It took a fatal virus for us to get used to cleaner air. We will however return to our usual lives at some point. What about the environment then? Could we please keep the fresh air and potentially reverse climate change? There are things that could be done in the workplaces that could be environmentally friendly and save over a million lives we lose to air pollution in India every year.
So, how to go green?
Let’s start with an easier one. Segregation of waste. Divide the waste into bins for paper, plastic and organic and then recycle. And make it convenient for everyone to do by installing the bins all over the workplace with easy instructions. Recycling waste is also a labor-intensive job – should the demand for recycling rise, not only would it be good for the environment and keep our surroundings cleaner, but it would also create jobs.
Encourage work from home. This has unprecedented benefits. With fewer people going to the office or even alternating between office and work from home days, there would be fewer cars on the roads – one of the biggest sources of air pollution. Plus, it would reduce road cluster and make commuting smoother. Other spillover benefits would include – less time spent on commute could lead to increased productivity, better work-life balance because of the time you gain; increased ability for stay at home parents to start working again; and equal parenting and sharing of chores when partners start spending more time at home.
Ban single occupancy vehicles. Millions of cars are on streets of Delhi everyday carrying but one person. This leads to congestion and pollution that needs to be fixed. Measures have been taken in various European cities where they are phasing out and eventually aiming to ban single occupancy vehicles to combat air pollution. An alternative to using personal vehicles is to use public transportation, and to bike or walk shorter distances.
India is aiming to transition to electric vehicles by 2030 – with 30% of total transport to be done through EVs. Organizations could help the country achieve that goal by building charging stations at offices, encouraging use of EVs, and providing EVs to employees for organizational work.
Most parts of India are gifted with immense sunshine – making it easier for us to produce renewable energy that isn’t just better for the environment but, given the government incentives, also cheaper to produce. There are multiple organizations across India now entirely run on renewable energy. People, who have the capability to do so, should vie to achieve this on individual and organizational levels.
Make efficient use of resources like water, electricity and paper. Most companies print more than they need to (finance and consultancy in particular need to be called out for this) – it is a waste that is easy to reduce. Use your computers to refine and distribute your presentations. Caring for the earth is a shared interest for management, employees and clients. And wherever essential, use organic paper. You can switch to LED lights that last longer and are better for the environment. And turn off the lights, computers and water taps when not in use.
Eliminate usage of plastic wherever possible. Normally, plastic items take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. The carbon footprint of plastic waste is outrageous. Furthermore, plastic dump has accumulated across the country, and when combined with water especially during monsoons, it becomes home to mosquito borne diseases. Often times, it is burned, leading to massive air pollution. And it is fatal to the lives of water, land and air animals. So, don’t use plastic if possible. Reuse and recycle if you don’t have any alternatives.
Reduce meat and dairy consumption. Studies have found that even the lowest impact dairy and meat are more harmful than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing. With the largest cattle population in the world, methane emitted by Indian livestock can significantly raise global temperatures. Studies show that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Introduce meatless and dairy free days during workweeks and encourage employees to limit their meat and dairy consumption.
Volunteer and plant trees. One of the ways you could offset your carbon footprint is right there in your backyard. Plant trees – as plants and trees grow, they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into sugars through photosynthesis. And you could volunteer for organizations working toward combatting climate change.
There is so much that could be done. Microsoft has, for instance, dedicated a billion-dollar fund to find innovating ways to eventually reach negative carbon emissions. There are technologies in development that could absorb carbon from the air. Terrapower, a venture based in Washington, has developed a technology that uses nuclear to deal with climate change by providing a scalable and carbon-free energy that is available throughout the year.
There is a lot to be optimistic about. But we all need to play our part in helping things move in the right direction. It is not too late if we take seriously one of the biggest issues the world in facing. We could make our lives and the lives of the future generations better and sustainable.