Why Minimize? – The Drop-In-The Ocean Theory… and other questions

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing about the impending climatic catastrophe, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do, will be too little too late. That it will take the Government and the Big Corporate to make any difference.

Climate change has arrived well ahead of schedule. Scientists’ projections that seemed dire a decade ago turn out to have been unduly optimistic: the warming and the melting, and the positive feedback loop connecting them is occurring much faster than the models predicted. It is true that laws and money are necessary. And yet, laws and money cannot do enough either. It will also take profound changes in the way we live. Because at the bottom of the climate-change crisis is another crisis – that of our lifestyles. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us consumers, and most of the rest made in the name of our needs, desires and preferences.

Striving to live in harmony with Nature is not a new Endeavour. In the past, the reasons for doing so have been different – like the Gandhian values of inculcating self-sufficiency. However, since the time of Adam Smith, we have moved inexorably towards “division of labour”.

Unfortunately, this move towards specialization has also proved to be a move away from personal responsibility. We have abdicated responsibility for everything except the very narrow range of products/ services whose “producers” we are. The rest of the time, we are just “consumers”. Virtually all of our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another – our meals to agribusiness, health to the doctor, education to the teacher, entertainment to the media, care for the environment to the environmentalist, political action to the politician.

This division of labour has given us many of the blessings of civilization Yet this same division of labor obscures the lines of connection – and responsibility – linking our everyday acts to their real-world consequences, making it easy for us to overlook the coal-fired power plant that lights our computer screen, or the mountaintop that had to be destroyed to provide the coal to that plant, or the streams running crimson with heavy metals as a result. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. As the closing credits roll out at the end of “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore asks of us only that we change our light bulbs, because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food.

The reasons not to act are many and compelling. But here are a few reasons that we might put on the other side of the scale:

If we do act, we will set an example for other people. If enough other people act, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioural change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture.

Driving a gas-guzzler or setting the at AC at 15C might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behaviour from others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

How do you know you have it right!

Deciding to take responsibility for one’s consumption choices is only the first step in minimizing our carbon footprint. While the implications of some choices are fairly well evaluated – like using less electrical power from the grid; for others, the information is, at best, incomplete, and at worst, misleading and confusing!

What to buy!
The past few years have seen an explosion of green marketing. While this has made available to the consumer more choices, consumers may find themselves perplexed by how to gauge the environmental impact of the many products that claim to be eco-friendly. For one, as of now, it is very difficult to evaluate the claims of products that say they are biodegradable, carbon-neutral or made from sustainable materials. Even if one were to take the green-claims of the various manufacturers at face value, there are still many processes whose Carbon footprint implications cannot be clearly evaluated. Is eating local or walking to work really going to reduce my carbon footprint? According to one analysis, if walking to work increases your appetite and you consume more meat or milk as a result, walking might actually emit more carbon than driving.

Perfect knowledge, that takes into account the sourcing of the raw materials, the manufacturing process, the transportation involved, and the final disposal is many years away. The best we can do for now is to make an informed choice with the limited information we have and to realize that instead of buying three pairs of organic cotton jeans, it is better to buy just one pair, and even better to make do with our existing pair of ordinary jeans.

How much to buy!

Conspicuous consumption is a significant part of the Global Warming problem. Therefore, it doesn’t require too much intelligence to hypothesize this: it is a misconception that by buying anything, whether Green or not, we are solving the problem.

Environmentalists say some products marketed as green may pump more carbon into the atmosphere than choosing something more modest, or simply nothing at all. Coming back to an earlier point – instead of buying three pairs of organic cotton jeans, it is better to buy just one pair, and even better to make do with our existing pair of ordinary jeans.

This section of NO2CO2 will try to present and evaluate “Minimizing” options. We strive to stay up to date with current technological developments, be as fair as possible while evaluating different options and state up-front if any issues are unresolved. Any errors of judgments or facts are completely unintentional and we will be very happy to be corrected.

Minimize Your Electricity Footprint

I. Basic Interventions that are inexpensive!

1. CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) Bulbs

A Regular 60 Watt Light Bulb (Incandescent Bulb) can be replaced by an 11 Watt (+ 3 Watt Choke) CFL Bulb, without any compromise on lighting power. This translates to a 75% energy saving. While CFL bulbs have been a technology causing some concern due to their mercury content, recent innovation has lead to the creation of Eco-Friendly ‘Green’ CFL’s which have a significantly reduced mercury content. An example of these eco-friendly Green CFL’s, are those manufactured in India by Havells India Ltd.

Replacing 6, 60 Watt Light Bulbs with 11 Watt CFL’s, used 8 hours per day, can reduce carbon footprint by 1.2 tonnes CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 3400 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates).

Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

Additionally, since these bulbs last approximately 6 times longer than (5 years at 3.3 hours per day usage) regular bulbs, their higher initial cost is recovered through fewer regular bulb purchases which burnout approximately every 10 months (at 3.3 hours per day usage).
And this is the least known, but very crucial, the advantage of CFL and other energy-saving lighting technologies – they reduce the heat load that air conditioners must ‘fight’. This is because more than 98% of the energy output of an Incandescent Bulb is wasted as heat energy, which warms the air in a room. By reducing the power supplied by 75% (by using CFL bulbs), the quantity of heat generated in the room is also reduced proportionally. The end result is a significant saving in energy costs and carbon footprint from Air Conditioner use.

2. Energy Saving Tube lights

Usual fluorescent tube lights consume approximately 40 Watts of power plus another 20 Watts are consumed by the choke. Implementation of newer technologies has resulted in tube lights that consume 10% lesser power – 36 W. These energy-saving tube lights have been accorded a 5-star energy rating by India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE).

Replacing 6 regular tube lights with 5-star rated tube lights, used 8 hours per day, can reduce carbon footprint by 103 kg CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 300 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates).

Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates, such as Mumbai.

3. Energy Saving Fans

We use them for many hours every day, much more than lighting devices which are used only at night. Consequently, energy-saving technology has a magnified impact when applied to the realm of ceiling fan technology.

It is therefore great news that ceiling fans have evolved tremendously in recent times. Bewilderingly, however, not too many people are aware of these new types of fans. Hopefully, once you’ve read this – you too will become a Fan of this new technology and use it to cut your footprint.

Energy savings fans use 33 % less power (less than 50 Watts) compared to conventional ceiling fans (75 Watts). Replacing 6 conventional ceiling fans with energy-saving fans, used 16 hours per day, can reduce carbon footprint by 1.3 tonnes CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 3700 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates). Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

4. Solar Heat-Reflecting Clear Window Films

Most of the carbon footprint from air-conditioned residences and offices are the consequence of electricity consumption by cooling appliances. While installing more energy-efficient air conditioners is an effective way to reduce this footprint, the footprint reduction can be greatly enhanced by reducing the quantity of incoming heat energy that the device has to ‘fight’.

