A little-known Sikh-American faith-based environmental organization calls for action to confront the world’s ecological problems, highlighting the important role religions can play in helping resolve the crisis.
The organization, EcoSikh, is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. It has chapters in India, Canada and Ireland, with additional chapters planned in several Commonwealth countries, including Australia and Kenya.
Speaking at a climate-oriented gathering of interfaith leaders outside the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., in late October, EcoSikh’s founder and president, Rajwant Singh, challenged religious communities “to understand their own power.”
“We control so much resources and land,” he said. “We have so many people willing to take action when religious leaders speak.”
Singh recited a hymn written by Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), a spiritual master who founded the Sikh faith in India. Singh performed the same hymn at the Vatican in October at a special event on climate change.
In the Punjabi language, the word “Sikh” means “learner” and the initiative has definitely included learning about these problems and new technologies to address them. EcoSikh was founded in 2009 under an initiative launched by the United Nations Development Program and the now-defunct Alliance of Religions and Conservation.
EcoSikh is active in the fields of reforestation and the conservation of biological diversity. The organization has helped develop 365 man-made forests across the world, mainly in the U.S. and the Indian state of Punjab, where the Sikh faith was born in the 16th century.
Additionally, EcoSikh has helped revive native forest species in Punjab and other states of India. In the north of Punjab, the group has developed a garden that is home to every single plant species mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of the Sikh religion.
EcoSikh has developed 303 “micro forests” encompassing 167,000 wild trees, using the method of afforestation developed by Akira Miyawaki, a Blue Planet Award-winning Japanese botanist. He plants native species in areas large and small. The forests, which have a 95 percent survival rate, contain live seed banks of more than 100 rare and endangered native species of plants. The forests attract numerous native species of birds, insects and other small creatures.
EcoSikh is also active in environmental advocacy work. In the run-up to the 2021 COP26 climate conference in Scotland, the organization issued a statement describing the annual event as a “last ray of hope as the earth faces an unprecedented ecological crisis.”
EcoSikh’s environmental activism is inspired by Sikh ethical values, beliefs and institutions. The organization draws on the rich traditions of the faith’s 10 spiritual guides, starting with Guru Nanak. The “Khalsa Panth” (community of the pure) founded by the tenth and last guru, Gobind Singh, is another source of inspiration for the group.
EcoSikh’s mission is to “shape the behavior and outlook of Sikhs and the world, ensuring that our deep reverence for all creation remains a central part of the Sikh way of life.” The organization’s vision is aptly encapsuled in a couplet composed by Guru Nanak and posted on the nonprofit’s website: “Air is the Guru, Water the Father, and the Earth is the Great Mother.”
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