My Experience with Three Landmark Reports on Waste Management with UNEP

Why this post?

The subject of waste management is rapidly evolving. National policies and regulations are getting redrafted, strengthened and expanded. Indeed, implementation continues to be the challenge but the interest from the community, entrepreneurs and investors is growing. The term waste is now closely linked to resources and innovation is now recognized as a product of this “union”. Achieving circularity in the material and energy flows using these innovations is imperative towards this planets sustainability. 

In the last decade, I was fortunate to work on three interesting reports brought out by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  This post recounts these reports, describes their genesis and shares some of the findings. Though targeted to policy makers, these reports serve as a great resource to students, research workers and young practioners who are looking forward to making careers in the new era or avatara of waste management.

The Waste Chapter – UNEP Green Economy Project

The financial crisis of 2007–2008, also known as the global financial is considered by many economists as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The housing market suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures, and prolonged unemployment. In particular, as businesses cut production in response to lower aggregate demand, workers were shed in large numbers, sharply increasing unemployment worldwide. This was a time of great depression.

As a consequence, between 2007 and the end of 2009, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of unemployed. Beyond job losses, the quality of employment also deteriorated. Across the globe, many workers who did not lose their jobs were forced to accept reduced working hours as well as lower wages and benefits. In developing countries, a large number of workers lost their jobs in export sectors and were forced into informal and vulnerable employment elsewhere. The situation was further aggravated by austerity measures in most developed economies. The great recession had thus created a global jobs crisis.

It was in the background, UNEP launched the Green Economy project in 2008.  Achim Steiner, then UNEP Executive Director played a crucial role on pushing the Green economy project. The Green economy project was coordinated by UNEP’s office in Geneva.  Do watch Achim in the video below.

The idea of the Green Economy project was to demonstrate that the greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth but rather a new engine of growth.

Green economy was defined as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy was thought of one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. UNEP’s definition of a green economy was influential in the build up to Rio+20.

The report was prepared in three Parts. Part I focused on investing in natural capital and had chapters on Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Forests. Part II delved in Investing in Energy and Resource Efficiency,  Renewable Energy, Manufacturing, Waste, Buildings, Transport,  Tourism and Cities. Parts I and II thus illustrated how greening could be mainstreamed towards economic, environmental and social advantage.

Part III addressed supporting the transition to a global green economy with chapters on Modelling, Enabling Conditions and Finance. Modelling was carried out by the Millennium Institute (MI) from the United States. MI used Threshold 21 (T21) model that was developed after more than 20 years of research and application. The Chapters of Parts I and II provided inputs to T21 and results of T21 were in turn interpreted in the respective Chapters.

Armed with T21, the Green Economy report argued that Green investments will open up and enhance new sectors and technologies that will be the main sources of economic development and growth of the future. Sectors of potential included renewable energy technologies, resource and energy efficient buildings and equipment, low-carbon public transport systems, infrastructure for fuel efficient and clean energy vehicles, and waste management and recycling facilities. Greening was thus mainstreamed in the global economies as an engine of growth to revive the economy after the meltdown.

My company Environmental Management Centre LLP was contracted by UNEP to build the chapter on Waste. I was the Principal Author. We had benefit of five contributing authors representing various regions of the world and with extensive and varied experience in the waste sector. There were peer reviewers appointed as well and a global consultation was performed on the drafts we produced. I remember my colleague Swati Arunprasad had a harrowing time to compile and respond to some 400+ comments/inputs that we received! The Chapter was built over 8 months of painstaking work. I enjoyed interacting with the MI Team when it came to building scenarios or make predictions.

The tone of the Chapter was more on the economics of waste management. The global waste market, from collection to recycling, was estimated at US$ 410 billion a year, not including the sizable informal segment in developing countries. Recycling sector was considered as the main job-provider and attracting investments. The chapter recommended that we establish a global circular economy in which material use and waste generation is minimized, and any unavoidable waste is recycled or remanufactured.  Only remaining waste should be treated in a manner least harmful to the environment and human health, and in a way, that generates new value such as energy recovered from waste. The circularity concept was thus positioned. However, we did not emphasize enough on the aspects of reduce, refurbish, re-manufacture. Probably we had less data, only scant case studies and less experience to make a strong economic, environmental and social case. Unfortunately, this weakness continues even today.

Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO)

Presentation of the Green Economy report and especially the Waste chapter, led to The UNEP Governing Council decision GC 27/12: ‘develop a global outlook of challenges, trends and policies in relation to waste prevention, minimization and management […] to provide guidance for national policy planning’.  In response to this decision, UNEP International Environment Technology Centre (IETC) in Osaka was asked to prepare Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO). International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) joined as the partner.

The GWMO chose to focus primarily on the ‘governance’ issues– including the regulatory and other policy instruments, the partnerships and, crucially, the financing arrangements. Relatively less emphasis was given on the technology. The GWMO was result of two years’ work (by UNEP and ISWA) between 2014-2016 and provided an important and timely status report and call for action to the international community.

David Wilson from the UK was appointed as the Chief Editor of GWMO and I was taken on board as one of the four contributing authors. I had just completed then a Strategic Action Plan for Waste to Resource Management for UNEP. In the situation analyses of the Action Plan, I reviewed some 300 projects and programs of the UN across the world in the arena of waste management and assessed their effectiveness vis-e-vis investments made. This Action Plan was not published – perhaps outcome of this assessment was rather dismal!

During the work on GWMO, team at EMC LLP took the task of developing a “database” on waste generation, waste collection and processing infrastructure across the world. Apart from the waste related data, key “meta data” was also compiled on economic and social parameters. This was quite some sweat, requiring validation as the numbers were often conflicting and my colleagues Shreya Bhatia, Vishwa Trivedi, Tausif Farookhi and Anuja Sarangdhar helped me immensely. This database, now a bit dated, was put in Tableau platform for rapid processing and visualization. I wish I could update this work now. I am looking for researchers/interns to take this up.  Interested?

The GWMO stressed on costs of inaction – the public health and environmental damage costs of uncontrolled disposal and open burning – and cautioned that these costs far exceed the costs of sound waste management. We were hoping that this argument would influence the politicians to allocate more budget for management of waste. Pity that we did not have very many “convincing” case studies.

The GWMO noted that while developed countries have made good progress in increasing recycling rates and stabilizing waste growth –there was still much to be done across the world in making the transition from ‘end-of-pipe’ waste biased linear economy, to a circular economy.  So once again, the need for circularity in material/energy flows in waste management was emphasized.

