Helping the environment – the Social Way

By Vidya Pradhan
socialwaylogo.jpgNita Goyal of Tavant Technologies imagines the following Socratic dialogue between the Average John, Jaani or Janardhan and an environmentalist.

•    AJ: You keep on asking us to do more and more – first it was recycling and cutting up the plastic holding the 6-pack, then turning off the water while brushing teeth. I am even thinking of buying a HYBRID SUV. But you guys are still not satisfied. Why can’t I just live my life in peace? When will it end?

•    E: It might all end too soon, that is the problem. Don’t shoot the messenger. Have you seen the Al Gore movie?
•    AJ: Yes, I got the DVD from a friend and sat down on a Friday evening with some beer and popcorn. But it had been a long day and I sort of fell asleep halfway through it. I think I got the gist of it though. So fine, the earth is warming up a few more degrees, what’s the big deal? I like warm weather.
•    E: The consequences are huge. Ice packs are melting, the sea level will go up materially, maps will get redrawn, there will be more droughts and hurricanes. It is particularly bad news for South Asia.
•    AJ: okay, but this is in what ..50… 100 years? What do I care, I will be dead and gone by then. Anyways, the scientists will figure something out by then. The great thing about the human species is our big brain and our ability to use it to understand the world around us, to look and plan ahead into the future and to communicate using language.
•    E: Y..e..a..h… You know that we have about ten years before we cross the tipping point after which no amount of brains can stop climate change? The time to use those brains is NOW.
•    AJ: Ok, fine. I don’t want my grandchildren to curse me later on. What do you want me to do? Don’t expect me to invent any magic technology to solve this problem.
•    E: The best thing is that there is no magic technology needed. You and I can use what is already there. Basic environ mantra is still valid – reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce consumption – use less electricity, gas, water, buy less junk. Reuse – don’t be trigger-happy while buying and throwing things away, borrow from friends and neighbors instead of buying. Recycle, use renewable energy sources, and use energy efficient appliances, cars and bulbs.

Most of us in California have got the message about recycling. But in this land of disposable culture and sprawling communities, the potential for energy savings through reuse has been sadly under-utilized. After all, why borrow when it is so cheap to buy?

Enter Social Way . In 2005-2006, Nita Goyal was a fellow at Stanford’s Digital Vision , a nine-month program that provides social entrepreneurs with a ‘creative environment and platform to design and implement innovative and scalable technology-based solutions for untapped markets around the world’. During her stay, she helped develop the idea of a self-sustaining ‘virtual library’ that would help people lend and borrow stuff.

The concept was brought to life with the creation of Social Way , a website allowing people to form virtual communities in their neighborhoods and exchange goods and services. Social Way was developed by Nita and fellow workers at Tavant Technologies, along with a few volunteers outside the community.

The way Social Way works is simple. You sign up as a member and post the items you want to give or lend on the site. You can also search for items that you are interested in borrowing. Best of all, you can form a virtual community of your friends and people you meet frequently in your neighborhood and start exchanging stuff locally. The site works great for books, movies, games, tools and other small items that clutter up our shelves and choke up our garages.

If helping the environment in abstract terms is not good enough for you, the Social Way Rootprint™ helps you measure just how much emission savings you are responsible for. In layman’s terms, this translates into how many trees you have ‘grown’ by virtue of reusing rather than buying.
To date, Social Way has helped create over 75 communities and has over a 1000 people signed up. As could have been expected, the level of interest is a lot higher in India than here in the US. But modest though its growth may be, Social Way has already saved emissions of 2.8 tons of CO2, equivalent to growing 10 25-year old trees.

Check out Social Way and leave your Social Way Rootprint™ on the world.


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