Green girl

Dia Mirza outlines her goals as the United Nations Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India

  • Published 10.01.18

Years ago, when Dia Mirza realised that she could use her celebrity status for the larger good, she knew what cause she’d want to support. Growing up in Hyderabad, the actress-producer studied in a school (Nasr School) where man’s connection to nature was talked about often. At home, her parents made sure she grew up close to nature. “I remember my mom pointing out birds and teaching me names of plants. We’d go for sunrise picnics to just experience the gift of the sun. I just grew up very aware of nature and our connection to it,” Dia recalled recently, when t2 dropped in at the office of her production house, Born Free, to chat about her new role as United Nations Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India.

Over an hour-long chat, the actress, who’ll next be seen in the Dutt biopic, spoke about what each of us could do to make a difference to our environment.

Congratulations on being appointed United Nations Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India. What does this entail?

Primarily, it’s advocacy. In my case, it would extend into being the face and voice of campaigns across all platforms. So, there would be on-ground engagement and content creation. I also hope to work with government to help improve and implement policies. I started working in the field of conversation about seven years ago and my involvement has become more intense in the last three-four years. I have been working with both NGOs and the government and I have discovered a few gaps. I hope to fill those gaps and form bridges between departments within ministries.

I firmly believe that the old adage that ‘health is wealth’ is rooted in truth and, more so, today. When we talk about the environment, it’s not some abstract concept that has no impact on our lives. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink... is all polluted and it impacts our health. What we do to the ecological balance of the country will impact our health as well.

I don’t want to be fatalistic.

I think one of the biggest shortcomings of conservationists in the past has been that they have been fatalistic. I think it makes people switch off. I know that if I talk constantly about the environment, people switch off. It’s interesting, because our primary instinct is survival but people prefer to live in denial. People’s apathy comes from ignorance which in turn comes from our unwillingness to accept the problem. We are not going to progress as a nation if we don’t see the connection between ecology and economy. We can’t afford to have an unhealthy workforce.

Environmentalism is such a vast subject. Are there specific areas that you want to focus on?

If I can just achieve the basic understanding that health, ecology and economy are interconnected, I would have achieved a lot. We know money drives the world. If we don’t take care of the environment, it would affect our health and sick people can’t work and that would affect the economy. Apart from this, I have a mandate from the UN. This year, India will host the world environment day celebrations. So, we will specifically work in the areas of waste management.

When did you decide to become an advocate for environment?

I think it started with Vikram Chandra (NDTV journalist) who had discovered my love and passion for the environment. He invited me for the first Greenathon in 2009. That’s when I became resolute about engaging with people who worked in conservation. I chased Bittu Sahgal (environmental activist and writer) down and I started working with Sanctuary Nature Foundation.

One of our biggest failings has been that we’ve been educating our population to grow our economy but we’ve forgotten to teach our kids how to take care of the planet that sustains our lives. There should be mandatory government initiatives across the country that drive awareness that our lives are connected to the environment. What we do to the environment is what we are doing to our future selves. If parents understood there’s a direct connection between their kids falling ill and segregating waste or using too much plastic, maybe it will make a difference. We can’t wait for the systems around us to change... every individual has to make the effort.

What are the changes that you’ve brought about in your own life that the rest of us could emulate?

On a daily basis, I discover different things we could change. We’ve never kept plastic bottles in our home for water, but now I have started carrying my own portable bottle even when I travel. My consumption of packaged water is almost non-existent. There are no plastic bags in my house. I don’t use straws or drink takeout coffee. Even if someone delivers something to our house with plastic, we turn away the plastic. I always have a cloth bag inside my handbag in case I need to shop. I have replaced liquid soaps with organic soap bars because they aren’t wrapped in plastic.

Waste is segregated in our building and we compost the wet waste. We have automated water gauge so our tanks don’t overflow. That’s a significant amount of water saved. Vehicles aren’t washed with more than a bucket of water and during summer, people are encouraged not to clean their cars more than thrice a week. I use bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic. I have replaced regular sanitary napkins with 100 per cent bio-degradable napkins. These are available online. Every year, one woman produces about 150kg of sanitary napkin waste. Multiply this by the length of her menstrual life and you’ll be left with a significant amount of toxic plastic waste. This list is endless.
Every time you pick up something, think ‘Where is this coming from and where is it going?’ You’ll automatically become more aware of the changes you can make in your own life.

Karishma Upadhyay