The report corroborated with findings of the Green Economy report and recommended a steep increase in the level of funding on waste management sector. It came up with targets to consider such as  – achieving 100% collection coverage in all cities with a population more than 1 million. Integrated strategies to simultaneously address sanitation and solid waste management services were emphasized. GWMO urged that producer responsibility programmes should be promoted and monitored to ensure that international companies take more responsibility for waste management associated with their products and wastes in developing countries.  We realized that we were working on inconsistent and incomplete numbers and were many times apologetic. Poor data  was also the experience of one of the well-known reports of the World Bank called “What a Waste?”.  So, a plea was made to improve the availability and reliability of waste and resource related data.

Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO)

The success and experience of GWMO and to respond to requests from countries, UNEP IETC  considered building Regional Waste Management Outlooks. Accordingly, a project on preparation of Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO) was launched in partnership with ISWA. I was appointed as the Chief Editor with contributions from three other authors. UNEPs Regional Resource Center at Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) did the coordination and final production. My students Asha Panwar and Malavika Gopinath from IIT Bombay assisted me.

By then I had realized that the Outlooks and associated reports were getting rather rhetoric. Lot was said before and many a times more. More focused and strategic recommendations were needed. In AWMO, we therefore stressed the importance of developing and promoting Green products and introducing Green Public Procurement as recycling was dominating the understanding of circularity. Since informal waste pickers play a major role in waste management in Asia, sorting centres and materials recovery facilities were recommended providing a safe environment for waste pickers to work. Segregation was stressed as something vital for circularity.

We also realized that the secondary materials industry in Asia is growing rapidly. This sector needed to be factored in the national economies as done in countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. The growth of this industry was important because it provides an alternative to the use of virgin materials, thereby improving resource security and reducing GHG emissions.

To build more consistent data, standardization of definitions of waste streams and waste-related terminologies was recommended while generating inventories, tracking progress and making comparisons. Today, each country “defines” waste differently.

Studies on “costs of inaction” on health, environmental and social impacts of indiscriminate waste disposal were found to be rather scant. In this context, remediation of contaminated dumpsites was suggested as a priority intervention by the national governments. Further, necessity of preparing strategic action plans to address upcoming and challenging waste streams, such as marine litter, mining and disaster waste was also emphasized.

The AWMO, amongst its several recommendations, made following four key suggestions for strategic action

  • Test the effectiveness of economic instruments for effective and sustainable waste management. We realized that Asia lacks this experience.
  • Develop a referral framework assessment of policy equivalence, implementation and tracking of progress to guide national governments. The idea was to attempt a regional harmonization on waste and resource related governance. Material flows that dominate movement of waste and resources through trade are dominating today and are getting skewed due to differentials in pricing and governance.
  • Emphasize holistic or zero waste management addressing waste in all three media (solid, liquid and air). This suggestion came from Surendra Shrestha, then Director of UNEP IETC. Indeed, a needed expansion of the “mandate”, but rather ambitious and difficult to achieve. Needs piloting.
  • Consider development of an Asian Directive on Circular Economy to guide the national governments. I thought this was an important intervention to consider.

The Outlooks are expected to get updated every two to three years. I do hope I get an opportunity to work on the next updates. The experience has been inspirational, enjoyable and with a lot of learning.

Access the Green Economy reports here. Follow link here to access the Outlooks.


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Newspaper at the Bungalow of Dinshaws

[This post uses several images of locations and properties in Matheran – a hill station near Mumbai – as available on the Internet. I  would like to acknowledge sources of these images. These images have greatly helped me in creating the setting of my “story”]

Matheran is a hill station in Karjat Taluka of the Raigad district in the Indian State of Maharashtra. Matheran’s proximity to Mumbai makes it a popular weekend destination. Matheran, which literally means “forest on the forehead” (of the mountains) is an eco-sensitive region, declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. And It is Asia’s only automobile-free hill station.

I always wanted to camp in Matheran for couple of weeks to write stories of my life. A friend of mine recommended a bungalow that I could rent near the Charlotte lake.  I chose the period right after the end of monsoons and before the Diwali vacations to avoid the noisy tourists. The location of bungalow was in the woods. Besides it was just 2 km away from my favorite Louisa Point – that has a cliff resembling lions head. I always drew inspiration and solace sitting alone at the Louisa Point in the morning. I decided to take early morning walk on the muddy road from my bungalow to Louisa. I knew that this walk in the woods followed by a majestic view of the valley from the cliff would help me to brew my “stories”.

Cliff with Lions Head at Louisa Point and Panoramic View of the Valley

On the very first day when I started to walk towards Louisa, I noticed an old Parsi bungalow. Matheran is known for old Parsi properties. Today, these properties are not well maintained, and several have been deserted due to family disputes. But this bungalow looked rather majestic and seemed well maintained. There was a watchman at the gate who looked friendly. He smiled at me. We chatted a bit. I told him about purpose of my stay in Matheran. When he learnt that I am a writer and camping in Matheran for three weeks, he said “Sir, why don’t you meet the owner of this Bungalow Dinshaw saab. He is a great person to be acquainted with. He loves meeting people like you. See he is just outside watering the trees”

I looked where the watchman pointed and saw an old Parsi man watering the trees with a hose. He seemed to have noticed me too as he waived and walked towards me.

We spoke and in the next 5 minutes we were sitting in the main hall of the “Dinshaw bungalow”, Mrs. Dinshaw joined us with a warm smile.

Drawing Room at Dinshaw Bungalow

After brief introductions and few pleasantries, we got along very well.

“Dr Modak, why don’t you join us for a breakfast?” Mrs. Dinshaw seemed very hospitable.

“Sohrab, you better shave and be more presentable before you sit next to Dr Modak” Mrs. Dinshaw got into the kitchen and Mr. Dinshaw (Sohrab) walked to the adjoining room to shave. The room had a closet and a large washbasin with mirror on the wall.

I sat in the drawing room and picked up a newspaper that was lying on the teapoy. This newspaper looked very strange. It carried a mast “Tomorrow” – a title I had never heard or come across. The date on the newspaper was March 15, 2018 when todays date was September 15, 2017! I was simply aghast to see a Newspaper what was printed six months earlier and was essentially carrying news of Tomorrow!!

The newspaper carried stories such as


Smog kills 3000 in Delhi

Chromium found ingested in the rice crop of Tamil Nadu

Flamingos in Mumbai displaced

IT industry in Bangalore city shuts down – because of mounting waste, traffic jams and flash floods 


I found the news very disturbing. Is this the future we see and future we want? I said to myself.

There was no name of the Editor and publisher of the newspaper.

“Sorry Dr Modak – it took me much longer than expected” Mrs. Dinshaw appeared with a masala tea with Brun muska (butter) and placed the tray on the dining table that had a marble top. She noticed that I was reading the Newspaper “Tomorrow”.

“Sohrab – the breakfast is ready” She yelled while taking the Newspaper away from me. She carefully folded it and placed inside a tall camphor chest that had a top carved with a Spanish ship with pirates.