The commonly used dark-tinted films applied to automobile windows is an example of a relatively outmoded method of reducing incoming heat energy to minimize air-conditioning load. Reflective ‘mirror-like’ surfaces that reject solar energy also perform the same function. These solutions, while reducing heat load, do however have an adverse effect on the lighting requirements of the indoor areas they shield – they block visible light as much as they block heat energy from the sun. Recent innovations have resulted in the creation of films that reject upwards of 90% of infrared and UV rays (the primary agents of conveying solar heat into interiors of the building) while permitting 70% of visible light to pass through. Such films are known as spectrally selective films. By comparison, heavy silver window films permit just 15 to 20% of visible light to pass through. As an added benefit, the UV-blocking property of these films leads to a dramatic reduction in fading of upholstery, carpets and other soft-furnishing. Prolonging the life of these resource-intensive and high-cost products has notable indirect but tangible footprint benefits as well.

The lower cost of incorporating this solution relative to the cost of replacing existing cooling devices elevates this alternative in the priority list of interventions; it ought to be implemented as a pre-requisite prior to any other capital intensive solutions.

The pioneers in this realm are V-Kool International Pvt. Ltd. which has offices and operations in India.

II. Basic interventions that don’t involve any additional expenses

Air Conditioners

1.Reduced AC Use

One night (8-hours) of air-conditioner use (1-ton AC suitable for a small-sized room) results in approximately the same ‘Carbon Footprint’ as from driving an average Indian car for 85 kilometres. Reducing the use of these high-energy consuming appliances is indisputably the most effective means of reducing your footprint – even better than replacement with better technology.

An AC uses 3 to 5 per cent less energy for each degree set above 220C (71.50F); Setting the thermostat of your room air conditioner at 250C (770F) will, therefore, result in 10 to 15% energy and footprint savings without compromising comfort too much.

Using ceiling or room fans along with the AC allows you to set the thermostat higher because the air movement will cool the room.

Clean the air-conditioner filter every month. A dirty air filter reduces airflow and may damage the unit. Clean filters enable the unit to cool down quickly and use less energy.

Minimize use of the “outside air” option. Energy consumption for cooling the incoming outdoor air is significantly greater than the energy required to re-circulate the already cooled indoor air.

A very important step: figuring out the right size as per the need. Oversized air conditioners cycle on and off more frequently. Also, they don’t dehumidify as much, reducing comfort levels and causing users to set thermostat temperatures even lower. Result: higher electricity bills and larger footprint.

2. Refrigerators

Make sure that refrigerator is kept away from all sources of heat, including direct sunlight, radiators and appliances such as the oven, and cooking range.

When it’s dark, place a lit flashlight inside the refrigerator and close the door. If light around the door is seen, the seals need to be replaced. Alternatively, use the following test: With the door open, place a paper so that half of it protrudes outside the frame. Then close the door. The paper should be held snugly. If paper slips out easily, replace the door seals.

Place the refrigerator so that there is sufficient space for continuous airflow around the refrigerator. Refrigerator motors and compressors generate heat, if the heat can’t escape, the refrigerator’s cooling system will work harder and use more energy.

Allow hot and warm foods to cool and cover them well before putting them in the refrigerator; the Refrigerator will use less energy and condensation will be reduced.

When dust builds up on the refrigerator’s condenser coils, the motor works harder and uses more electricity. Clean the coils regularly to make sure that air can circulate freely.

For Manual Defrost (Direct Cool) Refrigerators, accumulation of ice reduces the cooling power by acting as unwanted insulation. Defrost freezer compartment regularly for a manual defrost refrigerator.

3. Computers & Printers

1. While purchasing a printer, select one with power management capabilities. Printers with automatic “power down” features can reduce electricity use by over 65% whilst idle.

2. Consider buying a laptop for your next computer upgrade. Laptops use up to 90% less energy compared to desktop computers.

3. Screen-savers cause your computers systems to keep running unnecessarily and are a waste of energy. Instead, set computers, monitors, and copiers to use sleep-mode when not in use – this helps cut energy cost and footprint by approximately 40%.

4. If your computer must be left on, turn off the monitor; this device alone uses more than half the system’s energy. Consider this: you can laser print 800 pages with the energy wasted by leaving a computer monitor ON overnight.

5. It is a popular misconception that keeping computers ‘ON’, even when not in use, reduces system wear due to power-on and off operations. Wrong. Start-ups and shutdowns do not use any extra energy, nor are they hard on your computer components. In fact, shutting computers down when you are finished using them actually reduces system wear – and saves energy. A computer that runs 24 hours a day, for instance, uses more power than an energy-efficient Refrigerator.

Turning on ‘Power Management Feature’ For a Windows® based PC – this can save up to 70% energy:

Press ‘Start’

Go to ‘Control Panel’

Select ‘Power Options’ or ‘Power Management Options’

Set Monitor turn off time (15 mins recommended) System standby time (30 mins recommended) and other setting depending on your system.

For Windows XP laptops:
Choose ‘Portable/ laptop and change the options under “running on batteries”. For the ultimate battery life, for example, set “Turn off Monitor” to “After 2 Minutes” and “Turn off Hard Disk” to “After 5 Minutes”.

For Windows Vista laptops:
Vista uses pre-set options called “Power Plans”. The “Power Saver Plan” is a good start but you can also click “Change Plan Settings” and change “Turn off Display” to “2 minutes”.

For Apple Macs:
Click the apple icon at the top left, then choose “System Preferences”. In the “Hardware” section, click on “Energy Saver” icon change settings for both the “Power Adapter” and the “Battery” options by moving the slider under “put the computer to sleep when it is inactive for” and “put the display to sleep when the computer is inactive for” sliders.

Tips on making your laptop battery last long

Despite improved battery technologies and more energy-efficient processors, bigger brighter screens drain battery power, as do hard disks and DVD drives.

1. Turn off wireless off when not in use – Wi-Fi connections drain power even when you are not connected to the internet. To turn the wireless off, look for a switch that turns the airport “OFF” on the side of your laptop. Alternately, there may be a wireless icon on the taskbar that you can (right) click on to bring up the instructions needed to enable or disable your wireless.

2. Adjust the brightness of your screen- the brighter your computer screen, the more energy is needed to back-light it. Make the screen as dim as you comfortably can. To do this – there may either be a function key command (e.g. Fn + 8), a single key command (e.g. F1, F2 on Mac), physical control or buttons on the side of your computer to do this. Please check your computer’s manual if you are not sure.

3. Do one thing at a time – keeping several programs open simultaneously uses the computer’s processing power and also its virtual memory. Exit one program before switching to the next.

4. Hibernate (For Windows laptops) – a Windows laptop has two standby modes – ‘Hibernate’ and ‘Suspend’. ‘Suspend’ restarts faster but uses more power. To switch to Hibernate in Windows XP, go to “Power Options” in control panel and click ”Hibernate’ tab, then tick ‘Enable Hibernation’. Click “OK” to finish.

5. Unplug USB devices – unplug any USB or PC card network adapters, memory keys that you are not using.

6. Eject CDs and DVDs if not using them – even if your computer is not using the CDs or DVDs in its drive, it checks them sporadically which wastes energy.

7. Close non-essential start-up programs – you might be surprised at how many programs launch on your computer the moment you boot up. While some of them show up on your screen, others run silently in the background. All such programs use energy, irrespective of whether you use them. If you are not sure what a particular start-up program does, do a search on it before disabling it.

Disabling start-up programs on Windows:

Click on “Start”, then “Program”. Find the “Startup” folder and open it. If you see anything you do not need, right click and select “Delete”

Disabling start-up programs on Apple Mac:

Click on the Apple logo. Select “System Preferences”. Click on the “Accounts” tab under “System” group. Click on click on “Login Items”. Delete any start-ups that you do not need.

