Green initiative

Meenangadi in Kerala is well on its way to being India's first carbon-neutral panchayat

With a deadline of 2020, the town is working towards increasing green cover and reducing its carbon footprint.

The town of Meenangadi in Kerala’s Wayanad district is going back to nature in a big way. In the last seven months, this highly bio-diverse region in the Western Ghats has been witness to a plant population census, soil audit, energy audit, organic vegetable cultivation and awareness campaigns against plastic bags.

These are all part of efforts to make Meenangadi India’s first carbon-neutral panchayat – an ambitious project that was launched on June 5, World Environment Day, with the involvement of people’s representatives, scientists, students and farmers. The project has a target deadline of 2020.

Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net zero carbon emission by balancing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity with an equal amount of carbon sequestration or removal from the atmosphere.

The plan is to achieve this goal by expanding forest cover and reducing carbon emissions in Meenangadi. It is being implemented with the support of environment advocacy group Thanal, the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation’s Community Agrobiodiversity Centre, and Kannur University’s zoology department.

Eco-friendly measures

The activities kicked off in June with an assessment of carbon emission arising out of domestic consumption of electricity and fuels from all 9,000 houses in the panchayat and from vehicles. This was followed by a measurement of the carbon content of the soil and carbon emission from trees. The results will be utilised to decide which areas need more trees to be planted to offset the carbon emission.

As the project enters its seventh month, the panchayat has decided to tap solar power to reduce dependency on conventional energy sources, and to set up an LED lamp manufacturing unit to supply energy-efficient lights to all homes.

Vegetable farming has also received a big push with around 70 acres of land now being used for cultivation. “Meenangadi has become vegetable self-sufficient,” said Beena Vijayan, president of the panchayat.

The carbon neutrality project has made Meenangadi vegetable self-sufficient.
The carbon neutrality project has made Meenangadi vegetable self-sufficient.

Awareness campaigns against the use of plastic have encouraged people to carry eco-friendly bags for their vegetables, fish and other purchases. “A stroll into the panchayat fish market will reveal the impact of our campaign,” said Vijayan. “Vendors use eco-friendly carry bags and educate customers about the ill-effects of plastic bags.”

The participation of people on such a large scale has made the panchayat official confident about the success of the project. “We are moving in the right direction,” she said, adding that the panchayat plans to ban plastic across Meenangadi soon. “Merchants are the biggest users of plastic carry bags, so we will conduct a meeting with them on January 30, 2017 to decide on alternative measures,” she said. “I hope our panchayat can ban plastic bags by February.”

Why Meenangadi?

Wayanad is one of four climate change hotspot districts in Kerala, according to a report published by the State Action Plan on Climate Change. This report warns that the minimum surface temperature in the Western Ghats region may rise by 2 degrees Celsius to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, which would retard paddy production and Wayanad’s staple thermo-sensitive crops such as cardamom, coffee, tea and black pepper.

In the aftermath of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Kerala witnessed many deliberations towards tiding over the crisis arising from climate change. And Meenangadi panchayat officials, alarmed by the already massive reduction in the area under paddy cultivation in their town, came forward with the carbon neutrality proposal.

According to the concept note for the project, prepared by Thanal, the panchayat plans to manage anthropogenic (man-made) carbon emissions through a series of environment-friendly methods and techniques for sustainable development. “The scheme in Meenangadi panchayat will be a model project in India, which is inclusive of interventions in every aspect of human life, guaranteeing income security and ensuring better living conditions for all,” the note stated.

“The ‘Carbon Neutral Meenangadi Grama Panchayat’ project envisions the reduction of human-induced carbon emission through people’s lifestyle and sustainable development in this region,” it added.

The advantages

Explaining why Meenangadi panchayat and Wayanad district have the potential to become carbon neutral by 2020, Girigan Gopi, principal scientist at the Community Biodiversity Centre, said, “Wayanad has 33% forest cover and no major industries that cause pollution; if there is a district that can become carbon neutral in India, it is Wayanad.”

Talking about the benefits of going carbon neutral, he added, “The carbon neutrality project would promote agro forestry, it would give farmers a source of income while nature would get a green cover.”

Wayanad is a major exporter of pepper and coffee. And there is a huge demand for products that come from carbon neutrality zones. “Post-2020, Meenangadi farmers can market their products with a carbon-neutral tag,” Gopi said. “It will fetch farmers high price for their produce.”

He also pointed to the growing demand for shade coffee – coffee plants grown under a canopy of trees – in the international market. “Encouraging coffee farmers to grow shade-tolerant Arabica variety will help them get good price,” he added.

Challenges

That said, farmers in Wayanad still have doubts about carbon neutrality, said panchayat official Beena Vijayan. “It should be answered if we want to make it a success,” she added.

Gopi also said the project should be done carefully as farmers view most changes with suspicion. “Wayanad has seen many protests against the recommendations of the Gadgil Commission,” he cautioned. “Farmers do not support projects that affect them badly.”

In 2011, the Gadgil ecology expert panel had recommended strict measures to protect the Western Ghats – a world heritage site – from human interference, leading to protests by farmers, who accused it of ignoring their livelihood concerns.

State Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, who is a staunch supporter of the carbon neutrality project, suggested an interactive conference with farmers in which they could discuss practical difficulties with experts. “We will organise an interactive conference soon where the experts can answer all the doubts of farmers,” he said.

Kerala Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac at the launch of the carbon neutrality project on June 5.
Kerala Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac at the launch of the carbon neutrality project on June 5.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.

Play

As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.

Play

So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.

Play

As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”

Play

By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.