Masala Chai with Brun Muska for Breakfast at the Dinshaws

I thought the Newspaper must be somebody’s prank. But I thought that I must still ask the Dinshaws about this strange Newspaper and where did they get it.

But when we started the conversations, I simply missed asking.

Dinshaws were explaining to me their philosophy of life. The bungalow was more than 150 years old and was a heritage property. Dinshaws moved in after parents passed away some 10 years ago to look after the property and live life in peace.

“We seldom go out Dr Modak” Mr. Dinshaw said. “We do what we feel is best to do and what best should be done. We like to help as much we can. Future ahead of us is troubled and does not give us a good feeling”

Mrs. Dinshaw smiled “We get a lot of satisfaction when we do something in time and find that we are still useful to the society” She said this while pouring more masala tea for me. I noticed her wrinkled face. The Dinshaws must be above 70 years I guessed.

“Come Dr Modak, let me take you to a tour of the bungalow” Mr. Dinshaw invited me after we finished the breakfast. I was most pleased with this invitation.

The rooms in the Bungalow were elegant with antique parsi furniture with old chandeliers hanging on the ceiling. But I was shocked and surprised when we reached the verandah on the rear side of the bungalow. The verandah faced the valley and it was so close that you can almost jump or fly out if you had the wings!

When I spoke about this feeling to Mr. Dinshaw, he said “Why not Dr Modak? Stretch your imagination and you may really fly – you just need to be inspired enough”. I thought Mr. Dinshaw was right.

Valley View from Mr. Dinshaw’s Verandah – You will be inspired to fly if you have the wings!

It became a ritual for me to say hello to Mr. Dinshaw during my morning walks to Louisa Point. There were occasions when Dinshaws would invite me for the breakfast. I would look for the newspaper Tomorrow and get disappointed when I would see instead todays edition of the Times of India lying on the teapoy.

Only once I found the mystic newspaper lying on the top of the camphor chest. The news of July 15, 2018 and it carried headlines such as


Road alignment changed to save trees and reduce resettlement and rehabilitation

Landfill mining – pilot projects mobilized  that were earlier stuck


I sheepishly stepped aside when I saw Mrs. Dinshaw walking towards me with a tray with Masala Chai, Akuri (spicy scrabbled egg in Parsi style) and Muska Pav (thickly buttered bread). The newspaper was taken away, folded and kept in the mysterious camphor chest.

These headlines looked good and showed some signs of hope. Mr. Dinshaw was a municipal engineer of repute with a degree from Harvard and had strong ideas and views on the management of solid wastes in cities and building of environmentally sound and socially sensitive road infrastructure. I thought for a while that Mr. Dinshaw must have influenced some of these decisions in the interest of doing something good as he knew the “problems” in advance or ahead of time !

“You are hallucinating Dr Modak”I said to myself.

In the next week, I missed taking my morning walk as I was in a fervent mood to write. I did not want a break and I continued pounding keys on the keyboard of my laptop. Finally, I could complete my “story” by late afternoon. I decided to walk up to Louisa and drop in to say “hello” to Dinshaws. It was late evening and an unplanned visit.  The watchman must have gone home as there was no one at the Gate. I walked in.

Gate of the Dinshaw Bungalow in the late evening – A strange and mystic feeling

I reached the drawing room. There was no one. A copy of newspaper “Tomorrow” was lying on the dining table this time. The Newspaper was dated for September 25 while todays date was September 22. Future but not too distant – I thought. A prominent headline was “Water supply to Mumbai under threat – A new form of terrorism”. I simply froze and shuddered with the thought what if someone does contaminate the reservoirs holding Mumbai’s water supply with toxic chemicals!

I called for Mr. Dinshaw. No one answered. So I went to the verandah on the rear side. I saw Mrs. Dinshaw standing there on the ledge of the verandah almost in a trans. It looked as if she was to about to jump and “fly” out to some destination on a mission. Her eyes were shining, and it was the first time I noticed that she had Vulcan ears!!

There was a hallow around her with a shape of wings.

Mrs Dinshaw with a hallow

I looked into the valley beneath and I saw a humanoid bird with large wings – flying. Was it Mr. Dinshaw? And was he waiting for Mrs. Dinshaw to join?

Where were the Dinshaws expected to fly? Perhaps to see the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai? and warn him that such a sabotage was going to happen.

To do something good and in time.


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Picture of the “Dinshaw Bungalow” is taken from https://www.saffronstays.com/view/the-parsi-manor-a-100-year-old-quaint-heritage-stay-7LAWThR4QHMDBIEH. The property is called Parsi Manor

Moody Rating and the Scheme of Half-Time  

This post introduces an innovative scheme called Half-Time that is rumored to be launched on the eve of the New Year in the interest of sustainability in India. Here is the “story”.


I went to see my Professor who was advising a company managing Mutual Funds on the Green Bonds. We chatted about the impact of Moody’s recent upgrading of rating to India to Baa2 from Baa3.

Professor’s view was that this upgrading was long overdue.

“These international rating bodies have been unfair to appreciate the progress made by India” He said.

While serving a special black coffee, he showed me a report on his desk from Dual Citizen, a US-based data consultancy. This report was 2016 edition of the Global Green Economy Index (GGEI). The report ranked 80 countries on both how green they are perceived to be, and how well they (actually) perform.

Professor said that on perception, India was not bad and was ranked 19 out of the 80 countries that were researched (Note that India was on rank 16 in 2014). Germany was on the top of this list. On the performance side however where Sweden was on the top, India’s rank was 68 (it was on rank 49 in 2014). This rank was really low and of grave concern. Clearly there was a contradiction between “talk” and the “walk”.

He quoted a paragraph from the report

According to the IMF World Economic Outlook, India, Bangladesh and Senegal should realize GDP growth between 6-8% in 2016. Yet in a trend that has been observed in previous editions, these countries perform poorly on the new GGEI, raising the question of what kind of growth these nations are realizing and how sustainable it is.

I couldn’t disagree with this observation.

Professor closed his door of his cabin, walked closer to me and whispered “Dr Modak, do you know that Moody’s are thinking of expanding their rating systems to factor the GGEI?  If this happens, then we will certainly be downgraded, and our reputation and investments flows will be hit. Moody’s are expected to come up with this modified rating system in 2019. It is rumored that Jayaram Ramesh of the Congress Party is helping Moody in this intellectual exercise”

I was shocked with this “secret” news.

