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Committing ourselves beyond the market
Times of India - 21 Dec 2006

As chairman of the advisory council of CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development, Y C Deveshwar is promoting the concept of triple bottom line or economic, environmental and social performance, for sustainable development. He tells Narayani Ganesh that economic growth and sustainability can go together:

How would you quantify environmental and social aspects of business?
ITC is combining the three successfully — as per the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative — and we have come out with our third annual sustainability report. We’re carbon positive and water positive. Our large-scale agroforestry programmes helps carbon sequestration and we use carbon neutral fuels. We’re hoping to attain zero solid waste status. We’re harvesting four times more water than we’re consuming. Companies have to voluntarily reveal the environmental and social dimensions of their business. We believe that businesses need to make commitments beyond the market. More in industry are beginning to see why the triple bottom line approach is important for all-round development.

Many think conservation hinders economic growth.
The developed world has used up a lot of resources. If India and China follow the same (western) model we will run out of water, forests, soil quality etc. Everyone should conserve and create fresh sources. Greening industry has many advantages for the environment but that is only one aspect. The other is employment creation. ITC’s e-choupals have proved to be enormously successful in empowering the farmer. We need to have synergy between shareholder wealth-creation and helping the farmer prosper in a sustainable manner without degrading the land.

Won’t green practices hike the cost of the end product?
Why should consumers pay more? I am not worried about cost to my books, but costs to the next generation. Businessmen first take care of the bottom line, so we need to create those business leaders who look also beyond this bottom line.

Surely businessmen can’t be motivated entirely by altruism?
Why am I doing this? If you do good, goodwill is created and consumers prefer this. True, in the beginning you might have to bear additional cost. For instance, we grow trees for our paper business with tribal people using wasteland. It is a good supply source and generates employment. A long-term approach is important. Ultimately, people do value this. Anyway, at the moment, we are not showing costs. The effort to green industry is a long-run issue, and eventually, costs will stabilise. If you can dovetail sustainability with your business practices, it doesn’t add to costs. We’ve done watershed development in the most moisture-stressed districts. It works and in the long run, the benefits far outweigh the costs.