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     Volume 9 Issue 5 | January 29, 2010|

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Cover Story

A Lighter Footstep

Syed Zain Al-mahmood
Photos: Zahedul I Khan

The truth is already out there. Our planet is heating up at an alarming rate and natural resources are dwindling fast. Humanity's failure to clean up after itself has placed millions of lives in peril. Scientists say the window of opportunity to reverse climate change is small and it is closing. In light of the clear and present danger, the inability of world leaders to agree on a concrete plan of action at the Copenhagen Summit was depressing. But perhaps the future of Mother Earth is too important to be left to politicians alone.

Individual action is now recognised as one of the keys to tackling climate change -- the greatest challenge facing humanity. We jeopardise the balance of the ecosystem every day by the amount of waste we produce, the amount of water we use, and the amount of energy we consume. Small adjustments in the way we consume and dispose of resources can add up to significant and positive environmental effects.

Bangladesh produces 36 million metric tonnes of CO2 every year. This figure may be low compared to many other nations, but with a population density of 1100/sq.km pollution control and the sustainable use of resources have become life-and-death issues for Bangladesh. Green living is all about reducing, reusing and recycling. If the 150 million people of Bangladesh each saved an arm's length of ribbon this year instead of trashing it, we could tie a bow around the earth!

Eco-friendly living doesn't necessarily involve a radical overhaul of one's life, nor does it involve hugely expensive adjustments. Following a few simple principles to manage power, water and waste better will yield excellent results. Living green means reversing climate change, but it also means healthy families, cleaner surroundings and financial savings. Through a few simple lifestyle choices you can literally save the planet. One step at a time.

Conserve Energy

Energy efficiency is crucial to a green lifestyle.

The energy we use comes mainly from fossil fuels -- coal, oil and gas. It took 200 million years to form all the oil on the planet. It has taken mankind 200 years to use up 50%. Not only are fossil fuels non-renewable resources, they cause a huge amount of pollution. Burning fossil fuel for energy creates large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that directly contribute to global warming.

Using less energy in our everyday lives is easier than most of us realise. Through some simple design changes, choosing the right appliances, and kicking a few old habits we can make a big difference to the environment and make a dent in the energy bills along the way.

Most of the energy consumed in houses and workplaces are used for lighting and heating or cooling. The fewer watts you utilise in lighting, the less power you consume. Using compact fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs will cut your electricity bills by around 25% each year. A properly made compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) will save about Tk.2500 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about six months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts up to 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. So it is a good idea to use CFLs where light is needed for long periods of time such as in the kitchen, living room and study. Although the quality of light given off by CFLs has been an issue, newer CFLs glow just as brightly as their incandescent cousins.

Although CNG is green fuel, Bangladesh's known gas reserves are rapidly dwindling.

Fluorescent tubes are even more efficient than compact fluorescent lamps, and last even longer (10,000-20,000h). Only use tubes with a modern ballast starter that avoids flickering and lights immediately -- good ones add another 20% efficiency. Another option is a CFL with a dedicated fixture. The electronic ballast which is part of the fixture lasts 40,000 hours and bulbs can be replaced separately at lower cost. Both CFLs and fluorescent tubes are available with dimmable fixtures. This can increase comfort, save even more energy and extend the lifetime of the bulb or tube.

It is important to pay attention to the light fixtures. Clever use of reflectors, and directional lamps to get the light where you need it can save your energy cost and improve your comfort! Well thought out use of efficient lights can thus drastically reduce electricity consumption, and help ease the interminable load shedding.

In order to improve energy efficiency, do an energy audit of your building. Are your refrigerator, washing machine, computer and air conditioner energy efficiency rated? Look for an internationally accepted certification such as Energy Star. You can save energy by keeping your refrigerator two thirds full, cleaning the coils at the back twice a year to keep it working properly, and not setting the thermostat too cold.

Heating and cooling account for the major portion of energy used in buildings. Think twice before heating up water. Will cold water work just as well for a quick shower? How about cold water for washing clothes and dishes? Is it absolutely necessary to turn on the air conditioner? Won't a fan do just as well? These simple choices can over time translate into a significant reduction of your energy bill and shrink your carbon footprint.

