Rethinking Sustainability Practices

By Tendayi O. Chirawu

Being in Auroville is an experience like no other because it totally changes your perception on constructs of waste and in applicable, everyday situations. I have been impressed and amazed at the concept of zero waste and how it is put into practice in a ‘waste not, want not’ way.

However, there are some leakages in the way people actually live sustainably, for example: we visited the Bhudda Garden, which is a vegetable garden that aims to make Auroville self sustaining by growing and supplying all organic produce. One of the problems the Bhudda garden faces is that people in Auroville are accustomed to the kind of fruits and vegetables that their diets were comprised of before coming to Auroville and as a result those are the fruits and vegetables they want. These however, are not indigenous to the region and so the things that can be grown may go to waste as there is not a large market for them.

On the 30th and 31th of December the entire Tamil Nadu region was hit by a category 1 cyclone called Thane. The effects were devastating and it is my observation that the places most severely hit in my immediate proximity are the ones that chose to build sustainably such as the Bamboo Center. A young man named Diego who was visiting our media mentor, Puxan, walked for hours in the rain on Friday morning to the Tibetan Pavilion to ask for shelter because he was staying at the Bamboo Center and the roof of his room was blown away and the collapse of the remainder of the structure soon followed. Everything at the center, infrastructure wise, was made from Bamboo because it is renewable and strong but most importantly it is a sustainable building material.

Incidentally, the last two talks we received before the natural disaster were about water management and beach erosion. Water in the region is a scarce resource which has now been aggravated by Cyclone Thane. Being that Auroville was founded by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, the society is embodied by a spiritual aspect which is bound to sustainability. However, the spirituality aspect has in one instance stood in the way of sustainability in the creative water solutions. I posed the question as to why sewerage water is not recycled and used for drinking as is the case in my home country, Namibia, which also has water shortages as the country is predominantly desert. The answer given was that because researchers have found that water retains memory drinking water that has sewer memories would be ungainly for the well being of its drinkers.

I feel as though sustainability appears to be occurring and is based on selectivity such as in the case of the vegetables whereby people will eat sustainably by eating vegetables, but it is ineffective because it demands unsustainable production based on the type of vegetables people in the area prefer. Additionally, some sustainable options are not implemented because they are incompatible with the perceptions in the minds of people as is the case with the creative solution for water which ends up being an enemy of progress. Finally, using sustainable building material may not be the best way to be sustainable because should disaster hit, nothing remains. The conundrum is how to be sustainable in an inclusive and progressive manner? There is some dissonance with the way sustainability occurs. Sri Aurobindo said that all problems of existence are problems of harmony.

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