The pandemic has instilled an urgent need for businesses and consumers to move towards more sustainable practices but in order for this to be successful, businesses will need to do more than lip service.
To say the coronavirus was a major wake-up call for businesses and industry all around, would be a massive understatement. The world of business has had the right intentions where sustainability is concerned for a while now, but the pandemic gave it the impetus it badly needed to start actioning them.
It was only a year ago, BP CEO Bernard Looney said, “We have to change. And we want to change. This is the right thing for the world and for BP”
This statement marked a turn in the tide with big corporates finally talking the walk, as one of the world’s oil and gas giants not only increased investment in renewables but also scaled back on hydrocarbon production.
In June last year, Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura launched its “Commitment to Life” vision for the next 10 years. This encompassed a comprehensive sustainability plan which will step up the company’s actions to tackle some of the world's most pressing issues, including the climate crisis and protecting the Amazon, the defence of Human Rights and ensuring equality and inclusion throughout its network, and embracing circularity and regeneration by 2030.
And in another show of optimism, over 450 organisations have signed up to a vision for a global plastics system in which plastics never become waste as part of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.
A large part of this shift in corporate policy needs to a be attributed to the fact that consumers are now slowly becoming more and more conscious, helped along their awareness journey by social media influencers. Activists across demographics such as Greta Thunberg, Al Gore, David Attenborough are further elevating this awareness.
An increasing number of customers are now seeing past the glitz and glamour of swanky marketing campaigns and demanding products and business practices that are both ethical and sustainable. And it this consumer awakening that is impacting companies on many different levels, not least of this being the rising popularity and number of sustainable and ethical brands which provide dissatisfied customers both options and alternatives.
Several studies also show that stock market outperformance depends on companies focusing on ESG factors that have a material impact on their business, such as waste reduction. In fact, the pandemic has highlighted concerns about the safety of secondary raw materials, the accumulation of medical plastic waste and the need for their proper disposal.
So where is India in all this?
As one of the fastest growing global economies with nearly a fifth of the world's population, India has a big part in shaping the narrative on climate change and sustainability. Prime Minister Modi has so far steered this to new heights, receiving accolades for both policies and reforms that are moving the country to greater sustainability – whether it is raising community awareness on cleanliness through Swachh Bharat (which in turn affects water pollution and soil pollution), moving towards greater usage of renewable energy, the government’s ambitious plan to make the India a 100-per cent electric-vehicle nation by 2030.
In fact, India is the only country among G20 nations to meet what it had promised in 2015 under the Paris Agreement on climate change unlike the top three emitters — China, the US and the EU.
Indian corporates turning green
When it comes to Indian corporates, it is a little slower going. “It is work in progress in India at most of the leading companies,” says Indra Guha, Partner, Sustainability, Climate Change and ESG, Thinkthrough Consulting told ET. “There's a flurry of activity around getting on board, but we need to ensure this doesn’t become a mere tick in the box.” There is proof that work is actually in progress but wide spread change it appears will take time. Essar Power, a subsidiary of Indian multinational conglomerate and construction company Essar Group, announced that its board of directors had approved plans to enter the Indian renewable energy market by setting up a 90 MW open access solar power project worth $41.4 million in Madhya Pradesh.
Adani Green Energy recently announced that its arm ASE4PL has commissioned a 100 MW solar power project at Jalalabad in Uttar Pradesh.
And of course, India’s start-ups that are spearheading positive change in India are playing a vital role in India’s green journey too.
LogicLadder, a start-up is helping companies to have a data-led approach to going green. The Gurugram-based start-up creates software that makes energy and environment data simple to understand and act upon. EcoRight, another start-up based out of Ahmedabad has 18 product lines and 140 SKUs available in around 11 ecommerce websites. It makes products that are ethically, socially, legally, and environmentally audited as per the pillar standards of SEDEX 4. Its products, which include tote bags, work bags, backpacks, etc., are reusable, made with natural products, and are developed with innovative fabrics to make products better for the environment.