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A Race For Sustainability and Development

An era of development was ushered in with the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century, but it also set into motion the gears of climate change. However, the world of today is aware of these adverse side products generated with development. Development that keeps the world sustainable for future generations is the century’s demand.

As developing countries further their industrialization, the role of Government and the Corporate sector becomes crucial to upholding sustainable development. United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) says, “Nearly half the world’s population is highly vulnerable to climate impacts and severe water shortages. Thirty percent of the population is exposed to deadly heat stress, rising 50-70% by the year 2100.”

Industries are the major consumers of natural resources, including minerals, fossil fuels, and water. Unsustainable resource extraction can deplete finite resources, disrupt ecosystems, and contribute to habitat loss and species extinction. The industrial processes produce a vast amount of waste, and its improper disposal leads to the spread of toxins into the air and water. Besides, industries lead to deforestation, noise pollution, algae bloom and greenhouse gas emissions.
Why are industries a central concern for sustainability and development? United Nations determines the development level of a country based on three factors: Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, Human Assets Index (HAI) defined by health and education, and Economic and Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI). Industries demand a workforce and provide employment, maintain trade balance, and have a direct impact on the environment. Hence, Corporate Social Responsibility takes the helm for sustainable development.

UNIDO defines Corporate Social Responsibility as a management concept in which businesses integrate social and environmental concerns into their day-to-day operations to contribute to sustainable development, health and well-being of society. UNIDO considers industries to be fundamental in mitigating sustainability issues due to threefold reasons: first, they are the largest emitters of Greenhouse gases; second, climate change and resource depletion directly affect them; and third, they have the potential to provide technological solutions and business models for climate issue mitigation.

United Nations adopted the seventeen Global Goals or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Meanwhile, India had made Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandatory for industries with the Companies Act in 2013 by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. As per the Act, companies with over Rs. 500 crores of net worth are required to allocate 2% of their net profit to CSR activities. These activities include poverty alleviation, education, health, gender equality, environment sustainability, and more. Overall, the CSR activities would have a direct impact on the development indexes, i.e. GNI, HAI, and EVI. Hence, the race for sustainability and development can be won with a sound interplay of government and industrial actions towards the United Nations’ SDGs.

Contrary to popular belief, Sustainable Development is not only about preserving the environment. Green goals are not the only solution. Seventeen-fold goals have been clearly defined by the United Nations for their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; they are no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy, decent work and economic growth, innovative infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, justice and peace with strong institutions, and partnerships for the goal.

The 2030 Agenda journey is halfway to its deadline. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report: Special Edition 2023 states key areas for urgent action because the SDGs have not been at the required pace to reach their destination on time. The report calls that the governments should “recommit to seven years of accelerated, sustained and transformative action, … advance concrete, integrated and targeted policies and actions” and “strengthen national and subnational capacity, accountability and public institutions to deliver accelerated progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.” It also calls upon the international community to mobilise the resources and investments needed for developing countries to reach the SDGs, and the “Member States should facilitate the continued strengthening of the United Nations development system.”

NGOs step in here as catalysts for the government. These NGOs ensure the outreach of policies to the unguided and unaware. They keep a check on the industries and their malpractices. These NGOs also educate the unreachable. India already has several NGOs who are working with the same philanthropic zeal.
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) works on interdisciplinary knowledge to inform about policies and practices towards conservation and sustainability. Chinta Environmental Research and Action Group works towards ensuring responsible and sustainable consumption. Mukti in the Sunderbans works towards poverty alleviation, education, livelihood and environment. These NGOs play an integral role in the promotion, execution and regulation of government policies towards sustainable development as well as other actions of national interest.

India adopted the 2030 Agenda with various policies stated in the Economic Survey of 2018-19, tabled by Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs. The survey cited various schemes and policies like Swachh Bharat Mission, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Pradhan Mantri AwasYojana, Smart Cities, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana and Pradhan Mantri UjjwalaYojana, among others.

Educational institutions are also vital in this pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals for the 2030 Agenda. United Nations deems Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) as the key drivers of sustainable development. UNESCO defined a four-step approach for integrating Sustainable Development with HEIs: first, teach sustainable development; second, encourage research on sustainable development; third, green campuses and support local sustainability efforts; fourth, engage and share information with international networks.

While disciplines like Geography already teach sustainability, efforts have been made by HEIs to educate students of other disciplines as well. Webinars and seminars, writing competitions and speech competitions have been instrumental in enlightening the students about this Global Goal. Additionally, providing basic education to the masses can significantly improve agriculture, empower women, increase environmental protection and improve life quality by opening enhanced vocational opportunities.

Technological advancement also runs parallel with education in this marathon for sustainability. Internationally recognized institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pioneer SDGs in the education sector by implementing action plans, conducting research, and digitalizing the campus to reduce its carbon footprint. Indian universities are also promoting digitalization, research and the use of green vehicles for transportation in their vast campuses. Thus, they instil a holistic lifestyle in students to keep the pursuit of SDGs consistent.

It must be remembered that institutions are only a medium to drive sustainable development. Ultimately, sustainable development is a social responsibility. Each sector must unite, and everyone must act for the fulfilment of this goal, whether that action is small scale like writing an article or holding discussions, or large scale like volunteering in NGOs or devising sustainable development programmes in your institute. The race for sustainability and development is a relay race with hurdles; every initiative must fuel the next, but the winning leap will also depend on how each sector tackles the hurdles at their level. With harmonized efforts synchronised with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a secure future for the succeeding generations will be ensured.

Editor: Vicky Muzio


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