Earthling First: Creating Sustainable Events

Clean Future in conversation with Tamanna Sharma, Founder and Director, Earthling First (OPC) Private Limited on how they are ensuring Zero Waste Contribution to already overflowing landfills.

When was the idea for ‘Earthling First’ conceptualized and what made you decide to enter the ‘event waste management’ space?

A few years back there was an Environment Day event for students to celebrate the beauty of the earth and express their ideas on combating environmental damage and climate change. As the event came to an end and the happy hopeful children left the venue, what was left was trash littered everywhere. It was ironic and a hard-hitting truth between aspirations and reality of our efforts towards a sustainable world.

Although already working on waste management at this point, this is when my research about events began and the impact they have on the environment. Towards the end of 2016, Earthling First was conceptualized as a sustainability consultancy and waste management service provider.

We decided to initially focus only on events that are a temporary bulk generator of waste. This deliberate decision was taken to be able to learn and understand the on ground hurdles of waste management in India as well as the availability and the environmental economics of sustainable alternatives.

How is a ‘sustainable event’ different from a normal event?

Integrating environmentally conscious practices and products in an event without compromising with its primary goals is what makes an event sustainable.

The real work is in details. All the materials used are finalised after a product life cycle analysis. In a linear economy, the product life cycle is usually not sustainable because there are factors we do not see when the products are delivered to us.

Starting from the primary material used, power and water consumption during production, fair trade practices, and post usage disposal are some of the key points to determine the best choice.

Are ‘sustainable events’ costlier on clients pocket?

Integrating sustainability in events was a costly aspect when it was treated as a separate initiative. We focus on the event goals and integrate sustainable measures within the existing operations’ requirements.

Sustainability does not mean going for an expensive alternative, sustainability means making do with existing resources.

Even though the competition is with single-use cheap disposable materials, with growing awareness, more and more clients are looking at the big picture of environmental economics. We bring cost-benefit analyzed products for our clients within reason by engaging with rural and small businesses.

Currently, lack of demand dictates the market, as the demand increases- the prices are bound to come down.

Do you find sufficient suppliers in the market to fulfill your Eco-friendly events requirements?

Initially, it was challenging to find suppliers but after two years of traveling across the country, we are beginning to find a considerable number of suppliers. However, to keep the procurement process sustainable, we are deliberately trying to bring local suppliers on board instead of having products delivered from one corner of the country to another.

Overall we are regularly finding unexposed suppliers in a bid to bring them to the wider market. Finding these small suppliers makes me believe that there is a lot beneath the surface of the market and we will see a quick growth in sustainable product suppliers in the years to come.

Who are your competitors and how you differentiate yourself from them?

Earthling First does not consider sustainability and waste management related businesses a competition, we consider them potential allies.

Earthling First is an aggregator of sustainable practices and products. Our vision is to create efficient sustainable arrangements and close the gaps in the system. Partnerships are important for this vision.

Competition exists in many forms in the country, some are well-established waste management companies and some are new age innovators. We cover an array of gaps in the system instead of a single problem which places us on a unique pedestal and makes our supposed competitors – our partners.

Where do you find the challenge?

Incorporating sustainability into old school operations becomes challenging due to lack of budget allocation and weak policies by state and centre governments.

Let me elaborate. Operations are run on a pre-decided budget while sustainable goods and services are often sourced through CSR budgets which completely depends on company profits. This is a major challenge.

We are slowly working on this challenge by pushing sustainability and waste management measures into the operational budgets.

The second challenge is government policies. As ironic as this sounds – government environmental policies are not sustainable.

Our projects last year, took us to most of the Indian states (metros, tier 2-3 cities and even villages) and what we found was that there are no standard waste management facilities in the country.

Therefore every project we undertake requires a fresh alignment with facilities available locally.

For example, A client wants to go for a biodegradable product because it is eco-friendly but if there are no composting facilities, these products will go to the landfill, creating more damage along the way. This is a challenge.

What kind of growth are you expecting in next three years?

Earthling First is technically only two financial years old. Our turnover doubled in the second year and that too without any investment and funding.

We are expecting to see growth in a similar fashion this year courtesy new projects for daily sustainability and waste management in properties like offices, hotels, resorts, etc along with sustainable events.

A wider jump is expected 2020 onward. This a new market but the shift has begun.

Any major impact story that you wish to share with us?

In the past two years Earthling First had the opportunity to reduce and divert waste from hurting the ecologically fragile systems of remote villages in the Western Ghats to naturally abundant cities in the northeast.

From discovering the cleanest towns and learning from them; to observing cities in the middle of the waste crisis and working in them despite these challenges.

Earthling First works in the true spirit of sustainability by trying to balance environmental, economic as well as social aspects in our approach. We provide an equal opportunity for women to work with us and ensure the health safety of all our crew members who work directly with waste segregation and management.

We hope to keep growing and helping our clients make a difference with every step they take.

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