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Sustainability Standards Should Be Aligned With Domestic Realities: Experts

Industry experts encourage collaborative initiatives and actions by companies to achieve higher standards in sustainability

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year said how India can only unlock the full potential of attracting international investment and business if it can prove that it is a leader in corporate sustainability and responsibility.

Voicing that motto, the Centre for Responsible Business's (CRB) third annual conference "India and Sustainability Standards 2016" concluded last week with industry experts coming together to encourage collaborative initiatives and actions.

While inaugurating the conference, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu underscored the tremendous advantage that standards have in terms of helping companies to make informed decisions and governments to design appropriate regulations.

He, however, also cautioned that certain sections of standards many not be appropriate in the India context. Effective implementation of international standards can only be effective if they are aligned with the domestic context. In which case, review of those specific sections in the standards framework should be considered, rather than use it as an excuse for not doing anything.

Also, it should be ensured that standards are not used as a means for manipulating the markets to favour one set of market players, the minister said. He stressed on India's commitment to sustainable and responsible growth and shared initiatives taken by Indian Railways in this regard.

He stressed the importance of collaboration among all stakeholders in order to address challenges pertaining to sustainability in India. Prabhu congratulated the Centre for Responsible Business for convening this conference annually to highlight and foster collaboration among stakeholders across various sectors in India.

The three-day annual CRB conference was organised at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, to discuss the diverse issues for sustainable and responsible growth, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a central theme.

Welcoming all partners, speakers, delegates, academicians, civil society experts and participants, CRB chief Bimal Arora underscored the support that CRB has received from everyone for putting this forum together.

He said the conference has been developed by CRB as a multi-stakeholder sustainability initiative on voluntary sustainability standard. From the response of partners, speakers and participants, it was clear that the forum was relevant, and was growing with each passing year.

Vasanthi Srinivasan in her opening remarks pointed out that people need to recognise that problems related to sustainability are complex problems and needed to be approached accordingly.

Need For Collaboration

Louis-George Arsenault, UNICEF representative for India, highlighted the urgent need for collaboration between the government and the private sector for achieving the ambitious SGDs and provided a number of illustrations on how this was being pursued by UNICEF across its work programme in Indian states.

He highlighted the need for a long-term perspective for designing interventions for addressing challenges related to sustainability and sustainable development, especially in developing countries like India - and the need for buy-in from both government and the private sector for that.

Paul Shrivastava, executive director of Future Earth, stressed on the need for scientific data and analysis for managing natural capital. This would mean close monitoring of earth systems, to be done on a global scale. He said that our approaches and technologies have clearly not worked in managing natural capital as is evident from data on various parameters - and that there was need for a rethinking.

Marina Walter, UNDP deputy country director, stressed on the need for forward movement and for a focus on findings solutions as the key for achieving SDGs. She asserted that a lot is being done by national governments, private sector, civil society and international organisations - and the need to document some of these good practices.

She said that the platform of "India and Sustainability Standards" developed by CRB is extremely relevant - especially on account of its emphasis on collaboration. This is what was needed in India, she thought, more than anywhere else.

According to Roel Nieuwenkamp, chief of Working Party, the business case for responsible and sustainable business was fairly clear and understandable, especially among the private sector. There is considerable recognition of the need for investing in augmenting business sustainability.

Alphonsus Stoelinga, Dutch ambassador to India, congratulated CRB for the conference. He said it was evident that the interest was growing among stakeholders to work together. He highlighted that the present generation faces unprecedented challenges pertaining to sustainability - and it was crucial for to foster such collaboration. He emphasised that the Dutch government is not only interested in promoting business in India, but promoting sustainable business - and therefore considers CRB as one of its key partners in India.

Shankar Venkateswaran, chief of Tata Sustainability Group, shared experience of the Tata Group how business has been and should be part of the solution. He illustrated how often companies competing on products and services collaborate on sustainability issues. He cautioned that while standards provide an effective framework for pursuing sustainable development, they need to be aligned domestically.

R. C. Kesar, a governing body member of the Centre for Responsible Business and director-general of Okhla Garment Textiles Cluster (OGTC), thanked the high level inaugural speakers for setting the context for the three days of the Conference.

The event was supported by 60 partner organisations, co-hosting 27 sessions with over 160 speakers planned over 16-18 November.

A key differentiator was the participation of the academic fraternity in many sessions, with an intent to see how corporates and academia can create a common language to address the challenges of sustainable growth, through research-based initiatives and preparing the next generation of managers for new and emerging externalities.