Sustainability in India
Graphic and Media Design
Global warming, conscious consumption, sustainability – these are all words that I was introduced to in school but they remained a theoretical concept for a very long time. It was after coming to the UK that I understood the concept of sustainability as a practice in our everyday lives. I have heard multiple people talking about sustainability at LCC and tried to educate myself and be a part of these conversations. Each of these conversations have been eye openers and made me look at how I live my daily life from a different point of view. I tried to walk more, I carried my own bags for groceries, carried my own water bottle instead of buying one every day, reduce take-aways and try to reduce use of plastic.
In September, I was able to help my friend with her campaign called “The last plastic” that began with the aim to reduce the use of single use plastics in Kolkata. Our Instagram posts were aimed at educating people about facts related to plastic and simple everyday habits that one could slowly adopt to reduce waste. With the rise in fast fashion, we were also planning to venture into thrifting and have our own online thrift store – a concept that’s still very nascent in the Indian market. This idea was however put on hold and I hope we revisit it and implement it to the best of our abilities in the future.
During this process, I realised how people in India aren’t really aware about sustainable practices. It is still a very new concept. People talk about it but that’s it. A very small chunk of people actually try to make a change. I talked to my friends and colleagues about this and most seemed to agree. And I asked myself, “why is it so?”
I think the answer lies in India’s population. A large chunk of India’s population live below the international poverty line. About 3% of Indians pay income tax. This means that a large chunk of the population receive little to no education. I’m sure, “being sustainable” is not something they will ever think about simply because they don’t know of it or the impact their actions have on the world.
Looking at it from businesses’ perspectives, while many are trying to make actual efforts, a few have used sustainability as a marketing gimmick. Recently Innisfree received a lot of backlash for claiming that their packaging was made of paper.
As for the part of the population who can afford to make certain changes in their daily lives don’t usually do so. Why? Convenience. They rather buy another bag than remembering to carry their own. Or it’s not always convenient to carry your own cutlery and steel straw to use instead of plastic cutlery when going out. They also seem to think it’s the government’s responsibility. While the government has taken steps like the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” that translates to “clean India mission” and plastic bans in several parts of the country, much will not change unless everyone pitches in and does their part.
These thoughts made me think, is being sustainable in India a privilege?
Two of my friends disagreed with my viewpoint and said the following:
“I would say that sustainable living has been a part of the Indian lifestyle for ages, it just hasn't been branded or packaged as sustainable. The idea of the older generation using and reusing a product until it totally loses its value has been replaced by use and throw culture today.
Think the basic example of a t-shirt - being passed down to younger- wearing for Holi and then it becomes a ‘poccha’ (rag)
The idea of a raddiwala (scrap collector) - that's how recycling practices work in India.
The newer generation is slowly becoming aware of what long term sustainability means in terms of environment, product consumption etc.
In terms of design - in India and across the world - sustainability is perceived to be expensive tbh, more of a fancy lifestlye choice. Which its absolutely not
Making it more accessible and reworking what is already existing in terms of design than using new resources.
Point can be made about sustainability as an ongoing process, in your daily life practices, buying as much as you need, buying for the longer term - don't encourage use and throw practices,” said Kewal
“Sustainability is slowly becoming “cooler” which in my opinion is so important but also gives rise to green washing.
Point in context: the numerous thrift shops popping up in India.
Wardrobes are being rotated rather than renewed.
VERY interesting given the mindset of reusing someone’s used clothes had been looked down upon,” added Aditi.
Coming back to why we were actually asked to write this blog – how am I implementing sustainability as a graphic designer?
To be honest, I don’t think I am. Sure, most of the times I try to be conscious of the amount of paper I’m using but that’s pretty much it. However, this also gives me the opportunity to educate myself and change my ways of working.
I recently read an article by space10 and they said, “We need to look beyond the narrow horizon of human-centered design and start designing in a way that meets the needs of the many without going beyond the limits of our planet. We call this the ‘people-planet’ approach.”
Trying to convince clients to use certain sustainable materials for print or when designing packaging, making space to add details about how to recycle it properly could be a few ways.
At my internship, I talked about this with my colleagues. What came out from the conversation was that graphic design is largely a service based industry and when clients come to us, they usually come with set vendors and set budgets. Since the concept of “sustainability” is so new, the availability of sustainable materials is low in India. And what is available, isn’t cost effective – which deters most people from adopting these methods. Whenever possible, we try to discourage our clients from using print mediums for things like invitations and newsletters.
We recently worked on a project for a restaurant’s take-away packaging and we encouraged them to use brown paper since it was a more sustainable option. However, a food grade brown paper wasn’t available locally.
Personally, I feel I have a long way to go and a lot to change to do my part as an individual and as a designer for the planet. If there’s anything that anyone does to do their little bit to help the planet, please get in touch with me and I would love to have a conversation about it!
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