Dinner at the Masala Craft and Bade Miya

Last week, I decided to call my friends over a dinner at the Taj in Mumbai to celebrate by two years of extended life after the Angioplasty.

The Taj Mahal Palace & Taj Mahal Tower are a striking blend of nostalgic elegance, rich history and modern facilities.

Masala Kraft is the specialty Indian restaurant at the Taj Mahal Palace. The cuisine uses ground spices and traditional recipes with a blend of culinary innovations. Masala Kraft features an array of menus including the Masala Mumbai Tiffin.

I booked a large table where we could accommodate 8 of my Page 3 friends. Everyone arrived in time, well dressed and perfumed.

“Good choice of the restaurant”, my friend who lives on the Nepean sea road said, placing the napkin on the lap

Friend from the Italian Consulate asked for a wine list. After some discussions with the waiter (sounded in Italian) she ordered a bottle of Barbera. This versatile wine of Italian origin but now widely produced in California is not as popular as Merlot. But it contains very high levels of resveratrol and offers similar health benefits, according to a comparative study. The grapes used seem to contain very high quantities of another phenolic antioxidant called trans-piceatannol.

“I am ordering red Barbera, in case you are tempted to. Research does suggest that red wine could help in blocking the formation of fat cells. This is because of the presence of compounds called Flavonoids in red wine, which inhibit the oxidation of LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) otherwise known as bad cholesterol. Flavonoids are plant compounds called polyphenolic antioxidants that come from the seeds and skin of grapes. But I would not recommend as the evidence on the benefit of red wine to the heart is not still conclusive and the debate is ongoing”. She asked the waiter not to place wine glass on my table. “Have a ganne ka ras (sugarcane juice) instead”. She sounded a bit apologetic.

“Come on – not for Dr Modak, my Dr friend from Jaslok Hospital said. “His HbA1C level is already at 7.5 and he needs to stop eating anything with sugar”.

The term HbA1c refers to glycated hemoglobin. By measuring glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), clinicians are able to get an overall picture of what our average blood sugar levels have been over a period of weeks/months. For people with diabetes, like me, this is important as the higher the HbA1c, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications. To be good, you should be close to 6.

“Let us examine the Menu” said my doctor friend putting on the glasses on as if he is reading a pathology report. He turned the pages of the Menu and hit straight on the Healthy menu page. “For you, I will recommend one of the mains from here” He said. I looked at the Healthy menu and thought that these mains were not interesting.

“Well, I am going to start with Kombadichi Kadi (a rustic chicken curry with coconut). My cholesterol is good – so no worries”  said the Pathologist.

I felt envious but realized that all my friends were seriously taking care of my health. They sounded really concerned.

I said” Let me then order the Masala Mumbai Tiffin – Veg version. It looks tempting”

“Oh No, Dr Modak, that’s not good for you. The tiffin starts with Farasan(made out of chickpea flour – fried and crispy) and ends with Shrikhand (fermented reduced milk with sugar)! Terrible for you given your health condition” Said my friend who is regular at the Mumbai Marathons. “Instead I will recommend that you take a soup like Tomato and Santre ka Shorba (Tomato soup with Orange) that is healthy and will fill your stomach. For me, I am asking for Laknavi Seekh (coarse lamb mince skewered kababs from Lucknow)”

My mouth was watering when he spoke about the kababs. I took a deep breath and sighed.

“This kind of soup is no good for you Dr” said my friend from Times Now in a tone that as if it was a breaking news. These folks put a lot of salt (unknowingly) and that can upset your salt balance. Its OK for people like us – but certainly not for you. I wouldn’t recommend”. I could see that he probably had a bad experience of having such soups in the past.

“Ok then why don’t I hit straight to the main and ask for Lasooni Palak (spinach tampered with garlic) with a combination of two phulkas (puffed Indian bread with home ground wheat)” I fought back.

“Good choice, garlic is good for the heart and Palak contains iron and helps in raising the hemoglobin” My friend who runs a Yoga clinic at the Lokhandwala complex said.

“Well, in that case I will ask you to eat only Lassoni Palak without any phulka. Wheat contains gluten and that’s not good for you” said my friend who just arrived from the United States after a long stay of 30 years. “We are sharing a Masala Craft Paraat Pulao with Jheenga (curry layered with aromatic basmati rice with prawns)” He said this in an American accent and looked at his wife who readily nodded. I felt jealous

“Perhaps it may good if you have just have two pieces of Nachni Phulka (puffed Indian bread made with red millet) with matki dahi (yogurt in a clay pot). The person who least spoke all this time now said. I think he retired from Indian Administrative Service (IAS). These folks generally speak the last or have the last word.

“I won’t recommend this option Dr Modak, this means you will only have 600 calories. Not good given your total recommended intake of 1800 . You must not starve”. My friend who was regular at the Gold Gym on Linking Road retorted.  “Well in my case I am going to order hot Gulab Jamun Yogurt (dumplings of reduced milk soaked and baked with sweetened yogurt). By the way, I work out over 2 hours every day”

Wow, I realized that all my friends were going to have a great time at the Masala Craft (at my cost) and me, the host, was going to be starved.

To end this ping pong of advices, I asked for Kashmiri Khahwa tea (a blend of green tea leaves with saffron strands with cinnamon barks and a cardamom pod), saying that I actually have an upset stomach. This led to some more discussion.

“You can have two full cups Dr. Its very healthy” My friend with Italian embassy said in a comforting tone while sipping the red Barbera.

When we ended our dinner, I said good bye, thank you and good night to all my friends. When I was sure that everybody had left, I walked to Bade Miya behind the Taj that serves delicious street food. After reading some adverse Trip Advisor reports on the poor hygiene in company of stray dogs, I had avoided visiting this otherwise famous place. But today, I was desperate.

Mohmed Gaus, the co-owner greeted me “Dr Modak, long time no see! We thought we lost you!!”. He yelled at the boy and said “Please get our esteemed guest, a plate of Seekh Kebabs, Butter Chicken and two Roomali Rotis – the usual”

“It’s not unhealthy for me I suppose?” I asked Mohmed.

He smiled and said “So far you enjoy eating Dr Modak. Life is too short to live”

Was he right?

I thought of asking my well-wishers when we would meet next

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Not Just Walk in the Park


I live right next to the famous Shivaji-Park in Mumbai. I go for a walk to the Park every day in the early morning.  I take two rounds that takes a good 45 minutes. I walk at my own pace.

Generally, most people simply walk, they don’t seem to look around or listen. To most it’s a “ritual” to be performed as asked by the doctors or by the wife.

I walk with music in my ears. I have a good collection of albums on my iPhone. I generally listen to the oldies of the period between 70s and 80s. Dire Straits, Beatles, Kenny Rodgers, Elton John, Eagles and the like. This reminds me of my Hostel 7 days at IIT Bombay and I feel nostalgic.  Sometimes I put on the option of “shuffle”. This gives pleasant surprises like suddenly encountering your “old flame”.

