A bird’s eye view of 2017 paints an interesting picture, despite the initial darkness of the year’s low points. Without doubt, there were global shocks from Trump, overall climate change, and multiple cases of Human Rights violations. However, it has also been a year where the control of sustainable practices has shifted from the hands of the larger agencies like governments and policy makers to the hands of smaller units. This year saw organizations taking a stand, saw individuals making noise about unfair practices, and saw a global shift towards building responsibly for the future. Business planning has grown to include considerations of human resources, environmental impact, and long-term company footprint. Of all that has happened in the sector, we look at some of the most far-reaching in this article; events that have already begun making waves.
Corporate Drive for Better Disclosure
Early in the year, we saw BlackRock Inc, an entity with massive clout; the world's largest asset manager, put pressure on companies to explain their approach to including climate change, and sustainability practices into their business plans. Within a very short span of time, it was the business owners and established corporates that spoke up in favour of building for sustainability. A notable example is that of McDonald’s, which has been working towards finding more sustainable practices to produce their beef. However, they recently launched a new push towards understanding how they can also create impact to soil quality, and create overall impact to productivity while maintaining soil health. Closer to home, the focus on environment has definitely sharpened, with the Delhi smog situation, and more, and the collective global move towards change has sped up in the latter part of 2017.
Explosive growth in EV
One of the major development in the push for sustainability was the explosion of electric vehicles, influenced by the fore-runner in the effort; Tesla. With the launch of their electric semi truck in the latter part of the year, Tesla took the push for sustainable practices to a new high. Once the model was launched, it didn’t take corporates long to sign up. Besides PepsiCo and UPS, Global logistics player, DHL Supply Chain has placed an order for ten Tesla Electric Class 8 Semi Trucks, which they aim to test by 2019. The longer-term impact of this will not only be environmental, but also quality of life of their drivers and talent retention in a tight labour market. The electric vehicle market has received a huge impetus from the widespread acceptance and adoption of the push for more corporate responsibility driven business practices.
In India companies such as NTPC Ltd, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd, are all working towards building for EVs, to remain relevant in the evolving energy landscape of the country and the world. The Ministry of Heavy Industries has also given its approval to the introduction of EV-based public transportation systems in 11 cities across the country, and players such as Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki, Honda, etc are all working towards the effort.
China’s leadership in green finance
A week after the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, Beijing hosted a high-level international forum for energy ministers. The Chinese officials not only declared that their targets basis the Paris Agreement would be met within time, they also took a global leadership position in support of clean energy. From the largest user of energy resources, and the largest polluter, China repositioned themselves as a proponent of environmentally sound practices. China also created financial incentives and a financially-driven effort towards sustainability, by financing the treatment of agricultural waste, banks being encouraged to explore new financing mechanisms, including emissions trading and water use permits, and options of credit and special funds for environmentally friendly industries. Additionally, with a focus on green bonds, China’s green bond issuance exceeds that of any other country or supranational organisation. The efforts undertaken by China set an example of a new path to industry development; not only for developing nations like India, but also for nations wherein the shift to sustainability is underway. China has created a realization that it’s not about massive overhauls, but the smaller tweaks in the systems that make all the difference. Additionally, their diversification of effort also opens the doors for more innovative thinking when fitting sustainability into their business plans; a model which can be adapted to multiple economies across the world.
Micro grids enabling renewable energy
With the focus on reducing fossil fuel usage, and the explosion of EVs, obviously, the next focus will be electricity. As more energy use gets hooked to the grid, the grid needs to be greener, more resilient, and reliable so we can depend on it at all times including during the increasing natural disasters. Enter the microgrid, which can be built to rely on greener fuel sources, and jump in to augment the bigger electrical grids. With smart use of technology like IoT, Machine Learning, and Big Data, these grids can be built for a much stronger contribution to the overall energy requirements.
Global power and automation player ABB is looking at India as a potential location for its microgrid solutions. Akin to their solutions implemented on Robben Island in the Cape of Good Hope, they aim to try a similar approach with Indian island locations like Lakshwadweep, Elephanta, and Andaman & Nicobar. These will be built to withstand the weather conditions which tend to be erratic in these areas, resulting in a robust microgrid being developed with a significant impact on programs such as the Sagarmala port development project, etc.
US firms refusing to join Trump’s race to bottom
With the most powerful and influential country in the world denouncing the Paris Climate Accord, one would think this set the stage for a huge setback in the push for sustainability. However, after the declaration, with a public announcement, large companies like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Gap Inc., and many others not only demanded that Trump reconsider his choice, but also declared their support for the Paris Climate Treaty.