Pushing for a more sustainable world: Subhadeep’s Changemaker Journey

Recurring environmental challenges pose a threat to our livelihoods, but rather than fearing what is to come, Subhadeep has challenged himself and others to prioritize their futures by adopting sustainable practices within their communities.
Source: Ashoka India

I initially started with online videos and progressed to mobilizing my community through plantation drives, workshops, sustainable donation drives, and “food, paper and water wastage” campaigns for restaurants. Today, with a core team of six and more than 50 volunteers, we have influenced several local businesses, startups, and organizations to incorporate sustainability practices into various aspects of their everyday work.

As a kid in school, I would hear the terms global warming, climate change, and sustainable development quite often. But every year, I heard people talking about the same problems and same solutions. Nothing seems to change and as a student it seemed as if not much could be changed.

As a science and tech enthusiast, in high school, I had the opportunity to be a part of a national level science project challenge. My team and I were the only ones to make it to the finals from the Northeast region of India, an underrepresented and underserved part of the country. When we presented our model on the given theme, “Sustainable City 2050”,one of the judges pointed out that our exhibit contained styrofoam, a non-biodegradable and toxic substance. This made me realize the irony of our project and I began to ponder deeply about the issue of sustainability. I realized that the way we are burdening our planet questions my future and everyone else’s future,too.

With this spark, I launched Eco Alarmist and enlisted my friends to spread awareness. We started with running social media campaigns. We would make short films and parody videos that highlighted the complexity of today’s environmental challenges. After doing this for over a year, eventually, we realized that the groundwork is more essential to us than raising awareness and creating a direct impact.

Some of the activities that the team has organized since then include:

  • Tree Plantation Drives: On 5th June, 2019, during World Environment Day, we hosted a tree plantation drive initiative on a national highway where we planted around 200 trees. Since then, we have planted around 1,200 trees.
  • Climate Crisis Workshops: We host workshops with students from my town. Since its inception, we have hosted workshops for 500 students.
  • Sustainable Restaurants Campaign: We also started a campaign across restaurants and food courts to minimize food, water, and tissue paper (napkin) waste. To estimate the direct impact of the initiative, we collaborated with a hyperlocal marketplace startup in my town itself. They placed an option within their app, allowing patrons to decide if they want tissue papers or not, prior to checking out while ordering from a restaurant. With the launch of this feature, we have saved more than 2,500 tissue papers across restaurants in Silchar in the month of December 2020. Cumulatively, that’s analogous to saving some liters of water and wood. We have also distributed 10,000 cloth bags to restaurants and food courts for packaging, hence saving 10,000 plastic bags.

As the pandemic hit our valley, we swiftly moved to start COVID relief efforts along with other youth organizations in the region. We helped over 1,500 daily wage earner families who lost employment opportunities during lockdown with meal kits, pre-loved (secondhand) sanitized clothes, and sanitation kits. Resource distribution also presented us the opportunity to teach others about the importance of sustainability. The team and I taught families how to dispose of their masks and provided meal kits with the least plastic packaging possible. To date, we have prevented more than 100 kilograms of clothes from going to landfills.

As the second wave of the virus prevailed, going out to help people came with some risks. Therefore, we made maximum utilization of technology. In noticing the lack of pandemic support facilities, we took it upon ourselves to avail any kind of COVID-related help to those in need in all the eight states across the Northeast, which suffers from a lack of public health resources. 

We launched a website and portal for COVID response services, resources, and knowledge to bridge the gap between service providers and beneficiaries. We maintained an updated list of all the necessary contact numbers relating to COVID help. The help portal consists of services like oxygen support, contact numbers of doctors and ambulances, RT-PCR test facilities, mental health helplines, medicines, logistics services, and more. One just needs to enter the portal at covid.ecoalarmist.com to access more than 1,000 verified numbers of the COVID essential services. Our website also consists of a section called “COVID protocol”, which includes precautionary measures and guidelines for home isolation. We organize and authenticate all information in the database, and to date, we have attracted 50,000 users.

We organized a blood donation drive called “Blood Before Vaccination” where we urged people of Barak Valley to donate blood before they get their vaccines as one cannot donate blood for 28 days after vaccination. In total, we recruited over 50 blood and plasma donors. 

In addition to these technologies, we also delivered items worth ₹6.73 lakhs to around 1,000 COVID patients with ₹35k worth of delivery charges waived for patients by partnering with the local businesses from our waste prevention initiatives. We have distributed free ration kits, sanitation kits, and pre-loved clothing to over 100 marginalized families. We also partnered with other organizations to provide more highly-demanded services, such as providing free service oxygen concentrators and exclusive mental health helplines.

During lockdown, we also coordinated a donation drive of sanitation kits and pre-loved clothes in a tea estate among tea garden labors in collaboration with a local NGO. A team member of the NGO, who was taking care of the packaging, packaged all the clothes in new plastic bags bought from the market. I told him that our sole motive was to promote sustainable development through these drives for both people and the planet, so using extra plastics would also cause harm. The next time we worked with this organization to ship clothes, the whole packaging process used discarded papers or old newspapers rather than extra plastics. The team member learned how to carry out a sustainable donation drive while also cutting costs. This interaction exemplifies what we hope to accomplish: we strive for such changes in everyone so that we can build a community of conscious and empowered citizens. I believe that COVID-19 can have vaccines, climate crisis cannot.

Currently, I am trying to create and co-lead a movement called ‘We for Change.’ The process started when we tried to bring the whole changemaker community of my valley together for COVID relief efforts. This included people across various issue areas like animal welfare, education, environment, and menstrual hygiene. Our shared goal is to create spaces where students will get to know more about their peers’ changemaker journeys and join causes they care about or find the inspiration they need to start their own initiatives. We are collaborating with potential partners, like people in media and government, to excel the “Everyone a Changemaker” movement in my valley.

My whole journey to changemaking has required and will continue to require learning new things every day. Empathy is one of the considerable things I learned in this journey, among many others. As an individual, I have learned to be more responsible about the things I would usually take for granted.

I believe the world is full of problems and we need more problem solvers. In fact, we need more changemakers because - when it comes to the climate crisis, we are the first and the last generation to have the choice to be proud of or guilty for our actions before it affects future generations.”