Category Archives: Going Green

articles devoted to making your life more ecologically friendly

Become a Green Kid

Pavan at the dump1At 4, little Pavan Raj Gowda was already disturbed by litter. Says mom Shanti, “He would get so upset that we would walk around cleaning it up.”

At 10, that young neatnik is a confirmed greennik. The founder of, this precocious environmentalist has taken the message of reduce, reuse, recycle to heart. Started by Pavan a couple of years ago with help from Shanti, the website is an attempt to connect with other green kids and start a movement of sorts. “I’d like kids to pledge to care for the environment,” says Pavan.

Pavan began his efforts to spread the message of caring for the environment in his classroom at Glenmoor Elementary school in Fremont.

Says teacher Johnna Laird, “Pavan’s passion for the planet strikes a chord in the hearts of children and adults.”

When Pavan informed his class about his website, more than 20 students raised their hands, saying they want to join him in finding ways to make the planet healthier.

One student, Natalie, decided to enlist her Girl Scout troop in energy conservation projects.

Another student, Matthew, took Pavan’s Green Kids business card, attached his pencil as a stick and marched around with his mini-placard at recess advertising Green Kids, just as he had seen adults campaign for an important issue.

Anna used a spelling and preposition homework assignment to write about her concerns after Pavan spoke to the class:  “As for people who don’t litter, they should wear a badge on their shirts. If we all manage to keep the earth clean, we can change the world.  Whenever you see trash on the ground, pick it up and throw it away.”

Adds Laird, “Pavan is a catalyst for children.  He has figured a way to transform his feelings into action, into a practice to make a difference.  Other children want to be part of this process. They care. They know that Earth is their home and want to keep it healthy for years to come.” The school has already replaced its light bulbs with longer-lasting fluorescent ones as a first step in conservation. In the classroom, care is taken to use both sides of copying paper before it is recycled. Even the recycle bin was added at Pavan’s urging. At school birthday parties, biodegradable plates and spoons are used.

These are small steps, but imagine every classroom in Glenmoor, every school in Fremont, California, the United States, taking up these simple changes.

Pavan hopes the website will make his message a movement. Kids who are interested can sign up and create local teams. One child takes a leadership role and represents the kids in their efforts to make their own environment a little better. The kids work out cost-benefit analyses and write proposals to effect change in the schools and neighborhoods. They learn teamwork and leadership skills.

Already 97 kids have signed up. Chapters are being formed in Ohio, Indiana, and Washington state. Apart from the Fremont chapter, the Bay Area has another in San Ramon.

Pavan oversees these activities. Each regional team is helped by an adult, but in general the activities are led and managed by kids. Mom Shanti is working towards non-profit status for Green Kids Now. “Once we received the appropriate status, hours spent with Green Kids will count towards community service credits,” says Shanti. She hopes to get it by May 2010.

Still, being a 10-year-old with a passion for the environment when your friends are into Harry Potter and Super Mario can be frustrating at times. “People don’t take me seriously because I’m just a kid,” complains Pavan. “They ignore me.” Many of the kids at school couldn’t be bothered either. “I tell him not to give up,” says Shanti. “That kind of reluctance from the community is natural.”

Says Laird, “when I think of Pavan and his classmates, I think of the words to a Whitney Houston song:

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way

It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the frog realized, but Pavan hopes his efforts will help bring about those small changes that can hardwire environmental awareness into the consciousness of the next generation. If your kid wants to sign up, becoming a green kid is just a click away.

Here is a partial list of classroom tips from the website:

Use both sides of the paper
• Only buy recycled paper
• Have a recycle bin in the classroom, and mark it clearly with the recycle symbol
• Create a student job as a “Recycling Monitor”. This person would be in charge of making sure that people are recycling instead of throwing into trash bin
• Use reusable water bottles, rather than throw away plastic bottles
• Use biodegradable plates, cups, and spoons for class parties
• Do projects using recycled materials
• Do art projects from things that we throw away
• On a nice sunny day, let the sun light come inside and turn off the lights
• On a hot day, open the windows for fresh air, instead of using the air conditioner

It's not easy being green – sidewalk edition

lundy-aveAs most of you know, I recently joined as editor of India Currents magazine. Apart from the usual perks of working in a friendly environment with adults to talk to (boy, I never realized how much I was missing that), it is a bonus to have the office located in a quiet and pleasant tree-lined street, even though it is a hop, skip and jump from the highway. My building even has a small man-made pond, courtesy of the Church of Scientology(!).

