Archive | January, 2011

Social Impact

26 Jan

Oh my, it’s been a really busy few weeks! Remember the British company we worked with in Delhi? Out of the blue they contacted me to see if I’d work on the sustainability part of a tender submission they’re putting together. I said,”Really? You’d pay me for doing something I enjoy? Yes please!” So I’ll be taking the next week to focus on this, but I’ll be be back soon to finish our project story.

Before signing off, I wanted to share with you a little piece of interesting reporting. It’s about trying to answer questions triggered by the journalist in my earlier post: why should the Games give you waste over giving it to poor people who lost their slum homes because of this event?

But did this really happen? Did people lose their homes because of the Games?

I never had much opportunity to physically go out and look for evidence of slum clearing by the city’s authorities during the Games. But a couple of enterprising Big Picture photographers did, and here’s what they documented:

Delhi slum clearing

Indian slum dweller Amit Kumar stands on the spot where his hut was demolished in New Delhi on September 27, 2010 as reported on's The Big Picture (MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Delhi slum kids

Children search for their belongings among the debris of demolished shanties in Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, September 30, 2010. The shanties were demolished by municipal workers near the Commonwealth Games shooting range on September 28, local media reported. (REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma)

Even more compelling evidence is revealed in Sumita Dasgupta’s startling piece on the unintended impact of clearing out the Gurgaon’s slum communities. I’ve sampled a small part of her article here, but I do recommend reading the full piece if you have 5 minutes to spare:

“…While the outer layer of the city had begun to shine, the colonies lying in the inner circles of Gurgaon suddenly looked shockingly shabby…The lanes inside the colonies were drowned in garbage, with plastic bottles, decaying vegetables, broken glass pieces strewn all over. This flood of filth had spilled over to Gurgaon’s arterial roads as well. The litter bins standing outside the gates had practically disappeared under the burden of waste.

So what went wrong? Well, when in the run up to the Games, the Gurgaon authorities decided to remove the slums, and drive out (albeit temporarily) the panic stricken people living there beyond the borders, they obviously had not realised how lethally this move was going to affect their Clean-Up operations. With the slum population gone, the lowest and the most critical link in the ranks of the city’s waste managers had gone missing too…” Games, Garbage and Gurgaon, Centre for Science and Environment, 13 Oct, 2010

So I guess there was a cost to the Delhi 2010 Games that may not readily show up on any final accounting reports – because, dear readers, it was human.

P.S. In case you haven’t clocked it yet, where an image, idea or words are from someone else I’m trying to make sure they’re fully attributed. It’s always a tricky one when you don’t have a lot of money to pay someone for their creative output (which is – as my creative professional friends say – the ultimate in attributing!)

But I was reminded there’s still a lot of value in ‘right proper’ sharing on the internet by Rosscott and Loldwell’s amusing comic strip on the topic. It’s ‘pretty cool’…so I’m sharing it… with credit…where it’s due.


Art = Upcycling?

12 Jan

“Rosalie’s gone under. It’s nuts. We went down to help but were turned away. We’re ok for now.” This was the response from my sister in Red Hill this morning, when I contacted her about the floods in Brisbane. Most of my family live there so the past 24 hours have been a little worrying.

And it seems incredible that only last week I was at the 21st Century Art exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. (GOMA is right on the Brisbane River and could be seriously affected by the rising water.)

As soon as I stepped through the gallery door I was greeted by what looked like a vast, plastic egg sack hanging from the roof.

Goma bags

GOMA's 21st Century Art installation view of Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Plastic bags 2001-10 | Photography by Natasha Harth

It made me a little overwhelmed and nervous. I felt as if, at any moment, the sack would split open, unleashing a trillion more plastic bags upon us, and I found myself giving it a wide berth. (And now I’m concerned it’s floating down the river.)

At the time, it made me reflect on a trend I’ve been noticing recently – that of contemporary artists repurposing and reusing discarded materials to create new works of art; like this installation inside the New Delhi Railway Station…

Chai Garam - Upcycled Art

Naresh Kapuria, Chai Garam, New Delhi Railway Station (2010)

…And this piece at last year’s Sydney Biennale…

Sydney Biennale

Cai Guo-Qiang, Inopportune: Stage One, Sydney Biennale (2010)

…As well as any number of pieces created for San Francisco’s recent Smart Art Competition.

