A green narrative
To counter the environmental effects of human activities, economically viable and sustainable green growth models should be the basis of global development
Zero Defect-Zero Effect" slogan was coined by Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, as the essence of the Make in India initiative that manages advanced processes, materials and technologies, to guide the production mechanism that produces products with no defects so that it will not be rejected in the global market. Most importantly he has given emphasis on the manufacturing process not having any negative impacts on the environment. In this context, I intend to state one critical issue – we have witnessed some of the worst natural calamities – warnings of ice melting, tsunamis, landslides, hurricanes, devastating floods, sea-level rise and snowstorms in recent decades. Deaths from such causes are steadily on the rise. Are these the vagaries of the planet or is this a response to human activities? The possible reason is that we have missed out on adequate exploration in the path towards "sustainability".
The present regime has positioned "inclusive growth" as the fulcrum of its political and economic doctrine with a promise of "minimum government", seeking the maximum participation of industry and business in nation-building particularly through 'Make in India'. Progress of India and development of industries in India are more or less synonymous because on the one hand, the industry contributes to GDP significantly and on the other hand, the government collects huge tax revenue from industrial production, which the government spends on the welfare schemes and a lot of employment opportunities are generated in the industrial sector as well.
Simple measurement of GDP will not give a clear idea if that economic growth is not adjusted to the loss of natural resources. GDP cannot be a measure of social welfare.
In another view, economic growth with high GDP is essential to achieve prosperity, happiness and a good life. But industrial production to maintain economic growth with increased emissions of greenhouse gases and discharging chemical contaminants to the air, water and soil will destroy natural environments, all of which has an economic cost. In India, there are progressive laws and standards but enforcement and compliance require personal and political courage that is in many cases practically lacking. India has already reached the tipping point but we are still chasing GDP and investments for economic growth.
Many researchers, particularly in the field of ecological economics, have stressed the physical constraints for economic activities and the need to change course to adjust the economies to the planets biophysical boundaries. Best possible options as suggested, are to continue striving for economic growth with a attempt to reduce its negative impacts and to encourage growth in sectors of the economy that use fewer resources. This implies a green economy or green growth that is based on consumption and activities that can enable decoupling to stay within planetary boundaries. In recent years, India has undergone rapid growth of the economy where the key drivers of such growth consist of private consumption and investment, both in production and service sectors.
If we wish to protect and conserve mountains, forests, rivers, wildlife, the air that we breathe and the water that we drink and indeed our habitat, the Planet Earth, we must adopt the green growth or green economy that merits special attention of all stakeholders to include a shift in perspective in which social sustainability is the aim, ecological sustainability is a fundamental requirement and the economy is seen as a tool.
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs have a poor understanding of green growth and they mainly rely on end-of-pipe technology to fulfil the norms stipulated by the regulatory authority and they can often 'manage' the concerned inspectors if they fail to comply. They are also unable to recognise the opportunities of using green alternatives for vehicle design to gain a competitive advantage as they perceive it as "costly" and not remunerative.
Most importantly, this green growth goes beyond compliance with respect to the negative impact on the environment. One good example is of using energy-efficient light sources (CFL) that are procured at a high initial cost but it has significant financial benefit if we consider the payback in its operational life cycle. Another green innovation is that Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has developed a shampoo which needs minimum water. Many steel and cement industries have saved energy by investing big in innovative technology. These concepts have larger payback periods where significant benefits flow in over the life of the project.
Today, Indian industry ranks amongst the best in the world with the lowest consumption of electricity for every ton of output manufactured. In India, green building has become very popular with good businesses. Initially many offices, commercial complexes, hotels, hospitals and even homes were covered. Now, green factories are being constructed in many places. Cummins factory at Ranjangaon, Pune was the first rated green factory in India. The payback period was just 18 months.
The economy's potential negative impacts on the environment have triggered concerns among practitioners and scholars of sustainability, sustainable development, and the environment. Also environmentally concerned entrepreneurs has started to address present environmental challenges, such as global warming and the potential energy crunch, in environmentally friendly, sustainable and green firms. The government must encourage different entrepreneurs to propose a new model of "green growth" for which various solutions may be emerged to cope with the current environmental challenges such as energy conservation and renewable generation, pollution, introducing green innovative technologies, improving productivity, lowering production costs, attracting foreign direct investment, guaranteeing future access to energy and more efficient use of resources. It represents an opportunity to simultaneously improve people's quality of life, alleviate poverty, create decent jobs, promote sustainable investment and enhance the company's competitiveness.
Further, the green economy should not be conceived as a replacement for sustainable development but rather, should be considered as a subset of it. Therefore, green economy demands an operational policy agenda that can help to achieve measurable progress at the interface of the economy and the environment. Green growth also helps to increase the efficiency of the economy. That is why there is a growing consensus all over the world that a business-as-usual scenario is no longer an option as it was before and switching to green growth model is a must.
The writer is a former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board. Views expressed are strictly personal