I see almost the same people who walk like me every day. Some are friends and some total “strangers” but yet “familiar”. When I see someone familiar, we smile and wave hands – probably just to acknowledge.  This kind of “acknowledgement” makes you feel good. You feel “connected” to the world as somebody not known notices you!

I see some folks walking vigorously. These are serious walkers who wear straps on their wrists to monitor the steps taken, time elapsed, calories burnt and record the blood pressure. Some run in a group at the outer periphery of the Park. Generally, the “instructor” leads the “convoy” with a strap on the forehead. Watching them run, makes me feel energetic.

People who walk with my pace are not many.  I guess they must be having couple of stents like me and so not racing their heart beats. We are the cautious walkers.

Some walkers wear fancy or expensive Tee Shirts with funny slogans or punch lines. Some wear University Tee Shirts to flout. Like University of California Berkeley, Columbia University etc. You can make out that these folks have come for 2 weeks’ holiday in India mainly to meet their aging parents. They wear high quality shoes that I feel jealous about.

Shivaji Park has two well-known temples – one of Lord Ganesha (known as Udyan Ganesha) and other of Goddess Kali. These two temples are next to each other. Most walkers take a detour and stop to pray and receive the “blessings”. I too stop at the temples every day. Sometimes I hit the timing of the “Aarati” (chanting of prayers with lights) and you feel nice.

Then there are folks who sell freshly prepared herbal juices and sometimes healthy snacks (like sprouts and hot idlies). I see many of the walkers flocking there on a routine basis. For the comfort and confidence to the customers, they use mineral water in preparing the Juices.

If you want to learn about news that does not appear in the morning newspaper, then it is a good idea to sit on the “katta” next to the primary school of Balmohan Vidyamandir. A rather special crowd sits there. Here you get to listen to all the “secret” news, rumors that you could trust and some bold and independent opinions. Most of these folks who speak are ex-Government (generally the Head clerks), Bankers (mostly cashiers) or people whose kids are settled in the United States and have left them all alone in Mumbai.


Shivaji Park Katta

I admire walkers who have disability due to a paralytic stroke or a polio from birth. These people despite all the difficulties take rounds every day. They almost crawl sometimes but continue to walk with a determination. Watching them makes me feel strong that nothing is impossible.

There are young couples who walk together every day. They talk when they walk. They look like the Double Income Category. I feel that this is the only time they must be getting to chat and in privacy especially if they live in a joint family.

Few walkers come with their dogs. Some dogs go wild when they come across each other (as if one belongs to the BJP and other Congress). They  put their “masters” in great difficulty to control, tame or convince and stop barking (fighting).

Then there are walkers who are on their mobile phones all the time. Every 100 steps they complete, they receive a phone call that they cannot resist. I see them stop under a tree and get into animated conversations. I pity such people.

At some locations around the Park, we see the “malishwalas” (people offering oil massage). Many walkers with big bellies sit on a wooden bench enjoying the oil massage on their calves and knees. I see them siting in a trans or a bliss.

Each walker has a unique style of walking and I try to “read” them to identify the “bird” or “animal” behind them. If I forget carrying my iPhone, then such experiments with the science of “phrenology” keep me entertained during my two rounds.

There is a small garden in the Park called as “Aji-Ajoba” (means park for the grandparents). I see there people above the age of 60 years sitting inside. They read newspapers and have a hot cup of masala tea courtesy a sponsor. I now fit in this category but I haven’t yet ventured getting inside the Park. I don’t want others to know that I have now crossed the age of sixty. But one day sure I will.

Just last month, I came across a girl in the late twenties wearing a smart sports attire – a hood Tee shirt and three fourths shorts.  She looked athletic and walked or ran at a pace three times of mine. Watching her move in a rhythm with hair bouncing made me feel healthy.


While crossing me over in one of the rounds one day, I saw that her handkerchief fell  down from her pocket. She didn’t even realize that this had happened. I picked up the handkerchief as I was trailing behind.

When I saw her in the next round, I waived and stopped her. “Your handkerchief” I said while handlng over.

“Oh” She said “Thank you Uncle” (When she called me an Uncle it simply “bled” my heart). I said “my pleasure” (or I muttered something to this effect)

After that “encounter”, she started acknowledging me whenever we crossed each other during my  walk. Sometimes she would only smile or sometimes she would wave. I used to look forward to seeing her (like in the movie the Joggers Park) and feel terrible if I missed her due to wrong timing…

One day, I saw her sit on a wooden bench under a tree tying lace of her shoes. She waived and stopped me. “How are you Uncle today?” she asked. We got into a brief conversation.

She told me that she works as a System Analyst for Tata Consulting Services. “Such a drab job” she said.

I told her about the work I do. She looked very excited when she learnt that I work in the field of environment.   “Wow, Uncle, this must be really a fantastic field to work. I wish I could” She sighed. I thought she was pretty serious.

As she was ready to get up and resume her jogging, she looked at the tree above and asked me “Uncle, what tree is this by the way?” I had never expected this question.

I  realized I knew nothing about that tree although I crossed over every day.  But I didn’t want to show my ignorance. “It’s an uncommon variety of a mango like tree” I said this in a casual tone and in ambiguity like a politician. “Oh, I didn’t know that there were Mango trees in the Shivaji Park” The girl said this to me with all the innocence but a face – rather mischievous ”. She got back to her jogging.

I felt miserable. I was sure that the girl was sharp enough to see how “hollow” I was when it came to understanding the “basics”.

I decided to get a friend who knew how to recognize the trees and walk with him for a good round in the Shivaji-Park.

A thought came to my mind – how many walkers and environmentalists know enough about the ecosystem around the Park they walk every day? Do we ever bother?

I guess we shouldn’t be just taking a walk in the Park. We should be looking around, and observing the trees- and sometimes even stopping to listen to the chirping of the birds.

I conceived a program captioned “Not Just a Walk in the Park” (NJWIP) in 2006 to give people a new perspective on the urban parks they  visit and teach them more about the natural environment by conducting sessions packed with fun, interactive activities. The first such program was conducted at the Kamla Nehru Park in Pune, India

NJWIP is designed in a manner where the participants get introduced to each component of the park ecosystem including the soil, plants, trees, flowers, birds, insects, butterflies and so on. The hope is that they understand their role as individuals as also the role of the community to act in terms of conservation of this precious yet undervalued resource.

Objectives of NJWIP are

  • Bring citizens out of their technological world closer to Nature: specifically, Trees & Urban Biodiversity.
  • Help participants learn about different species of trees, their importance and the significant role trees play in our lives.
  • Help citizens understand their individual role as well as the role of community action for conservation of this precious and undervalued resource.

My not for profit organization Ekonnect has conducted five such events in three different parks of Pune city in which more than 100 children from various schools and institutions of Pune have participated. We trained Teachers from 22 schools and provided them NJWIP kits.

