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Reflections of sustainability entrepreneurs on outlook of green products

While eating street-food, Vaibhav Jaiswal and Amardeep Bardhan, two MBA students were struck by a simple and powerful idea:  the possibility of re-engineering agricultural wastes to substitute plastics, thermocol, and disposable synthetic chemicals for use in manufacturing kitchenware. Sustainability Outlook talked with these self-called 'eco-preneurs' to investigate green consumer sentiment in India.

Diwali, Christmas, New Year and the ‘wedding season’ make this a time of year a frenzy of social gatherings, gift-giving and retail activity. For even the most sophisticated and socially conscious Indian consumer, ‘greenifying’ any celebration on the social calendar is a challenge. 

For entrepreneurs Vaibhav Jaiwal and Amardeep Bardan from Prakritii Cultivating Green, a green kitchenware manufacturer, using agri-wastes such as nut leaves to make kitchenware had a compelling sustainability and commercial case. 

Jaiswal points out a major disruptive quality of these kitchenware products. “It replaces paper, plastic, thermocol, and other chemical based polymers with natural leaves which are easily disposable and degradable. These are completely eco-friendly, microwave/oven usable, can hold any item hot or chilled and also liquids for 4-6 hours at a go. And secondly, manufacturing them is very easy – we use cheaper methods, there are no sophisticated skills required, and the process uses only water, heat and pressure”.  From a CSR perspective, this simple manufacturing model also addresses the problem of unemployment in North Eastern states.

 Not all good ideas, however, see light of day. Creating a market around a green product is a daunting challenge: the brand is not known; target customers are disaggregated; the majority of customers need to be wooed before they can see the value or feel a desire to buy green products.

A review of the performance and uptake of clean cook-stoves, solar and biomass products can provide sufficient evidence to showcase the effort  required in marketing green products. The cost to create market awareness is labour intensive, and unless there is opportunity to market to bulk buyers or get bulk access to a customer base, sales margins are lost by the time a conversion is made.  

Says Jaiswal, “Initially, we focused on the upper-middle and high class sections of society to target people who would be aware of environmental hazards. We put up stall in Dilli Haat on June 2011. Here, our customers were mainly individual buyers who were attracted to these products and many wanted to use them as a status symbol. This was our first milestone and we started getting business after that. We also talked to wholesale dealers of dry fruits and convinced them to "go green". Now, we undertake initiatives to make people aware of the harmful effects of using plastic products.”

Two months ago, ITC promoted services in helping customers design and host ‘green events’ – focussed on reducing resource-use per head and  promoting energy conservation that will no doubt help deliver competitive hosting rates to customers while reducing overheads. 

Indeed, there is an increasing interplay of commercial brands promoting resource-efficient choices under the ‘sustainability-banner’ in certain industry segments: fashion apparel, cosmetic/body care, hotel services, passenger air travel, white-ware and electronics, as examples.

“For Prakritii, companies or large organisations generally buy the products due to the three pillars: eco-friendly, sustainability and biodegradability,” says Jaiswal. “Today many hotels, resorts, big temples, and institutions have tied up with us including Upkar Packers, Isckon, Radisson Blu, Kwality, Sharnam Restors, India Today Group, Keya Kainosh, DLF Promende, & Green Peace India to name a few.”  

Today, more than ever before, India seems to be on the brink of tackling social change. AAP momentum in Delhi is sure to put energy and water use resource efficiency on the same agenda alongside good governance. Does it appear Indian consumers are ready for the green revolution?

The feedback from our green entrepreneurs is optimistic, yet pragmatic. “It’s generally hard to convince individuals, as they expect cheaper goods irrespective of going green. They negotiate as if they are buying vegetables,” reflects Jaiswal. “But on the other hand, the corporates take up green products as part of their corporate social responsibility.”

 

 Amardeep Bardhan and Vaibhav Jaiswal are founders of Prakritii  Cultivating Green.

 

Author: Sustainability Outlook