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Sustainabilism: A quintessential balance between Materialism and Environmentalism

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Waste management service by greenshift energy

Prakriti-Vikruti-Sanskriti are the three ideologies of life. It can be perceived through stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kishkinda, the kingdom of king Sugriva was the one in harmony with the environment (prakriti). Lanka, the golden abode of Ravana had cities offering materialistic pleasures at the expense of the environmental parity (vikriti). Ayodhya, the kingdom of Shri Ram contrarily had an inclusive growth with economic stability, social harmony and environmental equity (sanskriti). The contemporary lifestyle recognizes the ideologies of prakriti-vikruti-sanskriti as environmentalism, materialism and sustainabilism respectively. Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and improvement of the natural environment. It demands restricting human interference with nature. Materialism on the other hand holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. It believes that nature is the resource that must be exploited for material pleasures. Sustainabilism is an attitude that values the future as much as the present. It considers that human life on the planet is of a temporary manner and that the actions of the current generation must not deprive the future generations of their fundamental rights. It believes in holistic growth of all the generations and tries to establish parity between the economic growth and environmental protection.

The ideology of sustainabilism has found a place in the business practices these days. Businesses now want to focus on minimizing the harm to society or the planet while creating value for stakeholders, and also improving environmental, social and governance performance in areas in which the business has a material environment or social impact. Industries are doing it by mimicking nature in terms of resource utilisation. The first models of the bullet train in the 1990s had a boxy and noisy design leading to sonic boom while moving. The issue was resolved by mimicking various birds. The pantograph was designed like the curvature of an owl’s feather, and the belly of a penguin to reduce the wind shear. The nose of the train was designed like a kingfisher’s beak that creates the least splash while entering the water to catch its prey. The nature inspired model of the bullet train led to a 10% faster, 15% energy efficient bullet train with acceptable noise levels to ensure profitable operation. The world needs biomimicking not just for standalone products but for processes and even industrial ecosystems. Nothing is waste and everything is a resource in nature. The trees use the bacteria in soil for fixing the nitrogen. At the end of life, when a tree falls apart, it becomes a source of energy for fungus. The fungus is a resource for insects which in turn are a resource for mice. The mouse is a resource for a hawk. At the end of life, the dead hawk is devoured by the bacteria. There is no by-product that does not have a utility in nature and industrial systems must be designed in a similar manner to be in line with sustainabilism ideology.

Designing an industrial system mimicking the natural ecosystem is a complex activity that entails both economic prosperity for the industry and environmental protection. The economic gains can only drive the efforts to achieve it even while the motives are noble. There are countless possibilities for achieving it. Nature produces chemicals and polymers with extreme precision and our industrial systems must adopt that approach of selective synthesis. The increasing number of processes involving the synergistic application of nano catalytic materials, metagenomics and enzyme & metabolic engineering for lignocellulose bioconversion augurs well for the selective synthesis of tailor-made chemicals. Food processing waste consists of starch (more than 60%), gluten, additives, flavours, yeast and essences. The starch can be extracted easily from the food processing waste by simple agitation and heating and then converted to value added chemical compounds to generate revenue streams. A technology to eliminate the heavy metals and phytotoxic substances from composting leachate can enable its usage as farming aid thereby reducing the costs at waste treatment plants for nitrogen and phosphorus removal. Compacting the residual plastic waste that cannot be segregated can enable its reuse as filler in construction material can be economically viable, socially gratifying and therefore politically acceptable solution for plastic waste management.

In the 21st century, the planet is at the watershed moment when the actions of each stakeholder from individual to industries will decide its future. We can transform from ‘vikruti’ to ‘prakriti’ by rekindling our ‘sanskriti’. The act of propitiation from each stakeholder will go a long way in achieving the lofty dream of an inclusive growth or even reverting the climate change.

Dr. Saurabh C. Patankar &

Mr. Kunal K. Godambe

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