8. Quit non-essential services – desktop search applications, network tools and messaging application run in the background even when you are not using them. You can (right)click on their icons and select the relevant ‘Exit’ or “Switch Off’ option.

4. Water Heater

Reducing the temperature setting of a water heater from 60 degrees to 50 degrees C results in over 18% energy and footprint savings.

5. Microwave Ovens & Electric Kettles

Microwaves save energy by reducing cooking times. In fact, one can save up to 50 per cent on your cooking energy costs by using a microwave oven instead of a regular oven, especially for small quantities of food.

Use an electric kettle to heat water. It’s more energy-efficient than using an electric cooktop element and an open cooking-stove flame.

When buying a new electric kettle, choose one that has an automatic shut-off button and a heat-resistant handle.

6. Cut Standby Power

“Standby Power is electrical power that a device consumes when not in present use, but plugged into a source of power and ready to be used”. In other words, “Standby Power” is the power consumed by appliances when they are turned off using a remote control and not from the ‘Plug Point Switch’.

This ‘invisible’ power consumption perhaps seems trivial but recent studies by the International Energy Agency (IEA) have established that an average household usually consumes up to 50 units of electricity (kWh) per month just due to appliances kept on ‘Standby Mode’. An average 2-bedroom home for a family of 4 in India can consume approximately 300 to 400 units of electricity per month. The seemingly trivial ‘Standby Power’ would then be responsible for 12 to 14% of the footprint from electricity consumption!

In short, one of the easiest ways to immediately reduce your carbon footprint is by learning to turn off the appliances from ‘Plug Point Switch’. Cut the Standby power!

Reduced Ironing

A domestic electric iron consumes approximately 800 Watts of power (equivalent to about 73 CFL Bulbs consuming 11 Watts each). A professional ‘Dhobi’ iron consumes in the vicinity of 1000 Watts. Based on approximately 10 minutes ironing time required per pair of clothes, calculations show that the annual carbon footprint resulting from ironing one pair of clothing every day is approximately 900 kg of CO2e, for a professional iron, and 724 kg of CO2e for a domestic iron. To put this in context, this equates to the footprint from driving a Maruti 800 for 6000 km’s and 4500 km’s for a dhobi and domestic iron, respectively. It is evident that the reduction of clothing ironing is imperative for achieving sizeable reductions in carbon footprint.

III. New Generation Technology – When buying New Appliances!

1. LED Bulbs

CFL Bulbs represent the most popular energy-saving lighting device used to dramatically cut carbon footprint. They belong to new-age technology. But there is a technology, fast approaching and no longer just on the horizon, called Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting that provides even greater energy savings compared to CFL Bulbs. An LED Bulb consuming merely 6 Watts of power can emit the same light as an 11 Watt (+3 Watt Choke) CFL Bulb or a 60 Watt Regular Incandescent Bulb. This represents an energy saving of 90% compared to regular light bulbs and 75% compared to CFL Bulbs. Replacing 6 regular light bulbs, used 8 hours per day, can reduce carbon footprint by 1.4 tonnes CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 4000 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates).
Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

Additionally, since these bulbs last approximately 40 times longer than regular bulbs and 6 times longer than CFL bulbs, their higher initial cost is recovered through fewer bulb purchases.

And this is the least known, but very crucial, the advantage of LED and other energy-saving lighting technologies – they reduce the heat load that air conditioners must ‘fight’. This is because more than 98% of the energy output of an Incandescent Bulb is wasted as heat energy, which warms the air in a room. By reducing the power supplied by 90% (by using LED bulbs), the quantity of heat generated in the room is also reduced proportionally. The end result is a significant saving in energy costs and carbon footprint from Air Conditioner use.

A complete energy and cost savings calculation for transforming an entire household from destructive regular light bulb technology to life-saving LED lighting technology is available.

2. Motion Detectors (PIR Sensors)

There are many spaces in household and residential building interiors that do not require continual lighting and cooling because people are just passing through such spaces (a good example is stairwell and compound lighting in buildings and fan/light operation in toilets and elevators in commercial and residential premises) the energy wasted in keeping such spaces continually lit/ temperature regulated, can be virtually eliminated by use of relatively inexpensive motion-detectors (Passive Infrared Sensors- PIR Sensors), that automatically switch-off fans, lights and any other devices that are not required to operate once all persons have vacated a certain space. The low cost of these devices equates to payback periods (i.e. the time span over which the cost of energy conserved equals the purchase cost of the implement) in the range of a few months.

Incorporating PIR Sensor-control in 6 tube lights used 12 hours per day (approximate usage in stairwell lighting applications), can reduce carbon footprint by 1.7 tonnes CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 4700 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates).

Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

3. Energy Star Rated Refrigerators

An average 10 to 15-year-old 2-door, 300 Liter, Frost-Free Refrigerator consumes in the vicinity of 120 Watts on average (calculated across on-off cycles). By comparison, a modern 5-Star rated refrigerator with identical characteristics consumes on average 50 Watts – an energy savings of approximately 60%.

Replacing a 10-15-year-old refrigerator with a 5-star rated equivalent can reduce carbon footprint by 0.9 tonnes CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 2600 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates). Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

4. Energy Star Rated Air Conditioners

An average non-energy star rated 1.5 Ton Window AC consumes in the vicinity of 2100 Watts on average (calculated across on-off cycles). By comparison, a modern 5-Star rated split unit AC of the same cooling capacity consumes on average 1700 Watts – an energy savings of approximately 20%.

Replacing an old 1.5 Ton Window AC with a 5-star rated equivalent can reduce carbon footprint by 560 kg CO2e annually and save you at least Rs. 1600 per year on your electric bill (based on all-India average electricity rates).

Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

CLICK HERE to download the BEE’s list of Energy Star Rated AC’s.

Note: Window AC’s are not as energy efficient as Split Units and therefore do not achieve better than 3-star Energy Ratings.

IV. Switching to Sustainable Energy Sources

1. Solar Water Heaters

A household electric water heater system (storage type) consumes approximately 2000 Watts of power. Such a system, used for 90-minutes everyday (for a 4-person household) results in an annual footprint of 1.7 Tonnes of CO2e and an annual expense of Rs. 4,600 in electricity costs (based on all-India average electricity rates).

Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai. Replacing conventional gas or electric-based heating systems completely eliminates this component of your electricity footprint and provides substantial energy costs savings; in fact, it eventually results in FREE Energy once the purchase and installation costs have been recovered through energy cost savings.

Solar Water Heating technology has now achieved complete financial and technological viability in India it use is becoming widespread. State and Central Government Low-Interest-Rate loans have largely assuaged the financial burdens of installing such a system; energy savings calculations indicate that payback periods for installing such systems in cities with high electricity costs are in the vicinity of 2 to 3 years.

2. Wind Energy

Wind energy-based systems are now readily available in appropriate sizes for installation on building rooftops and other residential household use. It represents a well-established and proven technology for harnessing nature’s renewable energy resources which have undergone a technological renaissance in recent years that have made such systems financially feasible for small scale applications. As wind energy systems (i.e. a windmill plus the energy storage devices such as invertors etc) harness energy from wind speed, they are ideal power generating solutions for non-sunny days when solar power generation potential is low. In combination with solar systems (called wind-solar systems), they are perfectly capable of providing a stable supply of power ranging from 500 Watts to 2.5 kW. With this amount of power, a residential building could easily operate staircase and compound lights as well as support a portion of the power needs of each dwelling unit for operating some fans and lights.

