How a small handicrafts business in India is measuring its environmental impact

  • 19 December 2023

The demand for measuring the environmental impact of SMEs is growing, and so is the need for SMEs to go green. With the assessment tool SME360X and supporting initiatives like the UPS Green Exporters Program, ICC, Gist Impact and UPS aim to make sustainable business a reality for all. In this series, we share stories of SMEs, like Indian handcrafts business Uppi’s Craft, as they champion the green transition in their day-to-day business.

From her home in south-west New Delhi, Upasana Sundriyal runs Uppi’s Craft, a small handicrafts business, specialising in mosaics, drawings, and upcycled products.

Upasana has always been sustainably minded and developed an early passion for upcycling projects with an artistic flair. After curating her craft over the years, she made the decision in 2018 to take her first step towards entrepreneurship, setting up an online business to sell her upcycled designs and products to customers throughout India. Early on in her business journey, she sought support from technical training programmes for SMEs provided by Flipkart and Walmart, and from there was connected to the UPS Green Exporters Program in 2023, where she was able to access environmental impact assessment platform, SME360X.

“I was focused on selling online from the beginning as I always wanted to minimise the carbon footprint attached to my products,” Upasana said. “Going online was my first significant decision, and from there, I started thinking about how I can reduce my waste outputs, as well as the impacts of the raw materials I was using to create my crafts.”

Working with SME360X made Upasana Sundriyal, founder of Uppi’s Craft, realise her small business was generating too much water and solid waste.

While she wasn’t always familiar with the concept of impact measurement, Upasana knew she needed to track and measure her inputs to figure out the best way to mitigate her sustainability footprint and was excited to learn about what SME360X provides for this support.

“I was completely unaware of how much the science (around impact measurement) has developed. But when I got to see SME360X and went through the questionnaire, I was completely bowled over – I never could have thought of [these metrics] without having accessed the platform.”

Embedding an impact-led approach to decision-making

SME360X not only helped her gain clarity on her overall environmental footprint but also encouraged her to start making changes and plan how she could improve her impacts in different areas. “SME360X forced me to think and improve,” she said.

The process of working with SME360X made Upasana realise she was generating too much water and solid waste. “I’m a mosaicist so I have to do a lot of washing and take care of a lot of chemicals, and cement bases,” Upasana said. “I use a lot of rags, newspapers, and fabrics, as well as different alcohols and chemicals for washing brushes. By working through the SME360X platform, I was able to see that these chemicals were some of my biggest contributors to pollution. I started slowly and gradually improving my technical knowledge, and was closely monitoring how I could modify my crafting steps to see what substitutes I could use.”

Using these insights from the SME360X assessment process, she was able to implement changes to her production methods.

“I always assumed I was making sustainable products, until I realised that I was generating waste of no use,” Upasana said. “Now I wash and reuse my rags almost 10 times more than I used to, and keep water for re-use where I can.” She has made other changes, focusing on the most material areas for her business – waste and water – and replacing certain packaging materials like bubble wrap and plastic tape with more sustainable alternatives like upcycled newspapers, corrugated paper, and paper masking tape.

“The truth is, I am more confidently connecting with my community now and I am upcycling even more. Yes, my investment costs have gone up in the short term, but long term, this is a promise to myself, and nature, that I have to adhere to. And when it comes to making the actual products, my costs have really gone down. Gradually, I will be able to overcome the added expense from the new packaging materials.”

A 360-approach to sustainability

Upasana sees the ICC certification as an essential added benefit of the assessment platform. “The certification process has helped boost my confidence. Earlier, I was just marketing my products. Now I have the proof that yes, I am doing what I’m doing more sustainably, and that as a business, I’m thinking about the broader impacts on everybody, not just myself, as well as my future activities and goals.”

The UPS Green Exporters Program and SME360X have also played a big role in educating her about key sustainability topics and practices. “I know about carbon footprint calculations. I now know that I need to take care of my electricity and water consumption, and the travel impacts of my team. I know that I need to take care of all these things in the future, and I feel all set and prepared.”

She’s taking these learnings from the home office to the rest of the household. “The benefits of running your business out of your home – saving my time, saving my petrol, saving my energy – these are things that were important to me in making the decision to pick up that baton,” Upasana said, noting that SME360X has not only transformed her production methods but also helped change the way she approaches daily life in the home. “After going through the UPS Green Exporters Program, I’ve started to make a note of what my household garbage weighs every day and I’m trying to minimise our household waste too.”

While having a home-based business naturally adds some complexity to navigating and tracking data, Upasana sees this as an ongoing learning journey and is excited to carry the insights and practices from SME360X forward as her business continues to grow.

“Everything has been designed and set up by nature. It’s our first inhibition that hinders progress. We just have to take the first step.”

“There’s always been [sustainable] alternatives around us. But human tendency is to look for the shortcuts, to look for the easy ways. That’s what has killed our Mother Earth. But we need to take our responsibilities [as business owners] more seriously… Tools like SME360X can help us. I can only recommend taking these up as soon as possible.”