Fluorescent bulbs can help ease the chronic power shortage.

Make sure the energy saving features on your computer are turned on. Set the monitor to automatically turn off when in standby. Avoid screensavers. They are unnecessary on modern monitors and don't save energy. Use the hibernate mode or just switch off. But if your PC is an older version without energy saving features, make sure you turn off the monitor when you shut down your computer- it takes up 80 Per cent of the PC's energy use.

Proper insulation and ventilation is the first and most important energy saving measure. Energy use for active cooling (air conditioning) can be minimised or even avoided if the construction is well-thought out. Keep this in mind when choosing or designing a house.

As a general rule, always turn off the lights when you leave the room or the house. Unplugging the electronics you aren't using such as your TV, DVD player, or mobile phone charger, and switching off the power strip to your PC can save energy and money.

Motor vehicles use significant energy, and emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases. Buy a car that is fuel efficient, and don't use a car with a bigger engine than you need. In the streets of Dhaka, speeds are low due to congestion. Choosing a car with an engine of 1300CC or less will save money and be more eco-friendly.

Top Ten Energy Saving Tips
-Switch to Energy saving light bulbs. CFLs may cost a little more initially but use around a quarter of the power of standard light bulbs and last eight times longer.
-Leaving appliances on standby wastes millions of Taka worth of energy annually, always turn appliances off. Switch all lights off on leaving a room.
-Most modern electric appliances consume electricity even when turned off. Switch off at wall sockets when possible.
-When using washing machines always make up a full load. Dry on a clothes line.
-Don't buy a freezer that is larger than you need, especially if you live close to the shops.
-Buy a laptop instead of a desktop, if practical. It consumes five times less electricity.
-Check if your computer supports the more advanced Speedstep™ power management.
-Minimise printing. Laser printers use more electricity than inkjet printers.
-Consider taking a cold shower rather than using the tub.
-Avoid using cars. Walk or take public transportation wherever possible.

Watch the Water

Water is essential to life and a basic human right. However, like the air we breathe, water is something that we often take for granted. Worldwide, more than one billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and more than two billion people lack adequate sanitation. 6,000 people die everyday, or one person, often a child, every 15 seconds, due to preventable water-related diseases. The collection, purification and pumping of water also takes up a huge chunk of energy.

Drinking filtered water is greener than buying bottled water since the bottles don't decompose easily.

Saving a little bit of water each time you turn on the tap can add up to substantial savings over time. While in the shower, you can collect the used water in a bowl, and use it later to water plants or mop floors. Research has shown that this saves up to 4 litres of water per shower. Turning off the water while soaping or shampooing will save a further 8 or 9 litres. In a family of four, assuming every member showers once a day that means a saving of 52 litres per day -- 18980 litres annually. To put that into perspective, consider that the water saved by the average family of four would fill 12500 1.5 litre water bottles.

Dhaka has a requirement of more than 2000 million litres of water per day while the city's Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has the capacity to supply only up to 1800 million litres a day. So fix that leaky tap today-- research has shown that one dripping tap can cause a loss of up to 2000 litres per month.

When buying a dishwasher or washing machine, choose an appliance with a Water Conservation label. Many of the top brands have such efficiency labels. Consider buying a front-loading washing machine instead of top-loading since they use less water, energy and detergents. Wait until you have a full load before starting the washing machine, and don't use a longer washing cycle than you need for the clothing. It's a good idea not to use running water in the kitchen while defrosting food or washing vegetables. Using a bowl of water is much more environment friendly.

With groundwater supplies drying up, harvesting rainwater could help ease the water crisis in Dhaka and other large cities. Rainwater could potentially supply about 15% of the city's water requirements, according to Dr Sirajul Islam, Assistant Professor of the Department of Environmental Science and Management, North South University.

“Even if the rain water is not purified, it can be used for such purposes as washing up or flushing toilets,” says Dr Islam. “When you consider that it takes 17 litres of water to flush once, you can see how rain water can be an important resource.”

