Every drop adds up

The clothes you wear, the food you eat, and food you waste, the way you travel and the way you build your home, everything has a direct impact on the planet’s climate. Choose to make a change that can help the 8.7 million species on earth.

As the planet spirals into a dangerous warming of 1.5 deg above pre-industrial levels, did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 pc of annual global emissions? More than that of all flights and shipping put together!

In 2020, fossil fuel-based fabrics accounted for a sixth of the 367 million tonnes of plastic produced from oil and gas, according to the UNDP. As the demand grows, so will the supply and so too, the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fossil fuels.

Sustainable fashion is about ensuring your clothing has low carbon footprint


Global average calculations show a person buys 5 kg of clothes a year, while in Europe this is 25 kg. Around 87 pc of the fibre input in clothes end in landfills or is burnt and in some countries, 40 pc of the fabric bought is never even used. Dyeing and treatment of textiles leads to 20 pc of industrial water pollution and 0.5 million tonnes of micro-plastic from washing of polyester and nylon ends in oceans annually. This then ends up ingested by marine animals or gets into the air and soil and comes back to us.

If all that makes for depressing reading, here is some good news. You do not need to deny yourself good clothes. Just make some informed choices.

Examples of sustainable fashion are there in our country and elsewhere. Fabrics from ‘Kala cotton’ are becoming popular. Grown in rain-fed regions of Gujarat, the crop requires no fertiliser or pesticide or irrigation, and is a zero-waste crop where every part of the plant is made use of.

Apparel spun from ‘Kala cotton’


Promoted by farmers group and a local ngo, the concept picked up after some reluctance and some learning. Today, some 700 farmers and 250 weavers are working together to make the yarn.

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Going a step ahead with its ‘Vastra Samaan’ project is Goonj. The organisation collects old clothes and upcycles them to distribute among the needy, but as a payment for community services rendered that protects natural resources in the region! Goonj works in 21 states of India.

Torn clothes, used books, footwear, utensils, in fact any household item that can be upcycled is collected and converted to sanitary pads, mats, bags, etc. The process helps to divert 3 million kg of waste annually.

Look out for such organisations that help you reduce all kinds of waste, clothes included. Try to buy handloom and sustainably harvested clothes. Do not trash clothes but repair and hand them down to the less privileged. Buy only what is needed. Instead, use the services of creative boutiques that help you re-do old clothes.

(Listen to Sonam Wanchuk who puts it so succintly, how individual actions add up.)


Think of it. Your action can help keep life on the planet breathe easy for that much more time.

Food waste

Talking of waste, the most criminal waste is that of food. Since 2014, the number of people who go hungry has risen. Around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service and 2 percent in retail).

Food waste that ends up in landfills produces greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, etc. Almost 6-8 percent emissions can be avoided if we control food waste, according to UNDP. If each house cuts down food waste by just 1 kg, it can bring down emissions by up to 470 kg annually. It helps to remind oneself of all the labour, water, energy and money that goes into the making of food.

Organisations have worked on models to address this. Individuals like Shruti Ahuja working with IICT in Hyderabad have been able to change vegetable waste into electricity using anaerobic bacteria. Biogas produced is used to produce electricity. Portable solar powered cold rooms from Ecozen Solutions for storage of fruits, flowers and vegetables, across 20 states and 10 countries, has helped reduce 18,000 mt of food waste and 1 million tonne of emissions. These models need to be replicated across the nation and globe on a war footing.

For the more ambitious, who would like to contribute even more to bringing down emissions by individual acts, opt for plant-based food as meat production requires more energy and resources. Meat farming needs grasslands that are cultivated after clearing forests. The chemical fertilisers for fodder crops produce methane. Mangroves are cut down for shrimp farming, and so on. If not entirely, at least cut down meat intake.

Plant-based food requires much less water and releases lesser emissions.

Fly economy

When it comes to individual emissions, our homes and transport modes are the biggest contributors. In 2019, 14.3 pc of emissions came from transport and 18 from construction and energy use in buildings.

