By Ramnath Vaidyanathan
The world stares at a global crisis precipitated by large-scale deforestation and damage to the environment. Reckless human activities have aggravated the climate crisis, raising a big question mark on the prosperity and well-being of current and future generations. Global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that 10 million hectares were cleared each year globally between 2015 and 2020. Closer home, India lost 132kha of natural forest in 2020 alone, according to the Global Forest Watch, a worldwide platform that monitors forests and changing patterns.
Forests are connected to nearly every aspect of sustainability. Depleting forest cover accelerates climate change, impacts wildlife, significantly reduces land quality, leads to an increase in soil erosion, and consequent runoffs.
Yet another grim reality is the loss of forest-based livelihoods due to deforestation. Forests play a crucial role in India’s rural economy with around 350-400 million people dependent on them for their livelihoods. Degradation of forests will have a massive impact on the forest-dependent communities.
Be the change
Sustainable management of forests and judicious use of natural resources play a crucial role in combatting climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Conservation of forests and sustainable production and consumption of forest produce is the theme for this year’s International Day of Forests. The day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of forests and exhorts countries to undertake efforts to organise activities involving forests and trees.
Sustainable management requires concerted action by the government, corporate and individuals. While state and the central governments can create and enforce strong regulations to protect and conserve the forests, individuals need to be more aware and vigilant, and make informed consumption-related choices to save the forests.
The role of businesses is also critical. Corporate India needs to adopt a multi-pronged approach to reduce its impact on forests, and it all starts with making forest-related disclosures to the Carbon Disclosure Project and setting a baseline.
Organisations need to collaborate to minimise their impact on the forest value chain and ensure traceability. According to a study by the MIT Sloan School of Management, consumers might be willing to pay 2-10 percent more for products from companies who have greater supply chain transparency. While this could prove challenging since several forest commodities are traded internationally, companies could ensure more transparency and collaborate closely to ensure judicious use of raw material.
Finding alternatives can also help minimise the impact on forests. Several companies are limiting their use of natural cotton and silk, instead using recycled fibres in their fabrics. Alcis Sports, for example, offers apparel made from recycled plastic PET bottles. Another method could involve creating artificial forests to source raw materials from, apart from using them as carbon sinks.
Setting the baseline of the populations of flora and fauna and monitoring these over a period will help organisations gauge the impact of their operations. Several organisations already have afforestation programmes as part of their CSR initiatives.
ITC’s Afforestation Programme, which has helped expand the green cover by over 926,600 acres, is a shining example. The conglomerate helps farmers convert their unproductive land into profitable pulpwood plantations, using clonal saplings specially developed to grow in harsh conditions.
Similarly, over the years, Tata Power has planted over 100 million saplings of indigenous and endemic forest species found in the Western Ghats at the catchment areas of its hydro projects at Maval and Mulshi in Maharashtra.
The Mahindra Group’s award-winning Project Hariyali initiative has also seen close to 18 million trees being planted since its launch in 2007. Scientific tree plantation practices have ensured an impressive 96% survival rate of the trees planted.
As a responsible corporate with commitment to communities embedded in its DNA, Godrej maintains one of Maharashtra’s largest private mangrove forests, which acts as carbon sink, provides a natural flood barrier for Mumbai, and protects several indigenous flora and fauna species. The Group’s watershed projects in drought-prone areas spread across four states have also had an interesting knock-on effect. The increased availability of water has not only enhanced livelihoods for farmers, but also regenerated natural ecosystems in those areas.
Much is being done; a lot more is possible. But through all this, the focus needs to remain on preventing degradation of our existing forest ecosystems. These finite resources have evolved over millions of years and are irreplaceable.
As the world continues to face unprecedented challenges, forests are at the frontline of the crises. So, it’s up to us as businesses and individuals to make a collective effort to act on deforestation and ensure sustainable production and consumption.
(The author is GM & Head – Environmental Sustainability, Godrej Industries Ltd and Associated Companies. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)