Top Ten Water Saving Tips
-Fix any leaky taps, toilets or water pipes. Even a small drip can add up to a lot of water over time.
-Wash your car the natural way - wait until it rains.
-Do a water audit -- don't waste water.
-Turn on the shower only after soaping and shampooing.
-Consider a rainwater harvesting apparatus. It is cheap to install.
-Buy water efficient appliances.
-Reduce your current shower time by one minute-- you will save thousands of litres per month.
-Locate and repair silent toilet leaks: Put some dark food colouring in your tank. If you notice colour in the bowl within 15 minutes, you've got a leak worth fixing.
-Water your garden on demand, not on schedule.
-Kick the bottle. Drink filtered water instead of buying water in bottles. The plastic bottles take thousands of years to decompose.

Ward off Waste

Reducing and recycling waste is one of the keys to a greener lifestyle.

Every day the nearly 11 million people of Dhaka city produce around 3,500 tons of solid waste. Dhaka City Corporation, which is understaffed and cash strapped, can only collect half of the garbage while the rest is left to rot in the heat and humidity in different parts of the capital.

Choosing products with little or no packaging is an easy way to reduce waste. Reusing instead of throwing away makes economic sense, and the best way to recycle things you don't want is to give them away. Before tossing used and old items, consider whether you can give them away. Many charities would be happy to collect clothes and beddings to distribute to the needy, or to sell for funds. Garbage collectors scour the land fills for old batteries and other recyclable items. Instead of throwing everything in the trash can, call a “tokai” who might be happy to take the waste off your hands. He would be able to put the items to good use without having to forage in the dump site.

Many items that are thrown straight into the garbage bin can be modified to serve many useful purposes. Cutting off the top of a plastic bottle can create a useful funnel. Old newspapers can be used to clean greasy pots and pans or to wrap food scraps. Reuse plastic or net bags the grocery shop gives you by lining the waste basket. Use empty soft drink bottles to store water.

We wouldn't want our homes to turn into a toxic dump, so why do it to Mother Earth? Choose eco-friendly detergents and soaps that are petrochemical or phosphate free. When washing clothes don't use more detergent than necessary. Try not to pour oil or waste down the sink since it will drain straight to our canals and rivers.

Read labels and avoid products that contain harmful aerosol propellants such as pentane or halon. Solvents such as methyl chloroform and methyl bromide are also best avoided. They pollute the environment and damage the ozone layer.

Waste not, have not. Much of the waste being hauled by the Dhaka city corporation is food waste. The ecological cost of heaping all the biodegradable waste into landfill sites with the inevitable production of methane, coupled with the growing, manufacturing, packing, storing and transport of food is thought to result in the emission of approximately 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year, wasted because so much of the food and drink is thrown away.

According to the NGO Waste Concern, about 80 per cent of the waste produced in Dhaka is organic and suitable for composting. As oxygen is a vital part of the composting process, this is a much greener way of using up household food waste which would otherwise decompose anaerobically and produce methane. Overall there are compelling reasons for reducing the amount of food and drink wastage and stepping up waste recycling projects.

Top Ten Waste Saving Tips
-Do not throw out your toxic household wastes, such as paint, paint thinner and car fluids, in the garbage or down the drain. Check with your local facilities for proper disposal and avoid these products in the future.
-Take your own bags to the grocery store. Take canvas bags rather than taking the flimsy flyaway polythene bags. If you take plastic bags, use them until they are worn out.
-Compost your food waste and use as nutrient rich soil for your kitchen garden.
-Avoid products with excess packaging.
-Always use reusables: mugs, lunch containers, batteries, pens, razors, etc.
-Replace paper products with reusable ones, and use recycled paper when you do have to use paper.
-Print on both sides of a sheet. Avoid printing unless necessary.
-Check for errors in a document on screen before hitting Ctrl+P.
-Segregate waste into biodegradable and non-degradables.

Cutting the Carbon

Walking or taking public transport to work is healthy and environment friendly.

When you hop into your car and head off to work, the engine burns fuel which creates a certain amount of carbon dioxide, depending on its fuel consumption and the driving distance. When you use electricity to run appliances, the generation of the electrical power may already have emitted a certain amount of CO2. When you buy food and goods, the production of the food and goods also emitted some quantities of CO2. Your carbon footprint is the sum of all emissions of carbon dioxide which were induced by your activities in a given time frame.