3. Solar Panels and Flexible Solar Films

Solar energy can be converted directly to electricity. Conventionally, this is accomplished through Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) Panels. These are the rigid, rectangular-shaped panels that are visibly mounted on top of street-lights and traffic lights in some cities. Solar panels are available for residential installations through a multitude of manufacturers and distributors in India. Combined with a wind energy system, they for a complimentary set of a renewable source of reliable power supply – during sunny periods the solar panels would generate a bulk of the power while the wind system would provide power during cloudy and windy periods.

Since solar energy is only available during the daytime, electricity generated is stored in a battery and made available to devices wired to it using an ‘Inverter’ that converts stored energy to an Alternating Current. Solar systems require the appliances to be run on it to be wired independently of the other circuits in the house (unless one desires to run all electricity consuming appliances to run on solar power – a possible but prohibitively expensive solution). Solar panel systems are ideal for powering lights and fans. By first minimizing the total power load (replacing conventional and CFL Bulbs with LED Lighting and replacing conventional fans with energy-saving fans) the size of the required Solar panel can be reduced. This leads to the maximum economy as the replacements cost less than the increased cost of a larger Solar panel. The further economy can be achieved by converting the wiring of the Solar-power run devices to Direct Current (DC) Wiring from the conventional Alternating Current (AC) wiring. This lowers the cost of the system as an ‘Inverter’ is no longer required and improves the efficiency of the system since the loss of power incurred due to the ‘Inverter’ is avoided.

The approximate cost of a 2000 Watt-hour System (i.e. a system that can power 600 Watts worth of appliances for 4 hours or any combination of power (in Watts) and hours that when multiplied results in the number 2400) in Mumbai costs approximately Rs. 2 Lakh (if wiring is converted to a DC circuit). Such a system can power 12 Tubular Fluorescent Lights for 4 hours every day. It would also reduce your carbon footprint by approximately 1.1 tonnes/year and yield savings of Rs. 3100 per year (based on all-India average electricity rates). Note: savings are approximately doubled in cities with higher electricity rates such as Mumbai.

Besides wired systems for household appliances, most of the above manufacturers and distributors also provide stand-alone solar lanterns and lamps that can provide light for 4 to 5 hours after sundown. These can be used to substitute existing lamps and lights resulting in reduced carbon footprint along with electricity cost savings.

Recently, big strides in solar panel manufacturing technology have precipitated a new generation of solar panels that are essentially like ‘plastic’ sheets which are flexible and can easily be applied over many different kinds of surfaces such as roofs, doors, outer walls of buildings etc. The technical term for them is Photovoltaic Laminates (PVL) or Thin-Film Solar Modules. The flexible nature of these panels addresses the greatest limitations of the existing crystalline solar panels – fragility, portability, and manufacturing costs. This technology is currently available only through a select few manufacturers. They are expected to dramatically alter the economics of solar power – making it significantly more affordable and closer to being cost-competitive compared to conventional sources of power than its predecessor.

Minimize Your FOOD Related Footprint

I. Cooking Fuel FootprintPiped Gas vs. LPG

While LPG cylinders have been the predominant method for delivering cooking fuel to urban households, Piped Natural Gas (PNG) systems are now becoming available in many urban areas. Wherever possible, PNG systems should be preferred relative to LPG cylinders as this can result in a lower carbon footprint due to two primary advantages:

1) Per unit of energy required for cooking, Natural Gas produces approximately 11% lesser Greenhouse Gas emissions.

2) LPG fuel requires vehicular transportation from centres of production to the location of its use. This added fossil fuel consumption adds to the footprint of LPG fuel consumption.

1. Pressure Cookers

Using a pressure cooker to cook dals, lentils, beans, potatoes as opposed to cook these in open or covered utensil results in approximately 70% reduction in carbon footprint associated with LPG, PNG consumption while cooking these. Also, since it reduces cooking times significantly, it results in proportional savings on gas expense.

2. Electric Rice Cookers / Electric Water Kettles

Cooking rice in an automatic electric rice cooker is unequivocally the most energy-efficient method of cooking rice. Compared to even the most carefully monitored method of cooking rice on an open flame (a combination of high and low flame), electric cookers save at least 55% energy. This is because these devices reduce heat loss to the environment through insulated construction and controlled heating.
In terms of carbon footprint, however, the analysis yields a surprising result. Stemming from the fact that grid-supplied electricity in India is predominantly coal-based thermal energy (with high greenhouse gas emissions relative to LPG) and that transmission and distribution losses are in the range of 35%, electrical energy is comparatively very ‘dirty’ compared to LPG. Thus, despite the energy requirement for electric cookers is 55% lesser than LPG-stove based cooking, these gains are entirely squandered because of the nation’s electricity generation choices. However, if home appliances are being powered by renewable or clean sources of electric power, then electric cookers are clearly the advisable option.

The same logic applies to use electric kettles for boiling or heating versus stove-top heating; despite the energy requirement for electric water kettles being significantly lesser than LPG-stove based boiling, the emissions related to electricity production in India results in electric kettles exerting a higher footprint for obtaining the same amount of heating.

3. Microwaves vs. Conventional Stoves/Ovens

Microwaves save energy by reducing cooking times. They save up to 50% on cooking energy requirements compared to a regular oven, especially for small quantities of food.

In comparison with Pressure-Cooker based LPG-stove cooking, for the case of rice cooking, Microwaves save approximately 14 to 24% energy.

Grid-supplied electricity in India is predominantly coal-based thermal energy (with high greenhouse gas emissions relative to LPG) and that transmission and distribution losses are in the range of 35%, electrical energy is comparatively very ‘dirty’ compared to LPG. Thus, despite the energy requirement for microwaves being 14 to 24% less than for LPG-stove based cooking, these gains are entirely squandered because of the nation’s electricity generation choices. However, if home appliances are being powered by renewable or clean sources of electric power, then microwaves are clearly the advisable option.

In comparison with electric rice cookers, microwaves are far less energy efficient for cooking rice and should be avoided to minimize carbon footprint.

4. Solar Cookers

Solar cookers are devices that concentrate solar heat energy in a limited area to heat substances kept in that region. These devices completely eliminate cooking fuel and can be used to cook day-time meals without adding to your carbon footprint.

Domestic solar cooking systems are generally of two kinds: solar box cookers and parabolic solar cookers. A solar box cooker is a highly insulated box with a glass covering at the top and a reflector(s) which directs the sun’s rays into the cooking compartment. It converts light energy from the sun into heat energy through the use of reflection and the greenhouse effect principles. The heat is then used to prepare meals. A parabolic solar cooker achieves greater heating temperatures by employing a curved polished aluminium ‘dish’ (varying its diameter varies the ‘collecting’ area and thereby determines the amount of heat that can be harnessed) that directs the sun’s rays to the focal point of the device where a cooking utensil is placed. Parabolic cookers are more suitable for cooking greater quantities of food at a time and also have faster cooking times relative to box cookers. However, their size limits their use in places where sun-lit spaces are cramped (such as balconies etc.). They are ideally suited for roof terraces or backyards/front-yards.

