The National Anthem, Me and Cleaner Production

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I got into the “business of Cleaner Production” in 1989 courtesy my good old friend Fritz Balkau at the UNEP, Industry and Environment office in Paris. I had just completed a short booklet on Low or Non Waste Technologies (LNWT) for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). Stephen Paulus at FES had coaxed me to do this project in the context of Indian industries. This book argued a business case for environment by practicing pollution prevention. It cited examples from 100 odd Indian industries where innovative approaches were used. These stories were new to many industries and hence it excited the readers. (I still hold this database of 100 case studies– old stuff but if interested, do write to me)

Fritz had read my book on LNWT. He invited me to Paris for a workshop. That one invite opened new vistas for me on Cleaner Production.

Cleaner Production became a “fizz” phrase in the 1990s. A bunch of us at the office of UNEP in Paris coined this term in one of the late evening sessions. Don Huisingh was the facilitator of this session and Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel was the Director. Don is still very active, editor of the Journal of Cleaner Production and we are in touch.

Jacqueline was a phenomenal visionary and a leader. She steered the era of Cleaner Production (CP). We must give her all the credit and kudos for bringing in a change in the environmental profession.


(Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel – image taken from

The Cleaner Production program of UNEP led to ripples all over the world. Programs like WBCSD’s Eco-efficiency and APOs Green Productivity etc. followed later. These programs tried to find their own identity but could not “compete” with the expanse of the term Cleaner Production.

There were several “high level” seminars on CP conducted on biannual basis starting from Canterbury, Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne, Prague etc. I was one of the regular speakers in all these Seminars. This gave me an opportunity to make lots of friends and network across the world.

Few countries where I worked extensively on CP were Thailand, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Vietnam. In these countries, I had an opportunity to work at policy as well as practice levels (demonstration projects) and run training programmes for capacity building. The period between 1996 to 2008 was a golden period for me to do something innovative, demonstrative and impactful in the area of Cleaner Production.

The Cleaner Production project In Thailand was at Samutprakarn, one of the highly industrialized clusters near Bangkok, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It was captioned as 20/20 (targeting 20% water use reduction and 20% energy consumption reduction). In Egypt, it was Support for Environmental Assessment and Management (SEAM) financed by DFID, UK that had a Cleaner Production component. SEAM program ran over six years and brought out several key publications. Indonesia operated a project called ProduksiH Bersih (means Cleaner Production in Bahasa) that was funded by the German Government. I used to travel to all these countries at regular intervals and typically spend a week – mostly working in the field.

I was involved in most of the CP activities in India. The CP activities were led by the National Productivity Council (NPC) with its National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) at the helm. Operation of Waste Minimization Circles (WMC) was one of the very unique and interesting program that was carried out by the NPC. I participated in the evaluation of WMC on behalf of the World Bank who did part financing of WMCs under the Industrial Pollution Prevention Project.

Frequent travelling –now looking back – was tiring but then I had a motto.

Don’t just travel for work; go a day early and stay two days more (if you can). Feel the place, relax, make new friends and plan for the next visit that is not connected to work. And spend the money you earn – Pamper yourself. You don’t live twice.

I did not follow this motto in my initial travels – but as I grew older and wiser, I started following it diligently. And it worked.

I love listening to live music, especially the jazz. In most (or almost all) of my travel therefore I spent time of late evenings at the jazz clubs. After a daylong work, retiring at these fountains of music was very refreshing and exciting.

So I never missed spending time at some of the great music pubs and jazz clubs. Places I used to frequent were Minh’s Jazz in Hanoi, Nui’s Blue Jazz in Bangkok, the Cairo Jazz Club and the Jaya Pub in Jakarta. Of course top in the list was the legendary jazz club Duc des Lombards in Paris. I would love to write one of these days on the experiences and encounters I have had at these great places.


(Duc des Lombards in Paris – taken from

But let me return to the subject of Cleaner Production.

I liked the idea of setting targets for a Cleaner Production program such as 20/20. In Egypt, we worked with Micro Small and Medium size industries and much of the work was to help protect the industries towards exports. So we helped sectors such as textiles where exports were hit because of requirements such as Eco labels (Oeko-Tex) from the markets in EU and Americas and cheese making industries who were losing exports to Saudi Arabia due to excessive salt. In Indonesia, we promoted Cleaner Production in locations such as Jakarta, Bandung and Semarang and implemented demonstration projects with facilitation through Cleaner Production Counseling Clubs. This idea was similar to the WMCs in India.

