As the editor of a magazine where sustainability is an overarching (if not obvious) theme, earlier this year, like many times prior, I found myself asking that big question: What does sustainable really mean? Is it one-size-fits-all or does the meaning change according to what values we prioritise?
Also earlier this year, at Dysco’s Vocation Redefined, a day long event at our second home Ministry of New dedicated to storytelling, discussion, hands on workshops and exhibits, I found some answers. Founded by siblings Khrisha and Mishal Shah, Dysco is a discovery portal, professional networking app, online and oftentimes, offline community. I was one of the afternoon’s speakers and spoke about making meaningful editorial content, the power of small communities and creating the world’s slowest magazine. More importantly, true to Dysco’s form, we discovered and connected with people and brands that have carved out a niche for themselves, love what they do and maybe (just a little bit) share our ethos.
Who better to learn from than those walking the talk? Here are some large and little lessons in sustainability, from those defining it for themselves.
Aditi Malik, Director at Conscious Food
The big lesson: Balance out your commercial considerations with your desire to do good.
“In maintaining an ethical stance we source responsibly grown produce, promote indigenous varieties, follow sustainable practices wherever possible and advocate for women’s participation in the workforce. In essence we believe in doing well by doing good. Doing well by doing good?
It is ideal and perhaps easy to say that we want to generate ethical employment, empowerment, help small farmers, and focus on indigenous produce, all sustainably and organically. But in the face of practical choices it is really a balancing act that we play.
Sometimes even doing good involves being tough. It is wonderful to have good intentions and want to play a positive part in society, to do good, and pay everyone from your employees to your partners well. And there are always going to be commercial constraints and sometimes you do end up disappointing people, but you have to learn to be okay with some amount of that. It will be difficult, and not always practical to only want to be the dispenser of good luck and good news.”
Show, don't tell: "This year we took the concept of being 'Conscious' a bit further internally. When we need to buy something, we look out for either second-hand, upcycled solutions or products made from natural materials. Even our new office is furnished with tables, chairs, cupboards, and scrap materials bought at a second-hand market. Our tables were mixed and matched with scrap wood surfaces - with a fresh coat of paint they were as good as new. Old wooden and metal chairs were restored with a scrubbing and some care. We were reluctant to go for conventional air-conditioning at the new office, and opted for an environment-friendly solution which employs earthenware pots and flowing water. It will be up and running soon."
Raffael Kably, Partner and general manager at Soul and Surf
The big lesson: Create change for yourself and those around you.
“We set out to live a better work life balance for ourselves while creating positive change around us. It is important to us at Soul & Surf to give back to the local community in anyway possible. We have a policy of hiring as many people from the local community as possible and paying higher (sometimes double) than the average wage in the area. We also work with local kids teaching them to surf, yoga or any other skills they may be interested to learn that can help them be successful in the future. We have hired and trained three local surf instructors giving them international level qualifications, jobs with high paying wages and the opportunity to travel and work in any of our businesses around the world.”
Show, don't tell: We also have various beach cleaning, zero (single use) plastic and recycling set up so we are able to reduce our impact on the environment.
Sarvangi Shah, Marketing director at Mandala
The big lesson: Stick to your vision across all aspects of business.
“Being true to what you believe and really actively trying to follow that principle throughout every aspect of your business is something that can be an extremely rewarding process.
Mandala aims to bring crisp, quality produce of a farmer’s market to the consumer’s doorstep faster. Going to farmer’s markets opened our eyes towards sourcing ethically. We use only sustainably sourced vegetables and procure from local farmers as much as possible. The provenance of its food is paramount. Using only fresh, unprocessed produce ensures the vitality of the ingredients. Likewise, all our packaging is biodegradable and made from bagasse.”
Show, don't tell: We conduct workshops in residential societies focus on reusing kitchen scraps, organic composting, home gardening and waste management.
Rewant Lokesh, Gray Wolf and co-founder at The Burlap People
The big lesson: Think long-term solutions
"We believe in providing a sustainable, fair trade and fashionable option for travel and lifestyle bags. This encompasses both our ethos and the gap we felt existed in the market.
Jute, aka burlap, a natural fabric traditionally used for vegetable sacks is completely bio degradable and very sturdy, making it perfect to travel with, while causing minimal impact on the planet. We work with third and fourth generation craftspeople to help preserve an age old craft of bag making. Our bags are predominantly made by hand and only finished using a manually operated sewing machine."
Show, don't tell: We ensure our craftspeople work under creativity enhancing conditions - flexible hours, spacious workshop areas, lots of natural light, a friendly environment with one-on-one feedback sessions, a lot of humour, and constant consideration for mental stresses within and outside of the workplace, and a salary structure that is set above the industry average.
Sahar Mansoor, Founder at Bare Necessities
The Big Lesson: Be the change
“I felt overwhelmed with India’s trash problem. I was confronted by it everyday - seeing piles of garbage on the streets and watching local wastepickers sort through waste with their bare hands.
I wanted to stop being part of the problem. I knew I had to address my own trash problem first and started living a zero-waste lifestyle. In the last two and a half years, I have produced only half a kilogram of trash, all of which fits in a 500ml jar. In many ways Bare is a by-product of my personal zero waste values.
In my zero-waste journey, I realised that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic. In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability. I wanted to make it easy for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste. Bare Necessities was born.”
Show, don't tell: We host trash talks and zero waste workshops to empower people to reimagine our trash problem.
Shuli Ghosh, Founder & creative director at Sienna Store & Cafe, Kolkata
The big lesson: Be cognisant about the people and the processes behind the products.
“We are constantly striving to create without comprising on the welfare of the people who work with us and the environment in which we produce. The working conditions of the people who we work with and the way in which the ingredients we use at Sienna Cafe is grown are as important as the growth of our business.
Our workshop in the village of Santiniketan employs talented local artisans, who work in collaboration with me and my mother, Shanta, to create wheel thrown earthenware that is then coloured with non-toxic glazes. We have a block printing & batik dyeing unit, where we use azo-free and natural dyes on hand-loom fabrics made by weavers in Bengal and around India. In turn these are sent to our stitching and embroidery group in Calcutta that consists of artisans from the outskirts of Bengal who tailor apparel which is marketed to consumers in India and abroad.
Our entire supply chain helps give consumers the option to make conscious decisions to buy clothes that are made with hand loom fabrics that are breathable and better for our skin, by underprivileged men and women who are paid fairly, and work in happy and safe conditions.”
Show, don't tell: Any waste fabric is used to make upcycled textile jewellery and accessories.
Hemant Sagar, Founder and CEO, Ayurganic
Lesson: Health is a journey that starts within.
“It is by educating consumers about the importance of living consciously, to ensure their improved health, energy and concentration, we have the power to change the displeasing circumstances we thought we had to live with.
The garments or ayurvastra (ayur and vastra meaning health and cloth respectively in Sanskrit) have been permeated with special herbs and oils making them free of synthetic chemicals and toxic irritants. We are not only sustainable, and ecological, we also have a "soothing function” that barely exists elsewhere. Wearing these garments helps restore balance within the body and strengthens the immune system that suffers in the ambient toxicity we live in.”
Show, don't tell: Our factory recycles water.