October 28, 2021 12:30:32 pm
At an age when most teenagers remain unfazed by the world outside, Garvita Gulhati found herself perturbed by the looming water crisis. With an aim to bring a shift in the mindsets regarding wastage, and preserve millions of litres of water wasted every year by restaurants, she founded her youth-led initiative ‘Why Waste?’. The app, which has worked with restaurants and individuals, is responsible for saving over 10 million litres of water and has impacted over six million lives.
Over the years, Gulhati, now 21, has won accolades including the ‘Earth Day Network Rising Star’ and Forbes 30 under 30, among others. In an exclusive conversation, Gulhati, who believes that “change starts alone, but happens together”, talked about Why Waste?, water crisis, water conservation, future plans and more.
What inspired you to begin ‘Why Waste?’
My interest in water conservation began when I was a teenager. During one of my trips to Ahmedabad, a little girl ran up to me as I walked around one of the most iconic step wells in the world. She looked exasperated. I thought she needed some money. Surprisingly, she pointed at the bottle in my hand – she just wanted water. I quickly gave it to her, and in no time, her eyes lit up and her face adorned a smile. This was in 2015, and the incident has been pivotal for me, making me realise the importance of treating water with respect.
Few months since then, on World Environment Day, I learned that the water people leave behind in glasses at restaurants amounts to 14 million litres, every year. The divide between the two worlds -lakhs of litres of wasted water and the little girl I met in Ahmedabad – shook me. That is how I committed myself to save every drop of water I could and founded Why Waste? with the goal of changing the mindsets of people towards water usage.
What were the initial hurdles?
When I started out, I was just 15 years old. My family and teachers forced me to focus on my studies. My friends taunted me saying “Why are you wasting time with Why Waste?“. Restaurateurs refused to take advice from a teenager. Moreover, our solutions didn’t gel with the hospitality industry’s general norms. However, I felt so compellingly connected to this purpose that I refused to be disheartened. I re-approached the problem of water being wasted in restaurants with the #GlassHalfFullconcept which looked at water from a positive perspective. Our place-cards told customers moving stories and restaurateurs were shown the monetary benefits. Filling glasses half taught them to take only as much as they need and not waste.
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In 2018, I petitioned the National Restaurants Association of India and campaigned for an entire year persuading them to take this concept to the half a million restaurants they represent. Proving that this concept saves over 50 per cent of the water which was being wasted earlier, finally won their support. Consequently, I worked closely with them to change key policies around water usage at restaurants.
How did you spread awareness about the project?
Visiting restaurants, talking to the people in my community and building a team who was just as enthusiastic about this idea were some of the initial steps when it came to pioneering the #GlassHalfFull idea. Once this gained momentum, we started collaborating with various organisations to conduct workshops to bring these ideas to more and more people. The goal was, through community engagement, to allow these ideas to grow and help people adapt them to make them own the change.
A lot of these ideas also needed immense external support from various authorities, including the NRAI, to grow. It took a lot of effort to convince them, but eventually, we were able to make it happen.
What have been the achievements of the project so far?
‘Why Waste?’ began working with restaurants by helping them prevent wastage of water that is left behind in glasses through the viral #GlassHalfFull movement in addition to conducting workshops. Our work has reached over 5 lakh restaurants, 6 million people and prevented over 10 million litres of water from being wasted. Most recently we published The Sustainability Stories, a for-youth, by-youth collection of 13 new-age fables that talk about environmental issues and inspire children to be the change. We published the books in partnership with Pratham, India’s largest non-profit publisher and are now bringing these to life on video with UNICEF. Late last year, we also launched the Why Waste? an app that helps every individual calculate their water footprint and helps them save at least 100 litres of water every single day through a gamified approach. In partnership with CNN, Why Waste? is building a movement to encourage more people to calculate their water footprint and become part of the change through their national campaign “Mission Paani”.
At the age of 15, Garvita saw water being wasted at restaurants and started a movement that prevented over 10 million litres of water from being wasted and impacted over 6 million lives.
This was just the start.
— United Nations in India (@UNinIndia) September 29, 2021
Did you get support from authorities and organisations?
To convince authorities and organisations that we are in this with a focus on making the right change happen has been the most challenging. Especially in the beginning, it was difficult since most people didn’t want to listen to a teenager. In the early days of an idea, to demonstrate that the idea has the capacity to make a difference is incredibly hard.
But our unfailing belief, using failure as our fuel, staying resilient and focus on collaborative action helped us turn the tables. Organisations like Ashoka – Everyone a Changemaker, Change.org and Global Changemakers were some of our early believers who saw potential in our work and powered us even through the hurdles. As we began to see the impact, we were able to convince more and more folks, including the National Restaurants Association of India, to come on board and support us in the later stages.
Today we count the Shawn Mendes Foundation, United Nations, The Diana Award, IKEA Foundation, Forbes and many more in our incredible list of supporters and partners.
How do you think the United Nations’ climate campaign called ‘We the Change’ can bring about a difference?
‘We the Change’ holds an incredibly unique overarching goal – to take the ideas that young people have already pioneered, to decision-makers and policy writers. In my individual capacity, I hope to take this movement to all the phenomenal global networks that I’ve had the privilege of being a part of, to encourage youth across these networks to become a part of the change. I look forward to using the campaign to create collaborative spaces between youth and the various stakeholders in the decision-making processes. I look forward to exciting engagement opportunities with governments and civil society to strengthen our approach towards climate action.
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Beyond all this, I hope to help engage young people from across the country – those who have and haven’t been able to contribute yet towards building change. For those who have, I hope to help carry their stories and incredible efforts to the right personnel, and for those who haven’t, I hope to motivate them to join us in the fight towards climate justice, since we can champion this cause only collectively to break-free from this crisis.
What role would the government and authorities play?
From a position of authority, the government needs to build a policy that ensures ease of accessibility of water while also encouraging water conservation practices on a large scale. Supporting local leaders in rural communities to build water resilience at the grassroots level would also be key to solving the water crisis. With highly variable geography, local leaders and community drivers are best equipped with ideas and capabilities to solve these issues and can build incredible change if rightly supported.
What are your future plans vis-à-vis ‘Why Waste’?
Our goal is to help every single person realise that they can be a part of the solution when it comes to solving the water crisis. Through our simple, hands-on solutions, we want to empower each individual to take charge of their water consumption habits and pioneer change by simply altering their own habits. We hope to do this through initiatives like the ‘Why Waste?’ app that allows one to calculate their water footprint and learn simple ways in which they can conserve water. All this, while also innovating ways of making the conservation dialogue more inclusive by empowering individuals in the remotest of areas to take charge of their assets.
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