India is sprouting a range of new green businesses powered by the oldest motive — profit
Paper out of dung
HERE IS proof of the Indian mind’s scatological obsession. Five years ago, Mahima, 41, and friends hit upon an interesting observation about elephant dung. It contains fibre. Enough to make paper. So began the company that makes paper out of elephant poo.
“Today demand exceeds our supply,” says Mahima. Haathi Chaap produces 1,500 sheets of paper a month, which is then used to make products like stationery. The dung is sourced from 100 unsuspecting elephants in Jaipur’s Amer Fort and the paper costs between Rs 10 and 25 per sheet.
The business is small but the future is open. To begin with, there are other types of poo — camel and rhino, which are next in Mahima’s sight.
“My business is fascinating and it has a green aspect to it. What more can I ask for?” says the woman saving the forests one dump at a time.
GYANESH PANDEY, 34, is a native of Baithania village, west Champaran, Bihar. These days, he is concentrating on an old Indian problem — how to power its villages?
In 2007, while still an engineer in the power management semiconductor industry, he hit upon a rather low-tech idea: producing electricity from rice husk. Not only is rice husk a dependable, abundantly available bio-waste in villages, but it is also sustainable. On an average, each plant saves 42,000 litres of kerosene and 18,000 litres of diesel per year, apart from low emissions. Today, Gyanesh’s company, Husk Power Systems, lights 400 households in west Champaran with 80 power plants and has sequestered 50,000 tonnes of CO2. The ambition, backed by the likes of Shell Foundation and Acumen Fund, is to create 2,014 plants by the year 2014, sequestering 7.5 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide. With the cheapest capital cost in the world of $1 per watt, that ambition may be on solid ground.
DO U SPEAK Green? How about wearing it? Shishir Goenka, 46, has been a textile exporter for the past 19 years, a good part of which has also gone into nurturing his passion for wildlife. Last year, these two facets of his life met with Do U Speak Green? — an organic clothing webstore.
On the webstore, you will find beetroot and methidyed clothing from organic cotton, waste fabric cuttings and bamboo fabric. Says Shishir, “When someone buys our products, they encourage the growth of organic cotton and make a monetary contribution to the conservation effort because 10 percent of all our sales go to organisations like the WWF, besides indirectly helping the farmers stay debt-free.” At an average cost of Rs 600 for a piece of clothing, it seems a reasonable premium to pay for a healthy conscience.
IRONICAL AS it may seem, the man behind Sresta Natural Products, Hyderabad-based Rajseelam, 45, started his career in 1992 as an employee in a fertiliser and pesticide company. “I always knew there was something not right in the way we were moving ahead with respect to the farming practices in the country.” Hence in 2004, began Sresta — an organic food company.
Seven years later, he has two stores under the brand name 24 Letter Mantra, tie-ups with 400 other stores and a presence in 25 cities with over 300 retail food products.
Sresta sources from various small corporations and farmers, spread across the country. “We have perfected our model after a lot of trial and error. We have set our logistics right while trying to improve our shelf life.”
So, what’s the potential for growth in the organic food business? “It’s a large market and organic food, as a value proposition, is high now. People are concerned about their health, food adulteration is becoming a real menace and no one really wants to eat their food generously mixed with pesticides and fertilisers!”
EVER WONDEREDwhere the electronic age goes to die? To landfills from where the heavy metals from circuit boards of TVs and phones either rise to the air in acrid smoke or seep to the ground to poison water. About 3.3 lakh metric tonnes of it in India annually, according to one estimate.
Goutham Reddy, 40, executive director of Ramky Group, one of the rising e-waste management companies in India, understands the importance of what he does — disposing your old computer. “Sixty to seventy percent of the industrial and municipal waste in India isn’t scientifically managed,” says Goutham, hinting at the potential of the e-waste management sector in India. Ramky’s own estimate of the market is pegged at around 8 lakh tonnes per annum — a long, profitable way to go from the current 1,200 tonnes Ramky processes.
Ramky’s wing span now stretches from Hyderabad to Muscat. There are serious profits to be made.
Nisha Susan is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.