I’ve been dying to explore the area, and when a nearby plaza suddenly bucked the recession and opened up nearly half-a-dozen new shops catering to office goers, it seemed like an invitation to enjoy the fine Californian summer and check it out.

Alas, I quickly discovered that there was really no safe way to walk to the plaza, which is literally 3 minutes from my office. San Jose city planners, in their infinite wisdom, had created a multitude of grassy verges that lushly deplete the city’s water supplies, and had completely forgotten about pedestrian crossings, at least as far as my eyes could see.

Being a veteran of road crossings in Mumbai, I only hesitated for a moment before setting off along the rain gutters, occasionally moving to the grass if I was in danger of being mowed down by a bus. I blithely jaywalked across the tar, nimbly avoiding the meager traffic and arrived at my destination.

The coffee shop promised to open only the next day, which may have soured my mood, but in my new environmentally conscious persona, I was more than a little pissed at the architects of this sidewalk-less vision of the city, with each office worker neatly cubicled up in their little offices, driving their little boxes to spend their day in more little boxes, separated from their fellow human beings by not just wood, steel and glass, but the impossibility of random personal contact, even as they “walled” and “tweeted” their business to their virtual acquaintances. How much nicer it would have been if I could take a stroll down my pretty street and casually bump into fellow toilers and exchange some gossip away from the water cooler. We’d certainly feel a stronger sense of community, which has to be the first step in being involved in and influencing the decisions that impact our daily lives.

Anyhow, having got my activist mojo on during last year’s elections, I fired off an email to the customer service department of the City of San Jose, and gratifyingly, they have responded ( even if it’s with an automated reply!) promptly.

I certainly don’t expect bulldozers to start tearing up the pristine lawns on my street, but if my email makes city planners pause and consider “walkability” as an important criterion when planning the next development, I will have done what I can.

I’ll keep you updated on the reply from the city. If you would like to share your opinions with the city too, here is the email -customerservice at Make the usual corrections.

More than just kitchen scraps and lawn debris

landfillIt all began when a friend asked for worm composting tips. “My daughter has driven me into action as she disapprovingly saw me dump kitchen scraps in the regular garbage – she firmly suggested that I start a compost and save the earth!” she said.

Now we had been following the practice of kitchen scrap disposal for a while. A couple of years ago, the City of Fremont had distributed small kitchen pails. These were meant to be used to collect kitchen scraps and peelings to be disposed in the green bin, which takes all kinds of compostable material. The city then carts it away to a composting center and gives all the residents free compost every spring.

The kitchen pails were not a very practical idea, though. The opening was narrow, which meant invariably there was food stuck to the lid. The garbage started stinking very soon, and it was a pain to tip it over into the green bin when full.  There were so many people who gave up on the program that the city soon realized it was a colossal failure. They decided to have a contest to come up with ideas to get residents motivated to get rid of kitchen scraps and peelings appropriately.

In the meantime, my family had come up with a simple solution to the problem. We deputed one of our plastic bowls to be the receptacle and dumped all the kitchen scraps in it. At the end of the day we emptied it into the green bin. This still didn’t solve the problem of the green bin stinking but at least it was outside the house. Every once in a while, we rinse the bin out.

Along the way we realized that paper napkins were compostable and started lining the bin with a new napkin each day. Thus made the job even easier.We reduced our landfill pile to 2 bags a week and proudly wheeled out the nearly empty blue bin each Friday.

So when my friend asked for composting advice, I decided to look up the the appropriate web page of the county’s garbage disposal company. That’s when I discovered that there were some other unusual items which could also be composted, like milk and juice cartons. The rule of thumb is – if you can tear it, it will compost. Of course, your first preference for paper products would be to put them in the grey recycle bin but if they are food soiled they need to go in the green bin. And typically cartons are not marked with the triangular recycle sign, so if they do not have a foil lining, they can be composted.

Unfortunately, the soy milk cartons my family piles up have a foil lining, so I will have to search some more.

To get the complete list of items that can be composted, click here. And this site suggests winning ideas for making kitchen scrap disposal easier. Some of the more unusual items are –

– Waxed milk cartons ( no foil-lined ones please), juice and ice-cream cartons. Remove the plastic cap first.

– Pizza boxes

– Paper egg cartons

– Coffee filters and tea bags

– Paper plates and cups( no plastic coated ones, please)

CAVEAT: Each city has a different program for milk carton disposal, so call up your local waste disposal company to make sure it is ok with them.