Carbon is one of the building blocks of life. Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was removed through photosynthesis as early organisms evolved. This locked away carbon dioxide as carbonate minerals, oil shale and coal, and petroleum in the earth's crust when the organisms died, leaving 0.03% in the atmosphere. CO2 is released into the atmosphere through burning of fossil fuels, the decay of plants, volcanic eruptions and as a waste product of animal respiration. Carbon dioxide, along with methane and ozone, is a so called greenhouse gas causing global warming.

The smart use of appliances can save valuable resources.

When it comes to shrinking our carbon footprint, less is more. Through consuming less, reusing and recycling more, we can step lightly on the earth. Going green is all about making carbon-savvy choices in every walk of life.

In your home, you can save energy and reduce your eco footprint with a raft of measures from energy-efficient appliances to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Whether you spend a lot of time in your kitchen or the only thing you know how to make is instant noodles, there are steps we can all take to make our kitchen a little greener and save a little money in the process. Your refrigerator uses more energy than any other appliance in your home. The fridge should be kept at 3-5°C and, the freezer at -17 to -15°C. This uses optimum energy. Don't place your fridge in a warm spot -- near a heater or in direct sunlight. Use electric kettles to boil water which consume half the energy needed to boil water on the stove. Cook food in glass dishes which are quicker than metal pans. The bottom of your pan or pot should be the same size as the burner to use the minimum amount of energy. Use pressure cookers which use very little energy and are best for food that is “low on the food chain.” Water will boil more quickly if there is a lid on the pan. Cooking frozen foods uses more energy -- thaw them out first. Be sure to turn off the gas after cooking.

At work, you can take a careful look at every element of your work and make sure it is a safe working environment for you and the planet. Whether you work at a factory that may be blatantly polluting the environment or in an office that could cut down its use of paper products, a little green-savvy would go a long way.

Paper is a key area of waste. Our ancient forests are being stripped away for many everyday paper products you can find at home and at work, such as toilet paper, phone books, newsprint and writing paper.

Here are a few things you can do to save paper and trees:

Cartoon by Tanmoy

-Photocopy or print on both sides of the page and reuse paper until both sides are used up.
-Reduce the number of copies of any given document.
-Buy recycled, chlorine-free paper and recycle office paper when you are finished with it.
-Reuse envelopes.
-Use a plain paper fax machine so you can reuse and recycle the paper.
-Buy a permanent cloth or mesh coffee filter instead of disposable filters.

As an office administrator, you could implement purchasing policies that consider the environmental record of companies from which you are buying goods and services. Encourage your workplace to use alternative non-toxic cleaning materials. Use paper clips, staples, string or non-toxic glue instead of adhesive tape when possible.

On the road, try to keep pollutants to a minimum. If you own a vehicle, you are already emitting CO2. But drive green savvy. Slow down and save fuel. At 110 km/hr the car uses up 25% more fuel than at 80 km/hr. Before entering a congested road, either turn off the air conditioner or set it to recirculate the air already inside. If you're waiting, even for a short while, turn off the engine it saves more fuel than you will use when you start up again.

Shopping green involves shunning harmful polythene and even paper bags.

Keep your tyres inflated properly, and change your lubricants regularly. Don't ride the clutch it wastes fuel.

But the greenest way to cut carbon on the road is to avoid a car if you can help it. Take public transport or walk. Bicycling has not taken off in Dhaka due to lack of cycle lanes, but if more people started to cycle to work, the authorities would take note. Rickshaws, although much maligned, are a green mode of transport.

According to statistics supplied by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, 40% of road users in Dhaka are pedestrians, 40% use motor vehicles while the rest use non-mechanised transport.

“If we can start a walking culture, it might take off quite quickly,” suggests Prof Mazharul Hoque of the Accident Research Institute, Buet. “One problem is that footpaths are taken up by hawkers. But once people incorporate walking into their daily lives, the government will be forced to accommodate them.”

If you do have to use a car, consider taking a colleague or a neighbour with you. High occupancy vehicles have separate lines in some countries and are more eco-friendly. Carpooling Saves Money and Time. Ask your co-workers how they come to work. Do they take public transit, or drive in? If they drive, whom do they share their ride with in the morning? Some people have a system that involves chauffeuring kids, their spouse, or another family member. But if there are colleagues who live along the same route, travelling together is not only green and economical, but it can be fun too!

