India’s first supermodel and fitness crusader Milind Soman has been involved in several green initiatives and has taken to running marathons barefoot which he believes is a lot less tiring and comes with various benefits, contributing, in turn, to raise environmental awareness. Excerpts:
1. Do you feel there is a need to support green causes to spread awareness about preserving the environment?
A: Today, in every city, wherever you look, you see piles of garbage. Not only is it an ugly sight but it is also a breeding ground for diseases. There is a massive need for people to understand that they need to take responsibility for the waste that they generate. If each one of us took care to dispose of the things that we do not use properly, we would live in a more beautiful and healthy world.
2. What are the initiatives you have taken?
A: As you begin to understand the concepts of waste and unnecessary consumption, you start to buy less, consume less and even eat less. You make the effort to dispose of the waste that you generate in a manner that it can be reused and recycled as much as possible. Also, it is not a bad thing to pick up and properly dispose of things carelessly discarded by others. I blog as often as I can about many topics which I feel are important and should be discussed to keep the environment clean.
3. Changing lifestyle, food habits, high stress in urban areas, binge drinking and use of narcotics have increased the risk factors among youth. Experts are not surprised to see a teenager or a 25-year-old becoming a victim of a heart attack. How can the youth approach this problem?
A: It is important to prioritise physical and mental well-being over anything else. Be smart, choose better and be more aware. Without the right role models in the family, this is very often difficult for the youth to comprehend. Adults must try to set better examples rather than act as advisers or instructors.
4. You were part of a national channel’s ‘Green initiative’ in 2011 where you ran 580 km from Ahmedabad to Mumbai and 1500 km in 2012 from Delhi to Mumbai. What were your experiences?
A: The run was to spread awareness of good environmental practices, including initiatives as small as switching off electrical appliances at home when not in use. Personally, it was a great physical and mental challenge but I also saw great innovation in rural areas where it came to energy conservation or environmental protection. These innovations came about due to necessity and a lack of facilities, conveniences and technology. There is a great deal we can accomplish when we work with nature, rather than against it. Urban living and dependence on technology have distanced us from such notions.
5. Apart from the benefits of running barefoot to minimise injuries, would you look at running barefoot as an eco-friendly initiative?
A: I think running barefoot has made me a technically better runner or rather if I can say, an effortless runner. In my experience, barefoot running minimised the risk of sports-related injuries, as proprioception, which is the body’s way to sense and respond to the environment, is improved and stresses are dealt with by the body, mid-stride, before reaching a critical stage where you can’t run any more. It is an eco-friendly practice.
6. What are the eco-friendly initiatives you look at in Pinkathon? How receptive are participants for these initiatives?
A: The Pinkathon was the first running event to introduce green water stations, encouraging the participants to make an informed choice of drinking from plastic bottles or reusable cups. The sustainable way forward is to get people to choose better options voluntarily. The ‘Barefoot Marathon’ that we organise in Coorg every year uses no plastic or even electricity at the event. Even the mementoes and giveaways are made from jute and coconut shells.
7. Using plastic bottles in running events is not seen as an environment-friendly initiative. Do these impact such shows or change the way you look at them when you participate?
A: There are many events today that collect all the waste generated and engage organisations for its segregation and recycling. This is a practice that is catching on due to increased public awareness. We still have some distance to cover before we see the participants demanding events with zero carbon footprint.
8. In 2015, there were 4.2 million deaths globally because of pollution, caused by PM2.5 — fine particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres, according to environmental research organisation Health Effects Institute. India accounts for one in four of these deaths — 1.09 million — where research shows the youth are largely ignorant about environmental issues. How can the government and other influencers work hand-in-hand to sensitise the youth of this country about issues like climate change?
A: Governments and invested stakeholders need to understand the urgency to remove the causes of pollution through better industrial, agricultural or administrative practices, rather than fight a losing battle of treating it. The responsibility to reduce pollution must be taken up by entities that lead to its cause. The general public must be sensitised through mass digital and on-ground campaigns to demand that these entities take responsibility and ensure proper enforcement.