, sustainability will be the driver to such innovations. Professor cited me Garners 2018 report on top 10 strategic technology trends.

But not all disruptive technologies have to be digital. So, when Professor asked me to join for a breakfast with a representative of Hyperloop, I was rather delighted. Hyperloop brings airplane speeds to ground level, safely. Passengers and cargo capsules will hover through a network of low-pressure tubes between cities and transforming travel time from hours to minutes. Founded in 2013 in Los Angeles,  Hyperloop is a global team comprised of more than 800 engineers, creatives and technologists in 52 multidisciplinary teams, with 40 corporate and university partners. Amongst its several advantages, high-speed travel  by Hyperloop will relieve over-crowded cities by decreasing the need for urbanization. People will live where they are and reach cities in minutes if they want to. Hyperloop is already getting piloted in China.

When I listened to the presentation, I felt sorry that our PM thought of the “outdated” bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmadabad. Instead, he should have considered the Hyperloop. Imagine a Hyperloop placed between the four metros of India. This will cut down so much of travel by road, rail and airplanes; reduce the fossil fuel consumption and cut down GHG emissions may be by 10-fold and besides save so much time that people wont know what to do! By deploying this disruptive technology, India’s productivity as well as its sustainability scorecard will drastically improve!

When the man from Hyperloop left, I asked the Professor about his assessment.

“Well Dr Modak, I am thinking differently – something out of the box” Professor said this and lighted his cigar.

“Do you remember the movie Star Trek? It featured a “transporter” – a fictional teleportation machine that “converted” a person or object into an energy pattern (a process called dematerialization), then “beam” it to a target, where it is reconverted into matter (rematerialization)”

“Yes, Professor” I answered. I recalled that Transporter in the Star Trek first appeared in the original pilot episode “The Cage”. The transporter used special effects, using computer animation, and by turning a slow-motion camera upside down and photographing some backlit shiny grains of aluminum powder that were dropped between the camera and a black background. The entire transportation episode looked so mystic!

In August 2008, physicist Michio Kaku predicted in Discovery Channel Magazine that a teleportation device similar to those in Star Trek would be invented within 100 years. But many thought that his speculation was too optimistic. Physics students at University of Leicester calculated that to “beam up” just the genetic information a single human cell would take 4,850 trillion years. A study by Eric Davis for the US Air Force Research Laboratory of speculative teleportation technologies showed that to dematerialize a human body required heating it up to a million times the temperature of the core of the sun. Only then the quarks lose their binding energy and become massless and can be beamed at the speed of light. In the closest physics equivalent to the Star Trek teleportation scenario would require the equivalent of 330 megatons of energy. Further, the information storage and transmission requirements would require current computing capabilities to continue improve by a factor of 10 to 100 times per decade for the next 200 to 300 years. (Taken from Wikipedia on Star Trek)

I was uncomfortable with this information but the Professor continued.

“Imagine Dr Modak, what if we really achieve this kind of transporter technology romanced in the Star Trek. There will then be no vehicles, no trains, no planes – no more consumption of resources like steel, aluminum, plastic and petroleum. No more generation of wastes and emissions, no accidents and no sabotages, no more waste of time. People travel by simply by dematerialization and rematerialization whenever they wish! To me this is the disruptive technology we all should be chasing for – something much more than the Hyperloop!!

I thought the Professor was right. With this technology in place, the world will indeed wheel towards sustainability. But the impact could be so disruptive. I thought of commissioning a study on Environmental, Social and Business Impact Assessment.

“So, what’s your plan Professor?” I asked

Well, I have SMSed Narada Muni (Sage) seeking his consultation.

Some of you may know that in Hindu Mythology, Narada Muni has been described as a global traveller. He travels all over the universe on the sound of his veena ( a string instrument) similar to the transportation technology of Star Trek. The yogis and sages of former times like Narada had what we today call the supernatural powers. When you know the right sounds and chant the appropriate mantras, you can easily create (rematerialize) or dissolve (dematerialize) the matter. The Shruti portion of the Vedas contain mantras for this purpose. For instance, the Bhagavat Purana documents an event, where the brahmanas or the sages killed king Vena by uttering sounds. Mantras are also there to create strong winds and rain or fire. Kardama Muni created an entire mansion in the sky by sound vibrations. That happened in Satya-yuga, several million years ago when the science of uttering mantras were known to the Vedic sages. Obviously, all this only works when the mantra or the sound is pronounced exactly right. That’s why you need to learn this from a living teacher.

I thought getting Sage Narada on board was a good strategy to move towards sustainability. No wonder the Gods and the heavens were never challenged by the sustainability related issues as they used this disruptive technology.

I asked Professor if I could join meeting with Sage Narada.

I thought that by learning this technique, I will solve my problem of getting into the crowded trains of Mumbai every day! Oh, what a great relief it would be! I could just carry a veena and transport myself to office in a whiff!

And this mattered to me much more than Planets sustainability!

Professor was however not so happy with my narrow minded thinking.


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Don’t worry Be Happy

In 1972, King Wangchuck of Bhutan declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” The concept was revolutionary.

