22 June 2017

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Green and Good Store: Defining New Means of Responsible Consumerism

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From the Editor's Desk

Technological advancements have turned the world into a global village, where consumerism determines the 'making and breaking' of world economies. The high exploitation of natural resources to quench the thirst of irrational consumerism hangs like a 'Sword of Democles' over the very existence of this 'blue planet'. Here comes the importance of turning to 'Responsible consumerism'.

Green and Good Store, the brain child of Aparna Bhat Nagar, is one such initiative to leverage the power of responsible consumerism to bring about positive environmental and social change in the world. Aparna Bhatnagar the founder of online retail store Green and Good Store shares with Krishnakumar C K, Editor, Small Enterprise India, her vision and the core values behind her green initiative.

Aparna Bhatnagar, an Alumni of IIM Ahmedabad and Delhi school of Economics started the Green and Good Store with an aim of making it possible for people to make sustainable development a part of everyday life through responsible consumption choices. 

Aparna has always been carrying with her the mantra of bringing about a positive change in the society. Aparna’s vision to have a platform that cements the aspects of sustainable development and environmental preservation, manifested in the form of Green and Good store.

The online store Green and Good store showcases a range of daily use products that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Most of these products are made by NGOs, rural artisans or social entrepreneurs.  So whenever some one buys a product from Green and Good store they can be proud that the money they spent is going to bring a sunshine factor to the lives of many underprivileged.

“Every product sold at the store supports at least one pillar of sustainable development and thus promotes environmental sustainability, social empowerment, economic inclusion and preservation of traditional knowledge. At Green and Good Store you will find products that can bring about a change in many ways to the society.  By just buying right you can trigger a chain of events that make our world a better place” says Aparna.

“We believe that for development to be truly sustainable it has to take into account all four aspects of sustainability namely environmental, social, economic and cultural as all the four are interlinked. Therefore our focus is not on promoting only green or eco friendly products but also products that create a healthy society and economy while protecting the traditional knowledge of communities. Therefore we practice a holistic model of sustainable development” adds Aparna.
 

 “We have products from Sadhna, an Udaipur based NGO that provides training and livelihood to tribal women artisans. The women are trained in various skills from embroidery, stitching, quality control, design and marketing etc. Today there has been a noticeable change in the lives of these women artisans, who once were not even exposed to their own villages today are confident enough to make their own decisions in the family as well as at various other policy levels in their villages and are the bread winners in the family” affirms Aparna.

“Another product on our store is natural beeswax candles made by our partner Crawford Market that provides employment to underprivileged women from Dharavi”.

During Holi they have introduced Natural Holi colours from the Society for Child Development that works with intellectually challenged young adults in Delhi. “These colours were made from flowers collected from temples and hotels around Delhi that would have otherwise polluted the Yamuna. These colours provided an opportunity for intellectually challenged adults to be financially independent, saved the Yamuna from pollution and were absolutely safe for people!” Aparna adds.

We are also coming up with some interesting Rakhee offers on our store where Rakhee thaalis made by Vocational training centre of Umang a Jaipur based NGO that works towards rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities. We will also be introducing great Rakhee offers on Organic Cotton apparel from the Brand ‘Zeme’.

Towards the preservation of traditional knowledge, they work with local artisan communities to help them retain their art and knowledge because it is closely linked to the preservation of ecosystem. “For example, the Kavads on our store are now made by only 7-8 families living in a tiny town of Bassi. These artisans use Neem wood for making their handicraft. However, they have strict rules about when and how much of the wood can be taken. For example, trees are not cut during the flowering season and can be cut only during a particular time frame in a way that allows for its regrowth. In a way they protect mindless destruction of forests or ecosystem”.

Aparna feels that when traditional crafts are preserved, the knowledge attached to them is preserved which contains rules and guidelines for preserving natural resources on which the art or craft itself depends. “When the craft dies, this link is broken and people loose interest in sustaining ecosystems that had sustained them for ages” reminds Aparna.

Some excerpts from the interview

1. What are the key concepts and core values behind Green and Good store?

The key concept behind the store is that of “responsible consumerism”. As consumers, we influence a lot of decisions along the manufacturing or production chain which we, most often, don’t see directly. As consumers when we buy a product, we not only encourage more quantities of production of that product but also encourage the process of making the product, what ingredients were used, how the producer does business and how he/she treats people who work for him/her. A part of the reason why we have many of our current environmental and social issues is that we, as consumers, don’t care enough about what we encourage, mainly because it’s nicely hidden away from us. We only get to see the beautifully packaged and marketed end product with a lot of “inconvenient truths” being brushed away from our sight.

