As we head out for journeys, we tend to wish each other, “Bon voyage…travel safe!” Safe for who? For the traveller, of course. But what about the planet? Do we ensure that our sojourns keep the environment safe? Are we conscious about managing our carbon footprints as we gad about the globe? Do we make slow travel a priority and support local communities along the way? Do we even give the slightest thought to the often-negative impact on our ecosystem, while we move around endlessly for pleasure or for business?
Entrepreneur Chaitsi Ahuja, founder, chief curator and CEO of Brown Living, an online marketplace that offers a wide range of sustainable everyday-use products, has been pondering these issues and advocating a low-waste lifestyle for all. Her stated mission on Instagram is to plant 1 million trees. Think before consuming, she repeats endlessly. ‘My climate anxiety kicked in last night’, she writes in another post, adding, ‘Some days are harder than others. On such days I have to make a lot of effort to get out of bed. I also overthink. But I also try to find little things to do that make my mood better, help me ‘snap out of it’.’
Along with her earth-loving friend and brand representative, film producer Pragya Kapoor, Ahuja has made the environmental impact of products her business, in many ways. She aims to help customers ‘transition into an earth-friendly lifestyle starting from your home’. And moving beyond….
Here, Ahuja speaks to us about embarking on green journeys and perhaps even being able to make this activity beneficial for the earth – and shares some tips and tricks for trips that are safe all around….
Excerpts from the interview….
What do you bear in mind while travelling?
I love exploring destinations that align with my values. Sure, I enjoy visiting popular tourist spots, but I also make it a point to venture off the beaten path and discover hidden gems. I often go for a hike or take a stroll in a charming park. I ensure that I visit local supermarkets and farmers’ markets to get a feel for what the community is all about.
Walking is my go-to. There’s just something special about experiencing a place on foot and taking it all in. Of course, there are times when walking is not practical, so I opt for trains or buses wherever possible. Not only do they have a lower carbon footprint than flights, but you also get to meet some fascinating locals along the way. There’s something truly magical about seeing the landscapes change and feeling the train’s rhythmic movements as it chugs along. Trains bring back nostalgic childhood memories and simpler times, making them an amazing way to explore the country efficiently, affordably and sustainably.
Let’s talk about longer distances when flying becomes inevitable. When that happens, I make sure I offset my carbon emissions through local and reputable carbon offset programmes like Grow-Trees.com for instance, where you can plant trees with just a few clicks and gift them for special occasions. I like to do my part to make a positive impact.
Tell us about travel through the The Brown Lens, Brown Living’s product selection framework.
The Brown Lens is inspired by circular design and life cycle assessment principles. It’s all about focusing on five key aspects: source, method, packaging, life and beyond, and aesthetic. We use this framework at Brown Living to curate products for our conscious customers. We’re on a mission to combat greenwashing, and ensure complete transparency and traceability for our consumers.
This mindset extends beyond work for me. In my day-to-day life, I strive to embrace a sustainable lifestyle and follow a vegan diet. And I always prioritise sustainable and eco-friendly options where my travel essentials are concerned. From my clothes to my toiletries, I make sure everything is ethically sourced and produced. It’s about making conscious choices that reflect my values of sustainability and minimalism.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to travel more sustainably?
Here are a few key tricks and tips to follow if you want to incorporate green practices while travelling:
- Pack light. By reducing the weight of your luggage, you can minimise fuel consumption and carbon emissions during transportation.
- Where possible, choose countries like Bhutan and Sri Lanka which are leading the pack in prioritising the well-being of their people and the preservation of nature. Their commitment to fostering sustainable development is beyond inspiring.
- Choose eco-friendly accommodations. Look for hotels and resorts that are committed to sustainability, such as those with energy-efficient practices, waste reduction initiatives, organic food options and those that support local communities.
- Use public transportation or walk. Not only does this reduce your carbon footprint but also allows you to experience the local culture more intimately.