Carbon footprint calculations reveal that using a solar cooker for cooking one 5-person meal a day (comprising of rice and dal) can yield a carbon footprint reduction of 172 kgCO2e per year relative to conventional LPG-stove cooking. It also yields fuel cost savings of approximately Rs. 850 to Rs. 1000 per year.

5. Pre-Soaking Beans/Rice

Pre-soaking beans and rice prior to any cooking, stove-top, microwave, electric pot etc, always results in reduced cooking times and the proportional reductions in fuel consumption as well carbon footprint. Pre-soaking rice for 10 to 30 minutes prior to cooking can result in 8 to 10% energy savings. The energy savings from soaking beans overnight prior to cooking are significantly greater.

II. Minimize Your Meat Consumption

Meat production requires livestock (cow, buffalo, goat, etc.) farming – a process that in turn relies on a wide array of processes and activities to feed and sustain livestock. These activities range from energy use for cultivation of animal feed to fertilizer and manure application on land used for such cultivation; all leading to varying degrees of emissions of methane (for instance, from manure released from livestock) and nitrous oxide (from nitrogen-based fertilizers). In addition, livestock such as cow and buffalo release noteworthy quantities of methane as a by-product of digestive and internal fermentation processes during their life cycle.

Furthermore, livestock farming land represents land that is cleared and deforested and results in reduced Carbon-absorption potential of the land owing to the elimination of trees.

All these impacts are precursors to meat processing, transportation, and storage. The sum of the greenhouse gas emissions of all these activities results in a staggering meat consumption related Carbon Footprint. Globally, it has been calculated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the sum total of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming is approximately equal to those from all automobiles in the world combined!. To put it into perspective – one kg of mutton production in India results in the same carbon footprint as from the cultivation of approximately 12 kilograms of rice.

It is clear that cutting down on meat-related footprint is vital to achieving a carbon-neutral existence and for the food security of India as well as the world. Our agricultural resources can feed far more people if more of our nutrition were derived from non-meat sources.
Controlling meat consumption can yield drastic reductions in your personal carbon footprint. Cutting out a meat-based meal every alternate day can reduce your carbon footprint by almost 420 kg of CO2e per year!. To achieve this magnitude of carbon dioxide absorption, you would have to plant approximately 42 trees

III. Minimize Your Grocery Footprint

Minimize Your Food Miles: Buying locally grown fresh groceries and locally manufactured processed foods has direct implications on carbon footprint due to the greenhouse gas emissions related to road, sea and air transport. It is possible to calculate the total ‘food miles’ associated with your diet and determine its impact on your carbon footprint. Environmentally conscious communities in the Northeastern United States have created the concept of the 100-mile diet wherein consumers are encouraged to buy groceries and even processed foods that are entirely produced (including ingredients) within 100 miles of their home. While adhering to such a stringent diet requires great discipline and meticulous research in some instances, a less intense form of food-mile restricted diet can easily follow in India.

A beginning can be made by researching what foods are grown within your state (asking your local grocer and vegetable vendor can prove very informative), and evolving a diet largely comprising of these foods. This can also be adopted while on vacation or work-related trips: asking to be served locally grown varieties of rice as opposed to the pan-India obsession – Basmati Rice, for instance, is an example. Or consuming fruits and juices that a derived from locally grown varieties can also have a notable impact on your carbon footprint.

Re-Use, Refuse, Recycle

I. Minimize Your Household Waste Footprint

An urban family of four generates approximately 2 to 3 kgs of waste every day. That’s approximately 1 ton of waste every year – just from one family. A city like Mumbai generates about 10,000 tonnes of garbage every day! We have sent a man to the moon and gotten him back…but the only solution we have for our waste is to ‘Dump’ it where we cant see it!

In Mumbai (and other cities) garbage is transported in trucks (Mumbai has about 1500 trucks that ply on the road every day just for this) to a dumping ground – travelling 75 km every day. Imagine the amount of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions from these trucks.
Furthermore, when waste decomposes in these dumping grounds it generates Methane along with other toxic gasses – amongst other effects, it contributes greatly to global warming. The amount of Methane generated by one family’s waste in one year has the same impact on the environment as cutting approximately 84 trees.

All these deleterious impacts of resource-intensive, centralized landfill-based waste disposal can be entirely eliminated by adopting 2 processes: Recycling and Composting in your home or garden.


Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that enriches the soil. Compost is a superior means of adding nutrients to the soil relative to conventional synthetic fertilizers. Thus, composting has the added benefit of avoiding carbon footprint generation from fertilizer manufacture. The average annual quantity of compost that can be generated from a 5 person household can avoid the generation of 114 kg of CO2e from conventional fertilizer manufacturing.

Composting is not a new idea. In the natural world, composting is what happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, nutrients from the rotting leaves are reclaimed by living roots. This completes nature’s recycling process. While composting in rural environments or places with an abundant supply of garden waste (dried leaves and twigs) is relatively simple, urban composting has always been a challenge. In recent years, tremendous research work in this field has resulted in the establishment of clear guidelines for successful urban composting without the use of earthworms (a previously favoured component in composting systems). There are no more mysteries about how to make it work in the smallest of households without creating undesirable odors or pest activity; troubleshooting guidelines exist for virtually any scenario that could possibly occur.

Segregating and Recycling Common Household Wastes

Besides kitchen waste, which can be composted, urban household waste comprises materials made up of a combination of paper, plastic, glass, rubber, cloth, metal, wood etc. All of these materials have great value and usefulness embedded in them – through innovative processes these ‘waste’ materials can be reborn. For instance, broken glass can be re-melted to form new glass products. Sending these as parts of un-segregated ‘mixed garbage’ to landfills completely eliminates the opportunity to tap this hidden ‘wealth’ and increases your carbon footprint as it requires new goods to be manufactured from virgin material. Separating these materials from mixed waste, before they have been fouled by rotting food matter, greatly increases their value and recycling potential.

Recycling has been practised widely all over India since ancient periods. Recently, however, growing urban ignorance about the virtues of recycling and reluctance to incorporate any changes in an entrenched, comfortable pattern of just throwing waste away has led to a rapid decline in recycling activities in many urban centres in India.

A movement to revitalize recycling has resumed in a few urban centres. It is now possible to arrange for pick-ups of all recyclable materials from your home/building by qualified professionals who will ensure the materials attain a safe and useful fate. One such organization that provides recycling services at no cost to residents in Mumbai is FORCE (Forum of Recyclers Communities and Environment).

To begin practising recycling, follow these steps:

1. Establish clearly marked separate bins at your residence for disposing of a) recyclable materials (paper, plastic, glass, rubber, cloth, metal, wood etc.) and b) organic food waste which can be composted or disposed of in other ways.

2. Enquire in your neighbourhood to identify persons who will routinely collect this waste and convey it to a local recycler. These persons are often referred to, in an unfortunately derogatory manner as ‘ragpickers’.