Out shopping, make smart choices. Buy economically so you can reduce waste and save money in the process. When it comes to food, the only thing making more noise these days than organic is the local food movement. Buy local since it not only supports local businesses, but also the chances are it took less energy to get the products to market. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables since they are fresh and cheap and have less of an impact on the environment. Eat less meat. Food that is lower down on the food chain, such as vegetables, is more sustainable. Meat is resource hungry. Plan to have at least two meatless days every week.

Take your own jute or canvas tote bag with you. Discourage the shopkeeper to use polythene bags.

Read labels and choose natural, bio-degradable, non-toxic products as much as possible. These products will break down without leaving harmful residues when discarded. Buy recycled goods and choose reusable products rather than disposable ones. You could choose cloth towels over paper ones, and avoid disposable cutlery. It is “green” to buy things that are built to last. For example, get a wrought iron table instead of one made of particle board. It will last longer and have less of an environmental impact in the long run.

Going green means leaving a clean environment for posterity.

In the community, think globally but act locally. One person can make a difference. But a thousand people can make a bigger difference. Spread the word about your environmental habits and get others to do their part. Start a Green Movement.

Write to your local MP asking them to promote energy efficient programmes. Ask local companies to give customers financial incentives to use energy efficient appliances and alternative power sources. Start a community composting programme. You can then sell the compost to gardeners and nurseries to help cover your costs. Make your community bicycle-friendly and pedestrian friendly. Install a solar panel and encourage neighbours to do the same. Organise a tree-planting programme at your local club or mosque. Help arrange a community Recycling Day where people can take their used things to either give away, swap or recycle.

Car pooling saves energy and money.

Globalisation and the environmental crisis are laying bare the reality that our current lifestyle is unsustainable in the long run. Becoming a Green Warrior is all about ensuring a healthy environment for us and for our children. We can each help Mother Earth pull back from the abyss - not through any high-powered international initiatives, but by ordinary individual actions in our daily lives.

The time to save the planet is now.


Greening Tips for the Office
-Use ceramic or china coffee cups at work instead of disposable.
-Do an energy and waste audit.
-Help educate your coworkers about the environment.
-Walk or ride a bike to work. Use public transit or carpool you can advertise/ask at work or on bulletin boards.
-Telecommute. If your boss agrees to let you work from home one or two days a week, it will reduce work related travel and save energy.
-Make a sign for inside the front door that says “last one out turns off the lights.”
-Strictly enforce a smoking ban.
-Use handkerchiefs instead of disposable tissues. This will not only help save trees, but the cotton will be softer on your nose.
-Make arrangements with local recyclers to cart away your waste.
-Use ceramic or china coffee cups at work instead of disposable.
-Do an energy and waste audit.
-Help educate your coworkers about the environment.
-Walk or ride a bike to work. Use public transit or carpool you can advertise/ask at work or on bulletin boards.
-Telecommute. If your boss agrees to let you work from home one or two days a week, it will reduce work related travel and save energy.
-Make a sign for inside the front door that says “last one out turns off the lights.”
-Strictly enforce a smoking ban.
-Use handkerchiefs instead of disposable tissues. This will not only help save trees, but the cotton will be softer on your nose.
-Make arrangements with local recyclers to cart away your waste.

DIY Cleaners and Repellants

If you read the labels of household cleaning products, you've probably come across some words you don't recognise. Chances are, if you can't pronounce it, it's not good for you or for the environment. These homemade concoctions should work just as well.

General Purpose Cleaner
1/2 cup (125 ml) pure soap
4 liters hot water
For a clean scent and to help cut grease add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice.
This solution is safe for all surfaces, should be rinsed with water, and is effective for most jobs. For a stronger cleaner, double the amounts of soap and lemon juice.
Mix 50-100 ml of eucalyptus oil with a litre of water.
This can be used in a spray bottle, but remember to shake the mixture before using to disperse the oil.

Air Fresheners
Commercial air fresheners work by masking smells and coating the nasal passages with chemicals which diminish the sense of smell by deadening the nerves. Avoid these products. Instead, try the all-natural air purifiers house plants. Or try these natural recipes to diminish odor and add a fragrant smell to your house:
Use baking soda in your garbage or refrigerator to help reduce odours at their source.