In the Kingdom of Bhutan, GNH is captured in the form of a GNH Index. It includes nine domains such as Psychological wellbeing, Health, Education, Time use, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience and Living standards. The nine domains are equally weighted because each domain is considered to be equal in terms of its intrinsic importance as a component of GNH. The domains are supported  by 33 indicators that are measurable.

Taking inspiration from Bhutan, in 2012, the United Nations declared March 20 to be observed as the International Day of Happiness. The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all peoples. Since then many countries have followed the concept and framework on GNH.

The GNH Index  identifies four groups of people – unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy. The analysis explores the happiness people enjoy already, then focuses on how policies help increase happiness and sufficiency among the unhappy and narrowly happy people.

In the last census carried out in 2015  by the Ministry of happiness in Bhutan, 35% of the population answered ’extremely happy’, 47.9% said they felt ’moderately happy’, and only 8.8% of respondents said they were ’unhappy’.

I don’t know the results if we polled on GNH Index in Mumbai today. With all the potholes on the streets, garbage being thrown on the beaches and pollution in the air, 90% of Mumbai’s population will be in the category of “unhappy”. Those “deeply happy” must be 5% consisting politicians, builders and contractors. May be the bureaucrats in Mumbai will fall in the categories of “narrowly happy” and “extensively happy” depending what portfolio is allotted to the “babus” for administration.

In the 2018 edition of the World GNH report, India ranks 133 out of 156 countries. And India’s happiness rank is falling each year. This is disturbing.

When I expressed my concern to my Professor Friend, he was not perturbed. He lit his cigar and said

“We are already addressing the happiness issue. Did you know that Madhya Pradesh is the first State in the country to have a department of happiness to boost the wellbeing of citizens? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government created this department in July 2016 and tasked it to ensure “the happiness and tolerance of its citizens” by creating an “ecosystem that would enable people to realise their own potential of inner wellbeing”. The department is supported by a State Institute of Happiness that is responsible for “developing tools of happiness”, and thousands of “happiness volunteers” who conduct “happiness tutorials and programmes”.

I was aghast to know about this initiative. Professor continued.

“More than 25,000 “happiness volunteers” have signed up and these volunteers will work in the State’s 51 districts, holding “happiness tutorials and programmes”.  Under this programme, week-long Happiness Festivals are organized. These festivals are targeted “to put a smile on every face”. The festivals get people out of homes, bring them together, and make them happy. The aim is to forget the worries of life and enjoy together. The idea is to spread the virtues of “goodness, altruism, forgiveness, humility and peace”.

Wow. I presumed the Government bears all the expenditures on spreading happiness.  But how long such week long festivals will sustain? Besides don’t we have enough of festivals to celebrate already. I wondered whether all this would spawn another bureaucracy of happiness.

“Don’t look at these programmes in a narrow perspective Dr Modak” Professor retorted “After all we need people to have a positive mindset. We will try to achieve this through school lessons, yoga, religious education, moral science, meditation and with help from gurus, social workers and non-profits.

I thought Professor sounded like a Godman.

“And this concept is spreading in other States as well – albeit in different forms”. Professor told me about Happiness Commission that has been set up by the Andhra Pradesh government led by Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. Here the Commission has proposed to create walking tracks for citizens in all the municipalities, development of parks with sitting and jogging spaces, introduce electric buses and CNG auto rickshaws in place of petrol or diesel vehicles and creation of cycling zone in the municipal areas to promote a health living style.

This TDP driven approach focusing on social infrastructure was certainly different from spiritual based masterplan propagated in Madhya Pradesh by the BJP Government.

But I couldn’t understand why such a sudden interest in GNH in India, and especially when we are close to the elections.

Professor said “Dr Modak, I in fact welcome this move. This is the way to convince people that happiness is a “state of mind” and is not necessarily linked to “materialistic essentials and comforts” to our lives. Rich people are often unhappy, and a poor can be a happy person based on the outlook. Once people understand this de-linking between materiality and happiness; they will not resent even if the Government and for that matter previous Government fails to provide the essentials such as Roti (food), Kapada (clothes) and Makan (housing)”

“Oh, so clever, So you don’t need to be accountable to the promises made in the election manifesto “ I exclaimed

“You got it Dr Modak” Professor got up from the chair and extinguished his cigar.

May be one of the slogans in the coming up election is going to be “don’t worry and be happy”.


Madhya Pradesh is one of India’s poorest and most agrarian states, and a severe drought has left it with the country’s third-highest suicide rate among farmers. Madhya Pradesh also suffers from high malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality, and the highest rape incidence in the country.

Three years ago, Bhutanese PM Tshering Tobgay cast doubts on the country’s popular pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH), saying that the concept was overused and masked problems with corruption and low standards of living. In 2013, Venezuela announced a “ministry of happiness”, but it did not stop the country from descending into social and economic chaos. [Taken from BBC News]


Cover image sourced from https://www.quora.com/Why-is-India-ranked-so-low-in-the-world-happiness-index-even-behind-its-sub-continent-neighbors

 

 

 

Plastic Roads

This year India was the host for the celebration of the World Environment Day (WED). The theme of the WED was Beat Plastic Pollution.

Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) was in charge. The WED celebrations were held all over the country and a 4-day conclave was organized  in the Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi with an exhibition.

I bumped into the Mr. Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways during a lunch at the India International Centre. The Minister greeted me and asked “ Dr Modak, how come in Delhi?”.

I told the Minister that I was there to speak at a panel discussion organized by MoEFCC on WED.  I also told him that I have to congratulate the MoEFCC for effectively spending 350 million Indian Rs on WED in just 4 days! What a splendid performance of spending” I said.

Of course, to Mr. Gadkari, such an expenditure was peanuts compared to the billions of Rs that his Ministry is spending on surface transport, essentially building roads. In October 2017, the Indian government announced an investment of 6.9 trillion rupees ($11 billion) to build 83,677km of roads over the next five years.

So, the Minister just smirked on my appreciation of MoEFCC.

He then said in a hushed tone. “Well Dr Modak, MoEFCC only talks. But my ministry delivers. Do you know that the real mover and shaker in addressing the plastic menace in India is the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways? This years WED on plastic should have been celebrated by my Ministry and not by MoEFCC”

I was surprised. All I knew was building good roads was necessary for the ruling party but if built without sensitivity and responsibility then the roads could adversely impact environment and the people.

So, I asked “Minister Sir, What is the connection between roads and plastic?”

“Dr Modak, we use plastic waste in the bitumen while making roads. In 2002, a technology was developed by Rajagopalan Vasudevan, a chemistry professor at Thiagarajan College of Engineering in the southern city of Madurai. It uses finely-shredded plastic waste that is added to heated bitumen”

I later learnt that plastic waste in asphalting can include anything from sweet wrappers to shopping bags except Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC). The mix reduces the quantity of bitumen required by 10 per cent. Further, the Plastic roads were found to be stronger and maintenance-free. These roads could last about three times compared to the conventional road structures.  “All good” I said to myself “Then we should generate more plastic waste to reap all these benefits”.

In November 2015, the Indian government made it mandatory to use waste plastic in building most highways. According to this directive, road developers have to use waste plastic along with hot mixes for constructing bitumen roads within 50 km of periphery of any city that has a population of over 500,000. However, in recently released guidelines for developers, when waste plastic is not available, then the developer has to seek the road transport & highways ministry’s approval for constructing only bitumen roads.

“But Dr Modak, we insist on the use of plastic waste in making roads” said the Minister.

According to a report from World Economic Forum the length of Indian roads using plastic waste now runs for more than 100,000km across 11 States across India. Isn’t that impressive? Indian Road Congress has come up with guidelines on use of waste plastic in hot bitumen mixes

Minister said that using recycled plastic to build roads not only curbs plastic pollution but also creates jobs. The waste pickers collect the plastic litter. This plastic is shredded in machines which are subsidised by the Government. The waste pickers that mostly consist women sell the shredded plastic to the road builders. Tamil Nadu was the first State in India to actively develop a cottage industry around shredded plastic.

“Thus, job creation for waste pickers and business to small entrepreneurs is an added benefit of building plastic roads – You know very well – generating employment is the current focus of our Prime Minister”  Mr Gadkari said. He was absolutely right.

I thought of checking the “downside” of plastic roads. I understood the concern about PVC. Thermal degradation of PVC results in the emissions of harmful gases (like hydrochloride acid). Unfortunately, PVC is virtually indistinguishable from other plastics. Further, heating PP, PS or PE plastics is also not that safe. Studies reveal that heating PP, PE and PS releases moderate to highly toxic emissions consisting  carbon monoxide, acrolein, formic acid, acetone, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, toluene and ethylbenzene. Workers engaged in road-laying are particularly at risk from these emissions. But in Prof Vasudevan’s technology,  shredded plastic is melted with low heat to avoid such emissions.

However there could be unforeseen risks. If the plastic roads get old or are poorly built, then such roads can “leak” plastic fragments into the soil and eventually into waterways as a result of photodegradation. The plastic fragments break down when exposed to environmental factors such as light and heat. These minute (less than 5 mm) plastic particles are called as microplastics.

Remember, that plastics are not merely molecules of carbon and hydrogen. To convert them into daily-use products, chemical additives are added to give them flexibility (softeners and plasticisers), to delay degradation due to heat or sunlight (stabilisers and anti-oxidants), to give them colour, to make them fire proof (flame retardants), to give them body (fillers). The toxicity of most of these chemicals is not known. But the few chemicals that have been studied – like phthalates – a category of chemicals used as softeners, or brominated flame retardants are highly toxic. They can cause birth defects and cancer, and hormonal problems particularly for women. Because they persist in the environment and can build up in the food chain, even seemingly insignificant amounts in the environment can grow to deadly levels in our bodies or in the food we eat. So, the microplastic is certainly not that innocent.

