The city of Bangalore in India served as an eye-opener for me when I visited my family. I was shocked at the amount of garbage littering the streets, impacting the natural beauty of the city and also the livelihoods of many people, whether they were farmers or just Bangalore residents.
During this time, I fell in my own trap, being disappointed that nothing is being done and how can this be?! So, rather than focusing on the negatives, I began my search for positive initiatives around Bangalore because I know there had to be people who decided to act on problem and help change other’s mindsets. It can seem a daunting task, which is why I reached out to the founders of Green Mantra for an interview, to learn about their personal motivations, what Green Mantra is and how they are helping everyone become more mindful of the way we see plastic pollution.
Each answer is something to learn from, I’m not exaggerating – Check out the quotes in each answer, because it applies to us all and how we can learn.
Tell us about yourself
I am Prachee Mandlekar, co-founder of Green Mantra – A Zero Waste Store. I have 17+ years of IT corporate experience working with organizations like Accenture & Cognizant.
Debyani Basu worked as HRIT Professional at General Motors Technical Center India before leaving her job to pursue her passion in her artistic skills.
Shikha Mittal has worked as finance professional before taking a break for family.
We 3 were friends and equally frustrated to see garbage everywhere around us. We wanted to improve the situation.
We decided to be the change what we want in our surroundings.
What motivated you to get into the Sustainability field and make a change?
The deteriorating condition of the environment (de)motivated us to adopt Sustainable Lifestyle. Marathahalli area has lots of PGs and floating population. There is very low sense of ownership in residents. It is heartbreaking when people litter roads to keep their house clean. It’s more heartbreaking when convenience takes priority over environmental issues.
We decided to demonstrate to people that it is possible to buy grocery without plastic packaging.
Having visited Bangalore for long periods of time, the garbage problem is huge! How difficult was it for you to start moving to a zero-waste lifestyle?
Extremely Challenging!! When we decided to switch the lifestyle, we started understanding the obstacles. First is finding place to buy package free. Simple thing like buying an apple without sticker on it was time consuming. This was realization for us how tough it is for people, even if they are willing to. This was the conception of Green Mantra idea
To be honest, we are not completely zero waste families yet. We are struggling to get milk & curd without packaging yet. But happy that we have completely stopped all other products wrapped in plastic.
What is Green Mantra in one sentence?
Green Mantra works to make world a better place to live for generations to come, by cutting plastic & harmful materials at the source.
Why did you decide to start Green Mantra?
People could not believe us that it is possible to buy entire grocery like staples, oil, ghee, paneer without packaging. Through Green Mantra, we demonstrated it is possible, if we want it to work. We offer a very unique shopping experience to our customers. Many senior citizens get nostalgic by the way we help them to shop. The satisfied, happy & nostalgic customers along with some avoided plastic to landfill give us immense satisfaction end of the day!!
Through Green Mantra, we demonstrated it is possible, if we want it to work.
Now to jump into some detail, what is Green Mantra all about?
Awareness is the key to success for Green Mantra. Luckily we realized this at very early stage and we launched our free workshops on Sustainable Lifestyle. After collaborating with Stonesoup, we introduced Sustainable Menstruation & Composting workshops too.
The convincing rate was almost 100% but it was not reflecting in the shop. We realized in this fast & time crunch age, convenience takes priority over environmental issues.
We introduced Home-Refill model in which we send door step delivery in sustainable packaging, let customers empty it to their containers and take the packaging back.
I’m sure your journey is quite exciting until now, what and when was the AHA (breakthrough) moment for you?
Couple of year’s back, it rained heavily for evening and I was stranded in traffic for 3+ hours to cover 18 km. The frustration and free time compelled me to notice why the roads were flooding. The reason was disposed plastic covers. This was eye-opener.
Shikha & family faced a very close relative suffering from Cancer and realized the reason is excess use of plastic in day-to-day life, food with preservatives & chemicals.
Debyani was directly impacted because of the froth flooding Varthur lake.
What is included in the Green Mantra’s product and service line?
We provide all Grocery products like rice, pulses, oils; Dairy products like paneer, ghee, cheese; Bakery items without plastic packaging.
- We also provide plastic replacement products like bamboo toothbrush, steel straws.
- We sell Sustainable Menstruation & Composting products too.
- We also give Steel Cutlery on rent for parties.
What does Green Mantra hope to contribute to?
With our awareness generating workshops and the new inventions for our customer convenience, we see more people adapting to this lifestyle. We have converted 75+ women to Sustainable Menstruation i.e. saving ~18,000 sanitary napkins reaching the landfill every year. We have sold 1200+ bamboo toothbrushes, 100+ steel straws and have saved ~100 kg of packaging plastic in just 5 months.
We are sure to make the area much better in time to come and then target bigger.
Typically, having shopped at various Zero-Waste stores, do you find customers are a little reluctant to shop package-free because of pricing? How do you engage in a healthy conversation to help them see the value?
We are working on the mindset change. Retail sector has the least customer loyalty. We are able to manage to offer products at cost which is at par with other super markets, most of the times. But we can’t match the costs by big E-Commerce giants. We struggled to explain this to many people in the initial days. But then we realized they are not our customers to establish the concept & brand. We need to focus on people who are already environment friendly and care to go extra mile for it.
That does not mean we don’t target others, we do through our workshops. But we don’t feel bad if they don’t become our customers. We keep on throwing the disturbing facts to people who are on the border line and try to convince them.
There are times when people compare costs online and get back to us. We explain why it is so. We talk about the social cause that we are trying to solve. Most of them understand, agree & support us.
What are the future goals for Green Mantra, moving forward? Vision and Roadmap?
2019 focus is completely on the current store establishment; Expanding our customer base. Set strong base to leap higher in 2020.
Currently only 2.5% people in Bangalore are environment friendly. Our target is to make all 2.5% our loyal customers. We want to increase the % too.
What has been your proudest moment during your journey?
I was taking a Sustainable Menstruation workshop at my home for some friends.
My vessel cleaning helper asked me next day morning, what I was talking about. When I explained her, she asked if she can also try as those 4/5 days are very difficult for her at work. I was stunned and speechless for few moments. Needless to say, I gifted a Menstruation Cup to her and she is a proud cupster by now
What does sustainability and zero-waste mean to you and your team?
Only 1 thing – stay loyal to yourself; It is ok to let go opportunity to grow our business than to compromise on our values. If we can’t face ourselves in the mirror end of the day, it’s failure of Green Mantra.
If you were to give people an idea of how to make changes in their lives, in terms of living a low-waste lifestyle and low emissions, what are three things you’d advice?
Till now we have conducted 37+ workshops on these topics in schools, organizations & apartments.
- Every time you cut plastic package, think where is it going to land? Take a wise decision.
- Why not compost wet waste & grow chemical free veggies for your family?
- There are many normal people like you are trying to help you to make the change happen. Few cost differences are important or our mother earth?
For sustainability entrepreneurs like yourself, what three tips/advice do you have?
We are not any big shots or big achievers to advice other fellows. But can surely share our learning during the journey.
- Don’t let anyone else tell you that your idea will not work. Believe in your idea & yourself
- Collaboration always works better than competition
- Never, Never, Never give up
I would like to thank Prachee, Debyani and Shikha, for all their efforts in helping lead a much needed change in Bangalore raise awareness of zero-waste lifestyles, while also educating and sharing their knowledge with those who may not be aware of the detrimental effects plastic pollution has on our environment
It is important to note, that no matter where we come from, what we do in our lives, we can all make a change in our own ways because our planet and our future generations need it now more than ever