What Rotary clubs can do to help the Environment

Meenakshi Venkataraman

In April 2024, we will celebrate our first month highlighting Rotary environmental action. In 1990, PRIP Paulo V C Costa made the environment one of his primary causes, creating Preserve Planet Earth programme. In June 2020, the RI directors and Rotary Foundation Board unanimously approved the creation of Rotary’s seventh area of focus — Protecting the Environment. In 2021, TRF began awarding environmental global grants. Clubs are at the heart of Rotarians’ action to address climate change. To find effective projects, clubs can draw on a rapidly growing trove of expertise and technical assistance from Rotary Action Groups and TRF: the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG), Rotary Action Group for Endangered Species (RAGES), WASHRAG, and the TRF Cadre specialists in Environment, Water and Community Economic Development.

One question most clubs ask: What is the most impactful project our club can do to protect our environment? Asking this question has already put you on the right path. ESRAG’s website (www.esrag.org) offers many project articles illustrating the success of clubs in reducing our consumption, avoiding single use plastics, saving water and planting trees.

Operation Pollination is an example of a versatile, high-impact biodiversity project. During her visit to India, PRIP Jennifer Jones was inspired to learn about Rotarians installing bee houses for solitary bees. Rotarians can lead the way to creating pollinator-friendly plantings on terraces, gardens, public parks, school yards and more. You can also contact your local Krishi Vigyan Kendras and fund livelihood options for women’s groups to become beekeepers.

Members of RC Dharapuram, RID 3203, cleaning a water body.

Sustainable farming is another great opportunity to reduce environmental harm, promote food security, and increase farmers’ financial security. Examples include providing ­solar-powered water pumps to replace ones that require diesel fuel. Similarly, the Agricultural Extension offices can also be a source of project ideas with your club carrying out soil testing for farmers, or teaching composting techniques, saving farmers money on fertiliser and restoring depleted soils.

Climate action not only prevents emissions but protects health by reducing deadly particulate air pollution from fossil fuels. Examples include helping low-income taxi drivers to access e-auto rickshaws — saving them the expense of fuel — and organising campaigns to increase urban tree cover to reduce perilous heat islands. An international campaign is going on right now to list the number of solar panels set up by Rotarians at their homes, offices or as projects.

Mangrove saplings being planted at the Vellar Estuary, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu.

For more ideas do consider attending the free ESRAG Seminars series on zoom every Wednesday evening (7.30pm IST) for a 30-minute presentation on project ideas followed by discussion. Many Indian Rotarians attend, contributing to and enjoying interaction with a world audience of committed Rotarians. You can exchange ideas as well as network for project partners. You can also communicate projects you have carried out, letting us at ESRAG appreciate and showcase your club’s success story on our website and social media.


Opportunities to seize and pitfalls to avoid: There are many ways that Indian Rotarians can promote quick solutions to some of India’s biggest environmental challenges, but you have to design the solutions with your eyes open to common pitfalls that can make projects fail. Here are some of the opportunities and mistakes to avoid.


Tree projects: In environmental projects we need club commitment beyond a single Rotary year. We have seen signboards of Rotary plantations, and no trees, as clubs did not plan for maintenance and sustainability. Before you decide to do a planting project, please ensure you have got all permits as well, and plan for maintenance three years down the line. All land is not wasteland for tree planting. Please contact your local forest department or send us an email at esragsouthasia@esrag.org to connect you.


Air quality: Every winter, crop stubble burning worsens air quality in the New Delhi region. But a large portion of the deadly particulate pollution comes from burning firewood in cookstoves. Diesel fuel for transportation is another source of greenhouse gas emissions and particulates that increase the burden of acute and chronic disease. Subsidies for LPG have to be overcome as an incentive. Your club can do a project creating awareness on clean cookstoves. A clean cookstove project using induction stoves powered by hydro energy is being carried out as a global grant in Nepal, RID 3292. Funding EV charging stations as a public image project for your Rotary club is also a great way forward.


Water quality: 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history. Water crises build up in cities like Bengaluru.

On April 20 and 21, a Water Minga (https://tinyurl.com/waterminga) aims to create a Guinness Record of communities working across the world carrying out clean-up, desilting projects, awareness campaigns, or any project on any lake, wetland, river, stream or estuary. If you are doing a water project, register it on Rotary’s Community Action For Fresh Water site.

PDG Balaji Babu (third from R) and members of RC Mayiladuthurai in a pilot mangrove conservation and plantation project at the Vellar Estuary.

RID 3203 has signed an MoU with the National River Conservation Directorate, Jal Shakti, Government of India, and WWF for the restoration of River Bhavani and RID 3232 for River Cooum.

These help clubs and local communities along the water bodies to organise clean-up, set up sewage treatment plants, maintain wetlands or restore mangroves at the mouths of the estuaries. ‘Life to Rivers,’ an initiative of RID 3240, is a locally focused global initiative for protecting, restoring and sustaining ­freshwater ­ecosystems and ecosystem services to contribute towards the UN’s ­Sustainable Development Goals.

The initiative aims to engage Rotary clubs and partners to raise awareness and take effective action to conserve and restore our streams and rivers in northeastern states. Through education, advocacy and hands-on conservation efforts, the movement aims to ensure that rivers continue to thrive and provide for future generations.