In the past few years, scientists have found microplastics in our soil, tap water (even bottled water), food and even in the air we breathe. And there’s growing concern about the potential health risks they pose to humans, animals and the fish. Burying plastic in roads may not be therefore a solution over long run. Plastic in roads is merely hiding and perhaps ready to escape as microplastic at some stage of the life cycle. But if at all this happens then we don’t know when. Ignorance on this potent risk can be a bliss.  We certainly need more long term and/or field simulated research studies.

But then what is the alternative? Doing nothing could perhaps be more harmful.

One possibility could be to develop plastic-wood (saw dust) composites for the railway sleepers. I was aware of the railway sleepers recently made by Advanced Plastic Recycling in Adelaide, Australia using blend of melted HDPE and the saw dust. This option may be pursued as the scale of application is big to “gobble” the waste plastic in a secured manner.

Of course the priority should be to reduce plastic waste at the source in the first place, but I wasn’t sure how effective would our bans on plastic be given the challenge of behavior change.

I said “Thank you Sir and goodbye” to the Minister.

As a kind gesture, Minister asked his Senior Adviser to reach me to the lobby.

While in the elevator, the Adviser was telling me  “Dr Modak, we are happy that China has come up with “Sword policy” to refuse entry of recyclables – that includes a huge waste stream of plastic. Perhaps, this plastic waste may get diverted to India (legally or illegally) and it will help us build more plastic roads that will cheaper, more effective and last longer ”

I hardly heard him. I was lost in my own thoughts on this apparent plastic paradox.


Every day, nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of recyclables leave US ports bound for China. China sends to the US toys, clothes and electronics, In return, some of America’s largest exports to China are paper, plastic and aluminium. From January 1 of this year China is enforcing its new “National Sword” policy, that is considered as the “Green Fence”. It bans 24 types of solid waste, including various plastics and unsorted mixed papers, and sets a much tougher standard for contamination levels. China is essentially saying that the country would no longer serve as the world’s trash dump. The ban will undoubtedly hurt recycling operators in China that rely on the import of raw materials such as recyclable waste. But it appears that delivering a cleaner China is perhaps paramount to the politicians of the Communist Party.  What is going to be India’s take? Do you think India too should “Green Fence” and pull out its Sword?


Cover image sourced from https://hindi.news18.com/news/madhya-pradesh/indore/indore-to-have-plastic-roads-676142.html


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Pollution and Psychology

Have you come across the field of environmental psychology?

When Professor asked me this question, I was a bit unsure to answer. I knew that interest in environmental psychology exists and several books and research papers have already been written. There are also university based academic programs that let you earn a degree in this subject.

In India however, I had not come across a discussion on this important subject and had not seen professionals engaged in this arena.

Environmental psychology is a field of psychology that deals with the study of effects of environment or surroundings on humans. The study focuses on the human reactions to environments, to gain insight on how change in environment can manipulate people’s feelings, thoughts and possibly actions. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings as well as built environments. Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field.

Every day we are affected in some way by the environments we live, work and recreate. For example, some surroundings may make us feel secure while other may make us feel nervous. Our exposure to the digital data, infographics, videos on the subject of environmental pollution influences our psychology and hence our reactions.

The frequently published Air Quality Indices (AQI) across Indian cities scare many. But compared to the talk on air pollution, we discuss little about the noise pollution. Today, India operates 500 automated noise monitoring stations that record noise on 24×7 basis. This continuous noise data is not shared with the public. So, we are perhaps less sensitive about the status and impact of noise pollution. Due to our festivities and an affinity to make noise, an average Indian seems to be indifferent to the decibels of noise exposed.

On our perception of solid waste, campaigns under Swatch Bharat Abhiyan have made a difference. Increasing fines for not segregating the waste at source and discouraging littering has made us at least conscious about the mounting problem of the waste we generate. We have started hating plastic and are now thinking about the challenge of electronic waste and its disposal. But the issues are not limited to pollution.

I remember Prof Ikeda, one of my Japanese friends, specializing in urban behavior, came to “experience”  crowding in Mumbai. We stood outside the Victoria Terminus Station at 9 am to see the crowd pouring out. Ikeda was comparing this crowd with Tokyo. He was impressed. When we interviewed a few people, we realized that people travelling in the crowded trains were under significant stress. The fist-fight to get inside the compartment, building tenacity to stand and breath till you reach the destination and then applying all the skills and energy to get out at the desired destination was a nightmare to many. Under these situations, when people reached office, their behavior was loaded with anger and frustration  –  but can we blame them?

I must recommend you a book on “Emotive Cartography” edited by Christian Nold.  This book is a collection of essays from artists, psychogeographers, designers, cultural researchers, futurologists and neuroscientists, brought together to explore the political, social and cultural implications of visualizing people’s intimate biometric data and emotions using technology. Case studies are given of different cities of the world showing the map of emotions. The maps are fascinating. Think about the emotion maps of mega cities like Mumbai, Delhi and compare them with medium size cities like Bhopal, Nagpur. Sure they will be different.

But the purpose of an environmental psychologist is not just make people aware of the problem, or understand their emotions towards the environment, but find how to alter a person’s perception, bring in a behavioral change and find ways how a more pleasant environment can be created for everyone. So, we do need trained environmental psychologists.