With an aim of bringing people closer to nature in Mumbai, NJWIP was held at Pramod Mahajan Park, Dadar on 13th March 2016 from 7:00 am to 9:30 am. Click here to read the Mumbai report of NJWIP

Would you like us to guide you or help conduct NJWIP in a Park nearby to where you live? Contact my colleagues Disha Mahajan and Sonal Alvares and we will be most happy to connect with you.

Do get involved in  NJWIP and you won’t get embarrassed like me when questioned by a girl you admire!


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Games of Tomorrow – Play them Now!


My Professor Friend was asking “Dr Modak, have you recently played any of the computer games on your iPad or iPhone lately?”

“Well Professor, I am not that game type person” I responded – disappointing the Professor.

“You must have tried the Angry Birds at least” Professor asked. “And you must have played Flight Simulator for sure”. When he saw my face blank with no response, he was simply amazed. “Oh almost everyone who owns an iPhone or iPad know these games. You will see people playing these games when the flights are delayed or when they are in the aircraft or when they are trying to reach their destinations on arrival and are stuck with a traffic jam”

I said I don’t fly that much and if I fly then I don’t take Jet Airways where flights are often delayed (while paying a premium price) or I don’t  go to Delhi where time taken from airport to Noida is more than the flying time between Mumbai to New Delhi.

Professor was not amused with my explanation. He continued

“My friend’s son has opened up a Game Parlor at Shivaji Park. Today is the inaugural. Why don’t you join me and take a look at some of the latest games he is offering, be at least a game-literate

I was reluctant but agreed when Professor told me that Preity Zinta is inaugurating the Games Parlor. She has been rather out of the games lately (I mean IPL) for various reasons. I like Preity Zinta and her acting

Vikram, Professors friend’s son greeted us at the entrance of the Parlor that had a neon sign “Games of Tomorrow – Play Today!” The Parlor was really well designed with hi-tech consoles fitted with gadgets such as peddles, wheels, levers, gears, track balls and the like. It gave a feeling of the future or the outer space. All consoles were occupied by the guests who had come for the inaugural. There was a lot of noise around, gurrs.. & blips !! & poops ?? from the machines; yelling and screaming dotted by shouts like “Oh Shit”, “You Smuck”, “I Got you” etc. Vikram asked me to “tour around” and see the kind of games that were being played. I had to weed through the people who were watching and waiting for their turns. I noticed some NSG or commandos. They were at the Parlor in disguise as apparently games of tomorrow had a potential to become a source of inspiration to the amateur terrorists. The NSGs had a special console with games of different kind.

I saw on the first gaming console, a friend who works as the Head (Environment) of a major Chemical industry operating in Vapi Industrial Estate.

“Hey, Patel bhai”, I tapped on his shoulder and asked “what’s the game you are playing?”

“Oh Dr Modak, didn’t know you are here. I am playing a simply fascinating game” Patel exclaimed. I saw that the screen of Patel’s console showed a complicated maze of streets with buildings, nallahs or drains, open spaces etc.  with a huge tanker and several blue colored little wagons racing around.

Patel turned around and explained “Look, I am here with a tanker full of hazardous waste and my job is to dump this waste illegally at some place without getting caught by the environmental crimes department or get under the scanner of the CCTVs placed at locations unknown. See these blue colored police vans chasing me all over? The game allows me to jump the traffic signals, take one way streets in any direction, hide under a flyover, cross speed limits and even clone as an ambulance (but allowed only twice). My objective is to dump the hazardous waste somehow and if I can do this within the time allotted (10 minutes) without getting caught or confronted then I win!! “Patel winked and said “Real case isn’t it?” I couldn’t disagree.  Vikram told me later that this game (called “Run to dump”) was going to be one of the most popular games in the Parlor.

I moved ahead and found another friend on the gaming console who was doing a great business with municipal corporations on solid waste. “Hey, Reddy – Dr Modak here. How come you are here and what kind of game are you playing?” I asked Reddy who was fully concentrating on the screen with his hands firmly on the track ball. He did not even turn around to talk to me

He screamed (as there was already too much of noise) “Dr Modak, This game is called “Dig for the Gold”. See these waste heaps on the screen? You have a vehicle to reach these waste heaps and are given “tools” to dig (amount of waste you can scoop at one time) and extract any “gold” that you may get to make money. To illustrate, Reddy reached a waste heap, “applied” his extraction tool that could mine 1 ton of waste. In return, he got only the muck and not the gold. Reddy  then attempted second time a scoop of 3 tons and in this attempt managed 1 kg of gold. He got points or was rewarded raising his score

” Oh, why don’t you scoop 10 tons at a time then you will have more chance to get gold?” I asked a stupid question. Reddy laughed and said, “Well you try scooping more then you have to pay more (you lose points) plus  you have to pay for the muck as well as the “tipping fee”.  If you scoop less then you have less chances of such liabilities but then you may not get that much of gold – so it’s more like risk taking – something I do in my real life!” I understood the complexity of the game now. “Are there any levels in this game” I asked. This question was answered by Vikram. He said that higher levels of this game present you more number of waste heaps, shorter time and with more complex composition of metals like aluminum. “This game must be making folks real waste-hungry, I guess” I mused. You would like to see waste heaps everywhere as an opportunity. I was convinced that people who will become master of this game will certainly hate Swatch Bharat Abhiyan 

I saw many such novel games or games of the future running on other consoles. There was a new SIMS Version for managing flash floods in a city due to climate change and a new version of the Farming Simulator was around where it was found that spurious pesticides were used contaminated with metals in farming. All these games were very challenging and looked pretty real to prepare us for tomorrow.

In this while, the Professor was looking for me as Preity Zinta had arrived. She was asked to inaugurate one of the latest games called “Water Wars”. She inaugurated the game by pressing the “start” key. (I don’t know how many of you know but Preity Zinta did something commendable for drought-hit villages in Nashik during the IPL matches by funding a new well in Nirhale-Phattepur. Apart from providing water to the village via water tankers, Preity put in a lot of efforts to address the village water scarcity. So I thought that she was the right person to be asked to inaugurate the game “Water Wars”. She seemed like an actor who “acts”)

This game was to be played by two people at the same time. On the screen was an interstate river crossing two States (I thought the river was Cauvery but Vikram vehemently denied). There was a menu of options for water use or for water withdrawal for a player to exercise in the interest of the State the “player” belonged. The flow and quality of the river would change whenever a choice was made affecting the State downstream. In the gaming period of 10 minutes, a player could take a maximum of 10 decisions, but sequentially. (I thought that this was not a good idea – fundamentally!)

The underlying “model” of the game must be real complex (and I could see Professor’s hand there) as it accounted for variations in the rainfall. It had the “groundwater connection”, it factored the impact of cropping patterns, accounted for drinking, cattle and industrial water requirements. River use for waste assimilation and impact on river biodiversity were also addressed.

