In 2015, 15-year-old Garvita Gulhati decided she wanted to do something about the water crisis in India.
According to the World Health Organization, over two billion people lack access to safe drinking water around the world. An estimated 91 million people in India lack access to safe water.
Gulhati was deeply impacted when learning about women and children who walk miles just to get a glass of water and farmers with no access to water taking their own lives. She wanted to help the situation but wasn’t sure where to start.
That’s when Gulhati came across a statistic that said 14 million liters of water in India is wasted every year because people in restaurants don’t drink the water poured for them.
“That left me completely shocked because that little amount of water that we think is really not a huge waste is actually amounting to so much,” says now 21-year-old Gulhati.
This gave Gulhati inspiration for how she could personally make an impact in her community and save water–get local restaurants to serve less water, and therefore waste less.
“That’s where it all started. I started talking to restaurants and trying to get them to change course,” says Gulhati. “Initially none of them wanted to take advice from a teenager.”
But Gulhati persevered. After visiting more than 100 restaurants over the course of a year she came up with the ‘Glass Half Full’ initiative. Pitching this idea to restaurants, she explained that each water glass should only be filled half full, unless otherwise requested by the customer. This both conserves water that otherwise gets wasted and educates customers on water conservation, showing how much of a difference small amounts can make together.
Gulhati was able to get 30 local restaurants in her community on board by personally convincing each and every one. When thinking of how to scale the initiative across the country, she knew she couldn’t do it alone. Visiting restaurants during her free weekend time would take years.
“That’s when I thought of partnering up with the National Restaurants Association of India,” says Gulhati. “It took a lot of convincing, but I finally got them on board to partner up with us and take this idea to the five lakh (500,000) restaurants that they represent. And then over a campaign of about a year we were able to teach a bunch of restaurants and saved almost 10 million liters of water. It was a really wonderful experience.”
The ‘Glass Half Full’ Mindset
To continue this youth-led movement, the Why Waste? organization was founded in 2016. The team is made up of like-minded youth who are educating others, innovating and taking real action.
“At Why Waste? our goal has always been to change the mindsets people have towards water and help them realize they can be a part of the solution,” says Gulhati.
The team works to help every person make a difference by taking simple actions to save water. This is what led the team to write a book aimed at educating children and build a mobile application to inform teens and adults.
“The book is targeted to young people to help them understand the climate crisis, and more specifically issues related to water. We try to inspire young minds to be the change that they wish to see in the world,” says Gulhati. “Empathy and positive habits ingrained at a young age can help shape individuals definitively.”
Gulhati and the team first piloted the book by sharing it with a few of government schools across the country. They got feedback around having more illustrations, including puzzles and adding more tips for kids to take real action to conserve water.
“It sort of redefined what the book meant. We ended up creating it as a full-fledged series of 13 stories. We had illustrations for 8 stories and puzzles. In the end, it was a whole ecosystem that we created with it,” says Gulhati.
The Why Waste? team published the book online in partnership with Pratham, India’s largest non-profit publisher. The Sustainability Stories is available for free to youth in India, and elsewhere available on Amazon with all proceeds going to support Why Waste?’s water conservation efforts.
“It’s been very thrilling to see the book grow on Pratham; it has over 20,000 reads,” says Gulhati. “It’s being open-sourced and translated into various languages which is so exciting to see. And it’s absolutely incredible to see how it’s like our other movements–living a life of its own.”
From there the team has gone on to create a video series of The Sustainability Stories with UNICEF and are now working with National Geographic to take the stories to more young people around the world.
“While we take the stories to them, what we really want is to teach them how can they make a difference,” explains Gulhati. “We don’t want to stop with the stories. We want them to actually change. And we want them to realize the differences that they make in their communities.”
Daily Habits for Conserving Water
While the book targets younger children, the team also wanted to provide a tool for teens and young adults to help build good sustainable habits.
This led to the creation of a mobile application that allows users to calculate their water footprint and then teaches ways to conserve at least 100 liters of water every day.
Gulhati explains it’s very helpful to understand your own personal water footprint. This allows you to see where you may be consuming extra water for particular tasks. The app helps you analyze this and then recommends simple ways in which you can conserve water on a daily basis.