“But do you think an environmental psychologist will get a job in India?” I asked Professor. Even the techies in environmental science and engineering are not getting employment today and if they get one, they are poorly paid.

Professor lit his cigar

“Well Dr Modak, I agree but I expect that in the course of few years, environmental psychology will be a rather coveted career”

He seemed confident.

He took a deep puff and explained

We need to “expose” the people to the “information” surrounding us so that they understand the invisible or out of sight. For example, we cannot feel radiation arising from the mobile phones and transmission towers but realize the gravity of the issue only when it is too late. We can see smog, especially from a distance, or while the aircraft lands in the city; but  we cannot see the particulate matter. Other problems, such as scraps of plastic floating in the oceans or inside the animals that ingested are visible in principle, but they are “outside” our “normal” view. Visiting a beach that is littered with plastic will make us get disgusted and hence take on action.  Many suggest the public could potentially become motivated if powerful images were carried on everyday products, similar to that already being used on cigarette packaging. But does a chain smoker of cigarettes give up smoking because of these horrific images and warnings? An environmental psychologist will tell.

Second challenge is cognition. We need to explain the causes to impairment to health – one of them being environmental pollution. People may find it difficult to connect pollution with health-related outcomes such as illness especially when pollution is an omnipresent feature of the background. We need well conducted surveys and analyses of data to establish potential cause-effect relationship. Still the cognition could be difficult and debatable. Environmental benefit of unleaded petrol or phasing out to CNG is not easy to understand. We understand the economics more easily. So, an environmental psychologist will tell us how to overcome this challenge.

Finally, we need to help people discover that role can be played as an individual. Some people may understand the perceptual, cognitive, and interventional issues, but simply don’t care. Here it is necessary to link pollution to core values. People often revolt against pollution when the issue is moralized. Moralization, in turn, enables the generation and enforcement of norms, laws, and punishments, as well as rewards. An environmental psychologist will need to take us back to our core values, reminding us of the traditions, beliefs and culture to become more sensitive and responsible towards environment.

The field of environmental psychology is thus committed to the development of a discipline that is both value oriented and problem oriented using the science of human nature.

I was more than convinced with Professors explanation.

Since India now boasts of 14 most air polluted cities out of the top 15 across the world, I asked Professor about what role the subject of environmental psychology can play.

“Oh, Dr Modak, Haven’t you come across the new research that links air pollution to higher levels of crime and other unethical acts? This research was just published in 2018″ Professor said while extinguishing his cigar.

Evidence of a link between pollution and crime has been growing for several years. Findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science indicates that exposure to air pollution, either physically or mentally, is linked with unethical behaviour such as crime and cheating. The experimental findings suggest that this association may be due, at least in part, to increased anxiety. This association was held even after the researchers accounted for other potential factors.

To establish a direct, causal link between the experience of air pollution and unethical behaviour, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in China, United States and India. The results showed that participants who thought about living in a polluted area cheated more often than did those who thought about living in a clean area. The authors conclude that air pollution not only corrupts people’s health, but also can contaminate their morality.

I was simply aghast with this finding.

Clearly, controlling air pollution in Indian cities should be our first priority – at least on this ground!


Cover image sourced from https://blogs.haverford.edu/haverblog/2016/04/11/cool-classes-environmental-psychology-and-conservation/


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In Just a Minute

Professor and I decided to meet in our usual Café for our weekly chat session. We decided to meet at 10 30 am to avoid the office rush.

But still, I was late by a few minutes. Professor was already at the table in the patio. He waved at me.

We ordered for the usual Ethiopian coffee with some ginger biscuits.

Professor looked into his watch and said

“Dr Modak, you are late by five minutes. Do you know what happens to the world in a minute? Have you ever thought about it?

I said, “Professor, nothing much happens in a minute and it takes years to bring in a change. Over the years, I have learnt to be patient when it comes to time. Time changes but not the world”

Professor did not like my attitude. May be I sounded philosophical. He lit his cigar.

“Do you know that every minute  more than 2,000 tons of garbage is generated on this earth? And more than 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a by-product of burning fossil fuels.

In 60 seconds, the world will consume more than 5  million kgs of food. However, during that same minute, the world will also waste about 2  million kgs of food.

UPS in the US alone will deliver 11,319 packages and generate heaps of packaging waste”

I was astonished with such staggering statistics.

“You must have referred to some crazy and sadist antidevelopment NGO I guess. These numbers are not verified and could be fake or just a wild imagination. You must look at the Vikas (development) perspective too. Lot good happens to the world. We must be positive”

I continued to make my point.

“ I am sure in India under the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan more than 35 toilets are built every hour and our Honourable Union Transport Minister Mr Nitin Gadkari is constructing nearly 1.75 kms of road every hour. I can reel more of such numbers as the India’s national elections will come by”

“Oh Dr Modak, every minute is of concern to the sustainability of this planet. You don’t realize. Around 960 million tons of water is evaporated from the surface of the Earth every minute and 2,040 trees are cut down in the rainforest.