Professor paused. He took a large gulp of the coffee and then said, “I have therefore advised our PM to implement a novel scheme called the “Half-Time”. This scheme will be PM’s third and final wave of reforms before the national elections”

“What is the scheme Professor?” I was very curious

In several team-based sports, matches are played in two halves. Half-time is the name given to the interval between the two halves of the match.  What I have proposed to the PM is to direct the citizens to live life in two halves – one half for the usual or allotted work and other half devoted to put sustainability in practice.

“This transformational reform (essentially a directive) will be vigorously implemented across India. It will reduce the contradictions between the perception ranking and ranking based on actual practice or implementation. We will achieve all colors of the economy – i.e. green, blue and purple.  A pilot phase of this Scheme has been already commissioned in Mumbai. Based on the pilot experience, our PM will announce the Scheme across the country, on the eve of the New Year.

“But what is this Scheme about?” I wanted to know the details.

Professor lighted his cigar.

“Sustainability is so much talked about that most of us just keep talking. Sustainability has become a “talking subject”. All generally advise what others should do by making presentations in the seminars or while writing recommendations for the Committees. Many criticize on channels like Times Now, Mirror Now etc. that nothing is happening on the ground. Few win awards for their performance – typically bestowed by CIIs and FICCIs – and become the heroes. But these companies or institutions are like small islands in the Pacific Ocean”

I thought the Professor was right.

“So I told the PM that budget for implementation is not the constraint. The real challenge is how to get time and commitment from people or their involvement. Today its tough to get time to do something concrete on sustainability as it is not described in the job description. Besides sustainability is a pretty nebulous concept”

“Take case of a middle class Mumbaikar. On an average a Mumbaikar travels 1.5 hours each way to reach the office and get back home. Mumbaikars are tired and frustrated in the journey and also in the office as they breath poor air quality (indoors as well as outdoors), watch heaps of garbage and flies around, drink overly chlorinated water at the taps and cope up with a sad and uninspiring boss.  They eat vegetables that are rich in pesticides and cook meat that has high levels of steroids. All they can do is criticize the civic bodies and their administration, builders, automobile makers, politicians, NGOs and the like. Media loves this jinx by hosting shows on their TV channels on the “pollution menace” or as a breaking news on the poor quality of life. Nothing changes on the ground. Of course we have the rules, regulations, fines….”  Professor stopped as there was no point to elaborate.

I thought the Professor was right once again.

“In the Half-Time scheme, people in Mumbai will work for only half time in their offices. The rest of the half-time will be devoted to some concrete sustainability oriented action. For the Government employees, the scheme will not lead to additional financial burden as most government employees anyways work Half-Time. Instead of chitchatting, sending what’s app messages, stitching a sweater or doing side business (like real estate) etc. and wasting time, they will step out and do some meaningful work for their neighborhood and society. This should be more interesting to them”

“But what about the private sector? Who will pay for the Half-Time?” I thought I asked a tough question

But Professor was easy.

“Companies who are obligated to spend 2% of the Profits on CSR will be allowed to divert their budget for sponsoring the half-time of the staff. In the initial phase, we will apply the scheme only to companies that need to be CSR compliant. To maintain their targets, these companies will need to double the employment who will work during the remaining half-time. Remember that generation of employment has been one of PM’s promises while campaigning for the election. So this will fit well”

I thought this strategy was superb.

“We will amend the Schedule 7 on CSR under the Company’s Act accordingly and make this Half-Time expenditure eligible. In this way, the CSR budget will be better spent and the staff working on sustainability related actions will bring in the desired change. We will thus see actual improvements on the ground instead of just the talks. The staff will also get good exposure to problem solving and identify new business opportunities for themselves and for the companies”

“Professor, can you give me some examples from your pilot? I asked

“Well, the Income Tax officers working at the BKC office have taken up beach cleaning in Bandra and Dadar (West). Clerks working in Mantralaya (Secretariat) at Nariman Point are conducting literacy campaigns for the children of fishermen in Colaba. Officers from Reliance in Andheri have adopted five streets in Versoa to plant and take care of the indigenous trees, track the birds (excluding crows and the pigeons of course). Software engineers at Tata Consulting Services are writing Mobile Apps to guide the citizens, especially children on green living. And through all these efforts, we are already witnessing a significant improvement”

I was impressed.

“But Dr Modak, there are exceptions of course. Half-Time Scheme for instance is not applicable to essential services such as fire department, hospitals, water supply & solid waste management department etc. Half-Time scheme is also not applicable to our defense forces. There are several such caveats” Professor said this in a cautionary tone.

He looked into the watch and noticed that was nearing 1 pm. “Well Dr Modak, I better leave as I must grab my lunch quickly and join the team on my Half-Time project”. He extinguished the cigar.

“What’s your Half-Time Project Professor?” I asked

“Well, we are holding series of convincing sessions with the senior politicians in the Municipal Corporation (both ruling and in opposition) to approve the pipeline of projects needed for the sustainability and safety of this city. These sessions are held at the Taj because these politicians are not interested to meet at cheaper hotels”

“Professor, hope your Half-Time efforts will help in clearing the critical pending proposals such as widening of the railway Foot Over Bridges (FOBs)” I said

Professor said “Yes Dr Modak, but we are targeting for fast clearance of mega projects such as the Trans-Harbor Link, Coastal Road project etc. Compared to these mega projects, the FOBs are rather minuscular and less impacting. Let the present system handle the FOBs. Our Half-Time work of continuous persuasion of politicians if successful will propel thousands of crores of investments”

Professor left for the Taj.

I realized that these investments were certainly important to maintain or improve the Moody rating.

I kept wondering however whether these projects will really bring sustainability to this city.

But perhaps that was not the point.


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My New Book – Environmental Management Towards Sustainability

I have written in my space of three decades of career a few books and publications. But I was always craving to craft a book on the subject of Environmental Management & Sustainability. I wanted to structure a book that could meet the needs of academia, professionals in practice and communities. I also wanted to position the efforts taken by the businesses, financing institutions, policy makers and regulators; compile some of the success stories and cite leadership examples. In addition, I thought that the book should serve as a textbook to run a 36-lecture post graduate course at the universities.

Since 2015 I started working on this project with CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group). The task was arduous and challenging. It took several iterations of re-structuring and re-writing. Nothing is perfect when you write! And your quest to be good, often plays the devil! All of us have experienced this uneasy process when you want to create something different. You struggle.

In 2016 I suffered from a cardiac stroke and then several setbacks came along on the health front that led to interruptions and delays.  I doggedly continued and finally the book was completed by August 2017 for processing at the publisher’s end. My last twenty years of consulting practice at my company –  Environmental Management Centre LLP – greatly helped me in this endeavor. My colleagues at EMC played a key role in helping me to pull the examples, doing proof-reading and in referencing. Sustainability has been dear to all of us. Way back in 1996, we wrote our mission statement as “Practicing Sustainability to the Advantage of All”.