The player in the upstream of the river was making life miserable for the player downstream who was expected to use “coping tools”, political response and take support of the judiciary for fairness and justice. The judiciary in some cases would stop the player upstream and “penalize” for the unfair decision and lower the score. This “water war” would thus continue and at the end of the 10 minutes, winner would be the player who will meet interest (economic, social and environmental) of both the States in an amicable manner.

As we watched the game, we realized that this was not going to be true. Both the players were doing their best to meet their own State’s interest and kept exploiting the river in a manner that seemed reckless.

When nine minutes crossed and the last option or decision was to be exercised by the player upstream, a loud and screechy sound came from the console and the screen started blinking like a malfunctioned traffic light. Everybody was stunned as game had halted.

“Oh my mistake” Professor said sheepishly. “I never thought that in the gaming process there will be a situation of no water in the Cauvery – I will need to refix my simulation model Vikram”

So the beans got spilled. It was indeed the river Cauvery.

But was this only a game or a reality? I said to myself after getting an autograph from Preity Zinta.

I got home with a membership form for the Parlor that Vikram tucked in my pocket

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The Intersections


1990s was an era where many leading institutions across the world were interested to launch programs where interests of business/profitability could be integrated with the protection of the environment/sustainability. These institutions perhaps realized that unless such an integration was pitched, there was not going to be much interest or “buy in” by the business.

UNEP’s Cleaner Production was one such “smart” Program. The concept of Cleaner Production was established by the UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) in Paris.

I feel excited even today that I was part of that small team of “experts” who worked together in one of the late evenings at the office of DTIE and coined the term Cleaner Production. Jaqueline Alosi Larderel was the director then and Donald (Don) Huisingh (who was a Professor at the Lund University) was the Facilitator. We were struggling and attempted several options of shall I say the “word play” and the “terms and definitions” to arrive finally at “What is Cleaner Production?”

We defined Cleaner Production as: “The continuous application of an integrated environmental strategy to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment”. This definition was pretty deep yet expansive.

I recall that after the term and definition was sorted out, we walked near Rue Saint-James to a small Lebanese restaurant (Fleur de cèdrerun? I don’t exactly recollect the name now) that was run by two brothers (one used to cook and other used to play keyboard) and had a three hour long dinner and wonderful conversations. Cleaner Production was born.

I spent nearly 15 years later in the area of Cleaner Production. In 2002 I prepared the Global Status Report on Cleaner Production for UNEP DTIE , later a multimedia CDROM “Cleaner Production Companion” and Training & Guidance Manuals how to set up and operate National Cleaner Production Centers, amongst other publications.

In 1992, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) came with the concept of Eco-Efficiency. The concept was based on creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution. Eco-efficiency was measured as the ratio between the (added) values of what has been produced (e.g. GDP) and the (added) environment impacts of the product or service (e.g. SO2 emissions).  WBSCD in its 1992 publication “Changing Course,” introduced this term and at the 1992 Earth Summit, eco-efficiency was endorsed as a new business concept and means for companies to implement Agenda 21 in the private sector. The term has become synonymous today with a management philosophy geared towards sustainability and combining ecological and economic efficiency.

I was one of the contributors to the book Changing Course  courtesy my good friend Nick Robbins and was involved in the discussions on Eco-efficiency. I could therefore see the “intersections”. Both Cleaner Production and Eco-Efficiency had origins primarily from the experience of countries in the European Union. In the United States, the term Pollution Prevention prevailed.

In 1994, Yuji Yamada of Asian Productivity Organization (APO) approached me. “Dr Modak, APO has been in the productivity business for long and we recognize the importance of integrating productivity and environment as “Green Productivity” but we don’t have a definition. Can you help? Please come as a resource person to a workshop of experts I am organizing in Taipei”

I asked Yamada-san, why do you want a yet another term? Go ahead use terms like Cleaner Production or Eco-efficiency. Yamada-san said “This won’t work. We need our own definition”

So I joined Yamada-san in Taipei. Over a two days of deliberation we came up with a definition of Green Productivity. Green Productivity was defined as a strategy for enhancing productivity and environmental performance for overall socio-economic development. Green Productivity was considered as the application of appropriate productivity and environmental management policies, tools, techniques, and technologies in order to reduce the environmental impact of an organization’s activities.

In 2006, I wrote for the APO the Green Productivity Training Manual. My association with APO continues even today. I attempted to bring UNEP DTIE and APO together and we did few common meetings/conferences but the real harmonization was impossible to achieve in the Program operations. The industry used to be confused “Are you referring to CP (Cleaner Production) or GP (Green Productivity). A pity isn’t it? And as if this confusion was not enough we now have another term – Resource Efficient Cleaner Production (RECP). UNEP along with UNIDO defined RECP as continuous application of preventive environmental strategies to processes, products, and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment. RECP works specifically to advance production efficiency, management of environment and human development. So RECP was a “concoction” of CP and GP! Indeed, it’s a maze of terms and intersections today on the canvas of Productivity, Environment and Interest of Communities.

Each of the above programs made dent in their own way. Some led to more outreach, acceptance and impact. The early definitions of these terms were tweaked during the course and re-interpreted especially to reflect on the Millennium Development Goals (and now the Sustainability Development Goals).

In the early phase of these programs, the business was asking for the “evidence” that would prove that it was profitable to integrate business with environmental and social considerations. I remember I created for the UNEP DTIE International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse (ICPIC)  and came up with an edited version of 400+ international case studies across more than 20 industrial sectors covering medium and large scale industries. These case studies did the job of convincing and were used in the outreach and  the training programs. Today, we don’t  need any more convincing. We want to know more about “how to”.

Unfortunately, the concepts of CP, Eco-Efficiency, GP and RECP have not yet penetrated in the graduate level education programs, especially in the developing world. The ocean of resources created and the practice experience documented have not yet reached the student and community of young professionals.  We need to run continuing education programs on these topics especially for the mid-level industry professionals. Those on the top layer are generally aware of the benefits of integration. But sure, we have a long way to go for mainstreaming sustainability in the business.

Few years ago, three bright and smart looking specialists from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) came to see me in my office. They were quite snappy and a bit arrogant (perhaps because they were working for IFC) and looked at me as an “environmental consultant”. One of them said “Mr. Modak, you folks (he meant consultants) should read up and practice some of the paradigm shifts in environmental management – such as Cleaner Production. Most of you think only of “end of the pipe” solutions and that’s the problem”. The other two also chipped in.

I was simply amused and I said “How exciting? Never heard of this term Cleaner Production. Could you elaborate?” And they obliged me and expanded CP to introduce terms like Eco-efficiency and Green Productivity as well. And I heard my own words!

Later, my friend from IFC called me – who was their boss and said “Dr Modak, when will you give up this habit of telling that you know nothing and have a good laugh later – I apologize on behalf of my staff for getting you through Course-101 on Cleaner Production”.

I told her – it’s not their fault – but indeed discussions with them made me re-think about the intersections. Intersections are alright if they help in better integration.