“Now it does sound scary Professor” I said this while opening a bottle of mineral water.

“You mentioned about Vikas and Vikas, but do you know that disparity is growing between the rich and the poor by every minute. Bill Gates will make $15,000 in a minute and in the meanwhile, a Nike factory worker in Vietnam will make only 1/10 of a penny.

Companies like Apple make more than 70,000 USD every minute and following closely behind Apple is Samsung, who makes close to $55,000 per minute.”

Professor was right.

I thought how much money Mukesh Ambani must be making in a minute as compared to a worker living in Mumbai’s slums. A friend of mine from Ministry of Health had told me that about 250 babies will be born around the world every minute,  and of those 250, 113 will be born into poverty and 15 will have birth defects.

My mobile phone beeped indicating that a new email had “arrived” in my mail-box. Today Internet has become a part (or shall I say a major part) of human lives. A lot happens in just one minute on the internet. Our virtual life is clearly dominating the real. I feel that instead of a punishment of life imprisonment, the best punishment could be LWI meaning sentencing a Life Without Internet. The LWI will be real torture to the convicted.

Sourced from http://www.visualcapitalist.com/happens-internet-minute-2017/

I thought more about what’s happening to me in a minute.

I realized that blood will circulate through my entire vascular system three times in one minute. Every 60 seconds, I will blink 15 to 20 times. And a hummingbird will flap its wings 4,000 times! There is so much happening then in just a minute!

What if we think about an hour? Wow, every hour will show much more staggering statistics. Studies in Australia have shown that every hour of TV watching shortens life by 22 minutes and every hour, sadly, one student commits suicide in India.

Professor tapped my hand when he saw me lost in the thoughts.

“Your coffee is getting cold Dr Modak. You have already wasted one full minute! Were you meditating?”

I thought I probably was.

No wonder he saw me “doing nothing”. But sometimes doing nothing may also bring good to this world. Do you think it will? I got confused.

I decided to approach Lord Vishnu for his practical advice on this dilemma and refer to his narration  in the Bhagwat Gita. I am sure there must be answers.


Cover image sourced from https://www.kraftvollegebete.de/category/schutzgebete/


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Its Right to Repair

When we think of circularity of material flows, we need to understand “outer” and “inner circle” approaches.

The “outer circle” approach creats a closed loop of materials through recycling. In the case of electronic goods, this means recovering of precious metals lodged in our gadgets, something only feasible with a sophisticated technology, requiring a scale and where large companies profit.

The “inner circle” approach is essentially following route of repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing. It is the inner circle approach where we transform our living from the single-use and throw away culture. When we follow inner circle approach, it helps us to save money, conserve our resources, generate employment and come up with innovations. We extend product’s life cycle through reuse. The inner circle is people centric, it is for citizens and supports small companies.

Unfortunately, the inner circle approach to material circulation does not find much space in both public and scientific discussions. We speak more about recycling or the outer circle approach to achieve circularity. We need both – but former should get a preference.

Repair is restoration of a broken, damaged, or failed device, equipment, part, or property to an acceptable operating or usable condition. Repair can involve replacement. Refurbishing is refinishing and sanitization (beyond repair) to serve the original function with better aesthetics. Repaired and refurbished products, although in good condition, may not be comparable with new or remanufactured products. In remanufacturing, the product is resold with performance and specifications comparable to new products.

How do we know if the repaired, refurbished or remanufactured product is good? Can we certify? The “Remade In Italy” label certifies the use of recycled material / reuse in products. The release of the Remade In Italy ® certification is subject to a verification process by a third-party body (and therefore independent) for the certification of both management and product systems. The Remade in Italy ® label highlights the environmental values ​​of the material / product and is characterized by the assignment of a class, based on the percentage of recycled / reused material present.

I may be wrong, but we don’t have such a certification scheme in India and perhaps in several countries in the world.

Remanufactured or refurbished products can help companies compete at a lower price with cheaper or lower quality competitors, without reducing quality, due to the resource savings realised, allowing firms to secure greater market share. Economic incentives and disincentives as well as enforcement of legislation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) play an important role to move the inner circle.

Recent interest on repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing has led to establishment of reverse logistic chains, i.e. collection and transport systems. Several off the shelf or plugin type technology platforms have evolved such as 12return that help create reverse supply chains from consumers to service providers, operated by “aggregators”.

The repair culture did not have much root in the developed economies due to high costs of labour. Realizing the importance of its promotion however, countries in the European Union (EU) have come up with incentives. In Sweden, a tax-refund scheme operates that on the labour segment of household repair bills for white goods and electronics. On similar lines, in Austria, there is a proposal to make repair cheaper by reimbursement of 50% of the labour costs of repair. In France, there are differentiated EPR scheme fees depending on how easily you can dismantle a product for repair, on the availability of spare parts or on whether the information/instructions on how to repair a product are available. These fees are lowered for producers who inform consumers how long spare parts will be available for the product on purchase.