Dissolve 1 tsp (5 ml) of baking soda in 2 cups (500 ml) of hot water, add 1 tsp (5 ml) lemon juice. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and spray as you would an air freshener.

Place a few slices of a citrus fruit, cloves or cinnamon in a pot with enough water to simmer gently for an hour or two.

Polishing Metals
Copper: Try lemon juice and a little salt or hot vinegar and a little salt on a rag.
Chrome: Try white flour on a dry rag.
Brass: Try equal parts salt and flour, with a little vinegar on a dry rag.
Silver: Bring to a boil in a large pan: 1 litre water, 1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt, 1 Tbsp (15 ml) baking soda and a strip of aluminum foil. Drop in silver, boil for 3 minutes and polish with a soft cloth. Or polish with a paste of wood ash and water.

Green Pesticide
To repel ants, locate the place of entry, squeeze a lemon onto it and leave the peel. Ants will also retreat from lines of talcum powder, chalk, bone meal, charcoal dust and cayenne pepper. For cockroach infestation, plug all small cracks along baseboards, wall shelves, cupboards and around pipes, sinks, and bathtub fixtures. For a trap, you can try lightly greasing the inner neck of a milk bottle and putting a little stale vinegar or a raw potato in it.

How to Start a Compost Pile

So everyone keeps telling you to start a compost pile as part of a green life, but how do you go about starting one?

Here's how:
1. Select a spot in your yard where you would normally grow a garden or where you could grow a garden. A lot of people like to build a bin for their compost pile to help fend off animals and keep it neater and cleaner but having a bin is not essential.

2. Start with layering leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste -- like banana peels, egg shells, fruit cores, carrot or cucumber peelings, lettuce leaves, etc. You can also add fallen tree leaves, tea or coffee. Other items that can be composted: paper towels; paper bags; cotton clothing etc. Keep adding materials until you have a six-inch layer, then cover it with three to six inches of soil, manure, or finished compost.

3. Turn the pile once a week to move material from the outside of the pile in. Turning also keeps the pile from compacting, which reduces airflow and slows down decomposition.

4. You should have finished compost in about two months. You'll know your compost is finished when it no longer heats up and you can't identify any of the original materials. The compost should be dark brown, moist and earthy smelling. Dig finished compost into your garden's soil. You can use partially composted material as mulch.

Follow the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle way of life to cut down on the amount of things you have to end up throwing away.

Carbon Audit Your Lifestyle

Think you're environment friendly? Find out your eco score:

1. What type of lighting do you use in your home?
a)Normal Bulb b) Halogen bulb c)Fluorescent Bulb c)Fluorescent Tube

2. How is the energy you use produced?
a) Standard supplier b) Environment conscious supplier c) Solar Panel

3. What form of transport do you use to get to work?
a) car b)Bus c)Rickshaw d)walk

4. Which of these comments best describes the type of food you buy?
a)Buy from supermarket b)local suppliers c)I grow my own

5. How many times do you fly per year?
a)More than twice b)Two flights c)One flight d)Usually none.

6. Which best describes the way you use your mobile phone charger?
a) Always plugged in, ready for use b) I try to remember to unplug, but usually forget. C)I always unplug it when not in use.

7. What sort of water do you drink?
a)Imported bottled water b)Local bottled water c)tap water filtered

8. When it is hot, what do you do?
a) Turn on the air conditioning. b) Turn on the fan c) Open the window.

9. If you have a car, what size engine does it have?
a) SUV over 2000cc b)Between 1300 and 2000cc c)Under 1300cc, d)No car.

10. Do you recycle things such as paper and glass?
a)No b)Rarely c)Usually d)Always

A=4 B=3 C=2 D=1
If you scored 30-40, You may be helping make climate change worse!
If you scored 20-30, You are doing Ok, but could do with a few green living tips.
If you scored below 20, well done! You are a green warrior. Why not let people know about all the ways in which you are helping save the planet!