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Shashwat Aalingan – A Hug for Sustainability


For past several years I have been struggling to influence the Government, investors, business and people regarding sustainability. But all the efforts made so far have been more or less in vain.

I thought of consulting Lord Vishnu this time. I went to the Dadar beach in Mumbai. It was a full moon night and I walked across the patchy sands, jumping sometimes to avoid the litter.

After a graft of three stents in my heart (I call them as the trident), I now have a kind of instant communication system with Lord Vishnu. These stents apart from maintaining good circulation of blood in my heart, function as a cosmic communication device. So I sent the message to Lord Vishnu using my trident of the stents.

Lord Vishnu appeared in a moment responding to my call. But he came in his Viraat Swaroop that swirled the sea and churned the cover of the clouds. There was a thunder and flashing illumination. His enormous body was radiating blinding my eyes. I got worried (as people should not think that it is a repeat of 26/11) and requested the Lord to change his form to someone human.  Lord Vishnu agreed to my request and took the form of Krishna.

I then stood like Arjuna as in Mahabharata in front of him.


Viraat Swaroop of Lord Vishnu

Lord Vishnu said “Sorry Dr Modak, I had to take this Viraat Swaroop, as while rising from the deepest portion of the oceans where I live, I had to weed through so much of muck, especially the plastic waste, sewage and the sludge – and only way was to assume a Viraat Swaroop and simply ambush. I never realized that the mankind focused only on land based management of pollution and took the oceans for granted. Anyway, what can I do for you this time Dr Modak?”

I explained the Lord about my frustration on the acceptance of sustainability in practice. “There is only a talk” I said.

Lord Vishnu (now Krishna) heard me patiently and gave a divine smile. He said “Dr Modak, you cannot bring in this change alone or all by yourself. You will need everybody to participate. The only way to involve and influence people is to give them a sustainability hug. Remember the use of touch enhances the transfer of spiritual or subtle-energies up to 100%, when compared to a greeting that does not involve touch.”

He continued.

“When you will hug someone following my instructions, you will simply transmit your passion regarding sustainability to the other person. The person you hugged will not only get possessed but will be able to transmit the message of sustainability when he or she will hug someone else. This process will thus be viral and cascade rapidly. As you keep travelling across the word, keep hugging as you meet with people in each country. I estimate that in a year all people on this planet will live sustainabily”

I was really impressed with Lord Vishnu’s hug strategy. I must become a hug-holic I said to myself.

But I had some stupid questions

“My Lord, some cultures don’t accept hugging and if hugged can get seriously offended. And few or hardly anyone travels in the mountains where nomads and tribal live. And can you ever imagine hugging the security guards at the airports?”

Lord Vishnu smiled and said “Don’t worry, I will tell you how to handle these exceptions. For example, tribal already live sustainably and so you don’t need to go to the mountains to hug them. They should be the one to descend the mountain and hug. You don’t need to hug the security guards as they hug you! But we will go step by step”

He opened his arms and invited me for a good hug. “It’s called Shashwat Aalingan (meaning a hug for sustainability)” He said. Then he hugged me and whispered in my ears

“First bow to each other and recognize each other’s presence. This is a desirable step but not essential. Next, open your arms and begin hugging, holding each other for three in-and-out-breaths. With the first breath, become aware that you are present in this very moment and feel happy. With the second breath, become aware that the other person is present in this moment and feel happy as well. With the third breath, become aware that you are here together and you want to do something good for this Earth. You will feel deep gratitude and happiness for the togetherness and taking a joint responsibility on sustainability. Finally, release the other person and bow to each other to show your thanks. I will send you a Gmail (means God’s email) with more detailed instructions”[1]

While he was giving the guidance, I was simply lost in his divine hug. I thought I should just continue and remain in his arms. I also realized that it was He who was managing sustainability of the Planet and Beyond. Seeing me in a Trans, he tapped my head and woke me up. I was disappointed.

While separating, he said

“Now devote the remainder of your life by replacing the usual hand shake with a sustainability hug. Open your arms to new people you meet and embrace them. This deeply transformative practice will change everybody’s life and every person you will hug will appreciate and practice sustainability”

Before assuming his Viraat Swaroop, he cautioned

“Becoming a hug-a-holic is a practice that requires a delicate balance of giving and receiving love. This doesn’t mean that you’re running up to embrace every single person you see on the street. The hugs that come from you are more of a natural effect that comes through a deeper devotion and passion to sustainability. My best wishes Dr Modak”

And then with all the thunder and flashing illumination, Lord Vishnu in his Viraat Swaroop disappeared.

I went to my office in IL&FS. My Secretary Kermeene came to meet me. “Sir, I need your signatures” She said “and Sir do you know I am on vacation from tomorrow for 2 weeks?”.

I said “Oh dear, print the papers ASAP so that I sign up. Enjoy the break Kermeene, You take care” I said this,  got up and gave her a good hug. I followed instructions of Lord Vishnu.

As we parted, I realized the sustainability hug was not all that difficult. Kermeene did not realize (perhaps) the special treatment I had given which she actually reciprocated.

In minutes, Kermeene came to my desk with papers that were printed on both sides. “Sorry Sir, it took little longer as I wanted to use Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) paper this time. I had to locate the right paper pack”

I was shocked to see this change. Normally Kermeene would print on single side and use “ordinary” chlorine bleach paper. After the sustainability hug, her behavior had changed.

So what Lord Vishnu said was right.

While I was signing the papers, Pretty (Oops Preeti!) Mistry, our facility and catering in charge and Kermeene’s good friend passed by. Kermeene stopped her to greet and hugged her saying “long time no see!” Kermeene must have given her a sustainability hug, as within an hour, Preeti came to my desk asking my help to rehaul the food menu towards organic, eliminate use of plastic water bottles in the meetings and asked me how to send the waste food for composting.

While returning from my desk, I saw Preeti was seeing Ramesh Bawa, Managing Director of IL&FS Financial Services (IFIN). Since they knew each other for long, Preeti gave him a friendly hug saying “Sir, hope all is well”.

In minutes, I saw Ramesh Bawa lifting his phone and speaking to one of his senior deputy, Asesh. “Asesh, aren’t you actioning what Dr Modak has been requesting several times – a serious implementation of the Environmental & Social Management Framework (ESPF). Please take this up ASAP – ESPF is not to be looked at as a compliance requirement of the Corporate but a risk management tool to our business. And remember it adds value and builds our brand attracting international investors”.

I thought this was amazing. The cascading effect that Lord Vishnu spoke about was actually happening.

I flew to Delhi next day and was at the Ministry of Environment & Forests – MoEF (and Climate Change). I met A K Mehta, IAS, Joint Secretary, in charge of Pollution Control and (Acting) Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board. When he saw me, he took out his hand for a handshake “Oh Dr Modak, how come here today?” I did not want to waste this opportunity. I stepped ahead and gave Mr. Mehta a sustainability hug. I could sense that he was surprised and a bit awkward. But I managed to hold him for 30 seconds following the three steps. We parted saying “let us catch up some time”

The next day’s edition of DNA carried a news on Page 3. “MoEF relaunches its Eco-Mark label with update and improved implementation mechanism. Relaunch of this eco-label demonstrates MoEF’s commitment to move beyond conventional pollution control and bring in the dimension of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)”

I was very impressed with this announcement.

