in the book “Nature
one of us should live sustainably in
order to conserve the resources of this world. The consumptive life
western societies is putting tremendous pressures on the world
besides increasing earth warming and pollution. For example an average
consumes 350 GJ/yr of energy. If every
citizen of this planet wants to
have the wasteful and consumptive life style of an average American
will need the resources of 4 earths to sustain us.
those of us who work in the areas of
sustainable development should ourselves try to live sustainably. I
therefore like to share with you my experiences in living a sustainable
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
imbibed the consumptive lifestyle of US. Coming and living in rural India
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 small rural town called
Phaltan in district Satara, Maharashtra,
run a small NGO called Nimbkar
Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). We work in the areas of
agriculture, renewable energy, animal husbandry and sustainable
experiments in sustainable living for
the last 25 years are as follows:
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-time 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. 10/m2 (1US$ = Rs. 50). The
evaporating water from the sacs cools the roof from where 80% of
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 help. In 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 composting it.
around 800 m above sea level and is 100 km south-east of Pune or 300
km south-east of Mumbai. Its climate is very
some years during winters the minimum temperatures can reach 7-8 0C.
house is not heated. We close the windows at night if needed and
wear warm clothes and socks. It keeps us warm and comfortable.
our kitchen waste is composted now 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 perished.
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
contains trees. Their leaf litter rots in the soil during rainy
season and provide nice mulch. The dead branches and 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. Today the leaf litter from the trees
and the compost fertilizer has really improved the soil quality. The
soil 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 local
mill for oil. Thus the oil is fresh and
without any chemicals.
very recently I drove my 27-year-old Maruti 800cc car which transported
me from point A to B comfortably. After being driven 1.5 lakh
kilometers it has been retired since it cannot be insured. So now I
drive an efficient Maruti Alto which gives me between 18-20 km/liter
and is small enough to go in 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 me 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
market. Khadi is a very comfortable
material to wear and also makes excellent dusters and wipers after the
shirts get torn.
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.
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 for lights, fans and laptops 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 causes distraction with TV and other electronic media.
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
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.
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 bottle litter.
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 years
old TV and refrigerator and most of the gadgets are repaired when they
stop working rather than being thrown away. This reduces the garbage
production and at the same time is easy on the pocket book.
main external inputs we use are electricity, petrol and LPG for
cooking. Our per capita energy consumption (from last 2-3 years data)
is 15.1 GJ/yr for electricity (both in offices and home), 12.7 GJ/yr in
transport (mostly for petrol for 2 cars) and 1.75 GJ/yr in cooking gas.
Thus we personally consume ~ 30 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 40 GJ/person/yr. Contrast this with about 350
GJ/person/year that an average U.S. citizen uses. Thus in
1/9th the energy that is used by an average America
citizen we can live quite decently in a modern industrial society.
low electricity consumption results since we use only fans and CFLs and
almost no air conditioning. Even in our
offices we use evaporative roof cooling. The low energy usage in
transport is because on an average we travel between 15-20 thousand
average water consumption is 150 liters per person/day for
household purposes. This is almost
one-fourth that used by a U.S. citizen. Still we feel
that this water usage can be further reduced.
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
can make the life style even more
sustainable by using locally produced ethanol in our cars and scooters
use as cooking
fuel. Similarly production of electricity from locally available agricultural residues
further help in this process .However both
these things will require a
community effort together with certain policy changes by the Government
India. Nevertheless if all of us become internally secure
spirituality then it can help us reduce our greed for materials and
and help us in living sustainably. And with proper planning and
policy of the Government, Indians can enjoy a very high quality of life
becoming over consumptive.