People Like Us: Claire Rao and the art of wasting nothing

Claire Rao defines sustainability as “living within our ecological limits and creating less impact on the environment in all our daily activities.”

[Editor’s Note]: What prompts people to live more sustainably? What is the trigger for lasting change? What makes people stick to their convictions even as 100s look away in cynicism? This June, The Alternative goes to the simple essence of sustainable living – people and their awesomeness. We talk to men and women like us who live their everyday lives sustainably and find out how the big ‘S’ works for them.

If you see a lady cycling around Malleswaram early in the morning, pulling off posters from trees, you will know it is Claire Rao, an expat who has made Malleswaram her home in the last eight years. Born in France and settled in Bangalore with her husband Sanjeev and her two kids, Rao dons many hats; she runs the Nakshatra Trust that works with children in low-income public schools, is an active member of We Care for Malleswaram, and is an acknowledged local eco-warrior, lives a sustainable lifestyle, and inspires her community to take up causes that they can heart.

So what made her put her heart and soul into living sustainably?  What challenges did she encounter and how did she go about making desirable changes in her life? We catch up with her to get to know these answers.


The S-word

Claire has a simple way of explaining the complicated sounding ‘Sustainability’.  She says, “For me sustainable means, living within our ecological limits and creating less impact on the environment in all our daily activities and that includes shopping and commuting to work too.”  Being an eco-friendly person, she says she is conscious about this fact at all times.

Making the Switch

Claire says, “We grew up in a small town in France with lots of open and green spaces, in perfect tandem with nature. Gardening, segregation of waste, composting, cycling etc were part of our growing years and it was natural extension when I relocated and settled down in Bangalore with my family.” An encounter with Vani Murthy of We Care for Malleswaram made her realize that people in Bangalore, albeit a small section were in to segregating, composting and recycling activities and she too got pulled in to the bandwagon.

And sticking to it!

Claire stuck to simple initiatives with a clear action plan to lead a sustainable life style. She says, “A meeting with Vani Murthy led me to segregate wet and dry waste, compost and also inspired me to try my hand at growing vegetables. I seldom go to the big super markets and prefer the local shops as I feel that you get better produce at local shops, you can carry your own containers and directly support the farmer and the local community,” she says.


She also began to use the cycle to commute for short distances, bus for intercity transport, and car pools whenever possible. She carries reusable grocery bags and baskets with her whenever she goes shopping.  What’s more, she also participates in the garage sales organized by NGOs like Ashvasan Foundation and buys/sells second hand stuff.

The friendly neighbourhood sustainability enthusiast

Along with other residents in the We Care for Malleswaram group, Rao finds much fulfilment in encouraging people in the community to adopt solid waste management techniques. Twice a week awareness programs are conducted about segregation and composting. Claire conducts quizzes and distributes saplings that she has tended to, to kids in such programs.  Once a month, the group screens movies on environmental issues, dangers of plastic, organic farming, etc., at various places in the city to sensitize people on critical issues.

Every year Bangaloreans waste around 943 tonnes of food during wedding celebrations. Claire and her We Care for Malleswaram group, has found a simple solution for this. At two of their eco-friendly weddings they did away with water bottles and used the wet waste to feed the cows and the rest for composting!

Being a part of an NGO called Nakshatra Trust that supports underprivileged students of a school in Benson town, Claire has been involved in various education initiatives.  She encourages the children to read, involves their families, guides and mentors the students and also teaches them about waste management.

“It is difficult to say NO in India!”

Rao believes that it is a challenge to refuse something in India. Her candid protests when handed plastic bags for shopping are met with quizzical looks. And she says that she has to spend some time convincing people as to why she refuses plastic bags.

She also feels that while people do praise sustainable behaviour, they don’t necessarily adopt it in their life. “You often have to go behind people to get things done,” she adds. For her though, civic sense as an ethic is a high priority, and she strives to bring the same values to her children by being a role model herself.

“You need to find a group to stay motivated”

Motivation is not a constant thing and has its ebbs and flows. And that is why Claire believes in working as a community and is associated with a wide range of groups. She says that they try to meet once a week and plan their programs and activities. And the passion rubs off as each member is an expert in his/her domain and there is lot of learning involved. Claire is active in her social media and has networked with various groups like Waste Segregation and Recycling, Second to None, Zero waste management, SWMRT to name a few.

Claire Rao’s easy peasy guide to earth-friendly living

“Eat local food,” asserts Claire as she believes that it is suitable for your body being seasonal, and is also  supportive of the local community. She goes for home made stuff whenever possible and tries to avoid sauces, yogurt and any other type of processed food at the market.

Claire is almost vegetarian and tries to advocate others to eat less meat. She says, “Farmed animal products are energy intensive, and produce more greenhouse gas emissions and is thus best avoided.”

Segregate waste and compost at home. “There is a dry waste collection centre in each ward and there are quite a lot of urban solutions to tackle wet waste. So segregation is not complex as everyone seems to think,” she says.

Think before you take the car. Avoid using the car for short distances and use a better alternative like walking, cycling or the public transport.

And on a final note, “Be pro active in the community. One of the best ways to get involved is to participate in the Resident Welfare Association of your ward and contribute towards a healthy and vibrant community. Be up for something, instead of complaining and waiting for things to happen.”

This June, The Alternative brings to you sprigs of hope – People Like Us – a series on everyday folks who do a darned awesome job of living sustainably in their everyday lives and inspire us to take practical steps towards a better future, one day at a time.

Usha Hariprasad is a freelance writer. She is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writes about travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. more


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Usha Hariprasad is a freelance writer. She is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writes about travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. more

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