So Shashwat Aalingan was making the magic and the transformation I was looking for.

I decided to take appointment of Mr. Arvind Kejariwal for the interest of Delhi’s air quality. The appointment is still in the queue.

Anyways, let us get back to the subject of hugging.

Being hugged and touched by parents is important for the emotional well-being and development of children. I remember that when I was small and young, my parents used to hug me regularly and every day. Did this help in transmitting the DNA of my family to me? May be.

I now hug my kids when dropping them or receiving them at the airports. When did you last hug your children? Try giving them Lord Vishnu’s sustainability hug. We want to see that the next generation understands and practices sustainability as not much time is left.

Have you ever hugged a tree when you are on a walk in the park or in a forest early morning? Science has already proven that hugging trees is good for health. According to Amanda Froelich, hugging trees brings in a change benefiting human health by altering vibrational frequency. In a recently published book by author Matthew Silverstone, Blinded by Science, evidence has been given that benefits of tree hugging include reducing severity of mental illnesses, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression and the headaches. So go ahead and hug a tree and encourage others to do so for the interest of sustainability.

I spoke about my conversations with Lord Vishnu with my Professor Friend and the sustainability hug. As usual, he was not impressed at all. He said he does not believe a word of what I said.

He then spoke in his characteristic matter of fact tone.

“Hugging a person causes your brain to release serotonin, dopamine and endorphin to trigger reactions of happiness and joy. These secretions negate the worries of mortality by decreasing the levels of stress hormone, by altering the perception of brain by evoking out positive emotions in us. The hug can cause a massive release nueurohormones in our body that we are unknown of. These neurohormonal changes calm our mind[2]. And in this calmness, you discover and believe in sustainability. So what your Lord Vishnu told is something rather basic”

I did not like that the Professor looked at the Shashwata Aalingan as something basic and so trivial.

Then while lighting his Cigar, Professor asked

“By the way, have you come across the Hug Shirt™ – A shirt that makes people send hugs over distance!”

I said “No”.

Professor said

“The Hug Shirt was invented by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz in 2002, the co-founders of CuteCircuit. Embedded in the Hug Shirt™ there are sensors that feel the strength, duration, and location of the touch, the skin warmth and the heartbeat rate of the sender and actuators that recreate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion of the hug to the Hug Shirt™ of the distant loved one. The Hug Shirt™ was awarded as one of the Best Inventions of the Year by Time Magazine in 2006. Do you know that research has shown that People need to be touched at least 70 times a day! You can do this easily with the Hug Shirt. This hug is non-physical and can be “executed” over a distance.

The system is very simple: All you need is a Hug Shirt™ (Bluetooth with sensors and actuators), a Bluetooth enabled smartphone with the Hug Shirt™ App running and on the other side another smartphone and another Hug Shirt™. A Hug Shirt is Rechargeable and washable and is available in Womenswear, Menswear, and Children Childrenswear styles.

I was awed and impressed with this information that was new to me.

I asked “Professor, do you have a plan to get Hug Shirt technology in India?”

Professor got up and closed the door of this office – then turned to me and spoke in a low voice.

“Dr Modak, in fact this is a secret mission assigned to me by the Prime Minister himself. Like you were introduced to the so called Shashwat Aaalingan by Lord Vishnu (I noticed here a smirk on his face), I am developing an algorithm of processing “senses” in combination with nanotech based sensors that will promote the NDA  Government (instead of sustainability).

Our Hug Shirts will communicate to the “other party” NDA’s good governance. This will make the “other party” believe that NDA is the only party to support and vote in the next election. NDA will provide all opposition party workers free Hug Shirts. A undercover team of NDA will give electronic hugs to these workers and lure them to the NDA team. Of course this will be done on select basis and in a guarded manner. The process of convincing will however become viral. We are currently in a pilot stage and results so far have been pretty good.”

I was simply shocked with this deep strategy.

“I am sorry I cannot reveal you any further information” Professor said this while extinguishing his cigar.

And then he ended the conversation with a thick voice

“What is sustainability after all? Having a political ruling that is sensible & stable over years is what counts. And this is what this country needs. We don’t need “your kind” of sustainability”

I gave a shashwat aalingan to the Professor (without him realizing!) and quietly left.

[1] — based on Thich Nhat Hanh in Chanting from the Heart

[2] See Dr. Fahad Basheer, Author of “The Science of Emotions”


Green Washing: A Step towards Sustainability


Mayor of Mumbai called me urgently on a Sunday morning. His interview was scheduled in the evening with Times Now. This interview was to be a big breaking news.

In the interview, Mayor was to make a major announcement regarding actioning sustainability for the city of Mumbai. The proposed action was a secret and no one knew Mayors mind. Before giving the interview however, Mayor wanted to consult me. After all he was to face Times Now’s Arnab Goswami.

After the initial pleasantries, Mayor asked “Dr Modak, do you have a washing machine at home?” I said “Yes, I do but it’s rather old now. I need to buy a new one”.

Mayor asked “In that case which washing machine would you buy?” I did not understand the relevance of this question to the interview or to Arnab Goswami.

I said “I would buy the cheapest. Or the one that gives a deal or a discount e.g. Buy a Samsung washing machine and get 50% discount on a microwave”

The Mayor wasn’t pleased with my (practical) answer. He looked a bit disappointed.

“What if were to ask you to choose between a Top loading and Front-loading washing machine?

Given my problem of back pain and bending difficulty due to spondylitis, I said that I will prefer to buy a Top loading washing machine. But I wondered how come the Mayor picked up these technical terms. May be a LG salesman visited him recently

Mayor continued “Do you know that Front Loading Washing Machines use 40 to 60% less water, 30 to 50% less energy and 50 to 70% less detergent than the top-loaders! These machines cost a bit more but if you considered “life cycle costs” then the front loading  machines will be cheaper and environment & energy friendly”

I told the Mayor that this fact is well known, In Europe, more than 90% of washing machines are front-loaders, compared with less than 5% in the U.S. Americans are essentially dumb or insensitive or consumptive people. Europeans are not because they simply cannot afford to be ignorant. Indian’s are everything of the above.

Currently, the washing machine market in India is estimated to be about 30% of the total Rs 16,000-crore home appliances market, which is of about Rs 5,000 crore.  An estimated 2.5 million new washing machines are sold in the market every year. The front loading washing machine category contributes only10% of the overall washing machine market.

