2022 Resolutions: Let’s make it around Environment, Health & Happiness

Author and sustainability communications expert, Dr. Anju Dave Vaish, shares details about the idea behind her latest book, the growing thrust on sustainability across human lives and industries around the globe and much more

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Dr. Anju is a PhD in Plant Biotechnology and has extensive career in Marketing & Corporate Communications in India and USA. Besides, consulting several organizations, Anju has been actively engaging youth to build awareness through her initiative TRYforGOOD.com. In last couple of years she has also been pushing Global Brands to act responsibly at prestigious Speaker forums. She takes pride in being called as an ‘artivist’ as she does some thought provoking cartoons and doodles.
Humanity was paused during the Pandemic with The Great Lockdown- and all of us were compelled to think of the basis of survival anyways. Today we stand on the dilemma of rapidly reclaiming what is lost (economy); or taking a responsible approach for the recovery, which could be slow but sustainable – which one should we choose?
In her latest book, THE CHANGE GENERATION, Dr. Anju Dave Vaish, a well known sustainability communication expert has picked up the profiles of young entrepreneurs who are driven by purpose and hunger to bring the change across the globe. She has published these interactions that mostly happened during her travels in the form of 12 selective interviews in the book. Recently Dr. Anju also campaigned in the UN #Act4SDGs 2021 for her book outreach. Her book has been endorsed by notable global personalities including the Chairperson, National Biodiversity Authority of India.
Rahul Koul, Chief Editor, BioVoice News spoke to her in detail about the idea behind her book, the growing thrust on sustainability across human lives and industries across the globe.

BV LogoCongratulations on your book THE CHANGE GENERATION. What was the inspiration behind writing the book and who are your target audience?
Thank you! I would say Mother Earth herself inspired me. When I was in the US, I was struck dumb with the THINGS- overstocks, overproduction and sales being pushed, and of course wastage. Coming from a country which always believed in reusing and recycling, it was quite a culture shock for me. However, I was highly disappointed on my visit back to India as I saw all the advertising and sales strategies picking the same tone as in the West. Buy More> Buy Bigger> Become Happier! Because the economies were prospering now in the East, marketers were ready with their fishing nets on this side of the globe. Alongside my consulting, I started certain youth engaging activities where I urged them to THRIVE! (But Responsibly)- That led to TRYforGOOD.com; my initiative for awareness programs. I interacted with people from diverse industry verticals to know their views on sustainability- be it an educationist, a scientist, an entrepreneur, advertising professional or even a supermodel like Milind Soman. I also did solo cartoon exhibit on sustainability. It was all so well received! I was invited to do exhibit and giveaways on Science Express- the Climate action special train that reaches about 1.5 crore youth in India across the entire country.
I am happy that I was able to play a little extended role than regular in last couple of years. A two pronged strategic role as a motivator or an influencer, and also as an activist to push brands. I was also an invited mainstage speaker at Sustainable Brands, Istanbul, as a panelist in SB, Kuala Lumpur, at World Marketing Congress and many other environment, business and academic forums.
There is of course increasing awareness for the environment. To some extent, there has always been. But it came under strong realization during the pandemic. However, by and large when it comes to ACTIONS; general masses stay limited to planting trees or putting up a bird house in the name of environment. That’s where I thought that here is an opportunity to inspire youth to catch on with “sustainability at the core” or “sustainable business ideas” and for that who could be any better than the youth themselves sharing their stories. They really inspired me. But honestly writing a book is truly my father’s inspiration. The book is for everyone; but especially for the millennials and the younger generations as the power to bring CHANGE is truly in their hands now.
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Which are the key takeaways from the book? Has the book fulfilled its purpose? How has been the response so far?
By the time I was finishing my last few interviews, we were in the grip of corona virus pandemic. There are 12 interviews in the book and many of which happened during the time of The Great Lockdown. I picked up the profiles of young entrepreneurs from around the globe, some of whom I had interacted with, during my travels.  The idea of keeping it global is based on our Indian ideology of “Vasudev Kutumbkum (World is one family).” And it’s so true that we are divided into so many countries and regions, but we cannot segregate our environment that is connected through atmosphere and oceans. The book also gives a snapshot summary of sustainability issues that are pertinent around the globe and the work being done around that.