I am happy to inform you that the book will now be released by end of December 2017. I hope I will receive a set of copies of this book on my birthday – January 4, 2018!

The book has been structured in six Chapters. The first Chapter introduces the critical issues the world is facing today with relevant statistics, underscoring the importance of recognizing the nexus. The key concerns on polarization of population due to urbanization and skew in the global material flows are discussed. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are outlined highlighting importance of Resource Efficiency (RE) and Secondary Material Recycling (SMR). The Chapter ends by introducing the concept of Circular Economy (CE).

Chapter 2 introduces the stakeholders to sustainability such as G (government)-FI (financing institutions)-B (business)-C (community). It lists the key governing principles that need to be put into practice.  Responses from the national governments at policy level are then described – introducing examples of constitutional provisions. Next, the planning related interventions are illustrated with case studies such as zoning, eco-cities, eco industrial parks or eco-towns. Regulatory frameworks are then dealt with, citing examples of standards and their evolution in the life cycle perspective.

Chapter 3 is devoted mainly to Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) and Private Sector Financial Institutions (PSFIs).  Examples are cited of the operations at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, followed by PSFIs who have adopted Equator Principles. This chapter also introduces various financial instruments, trends and opportunities such as Sustainable Stock Exchanges, Adaptation Funds and Green Bonds

Sustainability in the Business organizations (both manufacturing and services) is discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. While Chapter 4 introduces the strategies practiced by the business across the sectors and Chapter 5 presents more of sectoral experience with numerous case studies

In Chapter 6, the focus is on the role played by the communities. Communities play an extremely key role when it comes to achieving results on the ground. Sometimes the community plays a role as a watchdog, sometimes a facilitator and sometimes takes a leadership which we often call as Community Driven Development (CDD). Chapter 6 also underscores the importance of awareness, education, training and innovation. The topics such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and eco-entrepreneurship are also introduced in this context. The Chapter presents several case studies where social enterprises have been set up for the benefit of community at large. The importance of linkages between sustainability and innovation is brought out where we show how businesses and the governments along with the local community are moving on the path of innovation. The Chapter presents case studies that emphasize importance of partnerships across communities, government, financing institutions and the business.

The book uses around 140 examples/case studies in the form of boxes. In each box, there are discussion questions and references for further reading for the interest of the students and the faculty. I put considerable efforts and emphasis on examples and discussion questions as I thought that this feature would make understanding, learning and teaching more effective and interesting.

The book may be used as a textbook or a principal reference to design and conduct a 36-lecture course at graduate level on Environmental Management and Sustainability. The instructor could intersperse these lectures with practicums, discussion sessions and brainstorming events. For each of the case studies the book has the lead references given. So, the student is encouraged to go through the original references from where the case studies have been drawn and then discuss the case studies in much more detail.

One could also use the book selectively depending on the audience. The content of Chapters 4 and 5 which are little more focused like on Business could be used in combination with Chapter 1 (as an introduction) to conduct short term training programmes. Similar approach could be used to train offers of the government, financing institutions and the communities.

The book does not delve in detail on specific environmental management tools. However, concepts of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), practices in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS), frameworks such as Sustainability Assessment of Technologies (SAT) are introduced. The book cites number of references to gives directions to the reader on how to deepen knowledge on some of these tools. The students and practioners are encouraged to follow the references. The instructor can even consider exposing the students further by setting up reading assignments and prepare notes. For example, students may be encouraged to do a study on the application of LCA on some of the interesting products like washing machine, or plastic bags and then present these assignments in a group work and share with each other the methodologies used.

I must say I was fortunate to receive consent of Dr Bindu Lohani, my doctoral research guide and Ex-Vice President of the Asian Development Bank in Manila to write the Foreword for the book. His words of encouragement in my book are a result of our long relationship over past 35 years!

This book in summary makes an attempt to present an interesting and useful compilation of experiences put in the perspectives of key stakeholders such as government, financing institutions, business and the communities.  I do hope that you find this resource useful and help to put sustainability in practice.


The book is now listed on Amazon. Visit crcpress.com to avail 20% discount. Enter the code FLR40 at checkout.

For more details, or to request a copy for review, please contact: Gagandeep Singh, Senior Editor, +919646026201, gagandeep.singh@taylorandfrancis.com


I plan to conduct a series of lecturers based on this book on Saturday mornings in Mumbai, commencing from January 2018 till March end, 2018. I am keeping these sessions FREE just for the joy of speaking on this subject and to be in the company of people who are interested in sustainability.

I am looking for a sponsor who will lend me a lecture room with video recording facilities as  I plan to set up a website for this book with video clips of my lectures for potential e-learning. If there is any progress on this front, I will send you a notification.

So where do you take your sabbatical?

[As usual this is a “story” and not anything real]

I had booked a seat for a concert at the National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA). The NCPA in Mumbai is India’s premier cultural institution. Inaugurated in 1969, it was the first multi-venue, multi-genre cultural centre in South Asia. The concert I was to attend was by the legendary music director Zubin Mehta.

Zubin Mehta’s list of awards and honors is extensive and includes the “Nikisch-Ring” bequeathed to him by Karl Böhm.  Even at the age of 80, Zubin Mehta continues to support the discovery and furtherance of musical talents all over the world. He is the co-chairman of the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation in Bombay where more than 200 children are educated in Western Classical Music.

The great Zubin Mehta

I was a bit late for the concert and hence was worried whether I would be let in.

As I pushed the door, the door-keeper stopped me and asked me to show the ticket. With a tiny pencil torch in his hand, the door-keeper noted my row and seat number. While ushering me to my seat, he whispered “Dr Modak, the show has just commenced. If you were a bit more late, then I would not have let you in”

I sat down. And just then the great 80-year-old “Bombay Boy” Zubin Mehta walked on the stage. The two-hour programme was to feature compositions by Dvorak, Beethoven and Ravel.

But I kept wondering how the door-keeper recognized me. And his voice sounded a bit familiar.

After the first break, I thought of having a coffee in the lounge and look for some familiar faces. And there was film and ad personality Gerson Da Cunha, age 87 (who studied in the same school of Zubin), Feroza Chavda, a regular to NCPA and a music lover from Kemps Corner, Shyam Benegal – the famous film director and a 14-year-old Behram Hathi, who is a violin student at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation. Most were engaged in discussions in soft voices about Zubin and the composition he rendered of Dvorak in the first half.

As I was getting back in the auditorium, I saw the door-keeper once again – guiding the people.

I took a good look, and I suddenly realized that the door-keeper was none but my Professor friend. No wonder why the voice sounded familiar.  He looked a bit different as he was dressed in a uniform that had the NCPA emblem.

“What are doing here Professor? And how come you are on this job?” I pulled him on a side.

