By Sanjaya Mariwala
Think what comes to your mind when you hear the words ‘sustainable’ or ‘development’. ‘Sustainable’ takes us directly to the core of energy renewal, harnessing and the management of our depleting natural resources and, going green and eco-friendly. ‘Development’ in a layman’s language mostly refers to government plans and policies, both domestic and foreign.
Most times, development could also mean different stages of good change or growth of an idea or product or event under different circumstances. It is also seen as inevitable and deliberate outcomes of historical processes/progress or action over an extended period of time.
Development is often the biggest marker and differentiator to tell a developed nation from a developing one – by the amount of wealth it can generate per capita income, urban and rural facilities, education, health, employment, birth and death rates, industrial production capacity, and many similar factors.
Explosive globalisation and mass industrialisation have ushered in development at quantum speeds but not without its fair share of crises. Our planet is struggling to maintain equilibrium with the polar ice-caps melting and massive deforestation wiping out rare and endangered flora and fauna.
Poverty, famine and death due to disease are still prevalent. There is very little trace of harmonious and conducive living. There is a growing economic inequality that can never be narrowed decently for the rich or the poor.
The international community in association with the United Nations has come up with a robust agenda for the next 15 years on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is almost similar to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which came in the early nineties.
The last few decades have witnessed business malpractices, overlooking of worker safety standards to the production of huge tonnes of industrial waste. Sustainability is quite a slippery topic for most corporates. Good initiatives for society may not harbour well for the shareholders. Many prominent companies do go the extra mile to announce self-proclamations of going green and eco-friendly.
Being sustainable is going beyond the green campaigns and the annual sustainability reports to cover up for the small malpractice lapses. More often than not, companies end up doing more harm than good.
The sustainable movement is seeing environmentalists chiming in for a change in the manner of production and provision of goods and services. All countries are taking into account their national situations and capacities around development goals. They are drawing up plans and targets which can be achieved in good time despite the daunting challenges or costs involved. Corporates have typically pushed back. Policies are always seen as a hindrance and an impediment to creating value, especially for the shareholders. It is clearly evident that the state machinery alone cannot lead the agenda of sustainability to fruition.
Businesses are taking up every given equal opportunity and responsibility to pursue, innovate and inspire others into sustainability. What is interesting is not all businesses can meaningfully contribute to the entire agenda. The diversity of the agenda helps businesses pick their best shot depending on how industry-specific and critical they are. Good business and its board of directors will drive the sector and strategy protecting both short term and long term goals.
Smart forward-thinking businesses who are pro-sustainability are taking 2019 as the year to take stock of their progress. A review and analysis now are going to decide the scale of efforts and engagement with policy-makers. Businesses are also coming under the scanner and being held accountable for their commitments. More tools and resources are available for meaningful discourse.
There is more scientific curiosity and appetite for research which businesses are aligning with their strategy. The sustainability goals in the spotlight are usually those heavily discussed in the current political climate – climate change, hunger, plastic pollution, sea pollution, disappearing forests, ice-caps and rivers, etc. Pursuing such a mammoth agenda also forces business and policymakers to consider the financial stress from opportunities to risks.
Clearly positioning and leveraging actions and implications of businesses by stakeholders will help in faster and seamless integration. We are all working towards a common vision which is both a stimulus and framework for hugely collaborative work across value chains.
A small measure like equal pay for both genders or pay per merit is already helping the cause of ending inequality and injustice. It addresses risk, drives growth, attracts capital and focuses on purpose. Adopting a waste management system, recycling of disposable cutlery or resources, minimising e-waste or encouraging less use of plastic are new-age sustainability-measures which can be easily adapted by businesses.
Sanjaya Mariwala is the Managing Director of OmniActive Health Technologies Ltd. OmniActive Health Technologies Ltd is in branded Natural APIs and PFIs for Nutrition, Health and Wellness products. It has been busy growing under his vigil at > 20% pa organically. Sanjaya is also an active member of the ASCENT Foundation, a powerful peer-to-peer learning platform for entrepreneurs.
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The CSR Journal Team