My key idea was to string together stories in a way to take people back to Maslow’s hierarchy which incidentally was realized during the pandemic. The book promo really resonated quite well with the fresh sentiments of prioritizing the need of CLEAN AIR, WATER and FOOD which is our Life force; and not the status, products and fancy accumulation. I really took each of the profile as a CHANGE AVATAR- someone who is monitoring air, cleaning water or going for collaborative farming. It extends to urban scenarios where the new economy rules prevail i.e. circular, sufficiency and shared (or access) economy. People are going more around EXPERIENCE and ACCESS over accumulation! But the idea has to trickle down to the masses. Somewhere in India and other developing countries there are mixed sentiments.
Organizations, institutes and media share packages over the real outlook and contribution of a person. Likewise the iconic celebrities in the entertainment world lead by examples of possessions and net worth. These icons are possibly inadvertent to the negativity that breeds creating limitless wants and desires. This is all leading to the vicious circle of overconsumption, use and throw, landfills and pollution. Until we really CHANGE the outlook from POSSESSIONS to CONTRIBUTIIONS and WALKING THE TALK, we have generations to go for correction. Net worth of people should be based on their actions for goodness for people and planet.
The book is a small attempt in that direction; but I am happy that there has been hundreds of downloads of eBook and paperback orders globally, in just a couple of months without any high level publicity. In any case its primary goal is to build awareness, interest and create a desire for action. It has received great reviews from the readers. Especially the youth, some of whom are quite inspired and motivated to take charge for CHANGE! I am still continuing with the outreach. The book is available on Amazon.
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Why is sustainability so important? What meaning does it have for individuals, society, communities, and industries?
When I plunged into this sphere- it was a tough word at the mass level to comprehend.  Mostly people would relate sustainability of business (financial) or would not understand it altogether. The moment we talk about business, people start thinking of returns and profits. In general people have a tendency of leaving the topics of environment and ecosystem to the Governments or NGOs. And as we know by and large, unlike many developed countries in Europe etc., we do not have transparency in these spheres. With the UN SDGs many countries have stepped forward to keep up with the vision and the goals. India has also received awards and accolades with its focus around sustainability in the current leadership. It is highly appreciable. If the Governments do not keep a tab on the ecosystem then we are doomed.
India has been a top scorer in the World Greendex surveys on sustainability for several consecutive years. But that was the scenario when India was not witnessing its much awaited development and urbanization. India’s 70% population still lives in rural areas. India has about 2% of world’s land mass to cater to about 20% of world’s population with highest population density. It is the most challenging ratio compared to what we see in China, Brazil, Russia or other developing economies. They have much bigger land masses to produce and absorb their waste too.
That’s where I came up with a little incisive talk- Aping West, East may go south!  We can’t afford to be like the consumers as in West. It is a huge challenge in front of us- to see development, sufficiency and prosperity without degrading our ecosystem. We have to rather replenish what we have lost for generations being blindfolded to the repercussions of POPULATION BURDEN and our new found culture of “CAPITALISM & CONSUMERISM.” For this we must choose right leadership in our regions. As for businesses they must learn that there are no short cuts to their growth and prosperity. If they wish to survive for long term; they must hold accountability of environment and ecosystem in their production and operations. Yesterday’s CSR activities for image build are a passé; now sustainability has to come to its core.
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How do you see Sustainability in action around the world? What are the key challenges in implementation and what are the means to overcome these?
We are just scratching the surface as far as sustainability in action goes. As the content goes viral in no time, the netizens are becoming aware and savvier. There is rising consciousness for Climate Change around the world. There have been many activist groups working in silos which gained visibility through social media. Now there is a whole momentum with the UN SDGs 2030 and many countries have aligned around that. There is a whole ecosystem being provided to the youth to incubate their ideas and fund their ventures to bring the necessary change. There is a lot of shift in the mindsets due to pandemic whereby people have slowed down and are re-structuring their business and lifestyles. Yet, the pillars of the society have always been the Government (politics), Business & Religion. They drive masses. They also pick on their sentiments and build strategies around that. There is also greenwashing.
