I spent my early child hood in a very small village in South India, where women would worship Earth as a Goddess, offering prayers to her every day. My grandmother used to get her helpers to sweep the floors, and mop with cow dung. The entire household was lit up using gobar (cow dung) gas, and I recall that even the conduits for the lighting cables were made out of metal and not plastic.
Visitors to our home needed to wash their feet before entering through the side door – and it was always the side door, because that is where the garden was. Water used for washing and cooking the rice and vegetables was stored in large iron buckets; later, it was recycled as drinking water for the cattle.
At the end of the school term, my books used to get donated to one of my young relatives or to the schools. All of us used stainless steel plates for eating, and the drinking water was stored in mud pots. My grandfather tried to be Western: he insisted on buying a fridge, and once even brought a nice big oven on a trip back from London. My grandmother packed such newfangled gadgets away and continued to do as she always had. All pages from used notebooks were tied together by string and hung in the kitchen for wiping our hands; the same was true for old newspapers. I always thought that of her as miserly and stuck in her old thoughts. I was so scared of her that I never asked why she was so particular about these routines. My mom simply said that I would understand when I grew up.
Today, I can relate to my grandmother very well. In fact, she is a source of inspiration. That’s because she embedded sustainability in every facet of life. She probably never understood the modern ideas of recycle, reuse, and reduce. But she acquired these practices from her mother because they represented the most economical way of living.] She, in turn, passed these practices on to my mother. .
When I think back on those days I realize that she had naturally practiced and interwoven into her daily life what today are known as “green initiatives.” And perhaps it is because of her example that I think this is the philosophy that today’s companies should embrace. Sustainability cannot be seen as a "goodwill" or a philanthropic activity. It should be embedded into business strategy and become part of the organization’s culture. Just like the way that my grandma built this culture into our household.
If organizations choose to look at such initiatives as a way to improve their profits in the long term, if they build sustainability programs into the initial stage of their operational cycles, the investments won’t be prohibitively large. By contrast, if companies have already overextended their dependence on scarce natural resources and are faced with the consequent increased costs, the costs to retrofit their operations will be prohibitively high.
Companies should take a leaf out of grandma's book. They should begin to look at optimal use of scarce resources that are an integral part of our daily lives, resources such as water, energy, and wood. With an eye to future profits, they should make modest – when viewed in the long term – investments in green operations today.
They might even give a passing thought to my grandmother, whose way of live, while lacking modern conveniences, can serve as an inspiration for us all.