In Mumbai, the FORCE team can be contacted at Mr Prakash Sonawane, Telephone No. – 9322020643

Recycling Electronic Waste

Just as regular household waste consists of recyclable components with immense economic and carbon footprint reduction value, salvageable through segregation as recycling, the same holds true for waste electronic products such as computers, TVs, VCRs, CD players, DVD players etc. All electronic systems consist of many metals which are expensive to mine through resource-intensive processes which exert tremendous stresses on the environment. Salvaging these and other valuable materials of electronic systems result in sizeable reductions in your global warming impact through:

a) Reuse of metallic components by avoided mining and processing of virgin material.

b) Prevention of hazardous release of these metals into soil and groundwater which can occur in landfills; reducing the toxic impacts of garbage disposal on the ecosystem.

Recycling electronic products is a specialized industry and such facilities are not very prevalent in India as of mid-2009. The pioneering solutions provider in this field is EcoReco based in Mumbai. They provide free pick-up services for even individual electronic systems and reimburse recyclers based on standardized rates for the recycle value of their products.

Recycling old clothes/ shoes/ toys

Giving away your old clothes, shoes, toys etc. not only reduces waste generation, it also makes available these articles to people that need them Visit Toybank at http://www.toybank.co. in to see if they operate in your city Delhi based Goonj has been doing exemplary work in collecting old clothes and other articles and re-distributing them. Visit Goonj at http://www.goonj.info/ to see if they operate in your city
In addition, many local charities, orphanages, churches will take old clothes for re-distribution. Ask around and you will likely find something not too far from you.

II. Minimize Your Packaging Footprint

As urban shopping habits have shifted and gravitated towards branded, packaged goodthere has been a steep rise in the quantity of packaged consumed per urban household. Everything from green chillies to wheat flour now involves one or more layer of plastic or paper based packaging when bought from big-box grocery stores. Over half of the 45,000 tonnes of plastic waste dumped globally in oceans each year comes from packaging such as chip packets and polythene bags. Minimizing your packaging footprint can be achieved through the following simple interventions:

A gradual return to eating fresh unpacked food, buying grains and spices in ‘loose’ form (using minimal paper packaging) and use a cloth bag for shopping are some effective ways of reducing your packaging related footprint.

Buying certain routinely consumed substances in bulk can also help reduce your packaging footprint. For instance the packaging involved in buying 10 separate 1 kg packets of Basmati Rice is disproportionately greater than buying one 10 kg bag of Basmati Rice. Similar logic prevails in the case of oil, grains, toilet paper etc..

If using plastic bags is absolutely unavoidable (for instance – bags for lining garbage bins, transporting materials during monsoon etc.), switch to using Biodegradable Plastics. This is a recent innovation that is now available in India through a patented technology developed by Earthsoul India Pvt. Ltd. The biodegradable plastic bags manufactured by them are designed out of plastic materials (polymers) that decompose when exposed to sunlight, heat and/or stress conditions which are commonly present in the environment. A combination of any one of these factors triggers the oxidation process, which transform the once tough and flexible plastic product into brittle fragments that will eventually convert into carbon dioxide, water and biomass (carbon based molecules that serve as nutrients for microorganisms present in decomposing waste), leaving absolutely no toxic by-products.

Minimize Your Travel Footprint

I. Vehicular Travel Footprint

Here we present some very effective ways to greatly reduce your vehicular footprint through a combination of smarter consumption choices, logical technical interventions, and re-distribution of modes of transport used.

Changing the fuel-type you use:

Fuels differ greatly in their impact on global warming through varying quantities of greenhouse gasses emitted per litre or kilogram burned. Since, however, the mileage provided by these fuels also differs – it is more logical to consider the greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre of travel.

Calculations specific to fuel types and fuel quality available in India have revealed that for an average 4-wheeler vehicle, CNG fuel produces approximately 35% less greenhouse gas emissions per km or travel relative to petrol. Diesel fuel has approximately 7% lesser emissions per km travelled relative to petrol – however, because of its significantly greater impacts on other pollutants (besides greenhouse gases), diesel isn’t an advisable alternative to reduce the overall environmental footprint from travel. Based on this, it is evident that switching your automotive fuel system form petrol/diesel to CNG can reduce vehicular footprint by 35%. This can be done by retrofitting CNG kits into exiting cars; a process that has, in recent years, been standardized across the industry and no longer involves any compromise on driving safety.

Switching your car to CNG can yield savings of Rs. 37,000 annually (based on driving 30 km/day) and reduce annual footprint by nearly 0.8 tonnes of CO2e per year.

CNG-kit installations are performed by many qualified firms across the country.

1) Zero Pollution

More fuel-efficient cars:

Smaller or more fuel-efficient cars of the same size can greatly impact your personal carbon footprint by enabling you to consume lesser fuel for travelling a given distance. Footprint reductions are directly proportional to the fuel efficiency (kilometres drivable per litre or kg of fuel).

Consider purchasing a more fuel-efficient car from amongst this list to minimize your vehicular travel footprint.

The Most Fuel Efficient Car in India:

Hand down the most potent vehicle in terms of reducing carbon footprint and also eliminating local city air pollution levels is the REVA Electric Car. While the REVA doesn’t actually emit any gasses while being driven, the electricity used to charge its batteries has a carbon footprint associated with it.

Our analysis has revealed that despite the relatively ‘dirty’ electric power available in India (stemming from the fact that grid-supplied electricity in India is predominantly coal-based thermal energy (with high greenhouse gas emissions relative to other power generation fuels) and that transmission and distribution losses are in the range of 35%) the REVA results in greenhouse gas emissions that are approximately 10% lower than the most fuel-efficient car on Indian roads. An average 4-door sedan in India produces approximately 40% more emissions per kilometre relative to the REVA.

It is evident that the REVA can reduce your travelling related footprint by 40%. Driving a REVA as opposed to a conventional 4-door petrol car can reduce annual footprint by 0.6 tonnes per year (based on 30 km daily driving). It also results in staggering cost savings: the REVA costs approximately 40 paise per kilometre to run while an average 4-door petrol or diesel car costs Rs. 5 and Rs. 3 per km, respectively. That’s a savings of nearly 90% on your annual fuel bill. Based on 30 km daily driving, this can translate to savings of Rs. 45,000 per year compared to a petrol-fuelled vehicle.

Public Transport and Private Footprint:

Consider this: A single kilometre of travel in an average petrol-fuelled Indian car would result in the same Footprint as a 15 km long local train journey. In other words, local train travel in a city is 1500% more energy-efficient and 1500% less taxing on your carbon footprint than a petrol-fuelled vehicle. Its exceedingly high-cost efficiency is possibly already known to all. Furthermore, with the urban citizen increasingly plagued by growing vehicular traffic congestion, it also presents a tremendous opportunity for saving commuting time.

Substituting even a modest percentage of car-driven trips with local train, bus or even autorickshaws can have a significant impact on your carbon footprint. For the case of 30 km driving everyday (i.e. approximately 10,000 km per year), substituting just 25% of your petrol-fuelled car trips (1 in 4) with local train, bus, and autorickshaw can reduce annual carbon footprint by 0.5 tonnes of CO2e in the case of train and bus and by approximately 0.37 tonnes of CO2e for autorickshaw.


