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India Inc tackles air pollution

With air pollution levels in New Delhi reaching hazardous levels in recent days, pressure is mounting on corporate India to reduce carbon emissions
People buy pollution masks amid heavy dust and smog in New Delhi. Allison Joyce / Getty Images
People buy pollution masks amid heavy dust and smog in New Delhi. Allison Joyce / Getty Images

Mumbai // With toxic air pollution levels in New Delhi reaching such hazardous levels in recent days that it forced the closure of schools, pressure is mounting on corporate India to reduce carbon emissions.

India last month ratified the Paris global climate agreement, a deal under which it has committed to generate at least 40 per cent of the country’s electricity from non-fossil sources in an effort to tackle climate change. Thirteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, according to the World Health Organization.

Amid the developments, India’s major conglomerates are stepping up their efforts to control their carbon footprint.

“Awareness has just about reached fever pitch,” says Anirban Ghosh, the chief sustain­ability officer at Mahindra Group, one of India’s biggest industrial houses, with interests in sectors ranging from aerospace to real estate to cars.

India can only “meet its goals” in terms of lowering its carbon emissions if corporates reduce their footprint, he adds. Many major companies are taking “ser­i­ous action” now, he says.

“And it is important for corporations to minimise their carbon footprint because it has a direct impact on the cost of running the business and therefore the competitiveness of the business,” he explains.

For its part, Mahindra is taking a raft of initiatives to reduce its production of greenhouse gases, including increasing its use of renewable energy, as it aims to bring down its carbon emissions by 25 per cent over the next three years.

Last month, Mahindra & Mahindra, its car manufacturing divi­sion, unveiled a carbon pricing scheme for the company of $10 per tonne of carbon emitted, which is to be invested in low carbon technologies to help reduce future emissions and lower operating costs.

Mahindra said that it is the first Indian company to launch its own carbon pricing programme, a measure that has been adopted by a number of multinationals globally, including Google and Unilever.

The first major project that Mahin­dra is funding through the carbon pricing scheme is the conversion of all the lights in its automotive and farm equipment businesses from conventional fixtures to LED.

“The Paris agreement ratification and a global understanding on measures to tackle climate change calls upon businesses and industries to take the path of low carbon economy,” says Umesh Bhutoria, the founder and chief executive of E-Cube Energy, which uses energy analytics in industries to accelerate energy efficiency investments. “Besides government pressure and obligation, reducing emission intensity and increasing energy productivity also makes business sense and is something that forward-looking companies are doing on their own.”

The matter is also coming into focus as India pushes on issues such as funding and technology transfer at the Conference of Parties climate change conference currently being held in Morocco.

Infosys, the Indian IT giant, is aiming to get all of its energy from renewable sources and be carbon neutral by 2018. It is the first Indian company to join the global RE100 campaign because of its commitment to use 100 per cent renewable energy for all of its electricity.

Bose Varghese, the head of green initiatives at Infosys, says that this “is a very important goal for the company”.

“We are convinced that global warming and climate change are the biggest threats of the cen­tury,” he says.

He adds that the company’s fight against climate changes also “enhances our reputation and gives us an edge in the market”. And the company has already saved millions of dollars through its energy efficiency initiatives. It hopes that it will encourage other businesses in India to follow its example.

“Infosys’ strategy to become carbon-neutral is built on the three pillars of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and emissions offset,” says Mr Varghese. “Our action plan involves addressing emissions from the use of electricity through a combination of energy efficiency projects and the use of 100 per cent renewable energy and addressing emissions from the use of fuels and emissions from activities like travel through carbon offsets.

“Our investment in captive solar plants will not only help us avoid carbon emissions, but also deliver power at a cost below the current market prices.”

With Indian companies looking to control their emissions, this presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs to come up with solutions to help them with the process.

Sameer Khanna, the founder and chief executive at Orahi, a corporate car pooling application, based in New Delhi, says that the government has been pushing in the past but the measures have not been strictly enforced. It is now at a level where it is at an absolute emergency situation.

“At this level, there’s a very serious corporate responsibility as well. Most of the top companies are now including carbon emissions figures in their sustainability reports. Some companies have now started asking their employees to work from home to reduce the traffic and pollution,” says Mr Khanna.

He adds that an increasing number of companies, particularly in Delhi, are promoting car pooling among their employees, for example by offering incentives such as dinner with senior management for the top car pooling users of the month.

“If you look at it completely from a business perspective, the way the carbon emissions are calculated, especially from an energy perspective, renewable has a larger return on investment for us,” says Vikas Goswami, the head of good and green at Godrej Industries, a major conglomerate in India

It is also critical for businesses to think about the bigger picture, she adds.

“If you’re here for the long haul, we cannot be in the business of selling products if there’s a market available because of climate change.”

As of October, the group is sec­uring 51 per cent of its energy from renewables. It has measures in place including energy audits and it is also working with the individuals and smaller businesses involved in its supply chain to reduce their carbon footprint.

Attero, an electronics asset management company, based in Noida close to the capital Delhi, has spearheaded a process to get e-waste recycling approved by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a means of lowering carbon and greenhouse emissions.

“A lot is required to create awareness around the harmful effects of disposing e-waste in a non-ecological manner,” says Rohan Gupta, the co-founder of Attero.

There are still several issues that need to be addressed to ensure significant and a sustained reduction in India’s emissions.

“Many of the industries, the technologies themselves are carbon-intensive, such as making steel, making cement, such as generating electricity,” says Mr Ghosh.

“Figuring out ways of either producing cement and steel through less carbon-intensive ways or moving from conventional power to renewable power completely, these are probably the biggest challenges that are faced by the industry and faced by the world as a whole. We are also faced with the huge challenge of moving to sustainable.”

Indian companies need to keep striving to reduce their carbon footprint.

“This is a very large problem,” says Mr Ghosh. “There is so much that can be done that for the next 15 years, 20 years, we’ll probably be saying that while a lot is happening, a lot more needs to be done. In terms of action being taken, this is still very early days.”

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Published: November 12, 2016 04:00 AM


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