THE GREEN LIST
Condé Nast Traveller India|August - September - October 2021
Maverick agents for change are redefining the framework to protect the earth

THE SURFER SCIENTIST

Cliff Kapono

Few are as connected to the ocean as surfers, yet even this most conscious of communities has environmental soul-searching to do. In recent years, heightened awareness of the sport’s negative ecological impact—from the toxic materials used to produce landfill-clogging surfboards and wetsuits to the run-off from surf wax and sun cream—has created a new wave of break-seeking activists. Among the A-listers putting their voices to good use, Rob Machado, Kelly Slater and Greg Long have, respectively, championed the reduction of ocean plastics, advocated against overfishing and spoken at the UN General Assembly. Another pioneer can be found in Hilo, Hawaii. Pro rider and chemist CliffKapono’s expertise in molecular bioscience makes him an authority on surfing’s effect on the environment. When not experimenting with sustainably made boards—the subject of his 2016 documentary Surf Wasted—or studying the health of Honoli’i’s coral reefs, he’s hitting the swell armed with swab tests for his Surfer Biome Project, a bacteria assessment of ocean users that casts a forensic eye on how we interact with marine ecosystems: “To me it means spending as much time learning about a place as I do playing in it.” cliffkapono.com

THE VISIONARY ENTREPRENEUR

John Pritchard

The fashion industry is cottoning onto giving back— from Toms pioneering the one-for-one business model, donating a pair of shoes for each sold, to ethical label Gandys funding children’s educational campuses. It was the former initiative, plus an article on the 1.2 billion people worldwide with poor vision who don’t have access to glasses, that sowed the seed for John Pritchard’s Pala. Launched in 2016, the brand has a simple concept: for every pair of sunglasses bought, he contributes to Vision Aid Overseas projects in Africa (calculated as four percent of annual turnover now that Pala is B Corp-certified). So far, nearly £40,000/ ₹40,97,800 in grants has been provided to develop an eye-care centre in Zambia serving more than 7,50,000 people. All glasses have Italian plant-based bio-acetate frames and a recycled plastic case made by weavers in Ghana, paid double the minimum wage. According to Pritchard, “We’re not here for sticking-plaster solutions; it’s important to create long-term impact by empowering people to help themselves.” palaeyewear.com

THE WATER WARRIOR

Amla Ruia

Moved by reports of Rajasthan’s severe drought in 1998, Amla Ruia set up the Aakar Charitable Trust to help create water reserves that would sustain drought-prone villages. She has spent the last two decades transforming the livelihoods of over seven lakh villagers across 600 villages, largely in Rajasthan’s arid regions as well as parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. First, by creating ancestral-style kunds (small reservoirs) that brought drinking water to remote settlements where municipal water wasn’t available, and later, through check dams (490 and counting). Highly effective in hilly terrains, these small masonry constructions with extensive catchment reserves have improved rural ecologies and economies tremendously. What has helped sustain her efforts is involving villagers as financial stakeholders to create a sense of ownership and ensure maintenance for future generations. Ruia’s vision is to create 3,000 check dams. “My motivation is the smiles on villagers’ faces. They’ve taught me how to be extremely ethical about water and share it freely with everyone,” she says. aakarcharitabletrust.org

THE GRASSROOTS LEADER

Elizabeth Tolu Ojo

Typically dominated by westerners and charities, African conservation is long overdue a shake-up. Leading the charge is 35-year-old Nigerian Elizabeth Tolu Ojo— director of operations at the ALU School of Wildlife Conservation (SOWC) in Kigali, Rwanda. Ojo’s mission is to foster an African-led conservation sector that is “equitable, financially sustainable and creates value for Africa’s economic development”. Boosting more local women into top jobs is part of that; in 2019, the school offered eight full MBA scholarships specifically for female conservationists. SOWC students solve problems and develop businesses—from plantain-trunk paper to smart beehives—to transform environmental preservation into an exciting, profitable industry. There are undergraduate courses and an MBA providing “business education that is contextualised for the African continent”, says Ojo. The school is part of the African Leadership Group, and aims to advance three million ethical, solutions-driven leaders in business and politics by 2035—a network that can build healthy economies for Sub-Saharan Africa’s booming workforce. sowc.alueducation.com

THE OCEAN-DEFENDING ACTOR

Adrian Grenier

Eco-conscious celebrities’ commitments to the planet range from launching clean-beauty brands (Jessica Alba’s Honest; Miranda Kerr’s Kora Organics) and championing sustainable fashion (Pharrell Williams’s Bionic Yarn) to serious campaigning—Jane Fonda was arrested five times in 2019 for her Fire Drill Friday climate-change protests in Washington DC. Firmly at the latter end of the spectrum is actor-activist Adrian Grenier, star of Entourage, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and co-founder of non-profit Lonely Whale. His passion is the sea—and curbing the single-use plastic that pollutes it. “We are at a tipping point; by 2050, the ocean is expected to contain more plastic than fish,” he says. Through Lonely Whale, Grenier has led culture-changing initiatives including NextWave Plastics, with global consumer giants such as Hewlett-Packard and Ikea, among others, who have pledged to integrate 25,000 tonnes of ocean-bound waste plastic into their supply chains by 2025; advocating against the use of plastic straws with a viral #stopsucking challenge, and setting up 52HZ, a business-advisory service which kicks off with the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize—up to $1 million will be awarded to whoever develops the best alternative to thin-film plastic. A lesson in the power of pivoting your platform to change-making. lonelywhale.org

THE HORNBILL GUARDIAN

Aparajita Datta

Working with local forest departments and communities, Aparajita Datta has launched several initiatives to help protect the hornbill, including the pioneering Hornbill Nest Adoption Programme. It was set up in a nonprotected area adjacent to Arunachal Pradesh’s Pakke Tiger Reserve, in partnership with people from the Nyishi tribe. It got locals and citizens across India to foster hornbills, winning her the Whitley Award in 2013. A senior scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation, Datta has been working in Arunachal Pradesh’s Namdapha and Pakke Tiger Reserves (home to four hornbill species) for the last two decades. Her conservation efforts stem from her research on hornbills as seed dispersers integral to Himalayan forest ecosystems. Saving wildlife from poachers remains a challenge for conservationists, particularly when it is hunted for subsistence; hornbills are linked to the cultural identities of the Northeast’s indigenous tribes and have been sought for their casque, meat and feathers for centuries. In recent times, however, many hornbill hunters have turned into its fierce protectors, mainly due to scientists and researchers engaging with local communities to bring about awareness rather than relying on law enforcement alone. “One of my biggest realisations is that reconciliation between wildlife and people is not always possible unless we change the way conservation is done,” says Datta. When not trudging through rainforests in leech-proof socks, the Bengaluru resident writes nature education books for children. hornbills.in

THE CONSERVATION-MINDED COWBOY

Duke Phillips

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