For Madhavi Venkatesan, greater understanding of the relationship between sustainability and economics is the key to saving the environment.
One aspect of that is plastic bottles; specifically, educating people on their cost and working toward a Cape-wide ban. The Cape Cod is the perfect place to demonstrate how a plastic bottle ban can help both the economy and the environment, said the Brewster resident, and it's a goal of the non-profit organization she founded, Sustainable Practices.
“We know plastic is harmful to the environment,” she said, adding that she's looking to promote a fundamental change in consumer behavior. “We really can't wait. The damage is so large as it is, and we're consuming things that can never degrade.”
Earlier this year Sustainable Practices sponsored a screening of the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” at the Chatham Orpheum Theater. Attendance was good, with a lively discussion afterward, Venkatesan said. It was the first in a bi-monthly series of film showings focusing on sustainability and the environment, and was followed by “Chasing Coral” in October.
On Jan. 6 the organization will sponsor screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power” at 10 a.m. at the Orpheum. A followup to Al Gore's 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth,” it tracks the progress made in the interim especially related to renewable energy and climate change. A discussion after the screening will include people from Gore's Climate Reality team who worked on the film.
Banning plastic bottles may seem like a major task, but Venkatesan it could be accomplished through education, providing metal refillable bottles and hydration stations to fill them. The Brewster Water Department already gives out steel water bottles in the summer, she noted. She hopes to enlist the support of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates and use the media to build pressure for change.
“We have a very knowledgeable community here on the Cape,” she said. “We have a tremendous opportunity here to represent what can happen elsewhere.”
Another goal for later in 2018 is a public service announcement film competition for high school and college students. The contest would be for short two- to three-minute videos to promote sustainability that she hopes can be shown on national cable networks.
“We're looking for young people because they know how to communicate with one another,” she said.
Venkatesan said she created the non-profit organization to promote education about sustainability. A lawyer with degrees in economics, environmental law and policy and sustainability, she is especially interested in the integration of sustainability into business practices, nonprofits and government operations. She worked for three Fortune 250 companies and has taught and written textbooks on sustainability and economics, using the royalties from the books to help fund the organization. She's also a member of the Brewster Finance Committee.
The film series received a boost from the New England Grassroots Fund, which covered the “Plastic Oceans” screening. With a $10 donation for admission, the remaining screenings have been self-supporting, she said.
Given the emphasis on profits and minimizing costs, Venkatesan said she realizes things won't change overnight. But she believes change is possible. Although the currents in Washington, D.C. appear to be running against the organization's efforts, she believes people's eyes have been opened, especially at the local level, which she said can be a “sleeping giant” and a catalyst for change at the national and even global level.
“I am hoping people will be more vigilant than they have in the past,” she said. “It's a question of momentum.”