An Interview with Vibhu Caitanya Das
ISKCON Durban temple is undergoing major restoration for the 30th anniversary next October. Not only are they restoring the temple to its original beauty, but they are making marked improvements. One in particular—that is both admirable and intimidating—is thir Go Green campaign. This campaign is the brainchild of Vibhu Caitanya Das, Durban Temple President.
Q: What is the inspiration behind the Go Green campaign?
Srila Prabhupada was careful about saving Krishna’s energy. Whether it was a fan or a light left switched on in an empty room, he reminded or sometimes chastised his disciples for doing so. In Mayapur specifically, Srila Prabhupada trained the devotees who in turn trained the security that as soon as you can see your hand in the morning then it was time to switch the lights off. He also would notice dripping taps and request that it be fixed. Srila Prabhupada did not want to waste a drop of Krishna’s energy. So that is where the whole inspiration came from; not only do we save Krishna’s energy but we save money, which is also Krishna’s energy.
Q: How cost effective is the Go Green campaign and how long will the temple actually reap the financial benefit?
It does require lots of initial capital, but you will see the savings in a few months or few years depending on what you are doing. We are beginning with small things and we want more and more people to get involved. One day we will be one hundred percent compliant. The highest goal is to be completely off the grid. For now we have smaller goals and have begun implementing some. But yes, to be off the grid…we will have our own solar farm on our property. That will only be possible in a few years. Also Srimad-bhagavatam explains that electricity and water will not last forever… we can see it now with the load shedding and water shortages and as this is the Age of Kali, the age of deterioration, we have to be self-sustainable.
Q: What have you done thus far in terms of going green?
Our first step was that we had an energy audit by Eskcom and Renu, a renewable energy company. We already have energy saver bulbs but we have taken it one step further. The temple itself has 521 bulbs. As of 1st November ALL temple bulbs are either energy savers or LED bulbs, including the florescent tubes. From a 60W bulb we are now using a 5-6W bulb. Sometimes energy savers can be dimmer, but after research we purchased energy-saving bulbs that are actually brighter. We used “cool white” bulbs for the outside and in keeping with the ambience of the temple we went with “warm white”.
Over the past few months we have been composting waste from all our kitchens: devotee-, deity-, restaurant-, and Food for Life kitchens. We have demarcated compost areas and will be able to use the compost on our gardens and lawns.
We will be receiving our biodegradable packaging in two or three week’s time, so “Goodbye polystyrene!” Govinda’s Restaurant and the Deity Department will use only biodegradable packaging, but we are using the paper plates for now. Biodegradable packaging costs almost double so we are making changes in small increments. The new packaging will not affect the prices in Govinda’s; it is our service to the environment and to the customer.
The second part of electricity saving is our geysers. Renu recommended a wonderful water filtration process where we can save our grey water. For example, the water used in our kitchens can be recycled and used in the garden and toilets, etc. but the process is too costly and requires quite a bit of restructuring, and therefore impractical at this point in time. So we came up with the simple solution of geyser heat pumps, which will be implemented soon.
Q: What are the challenges?
Well, the most obvious one is financial, but also when it comes to change people go on high alert, they are not so comfortable with change. It is not easy to change peoples’ mindset, so we are trying to educate and remind people that one day it is all going to run out unless we start living more consciously now. Srila Prabhupada built temples to attract people to Krishna-consciousness, and with our Go Green campaign we will attract people who are warriors of sustainable living.
Q: Other inspirations for the Go Green campaign?
We won the Tourism Landmark award last year at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry. So in order to attract more people to the temple and to up our game in what we do and how we present ourselves, this is a sure way to attract people.
Q: The temple has a substantial electricity bill. Do you have any plans to reduce that bill, apart from the light bulb change?
Well, we pay less for usage during off peak hours. A major expense is our bakery and we are looking into changing the bakery operating hours.
Q: By when do you want to implement the above?
We are going to implement by next year, Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple’s 30th anniversary. These are small steps but we have big plans, like we want to have a solar farm on the property where we can generate our own electricity. We also have lots of underground water and we are researching on how to get our borehole operational. Again, it will cost a bit in the beginning but in the long run will be exceptionally feasible.
We have approved the first draft of a prasada feeding area, conference facility, and restaurant. This will be built where the current prasada marquee is. The prasada feeding area will be able to seat four hundred and fifty people and it will be designed following the Vaishnava tradition of serving— where servers will serve out the different preparations to people who are seated. Above the prasada hall will be a conference facility that will house up to three hundred and sixty people with partitions to facilitate bigger or smaller groups. And finally, a new Govinda’s Restaurant with the capacity of seating a hundred patrons, built with access from the road. This is the initial step towards our Master Plan. With this facility we will be able to generate the income required to build a function hall, with the capacity of one thousand, on the other side of the property with gardens and parking. Also on the cards are college classrooms, devotee care and storage facilities.[ durban ] [ environment ] [ renewable-energy ] [ south-africa ]