Mayor read out this statistics from a flyer that was on his table by IFB. IFB is one of the major manufacturer of front loading washing machines

Imagine if all washing machines were of Front loading type in Mumbai. Mumbai has some 5 million families. Let us assume that 20% of these families have washing machines. If used every day, this would amount to a water consumption of 50 m3 a year per family. Now instead of a top loading machine if front loading machines are used, then this would amount to a reduction of at least 10 m3 of water consumption a year. This would lead  to saving of at least 10 million m3 of fresh water and a reduction of 8 million mof wastewater. Incidentally, we supply 250 million mof water every year Mumbai, then there will be at least  4% water use reduction. If front loaders are promoted or made mandatory then this saving could easily reach a double digit figure crossing 10%.

Mayor was ready with such calculations.  Impressive I thought.

I told him that he should highlight the energy benefits as well. Front loading machines consume 30 to 50% less energy per load. So there will be less consumption of electricity, lower emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and more importantly saving in moneys.

The typical top-loader machine spins at about 600 rpm (revolutions per minute). Many front-loading machines spin faster -1000 rpm to 1600 rpm. This forces more water out of the washing. Therefore, front loaders reduce drying time and energy input needed for drying. Of course natural drying should be preferred to save electricity

“So what’s going to be the breaking news Mr. Mayor” I asked

Well, I am proposing the following. For the next 6 months, front loading washing machines will be promoted. Taxes on these machines will be lower than top loaders. In the next six months, I will organize a ban on the top loading machines. No retail white goods shop will be able to stock a top loading machine. There will be surprise raids and if a top loader is found, then there will be heavy fines levied. In a year, you would find that 80% of the washing machine users will be front loading category. Instead preaching sustainability on the concept, I would rather like to be focused and specific

That’s amazing move Mr. Mayor I said. And it’s rather bold. No city in the world has such an action plan. Tell Arnab that Green Washing should be the first step towards Mumbai’s Sustainability.

Mayor was pleased with my statement – he liked it and noted it down. “I will say exactly this – and you phrased it very well for me.” He thanked me profusely.

I left Mayors bungalow and was driving home. On my way, I saw an outlet of Vijay Sales – one of the large white goods retail chains in Mumbai. I stopped by to see how people select washing machines.

In the section of washing machines, I saw mostly women. Men were somewhere else – in the TV, mobile phone and computer sections – watching TV programs for their entertainment and asking some stupid questions to the salesmen.

I asked the woman who had decided to buy a front loading machine. “Madam, what is the advantage of this machine? “ The woman first looked at me suspiciously and when convinced of my innocence said “Only this model fits into the space I have in my “passage” between the kitchen and the toilet. No other model fits! I was disappointed as I thought she would tell me the advantage of reduced water and energy consumption and her commitment to sustainability

I reached home and called my Professor Friend. As usual he had a new point to make.

It’s just not the machine, but a lot depends on how you use the machine. Professor said. This matters significantly in machine’s “use phase”. Men in the house in particular need to be trained. A recent study reveals that more than half (58 %) of British men ‘can’t use a washing machine properly’ because they find the panel of the machine ‘confusing’. According to this research, 16 to 24 year olds are most reluctant to do their own laundry, the most popular excuse being not knowing what buttons to press (40%). So even the best washing machines with good water and energy efficiency do not get optimally used! Tell me how many of us, read the book of instructions (that is written in six languages) or ask for a demo of the washing machine – whether top loading or front loading. (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2340216/Half-men-use-washing-machine-properly-quarter-figure-switch-on.html).

We often make a wrong choice of the capacity of the machine, forgetting family size and requirements. We tend to underload or overload the machine and generally latter.  Overloading damages the drum bearings and belt. An overloaded washing machine fails to clean fabric properly because there is not enough room for movement in washer and so detergent and water cannot reach evenly to every garment.

I thought Professor made an important point. We need to learn how to use the washing machines properly – mere technology perspective is not enough to practice sustainability

The Professor continued

And did you know that the type of detergent is different for front load and top load. Wrong detergent choice can lead to multiple wash cycles to wash clothes properly leading to wastage of water and electricity. Always use the manufacturer recommended detergent to wash clothes.

Conventional detergents are comprised of a concoction of fragrances, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and potent cancer-causing chemicals. Most detergents have signature fragrances which are designed to impregnate and stay in clothes. The so called “aroma” of the washing chemicals can be hazardous.  According to research by the University of Washington, when scented laundry detergents and fabric softeners are used, dryer vents emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per load, many of which are classified as hazardous air pollutants. Oddly, detergents with less hazardous chemicals have lower cleaning efficiency (See Comparative Study of Detergents in India-A Step towards More Sustainable Laundry Meena Khetrapala et al at http://journals.du.ac.in/ugresearch/pdf/J15.pdf). .

I was amazed with Professor’s inputs. I decided to call up the Mayor and update him immediately with this information so that he can make interesting points in the interview. But by then the interview had already begun.

Arnab was asking questions to the Mayor on the water and energy related woes in the Mumbai city. The threat to city’s sustainability was brought out. Mr. Mayor fielded all these questions. He then  elaborated about his idea of focusing on the washing machines, reasons why front loading machines were important and how the switch could help to achieve major reduction in water and energy consumption with the co-benefit of reduction in the GHGs. He made a strong environmental and business case. Finally, he rolled out his one year plan of the “phase out”. He even made a case that his suggestion should be included as a part of India’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) that will be discussed in the COP meeting in Paris. I was really impressed with Mayors extrapolation of the idea to the national and international scales.

He ended with a statement Green  Washing should be the first action step towards Mumbai’s Sustainability.

I however saw that Arnab Goswami was not impressed. He said he does not like impositions to the public on which washing machine to use. “That’s utter infringement of consumers freedom” he said. Sustainability cannot be forced upon or legislated.

Then with his characteristic pause, he asked “May I ask you Sir what happens to the top loading washing machines that you will phase out? Where will they go? Will they find a place in Mumbai’s slums or suburbs or at the landfill? Do you have an end of use of washing machine plan in place?”

The Mayor was really uncomfortable with this question and was not able to answer. He looked stunned with this “googly”

As if this was not enough, Arnab asked the Mayor in his high pitch voice. “And what about the fact that your son-in-law is on the Board of Directors of front loader washing machine maker – IFB, Are you not hand in glow to promote IFB’s front loading machines on the garb of sustainability? This is not green wash –but indeed  a hog wash. The Nation would like to know” He demanded

Mr. Mayor’s face turned white with sweat on his forehead. He muttered “there is something wrong in the transmission of sound ” He  opted to exit the interview.

And that turned out to be the real big breaking news!


Brushing Teeth – Sustainably


(sourced from http://lessbydesign.org/2014/03/07/the-disposable-toothbrush-is-there-a-better-way/)

As Diwali (India’s festival of lights) is approaching, most corporate houses are busy today planning about the gifts. Every year as a regular practice, these gifts are given to the staff, clients, and investors & of course to the government officers who matter. All look towards receiving the corporate gifts that typically include leather pouches, box of sweets, a thermos or a ceramic decorated plate

Given the buzz on “Sustainability” however, many corporate honchos such as Anand Mahindra, Kumarmangalam Birla, Cyrus Mistry of Tata and other such environmentally conscious industry leaders thought to select gifts that can bring in a difference and distinguish them from others. “The gifts should communicate sustainability on a day to day basis and lead to some impact or a measurable change” – they said.