“Well, I am on a sabbatical Dr Modak. I will be working here as a door-keeper for the next 2 months. I just joined NCPA two weeks ago”. Professor said.

“But Professor, most take sabbaticals at the universities. They teach a bit, do research and publish or write a book. But I never came across anyone opting for position of a doorkeeper during sabbatical.  And I am surprised how your application was approved? And how did the NCPA accept you?” I asked


Sabbatical  (i.e. Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. In recent times, “sabbatical” has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something. In the modern sense, one takes sabbatical typically to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or travelling extensively for research. Some universities and other institutional employers of scientists, physicians, and academics offer the opportunity to qualify for paid sabbatical as an employee benefit, called sabbatical leave.


“Oh, Dr Modak, “standard” sabbaticals do not excite me. How I managed this sabbatical is best known to the directors of IIT and NCPA and let us leave at that. My past 2 weeks of work here have been exciting. I could attend for instance the Artie’s Festival. Started in 2008, it is celebrating its 20th edition. And well, Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic are like a love affair to me”

Professor asked me to stay after the concert as he was busy attending to the door.

When we were driving back, Professor explained his philosophy. “In my sabbatical so far, I learnt that it is not just the main conductor that you should focus– but also look at other key artists who are supporting the overall outcome. Remember the violinist, Pinchas Zukerman who often played with Zubin? I wish I could attend their joint concerts”. Professor said.

” Outcomes of sustainability initiatives are often like a well construed piece of art. Sustainability initiatives recalibrate with our traditions & the culture. They are supported with foundations of science. Since the outcome is often a behavior change – you need to give credit to the entire Team and especially to those who participate” Professor said while dropping me home. I thought he was absolutely right. There was lot to learn in connecting sustainability outcomes with the concerts of Zubin and Yanni and the like. Sustainability should resonate like a concert.

I remembered Mary Simpson, the great Violinist in Yanni’s concerts and especially her enthralling violin piece in “Felitsa” (Don’t miss watching the clip below). Indeed, musicians like Mary and Pinchas are as important as the principal conductors.

Mary Simpson – with her charming smile

The legendary Pinchas Zukerman

The next day when we met at our usual coffee shop, Professor told me that many years ago he did a sabbatical as a Liftman at the Navsari building in Fort, Mumbai.

Located at DN Road, Fort, in Mumbai, the Navsari Building was bought over from the Tata’s in 1928 by the Kotak family of industrialists. The Navsari Building houses one of the oldest lifts in the city today. This wood paneled elevator is operated manually using a crankshaft. The building is one of the few in the city where its heritage is preserved. Professor spoke to the Kotak family and picked up a sabbatical for 2 months. The old liftman was given a paid holiday after he gave a week’s training to the Professor on how to operate the lift and stop precisely on each floor without any “hiccups”.

Navsari Building

Professor told me that those two months were memorable as he “met” with great personalities ranging from Banking to Bollywood. There wasn’t much opportunity for conversations but a lot for observing people – especially how they behaved in the lift.  He could also see a change on the face and behavior of people before getting inside the lift and while getting out. This change used to make him think about the people they must have met and the outcomes/decisions of the meetings.

The elevator in Navsari Building

Some of the celebrities who used the lift included Shah Rukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Bal Thackeray who used to go at the fourth floor for appointments with Banaji Eye – an eye specialist. And of course, there were people from the ICICI Bank working on the second floor who were rather formal and had grim faces. Many people, especially children,  used to come to just to see and experience the lift. Professor used to take the children in the afternoons to the fourth floor and back and the building management was quite OK with this gesture.

Professor explained that this sabbatical taught him patience and a philosophy that what goes up, eventually comes down, but to rise again. “One can get excitement even in the so called routine nature of the job – but if you know how to” Professor said while extinguishing his cigar. I thought the Professor was right once again.

“Well what is after the NCPA sabbatical?” I asked.

Sometime in May 2017, I plan to work with Shuaib at the Air Cool saloon. Professor said. Shuaib will train me in the first 2 weeks on some of the basics.

This nearly 60-year-old hair saloon has now reopened on the Vir Nariman Road in Mumbai, a short 5-minute walk from its former location and retains the classic vibe of the original salon. The imposing metal barber chairs are still there (re-upholstered in red) and so are all the old staff, wearing white short sleeve shirts with “Air Cool” embroidered on the hems. There is a wall of old barber tools, too — scissors, razors and shaving brushes hung up in glass frames. Apparently, many celebrities including ministers have been customers of Air Cool for years.

The Air Cool Saloon

“So, what’s your take there Professor?” I asked

“Well Dr Modak, when you are doing hair or trimming a beard or doing a neat shave, you can converse with your customer. It’s a rather intimate situation where what you say or advice gets heard. You can give your views on what the PM Modi should do or why Hrutik Roshan should not continue his fight with Kangana or why the stampede happened on the Elphinstone bridge.  And your customer responds – sometimes patiently and sometimes in an animated manner – depending on the service you render”

“Knowing you Professor I am sure you will converse with your customer on sustainability” When I said this, Professor laughed.

Few months later, in June 2017 and on the World Environment Day, I saw news on the TV channels that Environment Minister of Maharashtra has come up with a State Level Sustainability Action Plan – integrating with Climate Change. I was simply impressed with such a pleasant accident.

But when I saw Minister’s interview taken by Mirror Now, I realized that he looked a bit different. It seemed that he had just taken a good haircut.

I suspect he did his haircut at the Air Cool Saloon while my Professor friend was on sabbatical!


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This “story” has been constructed with some text and images based on articles from

Hindustan Times
http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/from-zubin-mehta-with-a-timeless-signature-in-mumbai/story-yJPsdt2Iy1ww2kMpY4QsHJ.html

Architectural Digest India
https://www.architecturaldigest.in/content/a-walk-through-heritage-mumbai-this-navroze/

GQ India
https://www.gqindia.com/content/mumbais-air-cool-still-old-school-gq-india/#old-school-remains-on-trend-at-the-air-cool-salon-at-churchgate

 

Are We Future Ready? The 4Cs of Sustainability

Sustainability today is no more a concept. It is a framework that provides direction to the Governance and influences the business strategy.

The need for sustainable development is no longer debated, what is argued, however, is how this should be achieved.

In India, we do see an awakening and evidence of the paradigm shift towards sustainability. It is important however that we understand this progression, identify the barriers and come up with strategies to overcome them.

The Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) and my organization Environmental Management Centre LLP (EMC) came up with a project to understand the “pulse” on Sustainability by connecting with some of the top leaders in the Indian business.

