As part of its 2nd Annual Conference on Technology and Society, IIITH’s Raj Reddy Center for Technology and Society (RCTS-IIITH) and the Atal Incubation Center (AIC- IIITH) organised two closed-door roundtable meets on “ESG: Corporates, NGOs and CSR Convergence” and “Innovating for Net-Zero Mobility and Beyond”. Both these confluences saw the active participation of NGOs, startups, Impact Funders, corporates, policy makers and research academicians. Here’s a brief roundup of the deliberations that took place at each of the meetings.
Barriers To ESG Adoption
ESG is a framework that lets stakeholders understand how an organisation is managing risks and opportunities related to Environmental, Social and Governance criteria. However there are many barriers to the adoption of ESG standards with lack of awareness standing at the top of the list. A recent survey of school children revealed that climate change and waste management are their biggest concerns. Hence, every individual should be encouraged to participate in ESG initiatives in their communities to learn about ESG and support businesses and organisations working towards a sustainable future. A by-product of the lack of awareness of ESG leads to lack of adequate corporate funding in ESG initiatives. This is where corporate boards can step in and ensure that ESG initiatives are not only carried out but also that they align with the company goals and values. While a few corporations may be making efforts to comply with ESG criteria, it may not be enough unless there is collaboration on ESG standards. Partnerships can help in transitioning to a circular economy and reduce environmental and social impacts.
Areas For Potential External Alliances
Sustainable financing includes identifying ESG goals and measuring progress of impact, to ensure effective and efficient utilisation of funds. Investors should look for projects on climate change, inequality, reduction of carbon emissions, water, poverty and so on. Similarly, banks like HDFC should support startups which align with their reputational risk management. For targeted long-term impact, small scale collaboration with NGOs on micro projects can actually help on the ground. One way of fostering collaboration is via the use of Open Source AI tools. With tech like the ‘Sustainability Cloud’, one can analyse company product impact and reduce costs. For long-term goals, a long-term partnership with CSR and investors that goes beyond financials is necessary. Plus, the CSR initiatives must include the startups in the ecosystem too. Multiple collaborations with different groups is important for CSR initiatives. For instance, in eco-sensitive regions of the Himalayas, a partnership with local residents and consumers for tech startups. Similarly, for smart city solutions, a collaboration with banks like the SBI and RBI is essential to reduce paper usage.
Types of Engagement Models
The creation of a supportive ecosystem where mentors can provide guidance on business strategy, marketing and fundraising, have open conversations with stakeholders and share best practices in impact measurement, can amplify solutions with social impact. For visible impact, a 3-pronged strategy of funding-partnering-volunteering by the corporates for the social enterprises is beneficial. Before approaching corporates for collaborative ventures, it is important to align your own work with their mission and be equipped with a well-defined exit strategy. Prior to implementing ESG in any solution or service, a well laid out ESG framework that includes the formation of an ESG committee, adequate training sessions, usage of social media to promote awareness, the creation of an ESG intranet site, recognition of ESG contributions by employees, and so on is highly recommended.
It was observed that adoption of ESG standards is in general difficult because of the lack of awareness, complexity, expenses and other factors. Hence the roundtable discussion mooted overall joint efforts to move into the ESG domain and increase results in the long run. From the institute’s viewpoint, some of the activities that could be initiated by IIITH include the organisation of workshops on specific ESG topics for achieving sustainable and social outcomes, running an ESG Tech challenge towards advancing collaborative efforts and kickstarting an ESG community of interest groups for continued dialogues in this space.
While embarking on the ESG journey through socially responsible business practices is the first step, there is also a growing demand for ESG plans that outline a path to meet net-zero emissions. Hence another roundtable meeting was held on Innovating for Net-Zero Mobility and Beyond. The aim of roundtable meeting on Innovating for Net-Zero Mobility and Beyond was to help stakeholders and policymakers define the technologies that can empower net-zero emissions in the mobility space and beyond while discovering solutions needed at the policy and the grassroots level to achieve net-zero in a just manner.
Public Transport, EVs and Fuel Cells
With India having made a commitment to be net zero by 2070, a large part of the discussion revolved around the nature of mobility technologies needed to achieve this and how those technologies that are chosen emerge as the standard. A shift to public transport-focused mobility framework was underscored which could also solve other problems in parallel such as those of traffic congestion and affordability. Plus, it would be easier to scale a technology for net zero if the framework relied on public transport. To help achieve net zero mobility, tech adoptions of fuel cells and electric vehicles are sustainable solutions. Shared and autonomous solutions can also be key to the emissions problem.
From the point-of-view of an individual, a human-centric approach includes actions such as shifting to public transport, adoption of electric vehicles or transport, increasing the use of shared mobility, and so on. A minimalistic lifestyle with self reflection of one’s carbon footprint is a significant step in the right direction. At the system level, this approach includes complete connectivity with public transport and better transport management. More footpaths, and other pedestrian friendly designs of roads are both an individual as well as system-level solutions.
One way to minimise losses that occur in public transportation is to plan the logistics efficiently, adopt technology, reduce costs and thus improve overall efficiency.
EVs are not a complete solution for achieving net-zero mobility since they require huge initial investments that include an elaborate chain of production. There are hidden costs too such as those for tyres as EV tyres differ from traditional ones. While one can get carried away in the pursuit of the next big tech innovation, the need of the hour is to use existing tech because most solutions need a 20% cost margin to succeed.
The right policies are crucial in achieving net zero mobility and they include the need to incentivise design – mandating more pedestrian-inclusive infrastructure, construction of self-contained neighbourhoods spanning a radius of 3 kms, disincentivising sprawl behaviour by reorienting subsidies earmarked for private transport towards public transport and analytical capacity building in the mobility sector. Other important elements include a robust data capture mechanism and optimisation of the road network. For example, while at present sensorization is already underway, inter-communicability is still lacking. In addition to this, both data capturing and data analysis are heavily energy-intensive. Finally, awareness is key for the successful implementation of any policy change, whether it is adoption of public transport or optimisation of existing tech.
Environmental Justice and Social Equity
Technology tends to have a gender bias and we often find that mobility changes are not inclusive. To address these gaps, solutions to optimise women’s time spent on the road, reducing social barriers for women taxi drivers must be explored along with highlighting the importance of women as stakeholders when it comes to pedestrian-friendly designs that include adequate lighting and so on.
Tech Driving Net-Zero In Other Areas
Carbon emissions are almost always associated with the mobility sector but there are other areas too where action can be taken to achieve net zero. For instance, heavy usage of air conditioners to cool buildings, and the textile industry which is the second largest contributor to carbon emissions. With a significant portion of urban household waste being textile waste, the reusing and recycling model ought to be pursued.
IIITH proposed the following actions that can help in making net zero mobility possible. They include an enhanced collaboration with various governmental agencies, corporations, urban planners, community organisers to support the development of policies and infrastructure for achieving net zero mobility, supporting tech innovations in the field by promoting climate-focused tech entrepreneurship, supporting projects between the for-profit and not-for-profit stakeholders, working closely with policymakers to advocate sustainable measures, fostering collaborations between the government, businesses and civil society via public-private partnerships and so on.