This led to flocking of many environmental consultants to the procurement divisions of the corporate offices. Several propositions were made such as an eco-friendly Tee shirt made from the farms in Maikal, a table stationary set made out of waste from Dharavi, an organic jam or honey made by tribes in the hills of Matheran etc.  The choice was difficult to make as many provided reports on the life cycle analyses of their products which were hard to believe and were generally built on data not relevant to India.

My Professor friend was simply in demand because of his expertise, far sighted vision and reputation. He was approached by several corporates and personal calls were made by the Birlas, Tatas, Mahindras and Ambanis.  Everyone wanted the Professor to come up with some brilliant idea of a product that will show a great example of sustainability.

We met at our usual Coffee place and I asked Professor about what was in his mind to advice the industries on the Diwali gift

Well, I have to decide whom should I advise – as all these industry leaders are my good friends. But if I were to advice then, I will propose providing a pack of two tooth brushes as the Diwali gift

A tooth brush! – Are you crazy? I exclaimed. A tooth brush cannot be a Diwali gift. What’s the sustainability element in a tooth brush? In fact I suspect it may be reverse!!

Professor lit his cigar. “It’s not the usual tooth brush I am referring to. Its tooth brush made from Bamboo and with Nylon-4 as the bristle”

There are about 18 million people in Mumbai. Let’s say, as a very rough estimate, that 10% are little babies and very old people with no dentures and don’t have teeth. So that’s 16.2 million Mumbaikars with teeth (including dentures, which still need to be brushed, so they count.)

We all know the dentist tells us to change our toothbrush when it starts to get shaggy; about every three months. We also know that we are lazy, and not aware that timely changing the tooth brush matters. We probably only change a tooth brush once a year.

So every year, we should expect 16.2 million tooth brushes “bought and thrown” in Mumbai alone, buried in the landfills of the city.


These toothbrushes are made of plastic (the handles) and nylon (the bristles), plus they come in plastic packaging – one of those single-use, disposable consumer items. As with most plastics, polypropylene and nylon are sourced from non-renewable petroleum and their manufacture is resource-intensive and more importantly these materials are not biodegradable. Just one person can create four kilograms of waste from disposable toothbrushes during a lifetime that will remain in the environment for at least 500 years

I said – Agree that tooth brush is a serious issue. But what is the option then Professor?

Sustainably produced bamboo has the potential to be one part of the solution. Bamboo fiber can be used to completely replace the plastic used for toothbrush handles. Professor said.


I remembered the electric toothbrush. These brushes are often touted as more eco-friendly than disposable conventional tooth brushes because only the head needs to be replaced, which means less landfill.

The Professor had a counter argument

The materials used in rechargeable electric toothbrushes are similar, in fact with additional components including a plastic base, plug and power cord. The internal motor, which moves the bristle head, can contain nickel- and chromium-bearing alloys. Electric brushes are commonly powered by an internal rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) or nickel-cadmium (NiCa) battery. Both have environmental impacts over their lifespan. Research from Bath University, England, found that electric powered brushes use around 0.072kWh/day, equivalent to the energy use of a toaster. So electric tooth brush is no good an option!

An estimated 50 per cent of the total “ecological costs” of a manual plastic toothbrush, and 60 per cent of the lifetime energy requirements for an electric toothbrush, are incurred during the manufacture and distribution phases, compared to the usage and disposal phases.

In comparison, the handle of bamboo brushes are made from moso bamboo, a rapidly renewing plant which requires little water. This bamboo is farmed, not old growth bamboo, has natural antimicrobial properties and no pesticides are necessary for growing it. Moso Bamboo is sourced today largely from China and India has only recently started looking at Moso bamboo cultivation on a scale it deserves. A carbonization finishing process, which provides water resistance and prevents the growth of microbes on the toothbrush, is the only component of the ecological costs of using bamboo.

Professor continued.

The bristles of the bamboo brush are made from a nylon 4 blend. Bamboo brushes break down into compost, leaving no residue, including the nylon bristles. Japanese researchers have shown that nylon 4 breaks down in compost within four months, while nylon 6 does not that is used by the conventional tooth brush.

Packaging is also another consideration. Conventional manual toothbrushes, and replacement heads for electric toothbrushes, are generally packaged in a ‘blister pack’ of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and cardboard, while bamboo toothbrushes come in biodegradable paper box with a compostable in commercial facilities wrapper made of Polylactic Acid derived from corn. Being concerned about the issues in industrial corn production involving genetic manipulation, fertilizers and pesticides, some of the bamboo tooth brush makers are making the switch to a plant-based Cellulose wrapper that does not use corn.

By the way, only 50% of the Indian population is known to use modern oral care products and only 15% brush of teeth twice a day… And so the market is going to grow. It is estimated that 700 Million toothbrushes are sold every year in India. HLL and Colgate-Palmolive account of 70% of this market but they only make conventional manual tooth brushes and now the electric tooth brushes.

I asked Cyrus Mistry to speak to Harish Manwani of HLL and Nambier of Colgate- Palmolive and convince them to start manufacturing Bamboo brushes in India. And if they don’t show interest then I asked him take on manufacturing Bamboo tooth brush as a Tata product.

So this year, who will supply Bamboo tooth brush as a corporate gift in India? I asked.

Well, this year it will have to be sourced from China. Of course at the cost of added carbon emissions in the shipment. I only hope that Chinese don’t invade this market and will be too late for Indians to get in.

Hmm I said  – Interesting point of caution.

Professor extinguished his cigar and said

All those who will receive these tooth brushes as corporate gifts, will think of sustainability as the first thing in the morning when they start brushing their teeth. 

And hopefully with such a start in the morning, sustainability will be practiced down the day. This is where the impact of the corporate gift will come in

Bless you Professor– I said “wish that was so simple


Before the advent of the nylon bristle, our forefathers used to rely on nature. While the Indians were known to use Neem tree twigs (Datoon) the Chinese preferred the tough hair off the neck of a Siberian Boar!!! The Miswak sewak is the natural way people in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia have cleaned their teeth for centuries. The bark is peeled off the tip of the stick from Asian Arak or Peelu trees, olive or walnut trees and the end chewed to separate fibers to rub on the teeth. As the fibers wear, the tip is cut off and the end peeled and chewed. Miswak sticks get in between crevices in teeth, promote tooth remineralization and strengthen enamel, are antibacterial and prevent infections, and promote saliva and blood circulation as the sticks are chewed. They contain minerals, alkaloids, vitamin C and calcium.

Neem Sticks are the version of the Miswak sewak that residents of India have used for centuries and many still use today.


Sourced from https://theholisticdentist.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/toothpaste/