Combining car trips with family, friends, office colleagues by some thoughtful scheduling can reduce congestion on city roads and have a direct beneficial impact on the carbon footprint of all involved. Formally, this is known as ‘Carpooling’. To enable urban citizens to find other persons willing to carpool to a common destination (workplace, shopping etc.), carpooling websites have been proliferating in many cities across India. These websites require you to set-up a travelling profile and provide email addresses etc. so that persons interested in carpooling with you can contact you. You in-turn can view existing profiles to investigate if there are already other residents of your city who are keen on carpooling on your chosen route:

Smart Driving

Driving ‘smoothly’ and efficiently saves fuel and reduces carbon footprint. Efficient driving means the following things

1. Accelerating smoothly.

2. Braking gently (which is only viable when you allow for adequate ‘following’ distance – keeping ‘safe’ distance makes sense even in the context of global warming).

3. Turning off the vehicle engine at a red light if the waiting period is expected to be greater than 10 seconds.

4. Turning on the air-conditioner only when needed.

5. Rolling up your windows when driving on highways.

Minimize Your Air Travel Footprint

I. Domestic Air Travel

Aeroplanes use enormous quantities of aviation or ‘jet’ fuel for landing and taking-off and also during cruise-mode travel. These quantities are alarmingly greater per kilometre of travel for a single passenger as compared to rail travel or vehicular travel with multiple passengers. For instance, a 1000 km journey by a domestic Indian airline would contribute approximately 110 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents to a passenger’s Carbon Footprint. In contrast, the same journey undertaken by rail or a 4-person journey in an average Indian car would create a Footprint of 14 and 40 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents, respectively. These equate to reductions of approximately 90 and 65%, in relation to air travel.

While Indian Railway Trains were earlier synonymous with unhygienic travelling conditions and lack of passenger comfort, these are no longer true and intercity rail travel in India has transformed radically in a short span of time. The following are some of the key improvements as verified by many thousands of miles travelled throughout India by our team members:

1) Establishment of a wide network of luxurious and efficient intercity express trains primarily designed for brisk business travel – the Shatabdi Trains, that depart and arrive at times most suited for business travellers.

2) Improved sanitary conditions in Toilets of all long-distance trains. At the originating station and mid-way during each journey, hygiene teams part of the ‘Clean Station Program’ spray disinfecting chemicals in toilets and corridors and render it squeaky clean for the remainder of the journey.

3) Higher cooking hygiene standards adopted and standardized meals served by the Railways Catering Service (IRCTC).

4) Laptop and Cell-Phone charging points available in all railway classes. In the case of AC Coaches, one charging point available for every 4 to 6 passengers.

A veritable revolution in the ease of booking tickets has been unleashed with the launching of user-friendly online ticketing services that does away with the need for touts, travel agents, and long queues at booking offices. With the advent of e-ticketing, a passenger only needs to carry a printout of the ticket and carry a photo-ID while travelling.

II. International Air Travel

International air travel levies an egregious burden on global warming. Consider this; a single international roundtrip flight to USA/Canada from India creates an individual Footprint of approximately 2.6 tonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalents. In the year 2004-2005, the average per capita Carbon Footprint for India was 1.6 tonnes per annum. Thus, one international roundtrip flight to USA/Canada would create enough Footprint in 36 hours to exceed the annual Footprint of an average Indian by 62%!.

While there isn’t any viable alternative to air-travel (besides sea travel), there are some choices that can mitigate some of its impact on your carbon footprint: Flying non-stop to your destination. Everything else being equal, a direct flight would have a lower global warming effect, as it would avoid the excessive emissions that arise from an additional landing and take-off cycle at a transit airport.

1. Choosing airlines with a clearly advertised strategy for reducing greenhouse emissions by employing some percentages of bio-fuels, improving fuel efficiency through maintenance of a modern aircraft fleet.

2. Choosing airlines that provide you the option of ‘offsetting’ your flight emissions by purchasing carbon credits.

3. However, the most effective way to minimize international air travel is to substitute a physical meeting with an online meeting – entirely avoiding the need to travel. One such solution that enables such meetings is known as WEBEX. Their products are designed to help you reduce your flying related CO2 emissions by holding meetings online.

Minimize Footprint due to other Personal-Use Items

I. Minimise Footprint Due to Paper Usage

On average, an urban citizen throws away two trees worth of paper. Although paper is biodegradable, its decomposition releases Methane – a substance with a global warming impact 21 times greater than Carbon Dioxide. A few simple ways of minimizing your paper footprint are:If you subscribe to multiple newspapers and magazines, consider subscribing to their online editions of some of them instead. One years worth of a single newspaper subscription leads to emissions ranging from 130 to 180 kg CO2e per year. Cutting down one newspaper subscription equates to saving approximately 13 to 18 trees every year.

II. Minimize Footprint due to Household Cleaning Reagents

Synthetic chemicals are used in nearly all cleaning products such as sprays and chlorine bleaches. Not only does the manufacture of these chemicals add to your personal carbon footprint (through their consumption), their release into the environment through waste streams etc. magnifies their toxic effects as they accumulate in living organisms. For instance, the chemical known as Triclosan (used in anti-bacterial cleaners) has been detected in human milk and aquatic organisms.

Conventional synthetic-chemical based cleaners and detergents can be substituted by the following substances’Aritha’ or Soap Nuts, a natural soap-forming substance that grows in the wild and can be cultivated, were the primary cleaning agents used historically in India and they continue to be used by rural communities; their use in this country has been declining since the advent of ‘cheap’ detergents following the brisk industrialization of the country following independence. They fell out of favor amongst modern consumers who were mislead to believe that they are cumbersome to use, compromise on cleaning qualities, and are generally an unsophisticated method of cleaning not appropriate for urban households.

Recent interest in the cleansing properties of these naturally occurring soaps by environmentally conscious communities in Western Europe and Scandinavia has spawned a renaissance – it is now recognized as a perfectly viable alternative to conventional detergent that can even be used in washing machines. Furthermore, it is a natural fabric softener that replicates all the attributes of conventional detergents without the use of synthetic additives. India is one of the largest growers of this natural soap and exports vast quantities to Western European nations. Bewilderingly, its own citizens are largely unaware of the virtues and availability of this product in user-friendly forms custom designed for urban use. Like all wise consumption choices that mitigate your impact on global warming, this one too is accompanied by significant cost benefits. Per laundry-load (washing machine or bucket wash), switching to this natural detergent yields monetary savings of approximately 60 to 70%.

One reliable supplier of these ‘Soap Nuts’ that seeks to spur an environmental revolution through simple alterations to urban lifestyle is Daily Dump, a non-profit organization based out of Bangalore (Karnataka), India. A 6-week supply of Soap Nuts marketed by them (grown organically using ethical farming practices) costs Rs. 150 – that same quantity of laundry done with conventional washing machine detergents would cost approximately Rs. 600.

Diluted white vinegar, lime juice, and baking soda can be used together or separately to clean a variety of surfaces, windows and tiles.

III. Minimize Your Clothing/Furnishing Footprint

Cotton vs other natural fabrics vs synthetics
After factoring in the fabrics used in clothes and how they were produced, the real benefits of soy versus organic cotton versus recycled polyester may be slight, or confusing, or quite possibly misleading. Most synthetic fabrics are non-biodegradable (i.e they are not broken down by bacteria and other microorganisms in the natural environment).

