Sustainability – what it really means to us
Everyday in the morning, when i open the news papers i see atleast half a dozen ads about green ventures using all the buzz words – eco-friendly, sustainable, water harvesting, etc etc. The best example of this was a resort near Ramnagar,Corbett National Park, whose idea of sustainability was to build the entire resort inside a giant, brown synthetic cave. When we started BeForest, we came up with a simple description of what we wanted to do – a food secure, water secure sustainable landscape. This, ofcourse, was before we realised we were participating in the jargon wars that were taking place in the real estate sector (we hate identifying ourselves with this space but unfortunately we are often generalized into it). Quite obviously, our audience also kept comparing us to the real estate projects and other ‘farm plot’ projects. This made this post necessary.
Sustainability to us is not a buzz word. Its measurable to a great extent. How much you are impacting your surroundings can very easily be boiled down to a few numbers. Whether our method of farming is degrading the soil or not can be expressed as soil carbon content. Whether our activities are disturbing the local wildlife or not can be expressed by a simple bird count. Without elaboarting a lot, what we simply want to bring out here is that for us, sustainability is a concept that we closely monitor using metrics. Based on those we adapt our processes. We consider ourselves nothing more than students and nature, our teacher. We tweak it a bit and see what response we get and based on that we keep adapting our approach.
A very good example of how we are using quantitative methods is how we monitor our growth as a forest. A forest system, according to us, needs to be completely self sustaining. What this means is that we dont even supply water or manure, not even organic manure to the system. If it manages to thrive inspite of that, then its a forest system. One of the many factors that allow a forest system to survive is the high amounts of soil carbon content – hovering typically around 3-4% by weight. A farm land, even the ‘fertile’ ones, would be somewhere close to 0.3%. Thats a 10x degradation over time. So that makes the target very clear to us. We need to make sure we get to 4% soil carbon before we can call ourselves a food forest. By identifying measurable goals like this, our journey is checkpointed and benchmarked. More importantly we can clearly identify the methods that are working for us.
While it is tough to communicate the uniqueness of our approach in a one-liner, the audience that has bought into our vision and backed us has been a huge inspiration for us. Validation always helps. Its time to get to work now.