Building Green

Once thought of as unconventional and nonstandard, going green is quickly becoming the “in thing” in

Star File Photo

architecture. Green architecture is simply a method of design that minimises the impact of buildings on the environment, and aims to keep a low carbon profile. The greenness of a building depends on several factors including sustainability of design, the use of earth-friendly materials and processes, energy efficiency, land use, and waste reduction.

According to Prof Fuad H Mallick, Head of the Department of Architecture at BRAC university, a truly green building should have natural energy and water harnessing incorporated in them, and also have building waste recycling mechanism.

“Green living in its entirety is an attitude,” says Prof Mallick. “Green living may be contained in green buildings, but to my knowledge no building that is truly green has been constructed in Bangladesh yet. It's a comparatively new concept here, although some buildings have incorporated elements of it.”

One building that embraces the earth-friendly theme is the METI School building at Rudrapur in Dinajpur. Designed by volunteer architects Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag, the design concept considers local cultural, economic and ecological aspects and utilises a bamboo structural system and lashing.

Anna Heringer says it was a labour of love. “The driving energy was my passion for Bangladesh as well as the fascination of the beauty of traditional architecture which really got under my skin while I was involved with the NGO Dipshikha as a 19-year-old. I quickly saw that materials like earth and bamboo have great potential: they do not need any energy from fossil fuels during production and construction. Earth is a natural air conditioner and if you want to dismantle the building there is no harm to the environment.”

The METI building won the prestigious Aga Khan Architecture Award in 2007 “for encouraging social development, restoration, re-use and environmental responsibility.”

Says Anna Heringer: “For me, sustainability is a synonym for beauty and harmony. When you build green, you are building for the ages.”

The Green Way to Travel

Inam Ahmed

As we reached Kalinga forest guesthouse, a young man approached us.

“I am an eco-tourist guide, Rahim. Would you like to go around the forest?” he asked.

“Sure. Why not.”

A little later, we hit the trail inside the forest with Rahim. Soon enough we were amazed by the wealth of knowledge this young man had in store. His sharp eyes did not miss even the slightest stir in the branches to spot a green pigeon. His ears caught the faintest calls of the minivets. One of us mistakenly threw the plastic cap of the mineral water bottle. Rahim immediately protested.

“Please, don't litter. Put the cap in your pocket.”

Needless to say we were embarrassed and did what we had been asked to.

Rahim lives in a village near the rainforest. He has taken training in eco-tourism from the USAID project Nishorgo and has become a guide. Like him, Nishorgo has trained a number of young boys as guides. Today they earn quite a bit by taking tourists inside the forests.

Eco-tourism, today, is the buzzword around the world. In Bangladesh it is just starting and sadly, far from being in vogue. You go to Lawachhera on any holiday and see the hordes of forest-thumping picnickers who play music on loudspeakers, litter around and scare away the animals. The villagers get nothing out of this kind of picnicking.

Things have changed to some extent in the Sundarbans where tour operators employ local villagers as ship crew. Food is often bought from the fishermen. Yet things could be so much better and eco-friendlier. The tourists could be taken to villages where they could buy local handicrafts and get a feel of the local culture and environment.

Obviously there is plenty of opportunity for eco-tourism that could also be lucrative to the local people of any eco-tourism destination. The notion of cultural diversity is a big tourist attraction and Bangladesh has that kind of rich ethnic diversity. Tourists could easily be enticed to witness this diverse culture and that could improve the livelihood of the indigenous people of the area who are usually economically disadvantaged. This could also help preserve indigenous culture. For example, take the Garos of Achkipara in Haluaghat. I have seldom seen a landscape as beautiful as it is just beside the Meghalaya range. Whenever we go there we stay at a Garo home, eat their food, sleep in their cottage and when we come back, we buy some clothes or local drinks. Our stay there helps the locals instead of destroying their environment.

Eco-tourism also helps conserve the wildlife. I know a resort in Narail which has a huge beel and part of it remains untouched where birds nest. I sat a whole afternoon there watching the birds. I have seen a fantastic private sanctuary in Nepal which boasts a rich breeding ground for waterfowls. I know a hotel in Nepal that looks after a neighbouring forest where two cheetahs live. I took an evening stroll in the forest and felt thrilled knowing that somewhere in this deep, mysterious forest roamed the two beautiful cats.

I stayed a night longer.

The writer is Deputy Editor, The Daily Star


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