5 Takeaways from the CII-ITC Sustainability Solutions Summit

The 2-day Sustainability Solutions summit recently hosted by the CII-ITC Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development concluded on a ‘positive’ note. After all, don’t all conferences end on a high note with a definitive road map laid out for the all the stakeholders to pursue their goals of sustainable development.

The challenge always lies in the execution of those ideas. Nonetheless, this event was timely and happened right before the Durban meet acting as a driver for the Indian busineses to push the sustainability agenda at a more strategic level – as sustainability embeds it self in the corporate governance – a move from the fringes to the mainstream.

All the right players were at the table – Ministries from the Government of India, World Business Council on Sustainable Development(WBCSD), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN), Council on Energy Environment and Water and the major business houses of the country and the world – ITC, Microsoft, Rio Tinto, L&T, HSBC, Infosys, Alstom etc.. And to bring in the energy and the dynamism were the eclectic mix of participants from various backgrounds – from Digital Marketers to Social Entrepreneurs.

The challenges facing the country are immense as government, business, and NGO’s need to move together in tandem to develop new business models that will create more responsible companies. The major takeways from the summit are:

1.Incentivizing or rewarding proper behavior

YC Deveshwar of ITC shared a statistic that flies directly in the face of sustainability – a classic result of capitalism – the top 10% of the population  holds 85% of household assets, and the bottom 50% of the people have access to less than 1% of assets. The question that arises is – How do we balance this equation in the favor of the less privileged ones? How do we bring the less fortunate sections on to the table? The answer lies in urging companies to be more responsible in their actions and then incentivizing them for their efforts. This not only encourages others to do more of the same thing but also influences the ‘bad’ ones to at least look at their unsustainable practices. The current practice of taxing equally must also be removed so as to put taxes as per performance. Once these new mechanisms are in place and are rated and communicated in an objective manner, can the benefits be reaped.

2. Exposure to Indian Judiciary

Dr Salman Khurshid, Indian Minister of Law and Justice, urged that more and more economists and the Indian Judiciary be exposed to the emerging sustainability ideas. A huge amount of learning needs to be done. Once that’s done, then “Sustainability can be married to decision making in the government”. If the Indian law makers don’t know the ‘wheel has already been invented’ or that innovative solutions exist in other parts of the world for relatively similar problems, then it could be a hinderance for devising favorable policies.

3. Looking at poor as “Asset Creators”

The 600 million people are not only the BOP market for big companies but are also partners or co-creators out which products can come out for others to consume. India has this unique opportunity to be a leader in business model innovations that can serve as a role model for the rest of the developing world. Both ‘botom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approaches need to be executed where finding a ‘common middle’ seems to be feasible. Solutions are abundant, but the eco-system surrounding those solutions is not. It chugs ahead with its own pace, sometimes falling apart. But the opportunity remains.

4. Role of Indian Government

Governments can provide standards and metrics, define energy building bylaws, and help create consumer demand for green-er products. In short, it can enbale frameworks for diffusion of solutions at a macro level. Government can set an example for others to emulate – redefine its own procurement practices across the whole judiciary. This will send strong signals to the industry.

5. Empowering people

All the right signs are there for people empowerment – Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, Lok Pal Bill. SY Quraishi, the Chief Election Commissioner rightly said that what Indian companies call Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) is actually Corporate Social Compulsion (CSC) as these activities serve their own purpose. He lambasted the government and people alike with statements such as these – “If you don’t vote, you have no right to criticize democracy”. Overall, people power is emerging especially with social media tools allowing increased connectivity.

India is really a unique country. Solutions that work elsewhere may not be feasible here or the solutions that work here might be rendered useless for others. This is the only place where “all encompassing inclusive growth” can take place and it has this opportunity to lead from the front. What conferences such as these do is that they bring that opportunity to the fore so that it gets recognized wholly.

As “Kris” or S.Gopalakrishnan, the co-founder of Infosys, whom I had the privilege of spending some moments together at the summit, likes to say sums up the final agenda for India – “India should combine its technology prowess,art of disruption or frugality, and entrepreneurship to develop technology-based solutions”.


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