Pavan Sukhdev is Founder-CEO of GIST Advisory, a consulting firm which helps governments and corporations discover, measure, value, and manage their impacts on natural and human capital. He recently won the internationally acclaimed Blue Planet Prize, 2016. It is a recognition for individuals and organisations that make outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application, and in so doing help to solve global environmental problems.
Sukhdev, an environmental economist whose field of studies include green economy and international finance is also a gloabal ambassador to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In an interview with The CSR Journal he shares his views on global development and development in India.
Green economy and sustainable growth are two terms that have consistently found their way in almost every country’s development agenda. What do these terms mean for you?
Sustainable development in itself is a big concept. Protecting environment, controlling pollution, sufficiency for everyone without any exclusion and optimum use of resources are the major factors that constitute sustainable growth agenda. Focussing on use of renewable energy is the need of the hour that most countries are looking at. Even India, with its high energy requirement is looking at switching from the traditional source of energy to its renewable form. Taking an example, approximately 10% of population or 40 million homes in China currently use solar energy as compared to negligible dependence on solar energy in India.
There is a two-fold benefit of using renewable energy- the cost incurred is less when it comes to a long-term approach and on the other hand it helps improve social, economical and environmental impact.
Developing countries have often been pressurised to use renewable energy and focus on sustainable development. Some countries blame that their growth is affected because they do not have access to latest green technology and even support of technology-transfer is difficult as it is a costly affair. What do you think about India’s state in this scenario?
There are several aspects that need to be understood when it comes to this question. Regarding access to technology there are two realities- 1) The scientific reality is that India is a superpower with access to the best minds and technology available globally. 2) The other aspect is of political reality is that we need to bargain hard and have consensus to understand that we have the latest technology available right within the country. I would be delighted if the political reality aligned with that of scientific reality.
As far as importing technology is concerned, there is no free technology transfer. Investment in technology will lead to creation and benefits from it. You cannot simply expect an outcome without investing. If you look at India, we have got the best of brains in the IIT’s (Indian Institute of Technology). Why these individuals and their potential are not invested in? Why are they not getting the necessary support? It is a known fact you will find majority of Indians leading the who’s who of technology marvels globally.
The government has a vision for a green economic development but without a sustainable plan the vision cannot be achieved. Currently, the government spends a huge amount on fossil fuels and subsidies; they need to invest in renewable technology heavily to go towards sustainable development.
What are your views on India’s economic growth and focus on development?
The current government is concentrating on growing the GDP. But merely aiming at growing GDP without taking into consideration growth of the poor would not help in having a holistic development. The government should invest and create policies that would help small farmers. There should be focus on providing technology and ensuring finance to the marginalised farming community to ensure the impact is widespread. Today, India is growing the GDP of the rich, I want India to grow GDP of the poor.
You recently won Blue Planet Prize. How do you plan to utilise the prize money?
I am planning to use a part of the prize money towards five projects that include green accounting for Indian states, making groundwater management sustainable, analysis of the vulture population decline in India, improving wellbeing of poor through ecosystem services valuation and fostering circular economic models for businesses in India. Hopefully, these projects will be completed by 2018. Apart, from these projects, I am also focussing on making ‘Integrated Profit & Loss’ available to SME’s in an economical way. The integrated P&L takes into account impact of companies on human capital, stakeholder (employees), and society. Currently, only around four companies in India are using this method as it is quite expensive. Apart from all of this I would like to continue my research work.
What is your view on the CSR mandate?
The mandate of spending a certain amount on CSR is a good move. But the question is if two percent of profits are being spent efficiently? Globally, most companies manage their taxes well so the this expenditure is quite minimal for them. The government instead should focus on making companies spend two percent of their gross operating margin. Companies should give account of the impact that they have created on human capital, reduction of pollution, reduction in emissions and steps towards sustainability among others. This way instead of having a targeted amount, the corporate houses will be able to share their efforts and responsibility towards CSR.
What is the way forward for India when it comes to growth vs green development?
The only development path that India can take is to have sustainable development. If India fails to address the issue of sustainability, within 15 years we will be facing a huge problem that would not only affect us but also our future generations. Management of corporate houses should see themselves as leaders in this sustainable development agenda and not just be spectators. The focus on improving GDP should be done but with a clear mandate for improving GDP of poor and not just few corporate houses. Development opportunity should benefit the country at large and not just few states.
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The CSR Journal Team