Rising Stars in Sustainability: Anukampa Freedom Gupta-Fonner
I was the first girl child to be born in my father’s family after 40+ years. In more ways than just that, I broke the mold.
I grew up in a community, in a part of the world, where spotting a single tree was a sight to behold. Growing up was an experience that was dense, crowded, loud and polluted. Wildlife sightings in the community were limited to pigeons, cows and eagles. Even as a five-year-old, I was yearning to get close to Earth. My parents made special efforts to take me to the nearest available parks, scant as they were. I so loved trees that I named my two favorite trees "Camel" and "Elephant."
Then, somehow, as a stroke of luck, I came across this wacky man by the name of Steve Irwin. To me, as a five-year-old, he fired my imagination. I was glued to his “Crikey!” catchphrase and would watch in sheer awe the wonders of wildlife. It came to such a head that I was called “Animal Planet” by all my cousins. My never-ending queries about the natural world, and really everything else, earned me the name “question bank.”
That’s when I knew I wanted to do something in the natural world. Life is not a straight line. It took a circuitous journey to truly understand how my love and passion for God’s green Earth could be expressed in the form of a career.
I founded my first organization as an undergraduate student at the University of Delhi. It was an environmental action society that is still active and continues to galvanize students and drive environmental action. At the time, I also worked on the frontlines to stop wildlife smuggling, and as an activist to promote reforestation and water conservation in one of the world’s most polluted cities. I trained to be a journalist – and that allowed me to research and study the city’s environment and public health issues.
Time and time again, my efforts seemed to fall short. A bigger power, an underlying system, was the originator of these issues and I felt like a drop in the pond. It was time to work on systems and address root causes. I migrated to America to study public policy, where I specialized in managing and leading social change organizations.
My time in graduate school was instructive. The environs on the campus were truly my first nature-immersive experience. There were trees all around. YAY, TREES!!! I experienced wildlife, clean air, water security and simply an atmosphere where my longing to be close to nature blossomed.
It was also at this time that I witnessed a completely new phenomenon – an excess of food waste, trash and single-use disposables. From where I came from, stuff (food, resources, etc.) was simply not wasted. It was just not a thing. There’s a truism to this: our grandparents were the first zero wasters.
A year after graduate school, I started my own business to drive innovation in packaging design and technology to Make Trash History™. It was evident to me that America’s and indeed the world’s trash epidemic is an error of design. The future needed a clean transition to Reuse, Refill and Return systems. In fact, there are models of excellence in countries just like India. I felt the home-court advantage. I mean, that’s literally how I grew up. The stainless steel canisters, silverwares, plates, drinking vessels and more in my mom’s kitchen are iconic. Our family used them when I was born. I am 33 years old. They are still being used by our family members.
I have been working to make trash history for over six years now, and I am the CEO of Spring. My sleeping and waking hours are spent on bringing Spring to the mass market. Spring is the future of food systems in the context of climate change: we are building the infrastructure for farm-to-table with no waste as a fundamental component. Spring is truly an opportunity to drive structural change in the way food is sourced and distributed. We are on the cusp of America’s Reuse Revolution, and I am so excited to be a part of the solution to help preserve wild habitats and creatures for generations to come.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of WWF.