of us should live sustainably in order to conserve the
resources of this world. The consumptive life style of
western societies is putting tremendous pressures on the
world resources besides increasing earth warming and
pollution. For example an average US
consumes 306 GJ/yr. of energy. If
every citizen of this planet wants to have the wasteful
and consumptive life style of an average American then we
will need the resources
4 earths to sustain us.
of us who work in the areas of sustainable development
should try to live sustainably ourselves. I would
therefore like to share with you my experiences in living
a sustainable but decent and emotionally satisfying life.
This lifestyle has evolved slowly over time and required
some effort. I had lived in US for many years in 1970s and
had imbibed the consumptive lifestyle of US. Coming and
living in rural India
taught me many things among which was spirituality
and frugality. Both these things go hand in hand and have
helped me live in the way I describe below.
live in a rural town called Phaltan in district Satara,
Maharashtra, India where I run a small NGO called Nimbkar Agricultural
Research Institute (NARI). We work in the areas of
agriculture, renewable energy, animal husbandry and
in sustainable living for the last 30 years are as
live in a house designed by me and constructed in 1984.
It is built of stone with 18” thick walls which allow
tremendous thermal lag so heating and cooling due to
ambient atmospheric temperature is delayed. It is
passively cooled in the summer by laying old jute gunny
sacs on the roof and sprinkling water on them two times
a day. These sacs are very cheap and cost ~ Rs. 15/m2.
The evaporating water from the sacs cools the roof from
where 80% of solar thermal load comes into the house. Thus when the
outside temperatures are about 40-450C the
house is cool in the afternoon with average temperatures
of rooms ranging from 25-300C. This is mostly
because of thick walls and cool roof. Besides we also
close all the windows and draw the drapes over them so
that hot air and radiation from outside does not come
inside the house. The trees surrounding the house also
a couple of years or so the gunny sacs are worn out
because of the salts left behind by the evaporating
water. These old gunny sacs are either used as mulch in
the garden or burned in our hot water boiler, which
supplies water for our daily bath. The water boiler is a
grate-type multifuel boiler with about a 10 m long
chimney attached to it.
This chimney height gives an excellent draught
and hence burns the wood and other material quite
cleanly. In fact the water boiler is used for burning
lots of different things as explained below. The ash
from this boiler is used as a fertilizer in our garden
either by putting it directly or in composting pit.
is about 800 m above sea level and is 100 km south-east
of Pune or 300 km south-east of Mumbai. Its
climate is very mild.
Still in some years during winters the
minimum temperatures can reach 7-8 0C. Our
house is not heated. We close the windows at night if
needed and wear warm clothes and socks. It keeps us warm
our kitchen waste is composted in a pit (dimensions of 1
m X 1 m X 1 m) and within 2-3 months it provides
excellent fertilizer for the garden. Till couple of
years ago we used to feed the kitchen waste to the
rabbits (about 25-30 of them) who were in a cage in our
garden and they provided manure for the garden much
rapidly than the compost pit. However two years ago our
garden was flooded with torrential rain and they all
never waste any food. Whatever we take on the plate is
eaten. The leftovers are either used next day or fed to
our two dogs and 3-4 cats. There is no special food for
the pets. They eat whatever we eat.
have a 2-acre plot on which our house is located. It mostly
contains trees planted by us. Their leaf litter rots in
the soil during rainy season and provide nice mulch. The
dead branches and cut trees provide us the wood for
heating our bath water in the boiler. In fact we
always have surplus of wood so that we sell it and make
a nice tidy sum.
we purchased this land in 1981 it was completely barren
and the quality of land was so poor that there would be
huge cracks – big enough for whole sheep to disappear in
them. We planted about 30 different types of trees. With
time the trees have grown so that the garden is
presently like a tropical forest. Last count showed that
there are about 40 different types of birds which either
live in our garden or take refuge during migratory
phase. The leaf litter from the trees and the compost
fertilizer has improved the soil quality and it has
therefore become springy and quite fertile.
of our groceries and vegetables are grown within 10-15
km of our home. The eggs are from free ranging chickens,
milk from cows across the road and vegetables and
groceries from the local market. Most of these
things are grown in Phaltan area. We use safflower seed
produced on our Institute farm for crushing in the local
mill for oil. Thus
the oil is fresh and without any chemicals. We also
consume some fruits grown in our own garden.
very recently I drove my 31 year-old Maruti 800cc car
which transported me from point A to B comfortably.
After being driven 150, 000 kilometers it has been
retired since it cannot be insured and neither can I get
spare parts for its repair. So now I drive an efficient
Maruti Alto which gives me between 18-20 km/liter and is
small enough to go in the smallest of lanes and by-
lanes of Phaltan town. For long distance driving to Pune
or Mumbai (300 km from Phaltan) I use Maruti Esteem
which also gives average of 18-20 km/liter.
have few clothes and they are worn till they get torn.
