True growth is about overcoming hard challenges

IN THE developed world, conducting business today is also about being environmentally accountable. Governments have imposed stringent regulatory measures. Multilateral bodies have created mandatory codes of conduct, which boardrooms must pay heed to. Investors look not only (or merely) for profits; ecological responsibility is a more important dividend. Companies now publish sustainability reports to prove they are proactive about being clean. The productivity paradigm has shifted: pollution control is a concept of the past

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- IN THE developed world, conducting business today is also about being environmentally accountable. Governments have imposed stringent regulatory measures. Multilateral bodies have created mandatory codes of conduct, which boardrooms must pay heed to. Investors look not only (or merely) for profits; ecological responsibility is a more important dividend. Companies now publish sustainability reports to prove they are proactive about being clean. The productivity paradigm has shifted: pollution control is a concept of the past. It has given way to pollution prevention and waste minimisation.

All this is prelude to a question: since we live in a world the corporate sector approvingly calls the global village, would it be odious to make a comparison and expect Indian industry to be similar? The answer isn't yes or no. Indian industry today has no choice. Since it is extremely dependant on natural resources (as raw material and as process input) it must leapfrog into intelligent use. The poisonous loop of cheaply bought input, unregulated throughput and polluted output must be closed.

But these are ideas Indian industry would deliberately dismiss as 'far out'. For industrialists, an effluent treatment plant is the highest mark of environmental responsibility. (It is a symbol that government, too, pays the highest respect to: is that a coincidence?) They do not like to invest in technology, or research and development or people. But they do like to spend on certification (it is said Rs 5 lakh is all that is required to get ISO 14001). Virtually every company is ISO 9001, or even ISO 18001, or a permutation or combination of these. Certification is a booming business; and the pollution load shows no signs of abatement.

This is why it is necessary for the government to step in and push industry towards sustainability. Outdated policies, regulations need to be overhauled. Resource use must be properly priced. Blanket standards don't work; they must be re-set for specific purposes, for a specific industry type and for a specific region. Such steps must also go hand-in-hand with the political will to tackle the small- and medium-scale sectors. These sectors will always be the backbone of the Indian economy. They also suit the socio-economic structure of the country. It makes eminent sense, therefore, to find solutions to their environmental problems.

True growth is about taking up hard challenges: can government throw the gauntlet? Will industry pick it up?

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