- Support local and sustainable businesses by opting for locally owned restaurants, shops and tour operators that prioritise sustainable practices and contribute to the local economy.
- Respect local resources: conserve water, energy and natural resources. For example, you can start by taking shorter showers.
- Remember that every little choice we make counts in preserving our precious environment. Even the tiniest changes can pave the way for a more sustainable future of travel.
What is your luggage preference?
When I’m travelling, I like to keep my suitcase and handbag minimalistic yet functional. I focus on packing versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched, reducing the need for excess baggage.
As for brands, I prefer those that are known for their sustainable practices and ethical manufacturing. I’ve worked in the luggage industry for a large part of my corporate career and so I am obsessed with picking out the right suitcase for myself. Patagonia takes the top spot on my list for travel gear. Their commitment to responsible and ethical sourcing, along with their use of innovative materials, is truly impressive. When it comes to mainstream brands, Samsonite has some seriously durable luggage. And speaking of home-grown brands, I adore Clan Earth and Bandit which are doing some amazing work.
How can one make travel beneficial?
Travelling can bring so many benefits, not just for us but also for the local communities and the environment. As tourists, we have the power to make a positive impact by supporting local businesses and contributing to the local economy. Opting for eco-tours, staying in eco-resorts and dining at locally owned restaurants are a few ways to do that. I always make it a point to learn the language (just enough to get by) and that’s a great way to get to know the locals. I prefer Airbnbs or homestays over hotels and I have couch-surfed a lot back in my college days and I still love it. This can result in savings while you can also choose to cook your meals with local ingredients. And if you’re lucky, you get to stay with a host who can give you a deeper sense of the lifestyles, an understanding of native fruits and foods, and you get to take these back home as memories.
It’s important to be responsible tourists, who are on a mission to reduce waste and show respect for cultures and resources. We should help preserve the beauty of the places we visit.
How do you minimise plastic consumption on a journey?
Reducing our environmental impact by cutting down on plastic consumption during trips is crucial. I always bring along my trusty reusable water bottle and a handy cutlery kit (reusable spoon and fork, and metal straw) to steer clear of single-use plastics. It’s also wise to have reusable shopping bags handy for unexpected purchases. Also opting for products with minimal packaging is a way to combat plastic waste while travelling. And when I’m on a longer journey, I remember to pack a home-made meal or carry reusable Ziploc bags for locally bought snacks. And let’s not forget my quick-dry bamboo hand towel as a sustainable alternative to wasteful wet wipes (yes, they contain plastic too!). It’s all about being prepared and making conscious choices to make a positive difference.
Which sustainable brands do you wear?
I’m a huge advocate of sustainable brands when it comes to clothing. I steer clear of polyester and opt for naturally dyed fabrics. They’re much more breathable.
Some of my favourite sustainable clothing brands include Basal Studio, The Terra Tribe, Livbio, Meesa, Bombay Bloom and Kanelle. These prioritise ethical sourcing, fair trade practices and eco-friendly materials. By supporting them, we not only promote sustainable fashion but also encourage other companies to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
How do you manage being a vegan when you are away from home?
Travelling as a vegan can be quite a challenge. But with a little planning, you can conquer any destination. Before setting off, I always make it a priority to scout out vegan-friendly restaurants and markets at my chosen destination. I never leave home without a stash of non-perishable vegan snacks like nuts and dried fruits, just in case my options are limited. And here’s a pro tip: I make sure to communicate my dietary preferences to hotel staff and tour operators ahead of time. Being proactive and resourceful go a long way in helping me maintain my vegan lifestyle and minimise my impact on animal agriculture while on the go.
Let me also tell you about this life-saving discovery I made back in 2015 when I would visit China frequently — Buddhist Chinese restaurants! Absolute game changers. And today, even in countries like France and Italy, where buttery croissants are a temptation, vegan options are becoming more readily available. Although, I must admit, in India vegan food can be a bit pricey and not as widely accessible. But there’s always hummus and pita or leafy salads for those moments.
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