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Just as I was about to give back my finished breakfast tray to the flight attendant while on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai last week, I observed the person sitting next to me doing something interesting. He segregated all the stuff in the meal that he had not used at all – you know, things like sugar, milk powder etc. – and gave them separately to the flight attendant, telling her “Please reuse or recycle these”.

Interesting person, I told to myself and thought I’d ask the man what he did for a living. “I breathe air”, came the answer from him, who subsequently introduced himself as Bidur Dhaul. All right, so he had not just a sense of sustainability, but also that of humour. Not bad at all. Bothering him a bit further, I understood that he was the Director of Commercial Operations at Philips India. In this role he apparently does a whole lot of analysis of their supply chain and the commercials associated with it.

I was keen on knowing about the sustainability philosophies of large companies such as Philips, and I quizzed him about it. He assured me that Philips was already implementing a sustainable supply chain mechanism. And the company appears to be quite serious about it – Bidur mentioned that suppliers who do not stick to sustainable metrics get to face the music, putting it lightly.

We got talking a bit more – and I asked him about his efforts a few minutes earlier on trying to recycle food. “I want to leave a better world for my kids.” Wonderful! Isn’t that sustainability all about? Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future of our future generations? Nice, very nice.

It was possibly just under 10 minutes of discussion with him, but I had the satisfaction of having understood at least something about the sustainability practices at a large company from close quarters. And perhaps for the first time, I saw someone who practised what he preached.

He asked me what I did for a living, that is, other than breathing air. I told him pompously that I preached what he practised (what I left out was that I might not really be following it as much!). I am not sure if he was amused by that slick statement. Anyways, from next time on, I will be more careful with stuff that I do not use on a plane.

Postscript

I was on another flight the next day – from Mumbai to Hyderabad on a Jet Airline plane – and had a person who works with Jet sitting next to me.  We got chatting about many interesting things, and it was time for me to hand over my breakfast tray. This time I did what I had learnt from Bidur yesterday – I segregated everything I had not used at all and told the flight attendant to be nice to the segregated foods.

The attendant was kind of confused for a moment, but then she figured, and said yes she would.

That over, I reclined a satisfied person. Until I heard my new friend from the next seat tell me “What you did was well intended, but they most likely will not reuse it. In fact, I am sure that they will simply throw it away with all the other waste because of the airline policy of maintaining everything absolutely pure.” I protested that I had not even touched whatever food items I had segregated – I had not even touched their packaging, but my neighbour informed me that’s possibly not the way the airline would think.

Sense, sustainability and now a dose of reality.