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BW Businessworld

Sustainability: The New World Order

The responsibility of saving the planet is not a single entity’s responsibility, but everyone’s duty. It is time we joined forces to save the planet. After all, we have only one.

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The Amazon rainforest, aptly described as the lungs of our planet, is burning. Research and environmental organisations have said that a sharp rise in deforestation is associated with wildfire within the Amazon. Sadly, this is not the only man-made disaster currently crippling our environment. Multiple wildfires across locations as geographically disparate as Siberia, Indonesia, Alaska, and Greenland are derailing global efforts to combat climate change. 

The world cannot afford to continue with the unsustainable practices that trigger such calamities. Equally daunting is recovery; it is estimated that two centuries of efforts will be needed to restore the forests affected by wildfires. Besides these disasters, other types of stress on the ecosystem must also be addressed. Rampant burning of agricultural residue chokes parts of north India every year, emitting enough smoke to be visible from space and posing a serious threat to public health. Similarly, illegal farming and mining, indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and excessive use of water for farming are some of the other hazardous practices that need to be curbed immediately. 

Pressing Need for Sustainability Codes
The Amazon fires are a pertinent case study for the need for sustainability codes, owing to the fact that it is linked to economic activity; many of the forest's fires were started for the purpose of mining, logging, agriculture, and animal husbandry. The need for sustainable practices across economic activity in such fields is clearly urgent. But how do we transition to resource-efficient and sustainable practices? How do we make sustainability a way of life rather than a buzzword of international conferences? The answer lies in sustainability Codes that provide a roadmap and actionable intelligence to reach our collective goals.  This could also be in the form of an overarching authority that informs and guides sustainable practices, regularly monitors and offers course correction. Taking a cue from global organisations and their sustainability programmes, we must channelise efforts towards replicating the same at regional and local levels. 

Inspiration can be taken from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDG) that serve as a guiding roadmap towards a better and sustainable world. The Rainforest Alliance is another example. It is an international non-profit working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to make responsible business the new normal. It works with local partners to design and implement creative strategies to protect vulnerable landscapes and restore degraded ones. The Sustainable Mining Initiative launched by the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) to promote the tangible and measurable concepts of sustainable mining and tackle the industry-wide challenges of environmental management and socio-economic development is yet another example. 

In the farming sector, the trustea sustainability Code, which is a verification system for the tea sector, can be used as a benchmark. With more than 282 thousand hectares of area under tea production, as per IBEF figures for December 2015, it works with 51000 smallholder tea growers, 622 tea factories (bought leaf factories & estates) and packers to address some of the key challenges in the industry including waste and pollution management, soil and water conservation and food safety. It is the largest sustainability programme in the world for a single crop (tea) in a single origin. Acknowledging the rich biodiversity in India and the fact that tea gardens are in the middle of these biodiversity hotspots, this Code has ensured that native vegetation, flora and fauna is managed in an environment-friendly manner. The programme has reduced the adverse impact of deforestation by mandating zero tolerance for any deforestation of notified forest land by enrolled organisations. 

Corporates’ Role and Responsibility
This planet is our collective responsibility and therefore saving it is incumbent upon all of us. The corporate sector can significantly strengthen global sustainability efforts by developing and imbibing sustainability codes. It is time we onboarded sustainability on a mission mode with a long-term vision. It is necessary to develop goals with a 10 to 30-year horizon rather than only shortsighted three to five-year plans. 

Sustainability must be incorporated into every aspect of a company’s operations and vision. Companies must take the lead in generating awareness around key sustainability issues among all internal and external stakeholders. The first step towards this goal is developing a code of conduct or aligning with an existing one. Corporates must assess the ecological risks of any new project and take appropriate mitigation steps. At the same time, educating partners and helping them implement sustainability best practices are crucial steps. For instance, trustea is able to drive acceptance and impact at scale due to its multi-stakeholder model where key participants in the sector are represented including corporates in the tea sector. The responsibility of saving the planet is not a single entity’s responsibility, but everyone’s duty. It is time we joined forces to save the planet. After all, we have only one.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Jagjeet S Kandal

The author is Vice Chairman, Tea Research Association

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