The Sustainability Forum at the recent HYSEA Infra Summit 2019 held on April 18th in Hyderabad, featured some of the most esteemed thought-leaders and practitioners from the Indian sustainability space. The discussion and exchange were unique in that it covered issues ranging from climate change to global inequality, and highlighted some of the critical trade-offs faced by an emerging and fast-growing country like India, which is trying hard to achieve the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).

The panel  consisted of Dr. Mukund Rajan, Mr. Anirban Ghosh, Mr. Mahesh Krishnamurti, Mr. Amarnath Reddy Atmakuri, Colonel Krishnendu Sarkar and Ms. Gayatri Chauhan. The forum focused on the theme of “Inclusive Sustainability in the Corporate World” — Inclusive by way of innovative solutions as well as tangible opportunities and benefits for all.

The panel discussed the role of key stakeholders including governments, businesses (large enterprises, SMEs and startups), investor groups, the armed forces, civil societies, and communities, including women and youth, in co-creating solutions leading to ecological, social, and economic prosperity. A critical aspect of the proposed solutions included access (for all) to vital public services and clearly-identified paths for achieving growth.

Dr. Rajan, ex-chairman at Tata Sustainability Council, highlighted that India has made very significant and commendable progress in its economic development but needs to continue to provide significant market opportunities on the social front (education, health, environment, opportunities) in order to become a global leader in inclusive sustainability and achieve the UN SDGs.

Colonel Sarkar of the Indian Army demonstrated the phenomenal acievements by the Ecological task force of the army for  conservation of the environment across various states of India. The Indian Armed Forces clearly have the resources and capabilities to contribute significantly to the Sustainability agenda and deliver tangible outcomes.

Mr. Krishnamurti, MD at C-Suite and ex-managing director at RGP, spoke on the severity and urgency of climate change highlighting its environmental impact. He also touched on other disreuptions that are unsustainable in the long term such as massive corporate pay gaps and global income inequality. However, he signed off on a positive note, “there is hope. […] lot has happened and a lot will happen.”

Mr. Reddy, Chief Relations Officer at government of Telangana, emphasized the importance of sustainability at the ground level. He further went on to describe some of the key projects and initiatives that the telanagana govt has undertakend to restore the water ecosystems and infrastructure.

Mr. Ghosh, Chief Sustainability Officer at Mahindra Group, addressed the need for better air, water, sewage management, and plantation to achieve key sustainability targets. He added how well positioned facilities manager are in building world class communities. “The government needs to talk about outcomes rather than budgets and programs because outcomes mean action,” he said.

Ms. Chauhan moderated the interactive last leg of the panel which brought in further deliberations on the following points: 1) How to ensure that sustainability is integral to the business model? 2) How can various stakeholders in the ecosystem (including Government) become an integral part of a company’s sustainability story – as a doer as well as a beneficiary? 3) How can these stakeholders collectively motivate companies to be more sustainability-focused? 4) How can investors and the policy framework help shape the business landscape to promote sustainable and inclusive development?

Responsible Investing focused on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are becoming a major and effective driving force for prioritizing and measuring progress on sustainability. This has now become a business imperative and provides the necessary framework for integrating Sustainability into business models.

The need of the hour is to develop a framework within which all key stakeholders will be motivated to collaborate seamlessly (without regard to bureaucratic boundaries) to develop innovative and optimal solutions for the most pressing sustainability challenges.

Many large Indian and foreign multinationals have already undertaken and continue to undertake significant initiatives and are already significant contributors towards the UN SDGs.  While their actions are commendable and demonstrate active participation and commitment towards the UN SDGs, perhaps what is lacking is a collective joining of hands on their part, where “one plus one would equal three”.