Responsible consumerism is about knowing the hidden truths behind every product and then choosing products or ingredients that encourage positive things to happen all across the product’s lifecycle. “It’s about consciously adding sustainability as another factor to your decision making process at par with brand, quality, design or price. At the green and good store, we want to make it possible for people to switch to alternatives that are truly sustainable.

2.  What exactly inspired you to come with the idea of starting this venture?

After post graduation from DSE in 2000, I joined Seva Mandir, an NGO working in the field of Rural Development.  Seva Mandir experience made it clear to me that my long term career interest was in the field of development. Studying at IIM-A convinced me of the need for self sustaining organisations that could support their own growth, especially when the goal was to bring about social and environmental change. During my work with companies such as Citibank and Dun and Bradstreet, I realised that many employees like me wanted to contribute to the society and environment but found it difficult to take time out from work and family pressures. Since most of us were generally short on time, volunteering regularly with NGOs was difficult. The need was to find a way of making an impact with actions that we took as part of everyday life, and this is just where responsible consumerism fitted in.

Responsible consumerism is about choosing products that support positive change in the society, it is about a lifestyle where everything that you owned has benefited the world in some way or the other and not exploited it. However, there was little information on what such products were, their impact and where you could find them. A few products that were available were available only in a few select stores and often at exorbitant prices. Therefore, in mid 2008 I decided to quit corporate career to create a place that made it possible for people to live sustainability and make an impact, socially and environmentally, as part of everyday life. Thus was born www.greenandgoodstore.com.

3. Who are the key personnel behind this novel concept?

Our store is 10 months old and we are making steady progress. This has been possible because of the superbly committed team that we have. Although I took the lead and started the store, everyone else in the team has worked equally hard at making the store happen. Vinay Choletti (my husband and classmate from IIMA) was my partner right from conceptualising the store. He brings knowledge of sales and financial planning. Piyush Verma (also an entrepreneur himself), brings expertise in an area very critical to us – the Web Technology. Krishna Soujanya (classmate from IIMA) brought in expertise from her retailing experience with leading retailing companies in India; Pallav Bhatnagar helps us with our communications. Mrs. Sushila Krishnan with 25 years of corporate experience behind her has helped us in Business Development and my father Dr. M.S. Bhatnagar, who retired from Indian Air Force a few years back, helps us manage our business operations at Jaipur.

5.   What were the major challenges that you have faced before and after launching Green and Good store?

Before launching the store a major challenge was to understand the potential demand for a store like ours. Data for responsible consumerism or green consumerism in India is very limited and Indian customer is definitely very different form the American and European customer.

Post launch, a key challenge for us is communicating to people the concept of sustainable development and its importance in everyday life. Being a start up, the limited financial resources mean that we have to use low cost but innovative marketing channels to educate people about responsible consumerism and its linkage with sustainable development

6.  What is the general trend towards eco friendly products in the Indian market?

People are more aware than before, one reason is that now we are witnessing the effects of our negligence in the past. However, we still don’t keep the environmental impact of a product at par with factors such as brand, quality, style, price in decision making.

7.  How good are the foreign markets for Indian eco friendly products and what is the response from them towards Green and Good store?

The market for Indian green products is very good internationally, 53% of all organic food produced in India is exported and so is 80% of organic cotton produced in India. We are now beginning to sell our products to international markets and have shipped our products to Canada, USA and Australia. We have received excellent feedback from all our international customers.


8.  According to you, how is it possible to inculcate a culture to adhere to green practices?

Being Green and also socially responsible is about making informed choices. When people know the linkages between conventional products and their drawback and similarly about Green and responsible products and their benefits people can make the right choice. Thus information is key. People have to be armed with information on positive and negatives of their purchase choices.

Another important thing that needs to be done is to somehow fit the use of natural resources into financial accounting and reporting. Today, there’s no cost associated to degrading nature as part of business but cost spent on abatement of harmful effects on environment is included. This obviously will bias business into reducing abatement activities at the cost of degrading the natural resources. Unless this error is corrected we cannot expect business to take the right action.

9.  Being an entrepreneur with a passion towards green practices, what message do you have for the budding entrepreneurs?

I think every entrepreneur across sectors should consider the environmental and social impacts in as much detail as they would consider their financials and benefit ratios. Entrepreneurs are starting from zero and it is easier to accommodate these concerns at the beginning rather than make changes mid way. I feel that the world needs a different kind of business now, a business that obviously makes money but not at the cost of people or planet and in fact one that gives financial, environmental and social returns.

 

 

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