Interviews were conducted of Chief Sustainability Officers and their Teams representing 20 leading Corporates in India. Objectives of the Survey were

  • To assess the understanding of the concept of ‘sustainability’ in businesses
  • To understand to what extent Sustainability is mainstreamed into the business processes
  • To learn about the Sustainability initiatives being undertaken and share best practices
  • To understand the driving forces and future trends

I am presenting below some of the key findings of this survey. The full report  ‘Business & Sustainability’ Survey 2017′ can be downloaded at BCCI’s website

Sustainability means different things to different people. Common phrases used to define sustainability included responsible growth, value-add through sustainability, conserving natural resources through inclusive growth, produce more with less, “profit, people and planet”. Not commonly used phrases include “less problems and more solutions”, “making sustainable living commonplace”, “sustainability means relationships” and lastly, “sustainability means newly articulated but ancient wisdom”

Top focus areas majority of the organizations studied were Energy, Water and Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions. Many have implemented renewable energy solutions to reduce their dependency on conventional or fossil fuel based sources of energy. All organizations surveyed mentioned initiatives on recycling of waste water. Being a common good, organizations have embarked on community engagement and taken initiatives to conserve and share this valuable and increasingly scarce resource.

All organizations are going beyond compliance and have taken initiatives to ensure that resources are used cautiously and more efficiently. Next or in many cases equal priority has been environmental management, health and safety (EHS). This is because risks of non-compliance on EHS are high. For some, sustainability program has evolved from the solid foundation built on EHS systems and processes.

We found that only few organizations have begun looking at Sustainability across their supply chains. There are few leaders who have put in place policies and requirements to bring up the standards of their vendors and suppliers. Organizations however recognize that it is a risk to ignore the supply chain since any slip up on this front will mar the company image and hurt the brand. As a result, these companies are renaming departments to include supply chain management, setting up procurement conditions asking for management systems (like ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001) and forming supplier forums to support smaller companies. These requirements and facilitation is expected to raise the bar and help to monitor risks as well as improvements. Some organizations have stipulated business codes of conduct on infringement of laws like child labor and human rights and have developed guidelines which the vendors are required to sign and adhere to.

We expected that Innovation would be everywhere among the organizations we spoke with. Businesses believe that innovation promises to reduce dependence as well as improve productivity and providing new market opportunities. Many suggested that Innovation and Sustainability are closely linked. Leading organizations are teaming up with academia and investing in research, startups and such efforts, to develop new technologies. A sizable amount of investment is spent on R&D for such innovation which is expected to save money as well as lessen the adverse impact on society and environment. Some organizations are highlighting such innovations on the canvas of their corporate philosophy on Sustainability. However, resources for upscaling the innovation are not always available. There is also a low appetite from stakeholders –less encouragement from the Government, not enough of a push from the consumer and low interest from employees.

Largely the focus of all CSR activity is aimed at the benefit of the community. Most initiatives are in the areas of Education, Health & Sanitation, Skill Development and creation of Livelihoods. In line with the organization’s business, some offer to support the community with their needs for example a cement manufacturing company provides low cost housing to the community. Areas for implementing CSR projects are usually around the location of the organization’s projects or manufacturing facilities and units. Community transformation is the main objective of all CSR initiatives. Often the employees of the organization are roped in through volunteering programs to provide community service in the form of teaching, managing health programs and making donations. We found that sometimes compliances to CSR forms part of the KPI for the Managing Director of the business. CSR expenditures often exceed the 2% PAT requirement as per the companies act. Many businesses have been offering community support services even before the mandate and continue to do so without the pressure of the requirement. Large organizations find their CSR directives being derived out of the vision and mission of the Group as a whole. Of course, all business do not fail to take advantage of any opportunities that come up by way of doing CSR. It’s almost standard practice to do so.

Employee engagement and training of employees is believed to be an essential step in the organization’s roadmap to achieving targets, increasing shareholder value and growing the bottom-line. Raising awareness of the human resource on Sustainability and ensuring their meaningful engagement with the associated initiatives is critical. The general feeling is that the business will not be able to conduct sustainability initiatives without the involvement, constant support and understanding of its employees.

Businesses always look for Compliance, Competitiveness, Continuity and Collaboration i.e. the 4Cs. These 4Cs pave the path towards Sustainability.

No organization wishes to downscale or shut down operations. Business honchos lead with best practices while Governments keep pace with regulations and imperatives. Governments also encourage businesses to take up targets that are aligned to national targets on global issues of climate change. With the conversation around sustainability reaching a stage where actions speak louder than words, more and more organizations wish to demonstrate their commitment to the public and the world including their stakeholders.

There are many pressures other than social and environmental perspectives. Maintaining a balance is a huge challenge. How does a business ensure that they continue to operate when the business does not perform well financially? Here is where many resort to innovation in doing business. Sustainability is often the unintended result of this effort rather than the goal. This goal is to be financially viable. So it is ‘Smart Sustainability’ that the business is looking for.

For many, running the business within the constraints of externalities such as globalization, resource constraints and political stability was itself a challenge. Given these complexities, the process of communicating, convincing and committing to Sustainability has become a daunting task.

We therefore still need more evidence to prove that Sustainability is not just ethos or a responsibility but that it is material and can be monetized. This realization will send ripples across the supply chains influencing small and medium enterprises.

Certainly, the doctrine on Sustainability is not going to be limited to large corporates and multinationals. We will also see many organizations investing in Sustainability to spur innovation – there will be an increase in innovative technologies and materials which will improve products and processes. Employees will hold greater value for management who will invest more in aligning them to their organization’s sustainability goals. The Human Resource Managers may position sustainability related awareness and training as a Primer or core of Induction Program.

Sustainability is now seen as an opportunity – to cut costs, to increase revenue, to innovate, to look good and to stand apart. Sustainability will be the business strategy to be Future Ready. And here, the 4Cs of Sustainability will guide.


You may like to watch following short videos

 

 


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Resources, Residues and Circular Economy

Sustainability of this planet depends heavily on the availability of resources.

Resources are under threat today due to severe depletion and degradation.

Depletion has been on a steep rise due to increasing population, urbanization and consumption. Degradation has been a result of reckless disposal of residues.

Strangely and oddly enough, the national governments, particularly the Ministries of Environment, have focused more on the management of residues rather than management of the resources. Legislation was evolved to set limits on the residues that will have to be met prior to disposal but not much attention was given on the limits of extraction of resources and resource pricing. The latter was more of a political issue.

Limits on residues became stricter over the years as our understanding of the adverse impacts and risks to the environment improved. We realized that residues when not properly disposed could lead to considerable damage to the humans and the ecosystems. There were severe economic implications both on damage and restoration. Many of the impacts were found to be long term and irreversible and further compounded with risks that were not easy to anticipate.

