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One-man eco stop

Updated on: 02 January,2011 10:22 AM IST  | 
Kasmin Fernandes |

If you want to find rare native and non-native plants, set up a sustainable community, build a butterfly terrace garden or adopt a forest, Varun Lulla is the guy to go to. Kasmin Fernandes meets the eco evangelist who will change the way we view open spaces in 2011

One-man eco stop

If you want to find rare native and non-native plants, set up a sustainable community, build a butterfly terrace garden or adopt a forest, Varun Lulla is the guy to go to. Kasmin Fernandes meets the eco evangelist who will change the way we view open spaces in 2011

At theu00a0weekly Farmers' Market that has become a mainstay in the city's eco-conscious shopper's psyche, 26 year-old Varun Lulla recently installed a bicycle that kids had a blast pedalling. No ordinary bicycle this, it produced energy to power a mixer to grind grain into flour.

What's more, he also held workshops on how to make a remote-controlled solar airplane, a geodesic dome (a structure that uses minimal material and gives maximum insulation and energy), pedal-powered devices (like a bicycle that can run a pump or a juicer), a bamboo bicycle and an eco rickshaw.

"All my gardens are set up such that they take care of themselves," says this believer of blending passive and active conservation.u00a0 His new venture Ecocentric (.in) will make concept gardens in the same veinu00a0-- from butterfly gardens, bat gardens, kitchen gardens, love gardens (with aphrodisiac plants), zodiac gardens designed according to the nakshatra, clock gardens where your shadow is the sundial, to healing gardens.

This eco-landscapist who quit advertising for the pursuit of sustainable living, plans to introduce forest insurance in India, make concept playgrounds and set up an ecovillage in Gokarna that artists and green thumbs can volunteer at.

How it all started
"Things changed for me when out of the meaningless products and consumer brainwash of advertising, I stumbled on Buy Nothing Day," says Lulla, who organised the first Buy Nothing Day in India, and even made a short film about it in 2008. Vancouver-based anti-consumerist media foundation Adbusters appointed him the CEO of Nothing in India.

"Buy Nothing Day led to a 'buy nothing life'. A natural progression of this lifestyle was a post-graduate diploma in Conservation, Restoration, Sustainable Management and Ecology from the Pune-based Ecological Society of India," says Lulla.

He followed it up with a course in perfume-making from Parfumerie Galimard in French perfume centre, Grasse. "It got me more interested in the relationship between flowers and flowering plants," says Lulla.

In between, he made a butterfly garden near Haji Ali with the help of local residents, and participated in Ladakhi music festival The Confluence in 2009 as both, ecologist and musician. The morchang (Jew's harp) player with various bands including Tribal Flora, enlightened people on their ecological footprint at the festival. The cycle was complete with his latest courseu00a0-- Biodynamics from the Biodynamic Association of India (BDAI) in Kodaikanal.

Meanwhile, Lulla did a recce of organic chocolate farms, peanut farms, organic cheese-making farms like Acres Wild in the Nilgiris and new eco-tech initiatives around the country, for an upcoming directory of India's organic farms and natural spaces. In the process, he went from "being egocentric to eco-centric."

Eco-centred philosophy
"Eco-centric is a consultancy that provides environmental solutions in areas of conservation and sustainability. We are focused on ecologically sound action towards sustainable living through conservation of natural resources," says Lulla, who wants to increase India's green cover through tree equity and adoption of forests, playgrounds and wastelands. "These can then beu00a0 converted into natural ecosystems through active and passive conservation," he says, while plucking curry leaves from the garden for us to chew.

Active conservation involves behaviour-based steps that you and I can take, while passiveu00a0-- as the word suggestsu00a0-- is slower. Lulla believes that pairing passive and active conservation is the most effective way to lead us to a greener tomorrow.

"But it all starts with having enough wateru00a0-- planet Earth and all living beings, including us, are over 70 per cent water," he says. So, Ecocentric will provide water solutions like water harvesting, recycling and watershed management.

Commune in Gokarna
In the works is a 30-acre eco-village in Gokarna, Karnataka, that will be entirely powered by wind and solar-energy, where treehuggers can grow their own food. The homes and furniture will be alive, literally.

Lulla is collaborating with arborsculptor Richard Reames, author of Arborsculpture: Solutions for a Small Planet. Says Lulla, "Reames has grown tree trunks shaped into living furniture, gazebos, bridges and tree
housesu00a0-- all from living, growing trees."

Arborsculpture, what's that?

The art of arborsculpture stretches at least as far back as medieval times. It is the art and technique of growing and shaping trunks of trees and other woody plants. By grafting, bending and pruning, the trunks and branches are grown into shapes either ornamental or useful. The time to grow and construct an arborsculpture project varies, depending on size of starter material, species' rate of growth, cultivation conditions and height of the design.

How long does it take?
It is possible to perform initial grafting and bending on a project in an hour, removing tape or material that holds the grafting or shape in as little as one year, and following up with minimal pruning thereafter. Large trees could be bent into shape and grafted together in an afternoon. Taller architectural projects may require 10 years or more to grow.

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