It might seem petty to write about anything other than coronavirus at this point in time, but when news agencies reported that the virus has resulted in actions that have reduced carbon emissions, it got us thinking. Air pollution is down due to a steep drop in mobility and industrial activity and this reduced pollution is likely to save the lives of thousands of children and old people.
Businesses, unfortunately, while focussing on enhancing productivity for greater profits, have constantly ignored critical environmental, social, and governance-related factors.
Anu Chaudhary, founder of SustainPlus understood this two decades back when climate action and corporate social responsibility(CSR) were relatively unknown terms to the business world. When the concept of sustainability started garnering interest, she was quick to realise that the key to achieving long-term resilience across all sectors was through a business-first approach to sustainability.
In order to aid businesses through sustainability, she left her job to set up SustainPlus in 2016 – a consultancy firm that helps organisations incorporate sustainability into their core business strategy and overcome risks, leverage opportunities, and ensure long-term growth.
“Taking the big step towards becoming an entrepreneur was a conscious decision after spending over 15 years of my career working with policymakers like the United Nations, other global standards & regulatory bodies, and finally the private sector,” shared Chaudhary with The Blue Circle.
Chaudhary has handled projects in Environmental Sustainability, CSR, Climate Change Mitigation, Low Carbon Technologies, across 5 continents and 15 countries. She also served as an advisor to international organisations in Europe, Asia, and Africa to propel climate-risk based strategies. Her commitment and dedication have earned her an award for the most influential sustainability leader of India in 2018.
Corporates and Sustainability
Private firms have started to view climate action, not from a sense of idealism but pragmatism. CSR has become an effective medium by which companies address their stakeholders, shareholders and society.
Industry stalwarts like Mahindra Group, TATA, Dr. Reddy’s, and Godrej have implemented several sustainability interventions to expand the use of renewable energy sources and introducing green building principles.
In the last few years, the concept of green buildings has become increasingly popular. More and more companies are realising how green buildings can save up to 40-50% energy and 20-30% of water as compared with conventional buildings. A Harvard study found that workers in green well-ventilated buildings report a 101% increase in cognitive brain function.
There are now several rating systems to effectively guide companies to be environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout their building’s life-cycle. “On the business performance front, companies experience consumer preference and an enhanced brand image, improving their Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) rating and gaining investor confidence,” said Chaudhary, adding that coronavirus is a blessing in disguise for the environment as there couldn’t be a better time to re-strategise and prioritise investment in cleaner forms of energy that guarantees business resilience.
How SustainPlus is Helping Businesses Reduce Carbon Footprint
The constant factors that impinge on the progress of a business – resource availability, price volatility, regulatory uncertainty, changes in financial operations, supply chain disruptions, talent retention, investor pressure, climate change can no longer be ignored.
Chaudhary believes that the first step in reducing emissions is to develop a strategy that identifies the emission source and eliminate that source through various measures. “Essentially a successful climate neutral strategy is defined by the ability of an organisation to prioritize greenhouse gas emission reduction followed by balancing with carbon dioxide removals,” she explained.
SustainPlus has helped six international organisations commit, set, approve, and announce science-based targets. Chaudhary noted that in India, there are just 14 companies that have set stringent targets for their organisations against scenario 1.5 degrees.
Additionally, two of these organisations have committed to using 100% renewable electricity in their global operations by joining the global green electricity campaign, RE100. Another major automotive company has chosen large forest carbon projects across India to offset their carbon emissions.
Chaudhary shared that their work with major clients such as Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata, JCB, Volkswagen/Skoda, Cummins Inc and UNFCCC offers the competitive edge their clients need to thrive under any condition the market may manifest.
Apart from building & implementing climate neutral strategies, SustainPlus has conducted several sustainable development workshops for organisations and students to help bridge knowledge and capability gaps in achieving the Global Sustainability Agenda.
Technology and Sustainability
Technological innovation lies at the centre of sustainable development. Currently, five technologies are transforming global production systems – the internet of things, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, wearables, and 3D printing. From designing products to reintroducing them back into the production cycle, all these are transforming how we look at the circular economy.
Mechanisms and global standards such as science-based targets initiative, EP 100, net-zero, carbon neutrality, RE 100, water positive, have been introduced in the recent past with basic tweaks that can be regularised into a business’s operations along with investment.
Chaudhary emphasized, ”Creating a clear path to sustainable manufacturing is critical to the long-term environmental, social, and financial health of any company. Industries must set meaningful and clear objectives and ensure that their products are eco-friendly and sustainable.Technology for waste minimization, water conservation and use of renewable energy resources must be focused upon as well.”
The Role of Government in Climate Change Goals
Chaudhary reckons that India is well on its path to achieving two of its three commitments under the Paris Agreement much ahead of the 2030 deadline. “We are 1 of the 6 countries in the world to meet our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). We are simultaneously progressing on solar, biomass, and wind energy. The government has been pushing for clean energy by replacing conventional street lights with LED lights, upgrading vehicles to BS-VI compliance, and pushing for the use of e-vehicles through multiple policy incentives.”
She recommends that while rebuilding the economy post COVID, governments should pair recovery action with climate. Clear government policies that drive full de-carbonisation of every system of the economy are critical to accelerating progress towards the zero-carbon economies of the future.
Inspiration for Women Working in Corporate
“As a woman rising in the corporate world, I presume, should be no different than a man rising in the corporate world,” said Chaudhary.
But the global statistics today clearly show that women have made just slight progress into positions of power and influence. However, the onus lies on both men and women to change that reality. The bottom line is that any ecosystem can survive and flourish only if it respects diversity in every form.
“When I came into the workforce almost twenty years ago, there were barely any women in the domain I chose for myself. It became pretty clear early on, that women are expected to play by a different set of rules as compared to their male counterparts,” said Chaudhary.
Today, she has a good 20 years to reflect on. Those tough situations have taught her that having a well-defined purpose and knowing what the goal is can make anyone successful.
‘SustainPlus’ has marked its niche in the world of sustainability and that’s a clear testimony to the fact that there are all kinds of leaders who are contributing to society.
“The exposure and knowledge I gained were valuable and I realised that there was a tremendous need for someone to translate global sustainability goals into the business agenda. That has literally been the missing key because sustainability is often looked at as a philanthropic effort rather than a core business strategy,” concluded Chaudhary.
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