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An entrepreneur’s obligation is to serve society.

Strap: Greenman Viral Desai talks about his journey as an entrepreneur, environment lover, philanthropist, TEDx speaker, and more in this interview with Rahul Mehra.

Strap: There are entrepreneurs, and there are also entrepreneurs like Viral Desai, who believe that their first and foremost duty is to give back to society.

Viral, 43, is a first-generation entrepreneur and heads Zenitex, a Surat-based textile processing and dyeing and garments manufacturing company. He has been successfully leading the multiple-award-winning company for nearly two decades and has taken the company to newer heights. Still, his initiatives as an environment lover have brought him worldwide recognition and earned him the sobriquet of “Greenman”.

“I have always been attracted by nature and environment. I had implemented energy conservation and other environmental protection measures, including renewable energy, in Zenitex long before sustainability became a buzzword. The numerous awards, some of them from more than a decade back, Zenitex has won from the state and centre, and other prestigious bodies are a testimony to my commitment to the environment,” says Viral.

Ironically, it was more due to chance that Viral embarked on his journey as an environmental crusader. He sponsored a breast cancer screening camp in Dangs, one of the poorest districts in the state. The activity turned out to be a life-changing one for Viral as he realised that even though the tribal people in Dangs lead a tough life and have few material comforts, they have better immunity.

“I realised that living amid greenery was one of the big reasons for their better health. It got me thinking about the lack of green spaces in urban areas and its impact on people’s health. I decided something needed to be done and started planning how to go about it,” recalls Viral.

Viral’s efforts have been focused on afforestation, and he has contributed to planting over 2.10 lakh saplings and trees across Surat and the south Gujarat region since. He has, however, not limited his efforts to just tree plantation drives but has taken the initiative several notches higher by developing urban forests.

Viral has played a pivotal role in developing the first urban forest in a railway station in India at Udhna railway station in Surat, transforming the station into the country’s first green station. It is designed on the theme of ecosystem restoration and climate change and is the first theme-based railway station globally. Over 3,500 plants known for their ability to produce a large amount of oxygen have also been planted. With a sparrow zone and a place where a variety of insects, birds, squirrels, and reptiles are living in natural surroundings in the middle of the city, it has also emerged as a model of urban ecosystem restoration by promoting biodiversity. It houses an environment-themed Pulwama Shahid Smarak, where 40 trees have been planted in a row as a mark of respect for the 40 brave hearts who lost their lives in the Pulwama attack. The station also hosts the first Urban Forest of the Indian Railway, the ‘Shahid Smriti Van’, dedicated to the martyrs of the Indian Army.

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Viral has received so many awards for his unique environmental initiatives that his achievements as an entrepreneur – he is also the recipient of the National Award for Outstanding Entrepreneurship – are overshadowed. Viral, however, believes that awards and recognition are byproducts of his work and not the goal.

“My main goal is to work on sustainability and serve society. Be it as an entrepreneur or as an environment enthusiast, I do my best to ensure sustainability and service are the focal points of all my ventures and initiatives,” he says.

Viral was in April 2022 invited to deliver a talk on the famous TED Talk platform, marking another addition to his long list of achievements. The talk, titled ‘Diary of a Greenman’, was given at the Pandit Deendayal Energy University in Gandhinagar. He delivered an impactful lecture and shared his many experiences of being an entrepreneur and social activist. He also urged the youth to become “Paryavaran Senani’ and join the ‘Satyagraha Against Pollution’ to contribute to environmental protection and fight against climate change.

Starting with selective sensitivism and selective generosity in social work, Viral went on to say at times in some camps, “I might have lost money, but I gained my belief.”

Citing examples of this concept, he told the audience about his ‘Tree Ganesha’ Initiative that brands and spreads environmental awareness in a unique way, his two cars called ‘Green Crusaders’, the green railway station of Udwada, besides a planned unique Green School. He explained that since environmental protection lacks the glamour required to appeal to the youth, it was strategically branded to gain public support.

“Wherever I speak, I make sure to remind the audience that we have only one planet, and it is the responsibility of each one of us to do our best to conserve the environment and the planet. I will feel I have achieved something if I can inspire more youngsters to take up the cause of environmental conservation,” adds Viral.