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BW Businessworld

Back In The Debate

Standards within the forestry sector globally is led by forest certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that uses incentives to encourage policy shifts based on commercial rewards.

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By Neeta Misra

In many respects 2015 will be remembered by people as the year ‘sustainability’ made a comeback. In September, 193 countries gathered to adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets to be achieved by 2030. In December,195 countries at the COP 21 in Paris adopted a historic climate change agreement. India was a signatory to both these agreements committing to tracking and measuring outcomes in the years to come. These two events need to be viewed within the backdrop of the Indian government’s strong commitment to promoting policies for manufacturing and employment through ‘Make in India’.

An enabling platform for building sustainable pathways to growth and development are standards for sustainability. In India, sectoral and thematic standards that form the National Voluntary Guidelines integrate social, environmental and business goals. This year the movement for sustainability standards gained traction over a three-day meeting in the heart of New Delhi put together by the Centre for Responsible Business (CRB). Over 500 delegates across 50 key organisations met over three days to assess, frame and measure sustainable standards for India, charting a way forward.

A diverse set of stakeholders were key to the events success. The ministries of consumer affairs and environment and forests set the policy framework. Multi lateral organisations including the UN, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and the OECD addressed issues such as responsible finance, women’s skill development and empowerment, and child rights. Umbrella organization’s for standards such as ISEAL highlighted ethics, measurement and quality. Civil society brought local knowledge (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, amongst others). Producers of apparel, electronics, gold, cotton and infrastructure enriched the discussion with sectoral case studies.

The themes set the framework for future action. Who pays and who gains from sustainability standards? How should the costs be distributed across stakeholders? Is the regulatory framework conducive to adaptation and adoption of standards? In a sea of standards which ones are credible and count? Should the standards be voluntary or enforced? A strong voice was expressed was for balancing the viability of small and medium producers with the adaptation of standards.
The sectoral case studies provided the substance. India is the second-largest market for gold and the global leading manufacturer of jewellery. The global supply chain for gold is both national and international including producer countries where the gold is used for money laundering, financing armed groups and serious human rights abuse. Local manufacturers of gold balance ethical sourcing with national guidelines and business bottom lines. Consumers can play a powerful role by buying gold that comes with accredited standards.

Standards within the forestry sector globally is led by forest certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that uses incentives to encourage policy shifts based on commercial rewards.

The key takeaway from the conference was summed up by Karin Kreider, executive director, ISEAL Alliance: “credible sustainability standards are vital tools to help leaders in India realise sustainability goals and increase market opportunities”.

Looking forward to November 2016, Bimal Arora, the chairperson of CRB, said: “Next year we will consolidate gains made and add more industry sectors like automotive, mining, pharma and cross cutting themes like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and circular economy, with an aim to make substantial Indian contribution to the global processes of sustainability standards development and adoption”.
Watch this space for more on sustainability.

The author is BW’s consulting editor — Sustainability

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-12-2015)