Picture by D’arcy Norman

It's not easy being green

bartLast week the family visited the California Academy of Sciences. Charged with a pious sense of environmentalism, we decided to take public transit. We drove to the nearest train station at Union City and purchased tickets to the city. It being Sunday, trains were not frequent and there were no direct trains to our destination, so we hung around on the platform for a while before the BART train rolled in. We changed trains at Bayfair and eventually reached Glenn Park station. At Glenn Park, we waited a while for the bus to the Golden Gate Park and reached our destination 2 hours and 15 minutes from the time we started from home. A few hours later, we did the journey in reverse. Total travel time: 4 hours, 30 minutes. Total cost: $50( train and bus tickets).

Yesterday, we visited the city again, opting for the King Tut exhibit at the De Young Museum, which is located right across the Cal. Academy of Sciences. This time we took the car, printing out directions to the complex maze that is the Golden Gate Park. We left at almost exactly the same time as last week and arrived at our destination in 45 minutes, despite one wrong turn inside the park. It was early enough to find parking right  below the museum. In the afternoon we drove back, losing our way one more time, and reached home in about an hour and 15 minutes. Total travel time: 2 hours. Total cost: $ 20 ( parking and gas).

You might argue that there is a hidden environmental cost in the second option, in terms of pollution and use of scarce resources, and not factoring that in is unfairly tilting the balance in its favor. But to the average user, the obvious advantages are what count. The impact on the pocketbook and one’s time is real and immediate, while the environmental damage is in the abstract, so it is not surprising when consumers make unfriendly choices. Even an informed consumer will hesitate to work against his immediate self-interest; I know taking the train will not be the first choice for me when I plan trips to the city during non-peak travel times.

In the Bay Area, public transit is simply not convenient enough. Even if we were willing to pay more so that we may preserve the environment, the cost in time is simply unacceptable. Our lives are busier and more scheduled than ever, and no parent will consciously choose to drag impatient kids around a  minute longer than he/she has to. So there are obvious improvements to be made here.

The other is to assign a cost of the environmental impact to the driving option. Low gas prices drive our choices in the wrong direction. They deter innovation and investment in mass transit and do not reflect the destructive consequences of fossil fuel use. Had gas been at 6 dollars a gallon, the cost of driving to the city would have jumped to 37 dollars, a bit closer to the cost of mass transit. Additionally, some of that gas revenue could have been used to make improvements in public transit, perhaps bringing costs and travel time down.

The point is that it is unreasonable to expect people to make good choices about the environment when it is so hard to be green. Make the decisions more realistic and practical and the message of conservation is more likely to get embedded in the public consciousness.

Picture by Saikofish.

Greening your daily commute

By P.R. Ganapathy 

On my ride to work recently, I heard an NPR interview on the subject of fuel conservation. The experts on the panel offered some tips for improving fuel efficiency while driving, and so I decided to try them out. Like most people out there, when fuel climbs to $4.87 a gallon I can't change my car to a Prius; I'm just going to have to do more with less.

Here are some of the suggestions they offered, and my experience trying them out. Continue reading

Reducing your ecological footprint

Sharanya Krishna Prasad 

Sharanya Krishna Prasad has been committed to environmental and animal causes since her early years. She is originally from Madras in south-eastern India, where as a student she volunteered with various community-based organizations that spread awareness on issues such as wildlife conservation and protecting Madras’ beaches from pollution. The more she learned from these experiences, the more simple yet effective lifestyle changes she chose to make for the sake of the planet and all its inhabitants. 

There are many simple changes everyone can make in their daily lives. It is not as hard or expensive as it may seem. I am listing all the things that I personally follow as well as some ideas for people to think about. I have dealt with it in terms of each room in the home. Continue reading

Going Green – in your garden

By Laxmi Natarajan

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle : we hear this everywhere today. Small changes in our everyday life go a long way towards a better environment and prepare us for a greener lifestyle.  Driving hybrid cars (or not driving a car), using alternate modes of transport, conserving electrical energy at home (insulation, using lights only when you need it, using green lights) and yes, using a clothesline, particularly in summer season, are all the things to do to be green.

Last weekend I visited a green event hosted by the City of Belmont and was fascinated by the number of green vendors.   The green industry is taking off in all walks of life.  From the smart car to Segway, Argon filled double paned windows to Compost bins – all these contribute to having clean and less polluted air and a healthier planet. Continue reading