Step Towards Sustainability

Greensole, India

Madhurya Sai Amirapu on September 28, 2018 in Environment

To really understand someone, they ask us to walk a mile in their shoes, but when it comes to the lives of Indian rural children, we should walk a mile without any.

Every day, lakhs of kids tread countless kilometers barefoot. They have to travel to reach school, to collect water, or even to go to work and most often do so without any form of protective footwear. While these far and unfair treks are arrows pointing to other major issues in the nation, a more immediately addressable problem is their lack of footwear.

Greensole, a For-Profit social venture, has taken up the cause in a most sustainable way. They refurbish old, discarded shoes through a number of skilled and creative processes, and turn them into durable yet trendy new footwear. The footwear is then donated to thousands of rural children across the country.

All over India, there are children whose soft soles have to trudge over unkempt terrains, sun baked roads, and muddy paths. Their young feet are not only put through gross discomfort but become susceptible to a number of injuries (thorns, foreign bodies, cuts) as well as bacterial infections, fungal infections and parasitic diseases, the most common being hookworm, whose larvae hatch in the soil and penetrate the skin when they walk on contaminated soil. All this, as their parents often can’t afford sandals for their children or sometimes because they don’t think it as essential as other clothing.

Greensole is the result of a unique friendship between Shriyans Bhandari and Ramesh Dhami. Shriyans Bhandari, CEO and Co-founder at Greensole, Director Heritage Girls School and author of 'Birds of Aravallis' and co-founder at Greensole shares the story with us- “We’re both athletes who used to run together in Priyadarshini Park under the guidance of Savio D’Souza. Over time we became friends and realized that a common problem we both faced was that along with running, we were running through costly sports shoes in a matter of months. It was then that we struck upon the idea of remodeling and donating these shoes. One day, Ramesh created a sample product and showed me, from then onwards we took up refurbishing our shoes into usable footwear. I was in college at the time so it was first a project, then a hobby and later on I started to work on how to upscale this venture.”

On being asked about their motivation- “Eventually we learnt that short life span of an athlete’s shoe was universal in nature and overall millions of shoes with reusable, strong parts make their way to landfills ever year, while a similar number of people have no access to footwear at all and can even die from having to go barefoot. We decided that we wanted to bridge this gap.”, says Shriyans about putting 2 and 2 together using environmental and social arithmetic.

While some of us have difficulty picking between Nike or Adidas, the children of economically weaker sections feel empowered by a pair of new and comfortable sandals of their very own. Greensole is often witness to the joy of children being gifted the very essential during their donation drives. This also helps motivate them to attend school. Shriyans says, “During the drives, we conduct awareness programs educating the beneficiaries and their parents about the importance of wearing footwear from a health and hygiene aspect, in their vernacular.”

What makes Greensole all the more unique is their process of producing footwear from discarded and donated shoes, which they collect from various collection centres established across the country. The organization has developed and patented processes wherein as many parts as possible are salvaged from the old shoes and are then reprocessed to manufacture quality footwear for both donation and retail purposes. As opposed to recycling, these procedures involve minimum energy consumption. “There is no melting of materials. We process the various intact parts and refurbish them into new sandals through semi-automated mechanisms. This is much eco-friendlier than a number of recycling steps.”, Shriyans explains the upcycling aspect of the organization. They manage all the above while never compromising on quality. They carefully balance design and comfort while efficiently reducing waste and the results are praiseworthy (they’ve received testimonials from Forbes, BBC, Ratan N. Tata and Barack Obama to name a few).

Greensole has gone a step further and established a Skill Centre in Jharkhand with the help of Tata Steel where they train and provide employment opportunities in the manufacturing units for adults (currently only for women in need of jobs) from low income backgrounds. They plan on opening a number of these skill centres in the near future. They are the reason behind many happy feet and are leaving a number of social footprints while taking care to omit the carbon ones.

Shriyans Bhandari gives us his take home message, “We believe that more youngsters should take up such For-profit initiatives, if different groups take up different social causes the world will be a better place. And yes, it is important to be business savvy, that indeed helps take the cause further. I’m from a business background and that aided in the take off and sustenance of Greensole. Funding is a perpetual problem for such organizations so it is vital to look for sustainable and creative solutions. If your vision and mission is clear, then the project becomes easier and public acceptance comes easier as well. Also, transparency is important in today’s world.”

So, put your best foot forward and donate those old pairs of shoes collecting dust at home to Greensole today!

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