Treading a tad lighter

Nagini Prasad

“Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.”Mark Twain

When I think about it, it seems Twain had hit upon something. Now, more than a century after his death, it seems that nothing much has changed. This despite terms like, “global warming”, “climate change”, and “sustainable development” becoming part of our daily parlance.

LED So where to from here, especially for those of us who find ourselves in the rather responsible role of working with young people; those of us in the field of education?

Personally, I have swung from one extreme to the other: from being impassioned by the need for sustainable living to being sceptical because I questioned whether there could be any positive outcome at all.

However, when it came to interactions with students, I found myself introducing issues of sustainability in daily situations and through planned projects. Through this, some questions arose: Can we raise awareness without guilt? Can we translate this awareness into daily practices? Do we really need a crisis in order to be careful about resource use? Even if I see no change in the students’ behaviours, can I without irritation, continue to highlight the importance of care towards resources?

Ultimately, it seems it comes down to how much we as individuals are willing to change our lifestyle to make it less consumption oriented. Have we bought into the idea that bombards us: consumption brings happiness? Are we always trying to, as the expression goes, “keep up with the Joneses”? Further, with the availability of cheap goods (including basic resources such as water and electricity), do we feel more wealthy than we really are? If the true cost – environmental and social – of producing a product or service were factored into its price, we may not be able to afford many of the items that inhabit our homes and lifestyles today.

With these thoughts as a mental backdrop, how can we engage with students? I would like to share some ideas that we have implemented in our school that work towards living in a more sustainable, less consumptive way, at least on campus. Through this process, perhaps each of us, students and teachers, may extend such practices to our lives outside campus.

At a very mundane level, we do not require students to purchase new notebooks every year. We encourage students to use old notebooks until they are exhausted. Similarly, some textbooks are collected at the end of the year to be issued to the next group. One-sided paper is used for almost everything. Double-sided paper (text on both sides) and newspaper are used for activities. Cardboard is reused, and recycled across years of students before being finally disposed. Wood in our carpentry shed is waste material from an architect’s group and waste produced in our shed is used to fuel our wood-fired oven, while sawdust goes into our pit latrines. For craft projects, we often use existing materials or ask students to bring “trash” from home.

Speaking of garbage, a presentation by a school alumnus on her work in waste segregation inspired two students to take up segregation of the school’s waste as a community service project (senior students are asked to choose an area in which they would like to contribute to the school). They set up a system and trained the school on how to segregate. Now dust is separated from dry paper/plastic and toxic waste. Dry waste is sent to a waste recycling unit. The school was already composting kitchen food scraps and separately handling medical waste. The compost is put back into the school’s vegetable garden.

The author works at Centre for Learning, Bengaluru. She can be reached at

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