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Businesses can address climate change issues

Feb 01, 2012

Businesses can play a key role in addressing sustainability challenges of the world, say CEOs at the 9th World CEO Sustainability Summit in Delhi.

The one key takeaway from the 9th World CEO Sustainability Summit, organised in Delhi by the TERI Business Council for Sustainable Development, is that it is pertinent to find a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. The CEOs brainstormed on how to further this agenda and expedite the process of transition towards a more inclusive and resource efficient economy. 

The Summit was organised in association with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Geneva, a CEO-led, global association of some 200 companies. The two panel discussions centred around ‘Doing Business while Protecting the Global Commons: Case Studies and Lessons Learnt Since Rio 1992’ and ‘Business Challenges and Opportunities in a Transition Towards a Green and Inclusive Economy: Helping Change Happen’. 

Both the panel discussions were insightful and covered a vast range. “There are interesting lessons to be learnt from around the world. For instance, from Bhutan which calculates the Gross National Happiness… or the concept of B Corporations in the US which use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems,” said Aimée Christensen, Founder & CEO, Christensen Global Strategies, LLC and Strategic Adviser, Prince of Wales's Business & Sustainability Programme.

Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman and Managing Director, HCC Ltd, emphasised that it is the responsibility of businesses to utilise resources optimally: “We are recycling water at our construction sites. We intended to save 30% water and ended up saving nearly double of that.” Incidentally, HCC endorses the United Nations Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate.

The time to act, undoubtedly, is now. More so in the light of the economic rationale that shadows the urgency. The evidence supporting it has only become stronger over the years. The Stern Review (The Economics of Climate Change) estimates that “if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.”

Businesses such as Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd are working towards developing solutions to address resource deficiency. “Eighty-four per cent of fresh water gets used in irrigation. Therefore, it is important save it. Our drip irrigation system saves water up to 70% compared to flood irrigation. It has recorded increase in yield up to 230%,” said Anil Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Jain Irrigation Ltd. 

Similarly, Nitin Paranjpe, CEO and Managing Director, Hindustan Unilever Limited, shared information about the sustainable products that HUL is creating, such as a washing detergent that uses 50% less water for rinsing. “We are committed to halve the environmental footprint of our products across the value chain and to source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably. We are certain that it will give us the biggest competitive advantage in the years to come,” said Paranjpe.

Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General, Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) made another imperative point: “Each one of us decides whether we want to use more energy efficient technology or not. The choice to a large extent will be driven by the policy framework as well as the way such technology is branded.” 

The underlying philosophy of the discussions was much in line with the WBCSD belief that the leading companies of the future will be those that align profitable business ventures with the needs of society. Business should therefore not be viewed as a mere provider of resources by governments and civil society, but as an enabler of social and economic progress and as a key partner in a common effort to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.

Panelist Dr Joseph Fiksel, Sustainability Advisor, US EPA and Executive Director, Centre for Resilience, The Ohio State University highlighted the role that India can play: “India can become the lab of the world where innovations for future will form. We need to think of breakthrough solutions and market them.” 

Fiksel also put forth another inspiring model for the corporate world – Caterpillar. Using a host of re-manufacturing technologies, the Caterpillar facility receives engines and a range of other components from customers, cleans, refurbishes, reassembles and updates them in line with Caterpillar's exacting standards. The site re-manufactures thousands of items each year, bringing significant environmental and cost benefits to Caterpillar and third party customers. 

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