Sustainability around the world: Spotlight on India
In April this year, India overtook China to become the world’s most populous country. India’s population now stands at over 1.4 billion, which means that 1 in 6 people on Earth live in India. This vast population, coupled with rapid economic growth and urbanisation, has big implications for sustainability. We spoke to our Local In-Market Expert in Delhi – Ritu – to find out more about sustainability in India. Here’s what she told us.
Sustainability has always been rooted in Indian culture
Sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices have long been part of the Indian psyche. Our philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (a Sanskrit text, which means ‘one family, one world’) underscores a sustainable way of life and a desire to live in harmony with Nature. After all, Yoga and Ayurveda are two of the most common practices of holistic, sustainable living known to the world.
For example, it is common for Indian households to reuse things, such as an old cloth for a duster. Things that have no value, such as newspapers, old clothes, and utensils are sold off to scrap dealers for recycling. We use bucket bathing to bathe (which uses much less water), dry our clothes naturally in the sun, usually wash dishes by hand, and use dried flowers as manure for our gardens. The idea that whatever comes from Nature goes back to Nature is something we follow almost subconsciously. Most of our rural population still live in mud houses and many still use earthen utensils for cooking.
Given this culture, it’s not a surprise that a survey of 19,000 people by YouGov across 17 countries found that 81% of urban Indians think it’s important for businesses to take steps to minimise their impact on the environment, while 50% said they respond well to advertisements that refer to sustainability.
That said, we are the world’s most populous country, and our dependence on resources is huge and increasing every year
We are also among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and global warming, with many states witnessing extreme heat waves, floods, and droughts every year. Poor air quality is the reality of life in more than 75% of cities, and it’s estimated that 1.6 million deaths in India in 2019 were attributable to air pollution. Rapid urbanisation makes our waste management extremely challenging.
That’s why sustainability is not just a fashionable talking point but a real effort by the Indian government to make amends and work collectively towards a better future. Our government has set ambitious goals towards reducing our environmental footprint. Notable government initiatives include:
- Large projects such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Movement), Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme (which gives women and children clean cooking oil, benefitting their health and also reducing air pollution), and LiFe (Lifestyle for the Environment campaign, introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at COP26 which encourages Indians to make sustainable adjustments in their lifestyles).
- Smart ratings for electrical appliances, to help energy conservation.
- Building awareness of sustainability through environmental education in schools and colleges, tree planting drives, beach clean-ups and promoting the re-use of waste.
- Taking steps to control plastic pollution, including bans on single-use plastic and strengthening extended producer responsibility. India’s ambitious Plastics Pact is a government-backed initiative which aims to bring together businesses, governments, and NGOs to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastics in their value chain.
- Encouraging a switch to electric means of transport including buses, EV cars and e-bikes for deliveries (including through green taxes on pollution).
And this hard work is paying off:
- India’s per capita emission of 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is well below the global average of 6.3 tonnes of CO2e in 2020.
- In the 2022 Climate Change Performance Index, we have been ranked among the top five performing countries.
- India has the fastest-growing renewable energy capacity globally, pushing renewable sources of energy to meet its energy demands.
Big business strives for sustainability
Many big corporations have joined the sustainability bandwagon like Infosys [the IT company founded by N.R. Narayana Murthy, Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law], Mahindra and Mahindra, Hindustan Unilever Ltd, and Godrej to name a few.
We have ESG regulations aimed at promoting sustainable business practices, improving corporate governance standards, and reducing environmental and social risks. While there is still a long way to go, the adoption of these ESG practices is a positive step towards a sustainable future.
However, greenwashing takes place too
In the name of sustainability, consumers often pay a premium. To capitalise on this premium pricing, some cases of greenwashing have emerged. In response, the government has asked the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to regulate greenwashing. The Bureau does this through a Green Product Certification Scheme (GPCS), designed to ensure that products marketed as eco-friendly meet certain environmental standards.
We have environmental heroes
There are notable environment and sustainability crusaders who are inspiring generations with their work. These include:
- Vandana Shiva is a tireless defender of the environment, and the founder of Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights.
- Afroz Shah, an environmental activist whose beach clean-up movement has inspired people around the world.
- Tulsi Gowda, a 72-year-old tribal woman who contributes to protecting and reviving native plant life in the Indian state of Karnataka.
Plus, celebrities and public figures who are active advocates of the environment, including Amitabh Bachchan, Nandita Das, Alia Bhatt, and Dia Mirza. For example, Amitabh Bachchan was associated with the Global Cool Campaign along with Sienna Miller to generate awareness about global warming. He is also part of many ongoing campaigns like Beat Plastic Pollution and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Progress is happening – and we need to continue on this path
Today, Indian consumers are making conscious choices to switch to sustainable products. We can see many innovations in India, often youth led. For example, furniture made from rice husk, replacement of plastic packaging with jackfruit and banana leaf-based packaging and processing natural dyes from withering flowers. All these inspire a zero-waste culture.
That said, there is more to do. We are witnessing the harsh reality of climate change and following a green lifestyle is a necessity to help future generations enjoy their only planet. My personal view is that we need to be more aggressive and dedicated to our goals. Now is not the time simply to talk but to take responsibility for our actions both individually and collectively.
One way we can keep track of India’s progress is through the SDG India Index. It is intended to provide a holistic view of the social, economic, and environmental status of the country and its States and UTs [Union Territories]. The SDG India Index is an aggregate measure which can be understood and used by everyone – from policy makers to the public.
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