Engaging with the local community and sensitising them towards a greener society, The Green Straw, an organisation based in Ahmedabad is working for the betterment of the environment. In conversation with Nidhi Choudhary of The EarthView, Pooja Mathur and Jay Patel, Founders of The Green Straw talk about their journey and how they are contributing to the world in a better way by building a platform that engages with local communities to discover a way to start dialogues on everyday sustainable living.

Q: When did The Green Straw House start? What planted the idea of starting it?

Pooja &Jay: This was a usual hangout place for us as we used to visit every day after coming back from our office. Sitting here, we used to brainstorm many ideas but a lot of them didn't work out. We always wanted to build an organisation that engages with local communities to discover ways to start a dialogue on everyday sustainable living! We spent almost a month and struggled to find a name. But ironically agreed to it while staring at a green plastic straw sitting in a restaurant and it just stuck. We were like let's just go with 'Green Straw'. And we officially got our organisation legally registered. The next couple of years we conducted small activities at a community level by interacting with the residential societies. We wanted to create a place where people could come and explore green products, have a coffee, turn up in a group and have infinite discussions over anything under the sun that works towards building a better world, get hands-on to learn new skills, and so much more. Hence, we started the Green Straw House in 2019.

Q Tell us about 10000 trees project in association with Gujarat Nursery and Farm. How did it impact people and the planet?

Pooja &Jay: We launched this campaign in the middle of the pandemic. The time when everyone around the world was undergoing an extreme situation, we wanted to them hope and make them look forward to a brighter and greener tomorrow. Our primary aim of the #10000treesproject was to add more trees to our city. Since trees are our biggest weapon to fight climate change, there was no better way to contribute to the cause then increasing the green cover. During our research, we realised that many mass plantations lose many trees eventually and not all of them survive the process. Even though we wanted to be responsible to plant a lot of trees, we still wanted all of them to survive. The most significant achievement with this campaign was making people feel responsible for a plant like their own baby and nurture it well to help it grow into a beautiful tree. Since we were only giving out 2 trees per person, it ensured that most of the tree saplings would survive the transition. And based on our follow-ups we think a lot of them did. And that is our achievement through this campaign. We were lucky to collaborate with Gujarat Nursery and Farms, who were more than happy to provide us with the trees of choice. It couldn't have been done without their generous support.

Q Tell us about a safe cup and your initiative of joining the #periodrevolution?

Pooja &Jay: We always work towards providing all kinds of sustainable alternatives out there to people. We feel period cups are one of the best things that have happened to people and also to live a hassle-free eco-friendly living. People are of the notion that anything that is made from natural materials is always sustainable. It is most accurate, but our aim here is to completely replace all single-use items, even those made from natural and biodegradable materials. Because even though they go back to nature, they still end up in landfills. Most of the time, because of lack of favourable conditions, take forever to degrade. Period waste is one of the most significant contributors to land pollution and contamination because disposal of sanitary pads is not done responsibly. Period cups are one of the best sustainable solutions as they last for at least a decade and can be used infinite times. It also makes the menstrual period hassle-free and convenient.

Q: How aware do you think people are about sustainable living and opting for a sustainable product as well?

Pooja &Jay: Most people are not aware that there are alternatives to plastic for the simplest of daily utility products. So many people who come into our store get fascinated about the availability of sustainable switches. We think one of the biggest challenges this industry facing to reach the masses is affordability. Like it not, sustainable options are priced on the higher side than any other regular products. And that acts as a barrier to reach to more people. And to be honest, so many products and brands offer earth-friendly products at pocket-friendly prices. Still, it has become a notion that sustainable products are always expensive in people's heads, which may not be the case many times. We try very hard to curate the least priced products in these categories and encourage more people to use them. The only solution for this is to create more awareness. Hence, more people demand cleaner and greener products. As the demand will rise, market forces can work to reduce the cost of these products.

Q: Tell us about "The Green Straw Foundation" and its goals.

Pooja &Jay: Over the last four years of working with green straw, we have connected everything with the environment, including social conflicts and other issues. We have just started with the foundation, and we still have to fine-tune and iron out the details. Still, whatever we are working towards, we are trying to connect, sustainability and social causes by engaging with diverse individuals and organisations, to achieve multiple United Nations sustainable development goals!

Q: What are some significant challenges you have faced through your journey till here?

Pooja &Jay: Our startup is majorly community-dependent, so we highly depend on people walking in our store, café and other activities we do out of our space. The initial challenge was trying to find a perfect location, which is accessible to everyone quickly. But that is not always possible. We found the perfect location overlooking the riverfront in Ahmedabad. The building is a 50-year-old house which is in a pretty awful shape. We had to put in a lot of time and money to renovate it. Since we are an environmental organisation, we tried our very best to redo the space using recycled, refurbished and natural materials. But it turned out exactly what we were looking for our venture. It has been almost two years in this space. Every few weeks, we face some structural issue since it's an ancient building, so we still understand the building. Still, we are also to come up with new pretty corners now and then for the customers while fixing the problems. The next challenge was bringing and attracting people to this part of this city. It was slow, but people started knowing more about the space and started dropping in more and more with every passing day. The store is a low waste store selling all eco-friendly alternatives to plastics. The categories are elaborate right from personal use products to home use, bags, accessories, stationery, décor items, etc. It is a new concept for the city of Ahmedabad, so explaining to people why it is essential to switch to these products a little extra effort too. And since these products are also priced higher, we proactively have to keep looking for the most suitable earth-friendly products.

Q Where do you see yourself in future?

Pooja &Jay: We plan on being the most prominent curators of campaigns, products and spaces to engage people with environmental sustainability in Gujarat and India in the next 5 years. We are also working on franchising our space that includes the concept of the low waste store, a coworking and community space and a café, all in one. And we are working towards getting 10 franchises across India in the next 5 years.