Under this initiative, clubs across the district have organised different activities like river cleaning drives, mass awareness rallies, walk for rivers, etc, to save the life-giving rivers in their region. Advocacy in RID 3291 has brought changes to the River ­Adhiganga in Kolkata. Some clubs are exploring lake restoration, some want to set up community riverkeepers or restore watersheds. There are already clubs setting up check dams. These all come under the Rotary-UNEP programme. For any help in the CAFW (Community Action for Fresh Water) programme send an email to cafw@rotary.org.


Mangroves: Mangroves act as a barrier to coastal flooding and can help to protect communities battered by increasingly intense cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Mangroves restoration in India is growing, starting with the completion of a pilot global grant in RID 2981 in Chidambaram, with another grant in the pipeline to expand on its success.

Palm germination centre and nursery in the Sundarbans as part of RC Calcutta Mahanagar’s global grant project.

In the Sundarbans, a different global grant from RID 3291 looks at nursery creation for mangrove palms which are now locally extinct, to stabilise bunds and create mangrove-based economic development projects. These projects promote institutional cooperation between districts, clubs, and other regional stakeholders. You can draw on TRF cadre and ESRAG expertise to create an impactful and sustainable project. If your club/district is not on the coast, you can still work on mangrove projects. Please connect with project@esrag.org.


Reducing plastic and other solid waste pollution: Other global grants completed this Rotary year include a plastic waste collection for pollution abatement, recycling, reuse and employment generation in RID 3020. A global grant is taking shape on multilayer plastics — like biscuit and chocolate wrappers — in RID 3150 to consider an upskilling project for segregating and repurposing this waste material which would otherwise be incinerated. RID 3182 awarded a district grant to a project that turns waste chicken feathers into packaging. There are other projects also in the pipeline. A global grant project in environment need not be daunting. You can also send in your enquiries for design and partnership help to projects@esrag.org.


Promoting women’s economic success:
In RID 3212, we have projects promoting women’s environmental entrepreneurship using marine resources.

Document your impact: Measuring a project’s impact brings hope and builds momentum. Clubs need to collect and report data yearly to show this impact. Without data, we fail not just ourselves, but our communities too. We have had for example, great success with e-waste campaigns: RID 3131 started this in a systematic way for the past three years and it has been gaining momentum in a number of districts. When you deliver e-waste to a collection agency identified by the pollution control board, your club gets a receipt on your impact. This receipt can be just uploaded as your impact. Appoint a data-tracking champion to your club project team to share the impact with your community and upload data each year on ESRAG’s Project Impact Reporting tool (www.esrag.org/initiatives). If there are any issues, send an email to support@irotree.org. Please tell us about your environmental projects so we can highlight your initiatives.

Why is the data important? We can see the club projects evolve and document the social and environmental benefits of your projects. Behaviour change sustains environmental project impact. Projects done consistently foster relationships with local administrations and build community pride and ownership. Successful environmental projects draw new Rotary or Rotaract members and can catalyse the emergence of new, cause-based clubs. ­Projects and competitions in this area of focus are growing globally. The rise of environmental RYLAs and the inter-country Interact competitions as carried out by RC Ahmedabad Greater have also helped increase youth partnership and membership in Rotary as Rotaract clubs or Interact clubs. This club has ten Interact clubs and seven Rotakids clubs.


2023–24 a year of breakthroughs: This Rotary year had many firsts, including the first-ever Rotary booth in any major international gathering, at the UN Climate Conference in Dubai, COP28. At this year’s International Assembly, RIPE Stephanie Urchick unveiled a strategic partnership between RI and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to address Community Action for Fresh Water. ESRAG was appointed as an official nominator for the Earthshot Prize, and has submitted five projects to compete for the 2024 prize. If you know of anyone or company doing exemplary work in protecting the environment, they can be nominated through ESRAG.

Starting this April, let’s try to do one project to make us and our clubs climate-friendly. We are here to help. A safe, healthy environment is essential to all of Rotary’s other six areas of focus. As the examples above show, most environmental projects bring major co-benefits in health and economic development. Let us participate, start, and do impactful, measurable and sustainable projects.

Join Rotary Action Groups like www.esrag.org and share your expertise and passion as volunteer in the Taskforces and projects divisions to help fellow members of the Rotary family, from schoolchildren to business leaders, to carry out successful environmental projects. As a member of the RAG, you will discover opportunities for leadership roles, not only at the local level but also as part of global working groups and committees. Find fellowship and fulfillment as part of Rotary’s growing global community of volunteers working to bring about a sustainable future in which health, local economies and food security can flourish.



ESRAG: www.esrag.org

ESRAG projects and global grant help: www.esrag.org/projects

Guinness Book of World Records Water Minga: https://tinyurl.com/waterminga

Rotary-UNEP Community Action for Fresh Water: cafw@rotary.org

ESRAG Initiatives and Taskforces: www.esrag.org/initiatives

The writer is director, Projects (2022–24), Environmental ­Sustainability Rotary Action Group and TRF Cadre, Environment. ­For details contact: Projects@esrag.org



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