In the United States (US), eighteen States have proposed “Right to Repair” legislation. The Right to Repair bill will make easier for people to repair their broken electronic equipment—like cell phones, computers, appliances, cameras, and even tractors. The legislation would require manufacturers to release repair information to the public and sell spare parts to owners and independent repair shops. It is going to be however a bumpy ride as giants like Apple and Microsoft are gearing up to oppose this legislation in at least one State.

But how do we scale up and build capacities? Restart Project – a London-based social enterprise – encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer in order to save money and reduce waste. Restart helps people learn to repair their own electronics in community events (parties) and in workplaces and speak publicly about repair and product resilience. Today, Restart is working with 54 people in 10 countries who are planning on replicating and adapting the Restart model.

Conceived as a way to help people reduce waste, social entrepreneur Martine Postma organized the first Repair Café in October 2009 in Amsterdam. Its success prompted her to start the Repair Café Foundation in 2011. Since then, this non-profit organization has helped local groups start their own Repair Cafés. Today, there are more than 1,400 such cafés in 33 countries, from the US to Japan. According to the foundation’s 2016 annual report, repairing prevented about 250,000kg of waste from heading to landfills.

Repair Cafe

Antara Mukherji, co-founded Repair Café Bengaluru in November 2015 with Purna Sarkar. Since its inception, Repair Café Bengaluru has organized 19 workshops where adults pay a programme fee and learn how to repair household things ranging from an iron to an induction top. The organization says it has repaired more than 700 products and saved about 1,300kg of waste from ending up in landfills.

But in India, across the country, there are repair shops that can fix anything and everything. In Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti area, Javed Husain Khan repairs and sells old Swiss watches, from Favre-Leuba to Rolex; Nehru Place in Delhi thrives on the economics of repair; brothers Muhammad Moinuddin and Muhammad Mujeebuddin claim their 80-year-old shop in Chatta Bazaar Road in Hyderabad’s Old City is the ultimate repair destination for vintage radios, record players and cassette decks—the list goes on. Chor Bazars or Thieves market are hubs of innovation when it comes to repair, refurbish and remanufacturing.

The skill of repairing, refurbishing and remanufacturing is dying slowly. Repairing is often considered as a vocation for the uneducated/underprivileged or a mere hobby.  In large cities, you would not see repairwalas going from street to street, offering to fix broken items. We now have web-based repair services – but these companies need to quantify, record and communicate the environmental and social benefits, Enterprises in the developed countries know very well how to do so and hence get cited in the international news, conferences and the like! We need a research group in India to take on such a project.

I spoke to my Professor friend about the importance of inner circle approach especially the repair, refurbish and remanufacturing. “There is too much emphasis or hype on recycling alone and most think that circular economy means recycling” I said.

Professor was busy repairing his bicycle. He looked up to me and said “You are right Dr Modak, repair for reuse is the right thing to do. And we need product designs that are repair friendly. We should frame  incentives and disincentives. We also need recycled product standards, smart reverse logistics and schemes on skill building. The inner circle will then operate on a scale it deserves and will resonate well with the outer circle approaches”

I couldn’t disagree.

Professor continued while handling a spanner and fixing a bolt “But to me Dr Modak, our engineering curriculums must include a course on repair, refurbish and remanufacturing with a workshop. It will help the students to look for alternatives, think out of the box and innovate”. We should leverage on India’s Make in India, Zero defect and Skill India programs.

He then smiled and said “Don’t you know that repairing with your own hands reduces the risk of Alzheimer? –I spend half of my Sunday every week repairing something or other. It sharpens my brain and improves my reflexes”

I thought that Professor was absolutely “Right”. That was yet another benefit in the asking for “Right to Repair”!


Cover image sourced from https://www.keeprite.com/en/us/buying-guide/repair-or-replace/


Useful reading

Promoting Remanufacturing, Refurbishment, Repair, and Direct Reuse

Indian examples with text sourced from

Year-End Special: Repair economy 2.0 by Gayatri Jayaraman and Year-End Special: The ministry of broken things

I will highly recommend that you see these references


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Mumbai – Worlds First Truly Sustainable City

[This is my last post of 2017. A very happy and healthy new year for all my blog readers and followers]


I woke up in the morning of the New Year.

I decided to go for a walk around the Shivaji Park. At the entrance of the Park, I saw an electronic display of the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI was less than 100. The message that was scrolling below was “Good Morning – Its Safe to Go for a Walk”

I was delighted. “Oh, things are improving” I said to myself.

When I returned home, I saw my neighbor washing his car in the porch. “Hi Dr Modak, enjoyed your walk?”   He beamed. I nodded. I noticed that he was washing his car using the water collected from the rainwater harvesting tank.

I saw my neighbor opposite. He was working on the composting unit that was recently installed in the housing society. It looked like that waste segregation at the households was really happening and the compost produced was used for gardening. He waved at me. His face was glowing with expression of sustainability.

“Oh, people have become so conscious” I said to myself.

I got ready. My driver had arrived. As we drove to the Bandra Kurla Complex where my office is located, I saw less traffic on the street. The headline in the Newspaper was “Mumbaikars shifting to public transport. Many commuters now prefer AC Railway coaches instead of driving their own cars”

“Oh, something that we always wanted to” I said to myself.

