Divya Nawale has committed her career to environmental initiatives—several of her own creation—both at home in India and on a global scale. Her passion for the planet has her striving to educate people on their power to drive change—both as individuals and as communities—alongside battling her own anxiety around climate change and carbon emissions.
On… The great outdoors
Anybody who’s spent time in nature will tell you that it’s the easiest way to energize and feel more inspired. I was in my first semester at Hult when the application to go on an expedition to Antarctica with the organization 2041 came through. One of the first things that hit me there was just the enormous size of everything: the icebergs, the knee-deep snow. I’m from southern India, and that was the first time in my life I had ever seen snow, aged 22. When we were making the expedition film, I had to take my thick goggles off to talk to camera. The sun was so bright that day. What happens is, the sun hits the ice and reflects on to your face even more. My eyes burned, and for two days I was in such pain. But I experienced it firsthand—the ozone hole, the freezing temperatures. It taught me that nature is this powerful force, kind and giving, but also something that we really need to respect.
A few years ago, I came across this term and realized I had it. My friends would say, “Divya, don’t look there, there’s a ton of plastic lying around.” They’d think, “OK, let me just save her from this because I know she’ll get anxious.” Sustainability is not just my career and choice of work—on a very personal level, I believe that we have to preserve nature and take care of it, and that it’s more of a symbiotic process. If you take care of nature, nature gives back. Humans are not meant to be sitting within four walls. Humans are meant to be social and spend time outside. This year, the topic of mental health has become normalized—that’s a good thing that has come out of the pandemic.
I’m from southern India, and I’ve never seen that much snow or ice in my life
I think this year has also been a time of giving. A lot of people have generously given away so much—things they thought they needed but actually didn’t—and learned to help each other in the process. Here in India, there was a pretty famous term that was going around, the hashtag #karunavirus. The word karuna in Hindi and Sanskrit actually means kindness. I’m hoping that we can see that we ended the year on a positive note: not just in terms of resilience in our own work or personal lives, but resilience in the sense that we know what we can do better and where we can help together.
Divya was recently selected for CSRWorks Asia’s Top Sustainability Superwomen 2020 List of Honour ↳ csrworks.com/asias-top-sustainability-superwomen-2020-list/
On… Calculating carbon
It was on the ship in Antarctica that I first made a calculation of my own carbon footprint. It started from really looking at nature and asking, what is my impact? You’re then able to say, THIS is my impact, and this is what’s happening around the world, so this is how I can use my network and learning and skills to help make the planet a better place. I went back to the expedition as one of its leaders in 2018 and helped conduct workshops about carbon footprint and how to find solutions in your personal life, community, and on a global scale. It’s been a continuous learning experience ever since.
On… Pioneering projects
I’ve launched a side project called Project Sahaaya, which means “help”. It’s trying to remove the stigma around mental health and help people learn about wellbeing. I’ve also started projects with a non-profit I was advising last year in the environment space—the first was to disperse 50,000 seed balls in a forest close to my hometown of Hyderabad. They have a success rate of 30-50%, so we’re hoping to see upward of 20,000 trees. The second is to set up a carbon footprint calculator for the entire city. We’re working with local government, and the idea is for all 10 million residents to understand their carbon footprint and be able to take actionable steps to start reducing it.
Me with Al Gore
All is not lost. I’ve worked closely with Climate Reality, Al Gore’s organization, and the narrative is always, how much progress have we made? The prediction for solar power 10 years ago was that it would be too expensive to compete with our established energy sources. But it’s grown exponentially. Stories like these infuse a sense of going forward. We need hope, and there is hope.