By Vaishali Nigam Sinha
The recent intense heatwaves and drought in parts of Europe and the fact that spring gave a miss to North India to allow an early searing summer in March are warnings that time is fast running out for climate action. Given this, it is not enough for corporates to pivot to cleaner sources of energy. Businesses must also build sustainable projects across regions and communities in which they operate, with the right partners and at scale, with clearly marked responsibilities.
Against this backdrop, around 60 women salt-pan workers gathered in recent weeks in the remote Patan district of Gujarat as part of a multi-stakeholder, unique, and transformative project. Its aim? To train these inspiring women, who save just around Rs 8,000-10,000 for approximately 10 months of arduous labour in the Rann of Kutch, as solar panel and pump technicians.
It will bring these less privileged women from a tough, traditional livelihood into the heart of the clean energy transition and the fight against climate change. As solar technicians, they can earn up to Rs 18,000 a month in India’s fast-growing clean energy sector.
This programme, led by ReNew Power, and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), addresses multiple Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty, Gender Equality, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work, and Climate Action. It will be scaled up to about 1,000 salt pan workers, with the potential for expansion in different regions, and for different sets of informal workers.
Given the climate crisis—greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat, and ocean acidification set new records in 2021—sustainability-related projects must grow in number and scale.
The good news is that sustainability is high on the agenda of boardrooms. A McKinsey report last year pointed out that sustainability was the topmost priority for CEOs.
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Sustainability projects must be gender-inclusive. Looking at cyclone preparedness with, among others, a gender lens, Bangladesh cut the ratio of female to male deaths in disasters by ~two-thirds.
For corporates, sustainability also means going beyond just ticking the box, deliberating in the boardroom, and meeting targets like the 2% CSR mandate. To bring about scalable and impactful changes through sustainable projects, the following steps are worth considering.
Stick to your core
Companies foraying into sustainable projects should leverage their core business’s strengths as this will enable greater on-the-ground understanding of what needs to be done, help educate communities more effectively and increase projects’ chances of success, with the prospect to scale them factored in at the beginning.
For our salt pan project, we are providing our solar farms—our core strength—to support the training of solar technicians, working with SEWA, UNEP, and coordinating with the Centre’s National Skill Development Corporation. This will let us scale quickly as and when needed, given our expertise in the clean energy sector.
Find the right partners
To build a project from the ground up understanding local needs, while looking at broader best practices within a country or globally, it is imperative to find partners that complement one’s efforts, align closely with the overall objectives, and whose values—transparency, outcome-focused, and grassroots oriented—match your company’s. At ReNew, we looked at those qualities when we tied with UNEP, with its global experience, strong humane values, and expertise on environmental-related issues, and SEWA, known for its people-first principles, grassroots strength, and deep experience with the target group.
Who does what
It is critical that all partners define their areas of responsibilities clearly, key persons on point, and how they will track outcomes and report transparently to each other. This must be clearly delineated before the project takes off.
Companies like Ambuja Cements Ltd and ACC Ltd, in alignment with parent company, Holcim, have partnered with the IIT-Delhi to create next-generation, low-CO2 cement with over 50 % lower emissions. This collaboration, implemented through a research project funded by Holcim Innovation Centre, Lyon, France, ensures both players leverage their separate business and academic/research expertise to develop new ‘low CO2’ materials for the construction industry.
Given the scale of the climate change challenge, companies, especially larger ones, must look at setting up sustainability projects that are scalable and plan for that before finalising a project.
When ReNew focused on training salt-pan workers, it decided with its partners that, given the compelling need for action on mitigation, it must look at a large number of women salt workers to be trained and has put the number at 1,000. But what all three partners factored in while planning the project is that the lessons should be able to be applied to different sets of workers across different regions—by other organisations. All sustainable projects must factor in scaling if we are serious about climate change mitigation.
The writer is chief sustainability officer, ReNew Power, and chair, ReNew Foundation