Most national governments followed a precautionary approach following “do no harm principle” in setting the limits. Over the years, advances were made in the monitoring of pollutants in the residues and the technologies were developed that could be economically used for treatment. These advances made tightening of the limits on residues possible.

Having framed the legislation and limits or standards on the residues, the national governments established institutions for monitoring and enforcement. Procedures and practices of documentation were laid down. Most legislations began with addressing wastewater but soon air emissions, solid and hazardous wastes were included. In the last two decades, specific residues such as municipal solid wastes, construction and demolition wastes, plastic waste, electronic (e) waste were also addressed by setting limits and requirements for safe disposal. Consequently, the investments on the end of pipe management of residues increased.

Unfortunately, since the institutions made responsible for monitoring and enforcement were weak, compliance to the standards or limits was not satisfactorily achieved. The resources continued to be degraded.

The polluters realized that to reduce cost of the end of pipe treatment and remain competitive, efforts were required to reduce generation of residues at the source. Concepts such as waste minimization and pollution prevention therefore emerged and the polluters did every effort to reduce residue generation by deploying better housekeeping and practicing reuse, recycling, recovery to the extent possible. This required a behavioral change, application of management systems, use of productivity improvement tools and adoption to modern technologies. The investments for management of residues essentially moved upstream leading to “ecological modernization”.  Unlike end of pipe investments, the “upstream” investments had a payback or economic returns.Strategies such as Cleaner Production, Green Productivity and Eco-efficiency emerged. These strategies showed a link between resources (in specific the resource use efficiency) and the residues that could be converted as a resource.

Gradually, importance of product design was understood that connected resources and residues.  Our understanding of Life Cycle impacts of the products made us realize that we must think of both resources and residues at every stage of life cycle i.e. extraction, transportation, processing, packaging, distribution, use, disposal.   The two R’s (viz. Resources and Residues) were thus integrated with the opportunities of 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle)

Over a period of time, the legislation on residues expanded and became more comprehensive. Figure below shows an illustration of evolution of limits, expectations and requirements for the pulp and paper sector.

Clearly, enforcement of such limits could not be done solely by the Government. It required a partnership approach where the markets (consumers, retailers) and investors were also involved. An enunciation of an umbrella policy and coordination between ministries was also necessary. The new paradigm of governance addressed both resources and residues, across the life cycle and in partnership with G-B-FI-C (Government, Business, Financing Institutions and Communities)

In India, importance of green products is not understood even today.  We are still far lagging on the strategy of eco or sustainable product design and green public procurement. Our eco-labelling program “Eco-mark” failed long ago, with no efforts made for revival. There are only handful schools in India who teach sustainable product design today. There isn’t much “market demand” either.

You can assess the “maturity of the environmental governance” of a country based on how the limits are set and are operated considering both resources and residues and how key stakeholders are involved. I would rate India at level of 4 if there was a maturity scale between 0 to 10.

As earlier said, the Indian environmental governance is still biased to the management of residues. But remember that even on the residues we have not looked into risks on disposal from ecological perspective. Although the name of Ministry is now Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change, we have not paid attention to the  risks posed on our resource security due to climate change. Our approach is still conventional and dated.

Resource management in India is in the purview of line ministries e.g. water, energy, agriculture. There is a poor coordination between the Ministries in visualizing a “systems” perspective where resources and residues are integrated. Years ago, New Zeeland enacted Resource Management Act (RMA). The RMA has not been a smooth ride but there are interesting lessons that could be learnt.

The recently promulgated concept of Circular Economy added additional 3Rs namely- Repair, Refurbish and Remanufacture.   These 3Rs introduced three significant components viz. social (employment), investment and innovation. Once material flows become circular, compliance becomes of interest to every stakeholder. 

China legislated Circular Economy Law as early as in 2007 focusing on industrial estates.  Japan promoted this concept at Eco-Towns. European Union came up with country specific targets, indicators and reporting requirements on Circular Economy.

India is estimated to become the fourth largest economy in the world in about two decades. This economic growth is however going to come with challenges such as urbanization with increased vulnerability (especially due to climate change), poor resource quality and scarcity and high level of unevenness in the socio-economic matrix due to acute poverty. India, if it makes the right and systemic choices, has a potential to move towards positive, regenerative, and value-creating development. Its young population, growing use of IT, increasing emphasis on social and financial inclusion as well as the emerging manufacturing sector can make this happen. For this, the conventional linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model of growth must change and an enabling policy framework at the national and sectoral level needs to be evolved. Developing a national policy framework on Circular Economy therefore makes sense.

The recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on India shows that a circular economy path to development could bring India annual benefits of ₹40 lakh crores (US$ 624 billion) in 2050 compared with the current development path – a benefit equivalent to 30% of India’s current GDP. Following a circular economy path would also reduce negative externalities. For example, Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) would be 44% lower in 2050 compared to the current development path, and other externalities like congestion and pollution would fall significantly, providing health and economic benefits to Indian citizens. This conclusion was drawn based on high-level economic analysis of three focus areas viz. cities and construction, food and agriculture, and mobility and vehicle manufacturing.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of Government of India set up the India Resource Panel (InRP) in 2016 to examine the material and energy flows across key sectors following a life cycle approach and to assess resource efficiency. I am a member of InRP. Sectors such as Construction, Automobiles, Iron & Steel and Metals were considered and key cross-cutting areas were examined. Recommendations of InRP are now taken up by India’s Niti Ayog (Planning Commission chaired by the Prime Minister) and is expected to develop a national framework to foster and support India’s Circular Economy.

The Government of India has embarked on several iconic projects to improve and expand its infrastructure (transport, cities and energy) and undertake ecological modernization of important sectors such as water, agriculture and food. In these Mega projects, Foreign Direct Investment is encouraged and these investors are asking for good practices on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) apart from conventional compliance. The 100 Smart Cities program, Make in India initiative, Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India), Namami Gange (Ganga River Action Plan), Interlinking of Rivers, Climate Resilient Agriculture etc. are a few examples. In all these projects, an application of the principles of the Circular Economy is extremely relevant and, more critically, leadership on the circular economy will need to be built in Cities, Industries, Investors, Project Developers and with Policy makers and Regulators.

Circular Economy is thus a concept that brings management and resources and residues together in the interest of economy, livelihoods and the environment. If implemented well then it will spur innovation and stimulate investments. The question is which institution in India will champion and how will we mainstream Circular Economy at national, state, city and industrial estate levels. Leadership in Circular Economy is going to be the key to bring in the necessary change.

We need to start walking the talk. But who will bell the cat?


Cover image sourced from http://www.guengl.eu/news/article/a-true-circular-economy-must-be-anchored-in-the-grassroots


I am developing an international leadership program on Circular Economy to be launched in 2018. Do write to me if you are interested to learn more or get involved 


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