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Lessons in Sustainability From Gandhi

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotWords by Akhila Vijayaraghavan
Investment & Markets

January 30th 2012 is Gandhi's 64th death anniversary and four days ago, India celebrated her Republic Day. It struck me that there are some sharp parallels between Gandhian philosophies and the sustainability movement. Here are my observations:


Gandhi was a strong proponent of localism, be it food, clothing or anything else. At the time of Indian Independence, he recognized that Indians were being enslaved by their dependence on British products, especially clothing. This not only stripped Indian farmers, yarn dyers and indigo growers of their jobs but also financed the British empire. His solution was for people to spin their own cloth and wear only Indian made clothing. He believed that locally produced yarn would give people their pride and their livelihoods back.

In Gandhi's ashram, he grew his own vegetables and kept goats for their milk, demonstrating the need to cut down our dependence on  global supply chains and cheap labor. He also had supreme respect for local knowledge when it came to agriculture, calling India "a collection of 700,000 villages" -- this for the most part still holds true, but local knowledge everywhere is fast being usurped by optimization technology.

Sustainability will come a full circle only when local knowledge is recognized and given its due importance. Gandhi recognized back then that outsourcing jobs can only create a viable economy in the short-term and sooner or later the bubble will burst. I believe we are now in the reverse-globalization era and its implication for sustainability are numerous.


In this age of consumerism and creature comforts, austerity is a concept that is often not even comprehended. Living a simple life has it benefits because it keeps you focused on your purpose. His "simple living and high thinking" philosophy is what sustainability is all about.

Civil resistance 

Gandhi's non-violent, civil resistance movement is very much like sustainable consumption. By simply standing up to atrocities, Indians everywhere came together. Consumers everywhere, similarly need to stand up against those companies that are not ethical and stop endorsing their products.

"Poverty is the worst form of violence"

Gandhi recognized that poverty is the root of all ills and the reason why progress cannot be made. He said that unless peoples' bellies are filled, there is no way their minds can be filled. The world faces the same struggle today and although sustainability is a way out of poverty, poverty is also a deterrent towards sustainable development.

Consolidated, joint effort 

Indian freedom was not won overnight. It started with the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and ended in 1947 - it took over a century of resistance and turmoil before the freedom revolution saw fruition. The sustainability movement is pretty similar - it is very young and needs a tremendous amount of momentum for it to become a revolution. If the Occupy Movement and 350.org are anything to go by, we are getting there and the tipping point is well in sight.

Humility and hope

This is especially for sustainability practitioners. This line of work requires vast amounts of both humility and hope. One can never rest on laurels of past achievements and similarly one cannot also be without hope. As the field continues to evolve, so must practitioners

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

This is probably one of my favourite quotes by the Mahatma. It implies individual responsibility, accountability, and resourcefulness. To be the change, whether big or small requires grit and gumption and the most miraculous thing is that it can come from anywhere.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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