I had opportunities to revisit countries where I worked and see the impact and sustainability of the various CP programmes. In most cases, including India, I found that the results were dismal and discouraging. There was hardly any replication of the CP demonstration projects. Further, capacity building of CP professionals was not taken up on a scale and on a programmatic basis. The activities lasted only till the “donor assistance” was available and there was no local or national ownership.

I was expecting Cleaner Production to get spread into practice on its own or “steam” as it made a good business case. Instead, I noticed that subsidies and concessional loans were offered to make CP happen!   That was strange. Economic benefits could have been the principal drivers – environmental and social benefits could have been just the icing on the cake! Indeed, why the industry does not take the path of simultaneously improving productivity and achieving environmental protection is still a puzzle.

Few years ago, I was working on CP in Bangladesh. I visited a textile processing unit near Fatulah at the outskirts of the Dhaka city. The Owner of the factory showed me all the departments and explained the various water and energy efficiency improvement measures – right from housekeeping, recycling, process and chemical change etc. These measures undertaken as a “system” were very impressive. I asked the Owner what made him implement these projects. I was expecting his answer as “.. Because of economic benefits”.

The owner instead simply said “I did this for my country”. And I was simply shocked, awed and speechless. I never expected such an answer.

I had a talk to be given on Cleaner Production at the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce the next day. I asked the Owner of the textile factory whether he could join me there, show a few slides on the CP projects that he implemented and then end saying what made him implement these projects. The Owner agreed to my request.

The next day I was at the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce. There were some 50 participants from industries. After my talk on CP, I asked the Owner to give his short presentation. When he finished, I asked him the question “why did you implement these projects” and he answered in Bangla “for my country”

The audience was stunned. There was silence.

And then a man in the front row got up. And he said in a low tone  “Amar sonar Bangla, Ami tomay bhalôbashi”. He was singing the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

Another man in the third row got up and continued. Soon more men in the hall stood up and joined. And within minutes, all the 50 participants were standing and singing the national anthem. They did this in prompto – as if someone was orchestrating – invisible

This was simply a hair raising experience to me. I was just overwhelmed to witness this outburst of emotions.

When the meeting was over and I was returning to my hotel, I was thinking. I realized that economic reasons cannot be the only drivers for bringing in the change – especially when we talk about change in the behavior, practice and investments we do. This matters for paradigm shifts like Cleaner Production.

It has to be something much more – closer to the heart, in the interest of the country and towards the good of the world. Not just “material”

If many think and act the way the Owner of the textile factory in Fatulah did, then the world we live today would have been so different!

(cover image taken from


  1. Indeed, Dr. Modak. This story is inspiring !
    The days of developing CP companion, CP Global status report and of course the work in Egypt, are wonderful memories that I will always cherish…..learnt so much …..A Big Thank You…

  2. Modak,
    Interesting and inspirational message… Modak you made my day… BTW thanks for introducing me to the CP field back in 1991.. Enjoy the evening.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiences in the early part of your career.
    If a bangla deshi businessman can think beyond his business about his country, I am not too sure how many indian businessmen will actually do it.
    Lets publicize this incident on as many indian business forums/magazines as possible by publishing this (blog)article as widely as possible.
    I am sure all business magazines will be happy to publish this blog as an article.

  4. Dear Sir,
    I am also working in CP for last 4 years, which I had learned at Dr. AIP-NPC, Chennai and then practiced with NPC, RPMG Gandhinagar office . Now, presently working in European Union funded project but facing problems to get implement CP options. The Indian SME is still has a big gap in understating it. I will be very happy if you can share your CP case studies to me.

    Vijay Nehra

  5. Dear Prasad,
    For over three decades, we environmental professionals, have convinced ourselves that we can change industry thinking by showing them how concepts like CP, SD, EIA, CC are ggod for them. We have achieved some success. But then driver always remained “profit making”. As I am approaching end of my professinal career, I am developing feeling that we must tell all in business of making money that it is thier moral and ethical responsibility to make use of best available technologies for making “more from less”. Profit may be spin off benefit but can not be sole motive. Unless this is done, there will be always just “appreciating each other” and “re-inventing the wheel”.

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