“One of the biggest problems we noticed is that a lot of people want to change but they don’t know where to start,” she says. “So once you know what your water footprint is you can make conscious efforts to conserve water. You can very easily start to adopt change today.”
In addition to helping you understand how much water you use and then tracking your water conservation progress, the free application also provides interesting facts, articles and tips to help users create positive change.
An Easy Way to Reduce Your Water Consumption
When asked to share her best piece of advice for one great tactic to save water on a daily basis Gulhati takes a moment to decide.
“I think just one [tactic] would be to either reduce the timing of your showers, or start taking a bucket bath. I think that is the easiest and most tangible thing that anyone can do, and it saves tens of hundreds of liters of water,” she says.
Taking one shower can consume anywhere between 60 to 120 liters (about 15 to 30 gallons) of water depending on the duration and average flow rate of the water. Taking a bucket shower, meaning you fill a bucket and only use that water to clean and rinse yourself, consumes just 10 to 20 liters (about 2-5 gallons) of water in comparison.
Hidden Consumption: Virtual Water
Another factor that contributes to water consumption is virtual water–water used within the production of food, clothes, other goods and even energy.
“Every object in our ecosystem and around us has some amount of hidden water, or some amount of water we can’t see. Let me give you an example–a pair of jeans that you could be wearing consumed 2,000 liters of water to manufacture,” details Gulhati. “It’s important to first understand your consumption–every object has consumed hundreds of thousands of liters of water when manufactured. If we simply start living a little bit more minimalistically, we aren’t only reducing our carbon footprint which most of us think today, but we are massively reducing our water footprint too.”
Building a Water-Conservative World
Between the success of the “Glass Half Full” campaign, storybook and mobile application the Why Waste? team has been busy! Through their various efforts they have helped conserve over 10 million liters of water and reached over 6 million people.
The team often gets feedback from those who are changing the way that they behave as they become more conscious about conserving water. Gulhati describes a LinkedIn post she saw where a woman had taken a pledge to calculate her water footprint every single day using the Why Waste? App.
“I think the most rewarding part is when people walk up to me and say ‘because I read your story or because I experienced ‘Glass Half-Full’ in a restaurant, anywhere I go I think of the water that I consume. I only take just as much as I need and I ensure the people around me don’t waste,’” says Gulhati. “It’s incredible to see people adopting the products and the ideas that we put out there.”
Currently Why Waste? has 25 team members and they have engaged over 500 volunteers across the globe to date. More recently, the team became India’s largest youth-led organization working towards water conservation.
Gulhati puts it simply – “We’re here to make a difference, no matter what our age is.”
The team is pursuing new partnerships and collaborations to bring their storybook and mobile application to even more people.
“In the long run, we want to simply get our idea to as many people as we possibly can,” says Gulhati. “We want to help every single person realize that they can be a part of the solution and that they are capable of doing their bit when it comes to conserving water.”
Leading Young and Inspiring Others
In 2021 Gulhati was selected as one of the seventeen Youth Climate Leaders representing the UN in India as a part of the ‘We, The Change’ campaign that led up to COP26.
She is continually working to get more youth involved with positive impact efforts through her work with organizations like Ashoka, UNICEF, Google, Facebook, IKEA, National Geographic and Global Changemakers.
Gulhati launched a Lead Young program to schools in India with Ashoka, an international organization that promotes social entrepreneurship. The program aims to inspire youth to be changemakers through the art of storytelling and is now reaching over 800 schools and 2.5 million students across India.
She also sits on the Youth Board of the State of Youth, a virtual nation that advocates for Sustainable Development Goals. Gulhati was listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia-Pacific list of Social Entrepreneurs, and was the youngest person listed!
Gulhati recently graduated college with an engineering degree. She’s also a professional classical dancer and calligraphy artist. When asked what she plans to do next, the young changemaker declares she wants to take some time to reflect while still working on her various projects.
“I want to be able to keep adding as much value as I possibly can through the various ecosystems that I’m a part of while also trying to build new ecosystems myself,” she says. “I want to reflect on everything that I’ve been doing. I want to gain new experiences. I want to learn all of the possibilities that exist before I choose what’s next.”
We can’t wait to see what she does next!
Learn more about Why Waste? Read more Rustic Spirit stories.