Businesses have been making actions for society or environment for their image and goodwill; especially as Indian Govt. decided on the mandate of CSR spent to be at least 2% of average net profits. However, the time now is not to use these exercises as an extension, but to measure the impact of their activities on people and planet. Government needs to apply more stringent measures. Opposition also has to operate in National and Public interest. There should be a “woke” movement also in the interest among general public for what they breathe, drink and eat and what is for their future. Citizens and consumers should ask for transparency for the carbon footprints- be it e infrastructure development, foreign investments or local businesses.
There was a wide gap between what the Westerners had started practicing post the economic meltdown in the USA. The millennials over there grew with the ideologies of conservation (much like in the East); while the developing economies were prospering around then. In the West, there were new advertising campaigns to opt out from Black Friday sales; less is more, minimalism; while in East there were now the conventional Western practices- Buy, buy, and buy- pushing sales for profits. If the Government and public are not aware of their actions- we may not have a livable present and future.
The jostle is really with the developing Nations which are standing at the crossroads of infrastructure development, economic growth and ecological degradation.
The developed countries which look quite clean and provide safe environment to their citizens are the biggest culprits for the greenhouse emissions, global warming and climate change. USA has been the largest CO2 emitter. But the country stands still quite divided socio-politically in this regard, albeit certain states have set their individual goals.
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How can innovation in environmental science R&D create better technologies that help in achieving the sustainable practices or targets?
Demand for sustainability is actually driving innovation in every sector. From hybrid vehicles we are seeing hybrid malls to hybrid offices. All the key industries whether it is transportation, energy, building and construction, manufacturing, textile, FMCG, retail, food, and travel etc. – all are going green. It is the new wave. From brown economy we are shifting to green economy.  Environmental science research and development is the integral part of all these innovations- whether it is FMCGs choosing to go for completely plastic free for packaging, or agriculture choosing to use green chemicals. From crop protection or creating vegan meat in labs; from producing biofuels to capturing carbon from the atmosphere; from cleaning water or managing waste and landfills or using solar and wind energies; science is prevalent in every sector. The developed Nations are way ahead in these innovations and implementation. As they practice renewable energy solutions, energy efficiency, greening transportation etc., they should also promote and share the tools and technologies with other developing regions. Collaboration is the key.
Also, sustainability is not just about environment, but also people. If we decide we can really do wonders- the example is vaccine against corona virus. If there is unprecedented attack on humanity, we unite and defy in its face with all our might. Why we have not been able to develop any solutions or support systems for so many chronic diseases and disabilities so far?! If the developed nations are working on AI and cyborgs, we in the developing regions are not even near inclusion of people who are disabled or neurologically diverse.  We are still beating around “poverty” and not addressing the inequality in wealth distribution. We have the capabilities; – we just need to invest interest first. Media also has a huge opportunity to generate interest in such areas. These days everyone is talking about Mental Health. Good that it saw the light of the day! But then there are host of other issues which also need to be addressed. For conscious decisions new age entrepreneurs need awareness and empathy. Mostly it is a personal challenge that could drive someone for it; but those efforts remain contained in silos and generations pass away.
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How should the industries, especially bioscience based (biotech, health and agriculture) strike a balance between their respective operations and sustainability practices? 
Domain experts can actually answer this better. In general, I feel more than making a balance in the existing systems, there should be all new business ideas implemented with force of sustainability as their primary goals. Existing businesses will automatically shift their gears to sustain.
Sustainable agriculture is a promise for safe food, soil, water streams, and the atmosphere. Safety of consumers and workers in the fields and farmers rights are also inclusive of that. Minimizing food wastage in supply chain is a critical factor too. IoT, drone technologies, solar panels, crop rotation, plant breeding techniques, growing less water intensive crops, collaborative farming, and re-using the stubble instead of burning are so many steps towards sustainable practices.
Healthcare sectors are booming with rising consciousness about health among consumers. Alongside the profit center units, companies should fuel and propel research on eradicating diseases, finding cures and making better lifestyles for patients and caregivers. Family counseling is quite a neglected area. Integrative health is an area in which India can pioneer with its wealth of ancient and modern wisdom.
Eugenics is another area with which the Governments can really encourage to eliminate the birth defects and rare genetic diseases to better lives of their citizens. Finland and a few other European countries are already there on this map. More and more Healthcare, Pharma and Biotechnology sectors are going free of animal cruelty refraining from tests on them. Biomedical waste, lab leaks are some threats that should be taken more cautiously.
Passion for people and planet will drive it all better.