The more things change, the more they need to change as far as the state of the environment is concerned. This is despite the fact that World Environment Day (WED) celebrations for creating awareness and taking climate actions have come a long way over five decades. Climate intentions and actions have become widespread in response to deepening and broadening climate crises. This year’s theme Only One Earth focuses on Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature.
The year 1972 marked the birth of the idea of World Environment Day at the first United Nations Conference on Environment, as mentioned by Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in a message for World Environment Day 2022. The conference witnessed the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration and Action plan and the establishment of the UNEP.
The most quoted byte of the conference was by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi championing the cause of the world’s poor: “Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters?” The statement is now quoted as ‘Poverty is the greatest polluter’ or ‘Poverty is the worst form of pollution or ‘Poverty is the greatest polluter of all’, as captured in detail by Jairam Ramesh in his book Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature.
Cut to 2022, and the recently concluded high-level international meeting, Stockholm+50, held in the run-up to the 50th year celebrations of the United Nations Conference on Environment closed with a call for urgent environmental and economic transformation. Making a statement on behalf of India at the event, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav talked about how India has decoupled economic development and environmental degradation.
It is a work in progress. And WED is an occasion for heightened activity, which is more visible in the corporate sector because of the resources spent on showcasing it. At times efforts spent on showcasing green intentions compete with the efforts invested in doing such deeds. From launching new green initiatives to redating regular activities to WED or issuing concerned statements called quotes in the media, all want to be seen doing something for the common good. Social media is a big cost-effective ally in this grand green display.
The environment day activities began informally at the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos. The Indian Chapter of the Alliance of CEO Climate Action Leaders was launched by WEF to support India to transition to net-zero by 2070. The collaborative initiative with Kearney, a management consultancy, and Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank, is in follow up to their white paper ‘Mission 2070: A Green New Deal for a Net Zero India’, which lays down the pathway to net zero. “India’s role in mitigating climate change is critical and India Inc must add its full weight to the country’s efforts,” emphasizes Sumant Sinha, Co-Chair, Alliance of CEO Climate Action Leaders India and Chief Executive Officer, ReNew Power, in a statement.
As if on cue, Blue Dart, a transportation and distribution company and part of the Deutsche Post DHL (DPDHL) Group has become part of the Climate Neutral Now (CNN) pledge of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Deutsche Post DHL Group is investing up to €7 billion to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as per the Paris Climate Agreement and reach a goal of net-zero by 2050. Balfour Manuel, Managing Director, Blue Dart, says in the release, “The pledge enables us to quantify the impact of our initiatives…. As an ESG compliant organization, India’s trade facilitator, and an employer of choice, we understand our responsibility…. We are acting today to make a lasting positive impact on tomorrow.”
Transportation is a significant contributor to emissions. An online travel portal, MakeMyTrip too, is offering domestic travelers an option to 'fly carbon neutral' from WED by paying to offset their carbon footprint. The proceeds will be routed through Climes, a climate tech company, for carbon offsetting projects.
Increased use of packaging material is another cause of concern globally. Big Basket, an online supermarket, is starting to deliver in select cities packaging-free fresh fruits and vegetables beginning June 5. Seshu Kumar Tirumala, National Head-Buying and Merchandising, Big Basket, says in a press statement, “We have been observing how a lot of single-use plastic is used in packaging of fresh foods, and by eliminating it, a significant damage to the environment can be prevented.”
Beer brand Corona, too, is unveiling in India a biodegradable and compostable six-pack made from 100 per cent barley straw. “After in-depth assessments across our supply chain, we wanted to first start with revamping our packaging and making it sustainable," says Vineet Sharma, Vice President – Marketing, South Asia, AB InBev, in a press release.
Tree plantation and saving water remain the preferred favorites. Quest Global, an engineering service firm, has announced a reforestation drive and has committed to planting 500,000 trees globally by 2025. Hyundai Motor India is promoting the ‘Save Water Challenge’ across all Hyundai Workshops in India.
In addition to tree plantation, Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) from the Tata Group, is launching a number of initiatives related to green buildings, waste management, EV charging, and livelihoods under its ESG+ Environment, Social and Governance or ESG+ framework, Paathya.
Another group company Tata Tea’s new Jaago Re 2.0 campaign eggs Indians to pre-act and not react. Cine star Pankaj Tripathi, who was associated with the first-ever Jaago Re communication, makes a comeback in the ad film carrying the message of Alarm Bajne Se Pehle Jaago Re by Mullen Lintas to remind people to wake up before it is too late. Sushant Dash, Regional President - India, Tata Global Beverages, notes in a statement, “From complete apathy, as a nation, we have become reactive. However, the need now was to move from being reactive to instilling a sense of ‘Preactivism’ in people.” It is high time we listened to them in our self-interest.