Indian companies see business sense in tackling climate change

  • Sruthin Lal, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 24, 2015 18:30 IST
Industrial emissions are one of the major contributor to global warming (HT Photo)

The Indian industry has slowly become aware of the fact that it has to play a larger role in tackling climate change and seems to have taken up the opportunity to make a difference by adopting initiatives and innovations that make business sense as well.

"Understanding that low carbon means more efficient operations is driving industries now," says Santhosh Jayaram, director (sustainability) at KPMG.

In 2014, India bucked a global trend to emerge as the world's fastest-growing major polluter thereby contributing the most to climate change. India's growth story has necessitated energy consumption and which in turn has also driven the growth in its emissions.

He adds that these alarming environment and sustainability concerns are increasingly taken note of in the board rooms of the Indian businesses.

The cement sector, once a major contributor to the emissions, has now found a place among world leaders in energy efficiency by drastically reducing its carbon and water footprint. According to a Japanese study, a land area approximately 1.5 times of India needs to be afforested to compensate for the total global emissions from the cement industry alone.

"If you look into the disclosures of almost all the major cement companies in India, you will find targets on increasing the energy efficiency and reducing carbon footprint," says Jayaram.

Last year, for instance, Ambuja Cement was certified as a four times "water positive" company for saving or harvesting four times the amount of water it consumes. Most of the cement companies now use fly ash-based cement production that is more energy efficient and emits much less carbon.

Self-promoted sustainable business practices like Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) and government regulations like the Perform, Achieve & Trade Scheme [PAT] and the Renewable Energy Purchase Obligations [RPO] have made the achievements possible in the sector, says Ajay Kapur, MD and CEO, Ambuja Cement Ltd.

"Climate change is a reality in today's industrial perspective. The challenge lies in how well we are able to internalise these challenges and convert them into opportunities," says Kapur.

With the setting of ambitious governmental targets and initiatives prompted by awareness at national and state levels, the renewable energy sector also offers opportunities in solar and wind energy and biofuels.

In February, nearly 300 companies submitted their commitments to the government to set up 266 GW of solar, wind and other renewable energy projects in the next five to seven years. Later, about 27 Indian and foreign banks committed about Rs 5 lakh crore for these projects.

Companies like Nestle, Philips, Unilever and Infosys have committed to use 100% renewable energy for all their operations under 'RE-100' commitment, in association with The Climate Group, an international NGO which advocates clean energy.

"We had industrial revolution, then we witnessed the information revolution, now is the time for a 'clean revolution'," says Krishnan Pallassana, executive director of the India chapter of the The Climate Group.

Need for govt intervention

While government support to energy efficiency, switch to renewable sources and increased demand for low carbon products act as incentives, non-uniformity in regulations takes away the merits of the others.

"There have to be policy and market interventions to encourage businesses to dramatically scale up the use of renewable energy," says K Krishan, president, Centre for Rural Energy and Water Access.

The biofuel segment is gaining traction in India but it has not yet been able to fulfil the demand of the auto companies that already have developed the technology to use biofuels in their vehicles.

"Cellulosic ethanol can be a major source. Many feed stocks, including corn cobs, wheat straw, woody biomass, bagasse, are readily available," says a spokesperson of Novozymes, an industry leader in the production of this biofuel.

"Biofuels will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 70% compared to petroleum-based fuels," he adds.

However, getting the required finance is still an issue.

"We need to look at credit-enhancing techniques... [and also at] equity and debt market to get financing," says Naina Lal Kidwai, banker and global commissioner of the New Climate Economy. "Green bonds were [such] an innovation... that really took off in 2012-13 and tripled in size to become $37 billion last year," she adds.

In India, Yes Bank has become the first such bank to issue green bonds which would be exclusively used to finance climate-friendly business initiatives. The bank has so far raised about Rs.1,315 crore via green bonds, with the latest from International Finance Corporation which invested in an emerging market green bond issue for the first time.

Symbolic actions by industry chambers - the FICCI and CII - like organising environment-related conferences to create more awareness among the business community also go a long way.

FICCI, for example, felicitates guests by giving them a certificate for planting a tree in their names and even organised a session where the French special envoy for COP 21 addressed industry leaders.

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