They are then used in the house as dusters and wipers
and after becoming tatters are used in the water boiler
to heat the water.
wear mostly khadi or cotton spun in cottage industries.
Thus I buy the cloth for my bush shirts and they are
stitched by my tailor in Phaltan. This makes these
shirts much cheaper than the ones purchased in the
is a very comfortable material to wear and also makes
excellent dusters and wipers after the shirts get torn.
- Similarly all
the papers in the office are used for writing on both
sides and the used ones are brought to our house to
again heat our bath water.
Thus everything is recycled.
- We use
electricity sparingly – which till recently was
facilitated by the Government of Maharashtra since we
used to have 3-4 hours of power cut everyday! We have
battery-powered inverters both in the offices and at
home which supply enough juice during power cuts for
lights, fans and computers only. So no TV or
refrigerators run on them. During electricity cuts we
walk, talk or read. This provides a good quality time to
catch up on reading and discussions. Sometimes I think
this is for the best as 24-hour electricity with TV and
other electronic media running continuously causes
- We do not travel
very much but communicate more by phones and internet
and believe that this is much more energy-efficient way
of keeping in touch. With availability of broad-band
internet connection both at home and in the office, it
is an excellent communication and information medium.
- We bring most of
our groceries and vegetables in cotton carry bags and
hence have little garbage of plastic. Nevertheless we
cannot get away from plastic as most things come already
packed in it and this is the biggest nuisance we have. We have no way
to recycle it. Presently we take the plastic bags and
bottles to the local garbage dump from where they
ultimately go to the recycling center. Still I feel we
use much less plastic than most people. The technology
for recycling of plastics in rural areas is not
available and is very much needed.
- We are
teetotalers and drink only water, which is boiled. Thus the
plastic bottles and cans of soft drinks do not litter
our garden. Drinking only water is not only healthier
but also helps the environment by not producing plastic
- We buy only
those things which are needed and since we live simply
we do not need to buy too many things. We still use one
of our 25-30 year old refrigerator
and try to get most of our gadgets repaired rather than
throwing them away when they stop working. This reduces
the garbage production and at the same time is easy on
the pocket book. However India is rapidly developing
into a throwaway society and hence it is becoming
increasingly difficult to get the old gadgets repaired.
- The main
external inputs we use are electricity, petrol for
mobility and LPG for cooking. Our per capita energy
consumption (from last 2-3 years data) is 14.5 GJ/yr.
for electricity (both in offices and home), 10.8 GJ/yr.
in transport (mostly for petrol for 2 cars) and 2.1
GJ/yr. in cooking gas. Thus we personally consume 27.4
GJ/person/year of energy. To this should be added the
energy in India’s
infrastructure which comes to about 10 GJ/person/year.
Thus our total commercial energy consumption is 37.4
GJ/person/yr. Contrast this with about 306
GJ/person/year that an average U.S. citizen uses. Thus
in 1/8th the energy that is used by an
average America citizen we can live quite decently in a
modern industrial society.
- Our low
electricity consumption results since we use only fans
and CFLs and evaporative roof cooling system. Even in
our offices we use evaporative roof cooling. We do have
an air conditioner (AC) in our bedroom and in office but
it is hardly used because of evaporative roof cooling
system. Last 8-10 years data show that we have used AC
for 15-20 days a year during the hot humid weather. The
low energy usage in transport is because on an average
we travel between 15-17 thousand km/yr.
- If air travel is
added to the above energy then the consumption increases
drastically. With the energy norm of 1.3 MJ/passenger-km
for air travel a trip to US from Mumbai consumes 28.3
GJ/person of energy while each domestic air travel
consumes ~ 3GJ/person. Thus last year we made 4 domestic
and one foreign trip and this added to make our total
energy consumption to 86 GJ/person. This is still less
than 1/3rd the energy consumed by a US citizen. Though
our air travel is quite limited but still it is the
biggest user of energy in our case. Interestingly one
earth is sufficient to provide every person this
- Similarly our
average water consumption is 180 liters per person/day
for household purposes.
This is almost one-fourth that used by a U.S.
- Thus a
satisfying and decent life style can be maintained in
much less energy and water usage as compared to that in
western societies and this is a lesson for our leaders
who are hell bent on following the Chinese and US
patterns which are both very consumptive and
make the life style even more sustainable by producing
and gaseous fuels from agricultural residues so that
our household gadgets and mobility machines can run on
locally produced fuel. Similarly electricity
production from solar energy can further help in
this process. However both these things will require a
community effort together with certain policy changes by
the Government of India. Nevertheless if all of us become
secure through spirituality then it can help us
reduce our greed for materials and resources and help us
in living sustainably. And with proper planning and
enlightened policy of the Government, Indians can enjoy a
very high quality of life without becoming over
is an avatar of the original article published in 2009 in
the book “Nature
of Human Thought”.
Rajvanshi. April 2015.