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What India’s future in sustainability looks like

The focus of sustainability has changed in India and companies are realising the importance of the socio-environmental impact that their activities have, says Dr Vikas Goswami, Head - Sustainability (Good & Green), Godrej Industries Limited and Associated Companies (GILAC). She elaborates on how the future is shaping for corporate sustainability

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Photo Credit : gilac,

Sustainability in India has undergone a welcome change. It is no longer about just meeting the legal obligations of CSR spending. Organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of creating socio-environmental impact through their activities. This in turn has led to initiatives that not only have the desired impact but are also making sustainability central to the way companies operate. 

The focus areas 

Organisations aim to make a difference to the environment, community and society through their sustainability practices. Thus, initiatives will focus on areas such as water conservation, waste management, sanitation, health, education, skill development, renewable energy and drought mitigation. The objectives are to protect the environment, conserve natural resources which are getting scarce, and to improve the livelihood of communities. 

Sustainability, not charity

Companies have been strategically institutionalising corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, which is a marked difference from earlier years. A KPMG survey showed that the cumulative CSR spending by 100 firms was Rs 7,215.9 crore in FY 2018. This meant a 41 percent rise in CSR spends in the past three years. Companies (mostly the private sector) had also contributed Rs 4,719 crore towards CSR activities till November 2017, according to PP Chaudhary, the Minister of State for Corporate Affairs. Companies can enhance their brand value by getting involved in projects that have an impact. A common example of this is fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms who source raw materials from farmers. Such organisations will ensure that the farmers’ livelihoods are secured.

Strategic partnerships 

A significant move in the years to come will be increased public-private partnerships. This will especially come in useful for the government’s initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and Skill India. The Godrej group’s partnership with the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD) for integrated watershed development projects in drought prone regions of Beed (Maharashtra), Siddipet (Telangana) and Magadi (Karnataka) is one such example. The project aims to enable farming communities in semi-arid areas to adopt comprehensive land use and water management practices, thus becoming less vulnerable. PepsiCo India’s Waste to Wealth programme, where it has tied up with municipalities in Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Telangana to segregate and recycle waste, is another such successful partnership.

Rural upliftment 

Attention is also shifting to empowering and uplifting rural sections of society. Good & Green, the Godrej group’s sustainability programme, has a skill training programme that aims to create opportunities and enhance livelihoods for a million people by 2020. Godrej has also trained over three lakh youngsters from low-income communities through three core skilling programmes. HDFC Bank’s Holistic Rural Development Programme (HRDP) addresses financial inclusion of the rural communities. 

Integrating sustainability with business

Sustainability is increasingly becoming integrated with mainstream businesses. This has come about as organisations realise they have a responsibility towards the society which consumes their products and services. Ambuja Cement, for example, has been certified over five times water positive. It has processes to minimise water usage and increase efforts in conservation and replenishment. These include building check dams, linking rivers, micro and drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting and converting used quarries into man made lakes. The Godrej group also has a stringent Sustainable Procurement Policy for its suppliers. The policy outlines the organisation’s expectations regarding ethics, human rights, health and safety, environment, the local community and quality of products. 

Technology, the game changer

Technology is playing a prominent role in planning, executing and monitoring CSR initiatives. Godrej has partnered with research institutions to create bio-degradable plastics, which can be used for manufacturing without affecting the product’s quality or shelf life. Technology is also coming in handy in skilling programmes. People can learn the content at their own pace and convenience through portals or handheld devices.

Measuring effectiveness

There will be increased emphasis on monitoring SROI (Social Return on Investment). As Indian companies go global, international investors want to understand the impact of their sustainability practices. The government and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) have also been taking an interest in declarations about CSR activities. All factors put together, this is an area which will see a lot of importance.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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