Interview with an expert
By: Samhita Vallamreddy
Interview with Ms. Shyamala Suresh
Greenkeepers USA had the honor of interviewing Ms. Shyamala Suresh, an advocate for healthy living and responsible solid waste management. She works with the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), and Green the Red in Bengaluru, India, which are both programs related to waste and composting. She is also a founding member of Sampoorna Ahara, India’s first whole food plant-based social enterprise. We asked Ms. Suresh a couple of questions about the environmental issues that we are facing today and her thoughts about them:
1. When did you enter this field and what inspired you to become an environmentalist?
I first stepped into this field in the summer of 2012 when I was volunteering with a community group. This was when I understood how big a problem Solid Waste Management was. Through my work that summer, I saw the immense potential we as individuals had and wanted to work on helping other people reach their potential and become a part of the solution.
2. What is the root cause of environmental problems? Do you think improving technology can help us out of this situation, or is it maybe the reason for the issue?
There are many levels to this. At the individual level, a lot of it boils down to ignorance, convenience, and apathy. At the macro level, it is that companies and governments focus on profits over everything else. As individuals, we are not taught the value of the environment and often prioritize other things over the environment; people growing up in heavily urban areas are cut off from nature and do not have a connection to it. We are also a part of an ecosystem that is driven by commerce without conscience, which in turn has made us value convenience and comfort over everything else. Many of the issues at the individual level can be fixed with compassion, connection, and education. As far as technology goes, it depends on how we use it and what kind of technology solutions we invent and invest in. The more we reward holistic tech solutions, the more holistic tech solutions we will have. Additionally, social media platforms have been useful in amplifying the message of living mindfully and supporting small businesses that are environmentally inclined.
3. How can people incorporate healthy environmental habits into their everyday lives? Have you observed any specific habits that people tend to go back to which harm the environment?
Taking one step at a time and starting with what is easy for the individual has been a good approach. Small steps like reducing single-use disposables, switching to sustainable menstrual products, eating a more plant-based diet, composting at home, buying less, and supporting home-grown businesses that are mindful are some examples. Not getting overwhelmed, pacing ourselves, and learning nonviolent communication helps with our mental health as we deal with society at large. I have observed that anything that a person does without taking the time to understand is short-lived. Trends and poorly-planned challenges often don't result in lasting change. Doing something over-the-top once is easier than doing something small consistently, we aim for the latter.
3. Do you think the leaders of our world are spending enough resources and doing the best they can to resolve the issue?
No, I don't think people with influence, in general, are doing enough for the environment. There are small pockets of people who are, but it's nowhere near where it needs to be.
4. What were some words you wish you had heard when you decided to follow this career path?
I was lucky to hear this when I started working in the sector. "Don't overthink, start somewhere and keep growing. Have an open mind and learn along the way"
5. What words of encouragement would you give to a student that is looking to join the environmental sector?
If our story is anything to learn from it is that we have great power as individuals to create lasting change. It is easy to forget this and give up this power because we may not see the impact of our actions, but every effort counts. In Bengaluru, it was the citizen movement that created history and transformed laws. The environmental sector is so much bigger than what we think it is. Integrate the environment in the work that you want to do. Environment education is applicable in every field from STEM to performing arts to academia. The playing field is wide, open your mind to it, and don't be afraid to explore.
We hope that Shyamala’s story and words of encouragement are a source of inspiration and new hope for any aspiring environmentalists. The world continues to become smaller and smaller as everyone and everything around us is connected by technology and the interwebs. No matter what occupation you choose to pursue, you will have the opportunity to step up and do the work needed to help our planet. And in Shyamala’s words, “The playing field is wide, open your mind to it, and don't be afraid to explore.”!