2011 Report of Go-Green Initiatives in USA

Region 10 Regional Retreat, Austin, TX

During the Sai Region 10 Retreat October 7-9, 2011, a concerted effort was made to reduce the waste generated during the event.  The devotees were requested prior to the retreat to bring reusable water bottles prior to the retreat.

On Friday, October 7th at the retreat, stainless steel plates, cups, tumblers, spoons, and forks were used for dinner for roughly 200 devotees.  Banana leaves were used to line the stainless steel plates to minimize the water used to wash the plates.  A team of volunteers assisted in cleaning the stainless steel ware after use.  For the remaining meals on October 8th and 9th the camp provided the devotees with reusable plates, mugs, tumblers and stainless steel forks and spoons for roughly 350 devotees.

On Saturday, October 8th, a booth was initially set up across the dining hall entrance to educate devotees about going green. Later on, the booth was moved outside the main bhajan hall to enable more devotees to visit and experience the booth.  In the morning after one of the guest speaker’s speech, an SSE volunteer made an announcement in the main bhajan hall about the booth and invited devotees to visit the booth.  In the booth, there were 6 posters approximately 1-1/2 ft. x 1-1/2 ft.  Cardboard from the bulk packaging of facial tissue boxes that were saved from the previous year’s Christmas Meals on Wheels seva were reused for these posters.   The posters showcased Swami’s quotes on Mother Nature, statistics on consumerism and waste generation, problems of waste generation, the need for ceiling on desires, and steps that can be taken to alleviate this. There were different activities and information on the table, which appealed to all age groups. Some of these included: recycled coloring books for the younger ones, go green quizzes, photographic presentation of mass consumption and waste, sorting activity from least to most impact to the environment, and composting instruction booklet and materials.  There were examples of reusable bottles, reusable bags, and corn-based packing peanuts one should use.  Pencils made out of recycled currency and recycled jeans were given out to the visitors.  During the day, a few SSE volunteers stood near the booth and explained the posters and green quizzes to the devotees.  Later during the day, a presentation was made by an adult and an SSE volunteer, which mirrored the information in the posters in the booth.  The key messages for what each one of us can do to preserve Mother Earth for future generations were to have a ceiling on desires and steps we can take to reduce consumption and waste generated.  The future of Mother Earth, after all, is in our hands.

Swami’s 86th Birthday Celebrations, Atlanta, GA

“Love Mother Nature… Yes She is your Mother too”!!! This is probably one of the most important thought that was lingering in the minds of the Young Adults of the Atlanta Sathya Sai Center. We have been pondering for a while as to how we can take one step forward towards a green living. We witnessed the general running of the center activities, the number of events held at the center and the amount of paper products used. By general theory all this gets into the landfill and all hurting mother earth even more.

The human aspect of food wastage is that, as long as no one sees how much one is wasting, it is OK. No it’s not OK. Devotees, tend to put more on their plate and end up wasting more food. With all these new clashing thoughts and ideas, the YAs here took a bold step and informed the center membership that we are offering a new Green Initiative at the center. A couple of the YAs gathered on a nice Saturday afternoon to discuss how we can take this step. We wanted to prove it in action for people to believe in us. As Swami says, there should be perfect unity and harmony between your Thought, Word, and Deed. We decided to purchase sturdy Stainless steel dinner sets (which include a plate, a tumbler, spoon, a small bowl) which can be used for all center functions. Being so called brilliant engineers and mathematicians, we sat down and keyed in all the numbers – weight of the plate, cost per plate, long term plan and life of the dinner sets and overall costs. It was very logical to purchase these items from India. Coincidentally, one of the YAs was going to India at the same time. He took so much pain to search for the best steel shop in town. Swami had worked though this YA and made the idea a reality. So we purchased 200 dinner sets from India. With the little bit more headroom that we had, we also purchased 200 ecofriendly reusable BPA-free plastic plates and glasses for snacks and water. Once the items arrived the YAs had a nice seva activity of peeling the stickers and getting them ready for use.

Our first debut performance was during the Akhanda Bhajans. 24 hrs of singing which rolls down to a min 200 people over 4 meals, 2 snack sessions and a couple of coffee and tea sessions. If we have to show our unity of TWD (thought, word and deed) this was the chance. We had a dedicated team who volunteered for all 24 hrs. The first thing we did was to make an announcement at the center the previous Sunday that this is our plan and we apologized in advance for any inconvenience and requested the support of the center members. We informed that water will only be served in big filters and asked all members to bring their own personal water bottle. No plastic water bottles were placed at the venue. All trash cans were removed from the venue. Only one trash can for paper was placed for napkins. (next time we plan to get rid of these too and use cloth napkins instead).

The cleaning area was decked up. A line up of receptacles was placed for used plates, glasses, spoons and bowls. The cleaning area was set up. We used three big plastic containers on a table. Each container was filler with warm water to half its level. The flow went like this, when every devotee walked up to drop their items, the first step was to meet up with a YA, the YA would use damp cloth (wet with hot soap water) to remove all the food trash into a trash bin and pick up the paper napkin from the devotee to drop it into the paper recycle trash can.

The first step helped us a lot to remove all the oil content from the food and made the cleaning process easy. Also there was a human touch to this is – each devotee knows that another fellow brother or sister is cleaning their plate, this emotional guilt made sure no one wasted any food. Well, a little bit of emotional drama is required right..! . The plates were then passed to stage 1, tub with hot water and soap. The plates were scrubbed well and passed on to station 2 where the plates were rinsed to get the soap off. At station 3 there was another wet rinse and then the plates were handed to a volunteer who would wipe the water off and get the plates ready for reuse. After a full session, the water was also recycled. Water from station 2 was moved to 1 and station 3 to 2. Station 3 always got fresh water. This way water was also conserved.

At the end of the Akhanda Bhajans, after serving more than 1400 people (over all meals, snacks and coffee), we accumulated less than 1 trash bag of food wastage and 1 bag of paper wastage. This was a significant improvement to the 25 bags of regular trash we would normally use.

This effort was a huge success only because of Swami’s Grace, support from center officers, volunteers and devotees. A nice eco friendly twist to the whole event was the usage of fresh banana leaves on the steel plates for the final dinner, this  minimized the cleaning efforts and also gave a nice fresh touch to the meal. The leaves were all collected back and used as compost.

With the success from the Akhanda bhajans and with Swami’s abundant grace, the YAs were able to continue this effort for the ladies day celebrations too.

The effort was well received and this email is a testimony to that.

Loving Sairams,
Hearty Congratulations to everyone who had worked so hard to implement Go Green at our center. I know this is not something simple, the magnitude was so high yet y’all pulled it together with great amount of commitment and dedication. Our center is truly blessed to have devotees like you. Let us continue to serve our beloved Swami with Love and Unity.

Please scroll down and read the rest to get tears in your eyes 🙂 Please pat yourself !

Jai Sai Ram;
Dearest R and members of Atlanta Sai Center;
I just wanted to take the time to appreciate your hard work in putting together Swami’s Akhand Bhajan and what really impressed upon me the most was the “going green” dinner plates and utensils. I think that is a huge leap in our community and I loved the fact that the plates are a good size and so are the little bowls; as it is there is so much waste; this way less will be served and more managable to eat. What a fabulous idea. Thank you again.

This is our small heartfelt offering to Swami for His 86th Birthday. Thank you Swami for giving us a chance to live the message.

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