When I got down at my office, I saw four of my colleagues getting out of a taxi. One of the them smiled at me and said that they have decided to go for car pooling every day to cut down emissions, reduce consumption of fuel and in addition save costs. Plus, they chatted on current topics during the journey and updated each other. This was overwhelming.

When I reached my desk, my secretary walked in with an “offer envelop”. “Dr Modak, you have an offer to go for an electric car with a 30% discount on down-payment”. I asked what happens to my present car. “Your old car will be bought at a handsome price and then taken to “Auto-Recycling” unit to extract all the reusable components and important resources like metal, plastic etc.”  She read out from the flyer. This was a rather tempting offer for a “phase out”, both from economic, social and environmental point of view. “Connect me to the dealer please” I asked my secretary.

“This is circular economy in action” I said to myself.

I went to the conference room for the morning meeting. I didn’t see the usual plastic drinking water bottles. These bottles were replaced by reusable mugs that carried filtered and disinfected water from a common unit. I was impressed.

My colleague from HR told us that soon water will be served directly as is from the taps. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is about to step up the treatment at the Bhandup Water Treatment Plant, arrest leakages and eliminate cross contamination of water during transmission and distribution. Idea was to ensure that water we get at the taps is as good as mineral water as MCGMs responsibility. Clearly, the domestic water purifier industry was going to be in trouble”

“Wow, this upstream thinking of MCGM deserves a big applause” I said to myself.

In the afternoon, we had a meeting at the Secretariat, where the Ministers and the powerful bureaucrats sit. The building was under renovation. The Board outside stated that the building is in transition to green.  It will run on solar energy, have water efficient plumbing fixtures, more natural ventilation to reduce consumption of energy due to air conditioners and practice greywater recycling etc. The Government had put a directive that all State-owned buildings will become green and no new housing and infrastructure development will be permitted unless it is green.

“Oh, something that we always wanted to see” I said to myself “Government must demonstrate commitment at its end first and then preach to others”

The meeting at the Secretariat was to discuss policy on telecommuting – where people will work from home for one day a week. Mumbai was considered as a pilot. The Secretary said that this will help reduce congestion on the street and so the emissions. It will also help improve the work life balance. The Minister thought that the latter will be a political advantage.

“This is simply revolutionary – better than the odd-even strategy tried in Delhi” I said to myself. I was always longing to see some afternoon TV shows that I couldn’t due to all 5 working days.

My wife had asked me to go a supermarket and buy some stuff for the house. So, I went to a food mall at the Phoenix High Street.

When I entered the Food Mall, an escort accompanied me to guide in shopping. She was a dietician and nutrition expert. We spoke. This won’t cost you any extra – its our complementary service” She said.

“We stock only organic and eco-labelled food Dr Modak. No oily, frozen or curated stuff. Nothing based on GMOs. I will help you chose the food that is best for you” She smiled with dimples. She packed my goods in a cloth bag that was made from fabric waste and stitched by underprivileged women (that’s what was written on the bag). “No plastic bag Dr Modak” She said apologetically,

When I came out of the food mall with this “healthy” experience, I saw that the chains like McDonalds, KFC etc. had completely changed their menu and no more junk food was available. The outlets like barista and Café Coffee Day were replaced by Mini-Gyms, Yoga Centers and Meditation rooms. The caffeine in the air was missing.

“Oh, this is unbelievable. People have become so concerned about food they eat and have realized the importance of workouts and meditation. This city is changing its culture” I said to myself.

When returning home, I saw several other innovations.  For instance, booths for collecting used electronics such as junk mobile phones and used household batteries were seen outside the movie theaters. These booths were sponsored by electronic giants like Samsung, Apple, Panasonic, Nippon and Sony. The electronic waste thus collected was sent for refurbishing and remanufacturing and discount coupons were issued as a token of appreciation.

“The business organizations in this city seems to be on a sustainability mission” I said to myself.

We were crossing the Dadar Railway station by then. I saw a huge crowd inside and outside the railway station. The crowd was rising, heaving and swaying like you see in a political rally.

We were stuck for a while in negotiating with the traffic jam. I asked a gentleman on the street the reason. This gentleman turned out to be “breaking news communicator” to the news channel Times Now.

He said “Well, these people are leaving the Mumbai city. They are simply unable to adjust with all the good things happening around. They prefer to rather settle somewhere else where they can lead a normal life that they are used to. We expect to lose at least 30% of people in 2018 in such an out-migration and many more may move out”

“That’s terrible. Don’t we want Mumbai to be the first sustainable city in the world? We have to work on convincing these people and introduce the benefits of sustainable living” I said – this time aloud and not to myself

The man from Times Now gave me a mischievous smile

“Well, don’t you think the city will be sustainable by itself when such people will choose to leave?”

I thought “He was quite right”. This time I said this to myself


Photo credit:

http://www.rediff.com/getahead/report/travel-come-fall-in-love-with-mumbai/20170331.htm


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