World Environment Day: The fourth R! Time for restoration

Updated: June 04, 2021 1:53 PM

Through the theme of 'Ecosystem Restoration' for World Environment Day this year, the UN has recognised the fact that we can no longer afford to be content with reducing ecological damage.

By Ramnath Vaidyanathan,

Our best opportunity to heal the Earth lies in working collectively towards restoring its biodiversity and replenishing fast-depleting natural resources.

Through the theme of ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ for World Environment Day this year, the UN has recognised the fact that we can no longer afford to be content with reducing ecological damage.

If we are to mitigate climate change’s impact, we have to become #GenerationRestoration — the generation that not only protects, but also acts on restoring the world’s natural ecosystems by taking both big and small steps at all levels. Each individual, organisation, commercial entity, along with the government, has to contribute towards restoring and protecting our fragile ecosystems.

Responsible consumption

As individuals, we need to practice sustainable consumption, which means much more than merely promoting and using recycled material.

Our demands for food often disregard seasonality patterns, which urges providers to rampantly milk nature, disturbing the natural production cycle. For instance, rampant and large-scale commercial farming degrades the land, causing nutrient loss, topsoil erosion, water table depletion, and a loss of green cover, leading to adverse climate events such as land instability and fissures, among other things. Likewise, indiscriminate and year-long fishing has disturbed the ocean’s ecology globally, leading to many fish species, some sans commercial value, nearing extinction. It has led to some countries in Europe banning commercial fishing at some places during certain seasons.

We need to appreciate and respect nature’s cycle while drawing its resources for our consumption.

A collective effort

The corporate world, which has long been singled out for polluting natural resources, is doing its best to mitigate the environmental impact of its operations.

The bigger industrial groups in India rightly pride themselves on being transparent about their environmental footprint. Accordingly, they have taken steps to create zero liquid discharge ecosystems and implement effluent management mechanisms in their plants to reduce environmental impact. They are also throwing in their might with the government in implementing programmes to fortify the ecology.

The watershed programme by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), a development bank under the Government of India, is a fine example of an inclusive framework to protect and preserve our ecology. Aided by corporates such as Godrej, NABARD has implemented projects to improve the water table in water-stressed regions, which will have other positive rub-offs, including improved farmland productivity and living standards for the local communities.

However, more needs to be done, particularly by the smaller companies, which often fail to grasp the situation’s gravity as they operate in a relaxed regulatory framework. These companies would benefit by being transparent about the impact of their manufacturing operations on the environment. Detailed disclosures will enable them to measure and find ways to mitigate the environmental impact of their operations.

India Inc also has to now go a step forward and include sustainable practices in the value chains.

The inefficiencies of value chains have resulted in the universal demonisation of plastic. Unable to process plastic gainfully, many value chains consign plastic waste to landfill. Instead, an effective ecosystem can productively use plastic in different forms and alleviate much of the pollution that spoils our natural habitats. From virgin packaging to recycled material, and finally, as fuel energy when burnt in a controlled manner, efficient disposal of plastic can reduce pressure on natural resources.

Shift in perspective

There is also a need to widen the business lens to include its direct and indirect environmental impact. For instance, a real estate company’s initiatives should not be limited to using environment-friendly material and employing ecology-light processes for its commercial projects. Instead, it needs to go a step further and build structures that facilitate lesser energy and water consumption by users.

Similarly, there is a need to make sustainability a prerogative for most of the commercial functions. Currently, ensuring fulfilment of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) goals is considered the sole responsibility of the sustainability function. However, it will help if sustainability teams across the organisation identify avenues and implement steps to improve the sustainability quotient of various departments and functions. Moreover, the leadership could implement an organisation-wide system of relevant ESG-linked bonuses and goals to broaden the sustainability ambit. India can also benefit if corporates advocate environment-friendly processes and share relevant technological knowledge.

Sustainable existence is not a choice anymore but an imperative. It has to be here and now. Coming together as #GenerationRestoration is our best and perhaps only chance to make peace with nature and restore our planet.

(The author is Head – Environmental Sustainability at Godrej Group. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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