From small cars to SUVs, the emissions actually double. Believe it or not, according to UNDP, the emissions from big cars is more than that from planes per passenger km. Flights too are major emitters. If flying, opting for economy class reduces your carbon footprint. Trains have been found to be the most planet friendly mode of transport for inter-city travel. It goes without saying that virtual meetings can reduce carbon footprint by 94 per cent and energy use by 90 pc.

Within cities, cycling is obviously the cleanest option. All it takes is a push from above to encourage commuters.

Cycling has successfully been promoted in Ranchi by the collaboration of cycling clubs, fitness groups, NGOs and private players like a cycle manufacturer. Non-motorised transport makes up 50 per cent of total trips today.

New avatar of the humble cycle rickshaw


Fazilka, a town of 80,000 people in Punjab, saw an NGO revive the cycle rickshaw by a few simple steps. An app helped reduce waiting time and improving the comfort factor of the vehicle helped bring more takers. It helped so many of the local people with their livelihood and also reduced traffic congestion and emissions from motorised vehicles. Impressed by the model, the High Court issued a directive for the states of Haryana and Punjab to adopt the same model.

Coming to buildings, simple measures like using energy effectively goes a long way. For instance, a change in setting of the air conditioner from 18 to 24 degrees can reduce per house emissions by 492 kg annually! You can calculate the savings if all the houses in your locality does this. Adopt this at workplaces too.

CSEB-aided buildings at Auroville



Remember, the air-conditioner merely throws out the heat from inside to outside, raising thus the ambient temperature of our locality and in turn, requiring more houses to opt for ACs. Instead, retrofit the building with climate friendly cooling, like a white paint on the roofs that substantially reduces the temperature. Opt for houses with natural lighting and ventilation. It is healthy too.

When building new homes, look for locally available building materials that will help reduce the carbon footprint. Go for compressed stabilised earth blocks (CSEB) that mix excavated soil with 5 pc cement. There are no transportation costs involved nor energy used in their making. This has been demonstrated by the Auroville Earth Institute. With no plastering or painting required, it has 11 pc lesser embodied energy than kiln fired bricks and lesser emissions too.

Simple lifestyles have been the essence of our traditions, with scriptures mindful of ecological balance. It is this aspect that India’s global mission LiFE or lifestyle for environment focuses on in its objective to make lifestyles earth-friendly.

From choosing sustainable handlooms, to reducing your travel footprint, to buying local foods to reduce freight movement, harvesting rainwater, switching off devices at home to avoid ghost energy consumption, reducing food waste, encouraging a circular economy with reuse and recycling wherever possible, there is much that each one of us can do. It all adds up significantly.

GHG build-up

Since the Industrial Revolution when fossil fuels were burnt to produce energy, we have been adding to the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. These gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc block the heat emitted from the surface and add to the warming. Most of this warming has happened in the last 40 years, with the last seven years being the warmest.

In 2017, the warming crossed 1 deg above pre-industrial times and is now poised to rise by 1.5 by 2040, after which irreversible climate change has been predicted by climate models.

According to UNEP, the emissions were biggest in 2019 at 52.4 gigatonnes. The IPCC’s 2022 assessment report showed emissions to be 54 per cent higher than in 1990. If we are to hope for checking the damage, the peaking of emissions has to happen by 2025 and reduce by 43 pc by 2030, touching net zero emissions by early 2050s.

India’s emissions have been low, adding up to just 4 pc of global total between 1870 and 2019. But at current rates of emission, it stands third accounting for 7 pc of global emissions, after China at 26.5 per cent and the US at 12.6. When looking at per capita emissions, India at 1.8 metric tonnes stands at less than half of global total at 4.5 mt.

The country needs to lift over a billion people above poverty and give access to electricity and water. It will not be able to do this without substantial support from developed world. The alternative would be to continue using fossil fuels with a mix of renewable energy. It is in this context that the lifestyle measures suggested could help a bit. Perhaps it will be useful to substantially incentivise the same to get more on board.

There are approximately 8.7 m species on the planet besides humans and studies have shown how inter-linked we are. But human activity and population is pushing nearly 1 million animal and plant species to extinction, says the 2019 global assessment report on biodiversity. Since 1990, the abundance of native species across the many regions has fallen by 20 per cent. Unless we act soon and effectively, all life on the planet will take a big blow sooner than later.

(Compiled from UNDP report on COP 17 highlights)