Nylon production also contributes to global warming with the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a global warming impact 210 times greater than Carbon Dioxide. However, synthetics are easy to maintain – they can be washed in cold water, dry quickly and usually do not need any ironing. On the other hand, though cotton has a much higher recycling potential, conventional fertilizer and pesticide/insecticide based cotton farming is devastatingly water-intensive and results in a significant carbon footprint. Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop and epitomizes the worst effects of chemically dependent agriculture. Each year cotton producers around the world use nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides – more than 10% of the world’s pesticides and nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides. Organic cotton makes up a minuscule percentage of cotton grown worldwide.

And a significant proportion of the carbon footprint due to cotton garments is due to the care and maintenance – including hot water washing and ironing – required during their lifetime – up 65% according to some estimates. Fabrics made from bamboo or hemp are promoted as having been raised without pesticides and also for growing much faster than cotton. But the downside is that bamboo or hemp fibres are naturally tough and are typically softened before being woven into fabric by using chemical treatments, which cause more pollution.

Naturally softer fabrics made from soy have a mild impact compared to cotton, according to environmental groups, but they are less durable, so clothes wear out faster and have to be replaced more often – which has an environmental cost of its own. And then there is the issue of clothing-miles – similar to food miles – Clothes that are assembled in factories far from the mills that produced the fabrics and the stores that sell the finished products leave carbon footprints in their journey around the world.

The clothes least likely to adversely affect the earth and its climate – are the ones you already own. No new resources will be depleted to make them, and if they need infrequent washing and can be drip-dried, all the better.

Minimize Your Water Footprint

With erratic global and local weather patterns leading to volatile water supply conditions in cities, a stable supply of clean potable water for drinking, cooking and other purposes is an even more precious resource than was perhaps earlier estimated. Water treatment, pumping, and the subsequent wastewater treatment are energy and chemical-intensive processes that have a direct impact on your carbon footprint – proportional to the total quantity of water use necessitated by your lifestyle and greatly dependent on the source of your water supply
Minimizing your water-related footprint is essential not just for cubing your impact on global warming but also as a vital step towards adapting to the new realities of an increasingly global-warming affected water cycle – wherein rainfall patterns are characterized by fluctuating extremes of drought and flood. Following are some effective ways of minimizing your water footprint:

I. Minimizing Bottled Water Consumption

On average, production of one litre of bottled water depletes the earth’s natural water supply by 5 litres – water is required for many processes within bottled water production plants beside the water eventually consumed by the end-user. Furthermore, in India, some of the bottled water plants of the Coca Cola Company (manufacturers of the Kinley brand) are situated in Kerala and Rajasthan in regions already affected by water scarcity. Reports published by TERI (The Energy Research Institute, New Delhi, India) have verified the detrimental impacts of bottled water plant operations of this company on the already fragile water supply primarily meant for use by local farming communities.

Availability of cheap land in drought-prone regions proves to be an attractive incentive for corporations to set-up bottling operations which employ high-energy pumping systems to draw water from greater depths underground year over year; exacerbating the predicament of local farmers that are not equipped with matching technology to harness the depleting water supply. Threatening food supplies and increased water pumping energy requirements in these regions through bottled water consumption has direct implications for your personal carbon footprint.

Bottled water production requires the manufacture of plastic bottles that are accompanied with a carbon footprint and also transportation from remote rural locations to urban centres for consumption; entailing a transportation footprint. A 4-person household using purely bottled water for their drinking needs would generate a footprint of 0.8 tonnes of CO2 per year. This footprint would require approximately 80 trees to be planted to re-absorb the resulting emissions.

This sizeable footprint can be completely avoided by using the public water supply system available in your area and purifying/disinfecting it using any of wide variety of Ultraviolet Light (UV) or Reverse Osmosis (RO) filters available in the market. To verify that the water purified by these systems is acceptable for drinking, get a sample tested by a local chemical testing lab. It will reveal that water produced through this method is, in fact, safer for drinking than bottled water who’s quality and source cannot be assured.

II. Rain Water Harvesting (RWH)

With increasing concretization of urban areas and a corresponding reduction in open spaces, rainwater falling on the ground washes off the surface and is either drained to wastewater treatment plants (in cities that have well-functioning drainage systems) or causes frequent and sometimes hazardous flooding. Rainwater represents a valuable resource that not only has great environmental value but can directly enhance the standard of living of urban communities while yielding cost savings (by reducing the need for purchasing municipal or commercially purchased water). All these benefits immediately follow upon the implementation of Rain Water Harvesting – an engineering solution by means of which rainwater falling on rooftops and floor surfaces of residential properties are channelled to underground storage tanks or for recharging ring-wells dug specifically for storing this water.

Water ‘harvested’ during a single monsoon in many cities in India can greatly alleviate water scarcity or provide extra water that can be used for beneficial purposes such as gardening, washing compound floors, streets etc. during dry periods. If you believe rainwater harvesting can only be implemented in new constructions where it is part of the initial design – that is a misconception. Some degree of rainwater harvesting can be implemented in almost any residential property – no matter how old or how small. In most cases, the costs of implementation are modest in comparison with the cost of purchasing water routinely through commercial suppliers i.e. the payback periods are very short.
Most urban centres in India have RWH consultants or non-profit institutions that could provide solutions tailor-made for your needs and budgets.

III. Water Conservation at Home

A dripping tap can waste up to 10 litres of water a day and a running tap wastes 5 litres of water a minute. Get dripping taps fixed and don’t leave the tap running when brushing your teeth or shaving.

Minimize Your Construction Footprint

I. Construction Materials

Construction and Repair of buildings is a very resource and energy-intensive process – a visit to any residential construction site makes this fact palpable. Steel, Cement, Plaster, PVC, Mortar, Bricks, River Sand, Wood, Paints, Water are just a small fraction of the material inputs. All these have an associated carbon footprint, which when summed can have a substantial impact on your personal carbon footprint. While some amounts of new virgin materials are unavoidable (at least given the current state of technology), the are a few key construction materials that are available, either commercially in the market or through innovative non-profit / research partnership initiatives, made from recycled construction debris or other waste products which can mitigate some of your construction-related carbon footprint. Some key construction/repair materials belonging to this realm of recycled or eco-friendly products are:

i. Hollow-Concrete Construction Blocks (made from recycled construction debris).
ii. Fly-Ash Bricks.
iii. Low-VOC (Volatile Organic Carbon) Paints.
iv. Pit-Sand (as alternative to River Sand).

In Mumbai, the CIDCO-Yuva Building Center supplies Hollow-Concrete Construction Blocks made from recycled construction debris at a 20% lower cost than conventional concrete blocks available in the market. This is part of their ‘Debris to Development’ Program. They can be contacted to arrange for a supply of these for your next home or building construction/renovation/repair project.

II. Green Design

India is now witnessing to a veritable revolution in architecture; a new school of thought and practice that gives paramount importance to low-global warming impact and eco-friendly design principles. The new field of architecture known as Green Architecture is no longer just an abstract concept or a luxury available to an elite segment of Indian citizens. Services of these innovative, LEED-India (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and registered (with the Indian Green Building Council) architects are available and would prove economically viable in the long term, to anyone that accepts responsibility for their construction footprint and resolves to minimize its impact on global warming. The degree to which one chooses to delve into adopting green architecture recommendations might be influenced by budget decisions, but some interventions can always be incorporated at the initial stages with more elaborate interventions scheduled for later periods if funds become available.