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Field Notes from India

At the risk of stating the obvious, the growth happening in India is astounding. When I say growth, I refer to a number of aspects: growth of the economy, growth of the cities, but also growth of sustainability awareness and practices. I just returned from a 2 week trip to India and would like to share some of my observations.

When looking at Sustainability overall, I tend to talk about three drivers for business adoption: regulatory requirements, brand, and operational efficiency. Each of these drivers is alive and well in India.

Beginning with operational efficiency, the example that I saw that also resonated with my experience was the prolific use of CFL bulbs. The hotel I stayed in Gurgaon had a 20 foot high awning between it and the adjoining shopping center. In this awning was quite possibly the largest array of CFLs I have ever seen. CFL bulbs are no surprise to many of us, but for a country like India to so quickly adopt a technology that has only fairly recently hit the main stream in a country like the US was impressive. India has some interesting drivers when it comes to electricity consumption: at least once a day (usually twice or more) I experienced a power outage. With electricity being a scarce resource, costs are likely high and utilities constantly struggle to provide enough supply to meet demand. Both sides of the equation are incented to find ways to improve the operational efficiency of energy consumption. Not knowing enough about the regulatory environment, I can at least say from an operational perspective that India would be a great place for a demand response program similar to what a company like Enernoc runs for customers here in the US.

Brand value is also something that Indian companies are starting to take note of with regards to sustainability. I bought a pair of shoes from an Indian shoemaker, Woodland. They seemed like a casual-yet-rugged walking shoe, I had woefully under packed for the trip and needed a non-dress  shoe to wear while sightseeing over the weekend. Back at the hotel I looked the company up online and on their homepage (sorry Mr. Jobs, it’s Flash) they espouse their “pro planet” position. Digging a bit deeper, they appear to really back that claim up with actions. Perhaps the Patagonia of India?

The most striking sustainability driver was regulation.  As with many economies experiencing significant growth, pollution is a concern in India. I was talking to a colleague who lives in Delhi about this and he said that things now are so much better than they were 10 years ago, “I can actually see the blue sky in Delhi now.” In 2003, Delhi required all buses to switch from diesel to natural gas in order to improve air quality. This tactic appears to have worked. Now, in addition to buses, all tuk tuks (auto rickshaws) in Delhi are now required to run on natural gas as well. The skies become bluer, people become healthier, and carbon emissions become fewer.

Sustainability is taking hold of India. I read in the local paper there that Delhi and Gurgaon are really looking to become world class cities. The consensus is that in order to do so, they must be “sustainable cities.” I look forward to watching sustainability grow within India and hope that it outpaces the overall growth—not only because it will improve the lives of everybody but because it makes business sense.

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      It may look strange, but main reason for mass usage of CFL's in India is not sustainibility or environmental concerns per se, but it is the low power consumption and longer life of CFL's...

      Important take away is, new Sustainable\ Green Products should not only focus on the carbon emissions,usage of them make economic sense as well. That's what matters to common people on street.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      Absolutely. Sustainability has to make financial sense, otherwise the man on the street will not adopt. And, if that doesn't happen, we are all in a bit of trouble. Do you know of other financial/sustainable initiatives being taken at the individual level in India?
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      One particular initiative which I like is by state of Karnataka ( whose capital is Bangalore ).
      Their Board of Water supply has made Rain Water Harvesting mandatory for all buildings which are above a stipulated area, and they only give water connection to the building if this condition is met.

      Also, there are many states within India which provide subsidy for Solar Equipments.

      Manas Dua