So the question I’ve been pondering is this:

Using our original upcycling definition, does this use of end-of-life materials create ‘valuable, useful or simply aesthetically pleasing items’? Is it upcycling?

Well I’m not sure any of the artworks above are particularly useful. And the notion of ‘aesthetically pleasing’ is just too subjective to argue (beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all).

But what about valuable: is this kind of art valuable? I know this is a big question, possibly beyond a post to explore, but for me it goes straight to the heart of sustainability – what do we really value in this world?

I’m not talking about monetary value (although Vik Muniz’s ‘Pictures of Garbage’ art, captured in the Wasteland documentary,  sold for around USD $250,000). But rather, intrinsic value.

I find this kind of art valuable, not only for the clever use of materials, but because artists responding to a changing planet helps me make sense of what’s going on in the world.

The scientists speak to my head, while the artists speak to my heart.

And, like the swollen Brisbane River, they all seem to be saying we are breaching our natural limits.

Stay safe and dry, wherever you are.

Shoes with soul?

9 Jan Handmade recycled plastic sandals

Remember how we were contacted by several corporates after news articles were published on our project? One such contact came from the footwear team at Reebok India. They wanted to know if Conserve India could make upcycled shoes.

Turns out the Conserve India crew have been testing shoe designs for quite a while now – even creating samples – using a wide range of discarded materials from tyre tubes to seatbelts and handmade recycled plastic (shopping bags). Here’s a sneak preview of a few of their styles:

Conserve India mixed materials shoe samples

Conserve India mixed materials shoe samples

Conserve India seatbelt slipons

Jenna models Conserve India's seatbelt slipons

Conserve India seatbelt slipons - showing gold mesh handmade recycled plastic inlay

Conserve India seatbelt slipons - showing gold mesh handmade recycled plastic inlay

Handmade recycled plastic sandals

Handmade recycled plastic sandals

Tyre tube closed toe shoe and men's chappals (slip-on sandal)

Tyre tube closed toe shoe and men's chappals (slip-on sandal)

I particularly love the HRP sandals, with the sherbety pinks and pastel blues of the original shopping bags. Yep, that’s right, no inks or dyes are added during the production process, the single-use shopping bags are simply layered to create the desired shades. Which ones do you like?

Conserve is not yet producing shoes commercially, as they are waiting to move to a new purpose built factory in Bahadurgah on Delhi’s west (more on that soon). But the partnership interest from Reebok definitely presents new and exciting possibilities for a profitable upcycled shoe range – we’ll let you know how it progresses.

In the meantime, I got to wondering if there were any other upcycling or socially responsible shoe manufacturers already selling products. Here’s what I found with a quick internet search:

  • Simple Shoes – check out their impressive range of recycled and sustainable materials
  • Tom’s Shoes – not so much a focus on environmental considerations (although they do have a vegan range), but they’re tackling a global social challenge with a great model –  for every pair of shoes sold by this US company a pair is given to a child who needs them. And by the looks of their website, the idea is gathering a lot of support…
  • Etiko – award winning, Aussie company making shoes from sustainable materials and working with fairtrade suppliers

So, dear readers, a few ways to go forth, flex your consumer muscle…

Christina and Jenna product testing in Reebok's Connaught Place store

Christina and Jenna product testing in Reebok's Connaught Place store

…and tread lightly. If you know of any other companies doing good things in footwear we’d love to hear about it.

Hands-on upcycling III

7 Jan

Hello dear readers, and welcome to 2011 – or 20-a-luvin’ as I’m calling it. No, I’m not moving to New Zealand, it’s just a little reminder to focus on doing what I love this year.

To kick off again, I thought I’d finish showcasing the people and production processes of Conserve India. So far we’ve seen the design and sampling unit, production workshop and a little on the stockroom. Today we’ll see what goes into finalising products before they are shipped to overseas buyers.

The Conserve India crew pride themselves on delivering quality upcycled products, and the Quality Control Unit plays a fundamental role in making sure this happens. Conserve India Quality Control Unit

The QC team check for faults…

…and give each product a final clean…

…they’re a hard-working lot…

…and there’s just never any time for smiling or laughter…

…no, none at all…

…oh alright…maybe a little…

More to come soon,


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