India and ESG: Navigating a path for holistic growth

In this exclusive write-up for WhatPackaging? Rajesh K Khosla, president and CEO, AGI Greenpac, says how India, after adopting ESG, is aiming to become an economic superpower

15 Mar 2023 | By Rajesh Khosla

Understanding strategy, climate, net zero, decarbonisation, water, supply chains, governance and social sustainability will play a key role in the success of ESG goals

India’s landmark commitment at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021 accelerated two major changes in the socio-economic fabric of the country. Firstly, it encouraged conversations and sentiment towards environment conservation and sustainability. Secondly, Indian companies opened up even more towards the adoption of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) aspects of the business. Investments in ESG began in the rest of the world in the early 21st century. The various environmental and climate conventions, the protocols agreed to by countries, and the imminent need to protect our planet’s finite resources further catalysed the way economies adopted approaches toward ESG.

India continues to steadily move towards achieving its ambition of becoming an economic superpower. In January 2023, India’s chief economic advisor, V Anantha Nageswaran, stated that India could become a USD three-trillion economy by 2022-2023, and it would touch USD seven-trillion in the next seven years.

India and ESG
India identified the importance of a regulatory framework for ESG back in 1986 and established The Environment (Protection) Act, the umbrella legislation for environmental protection in India. Since then, other regulatory bodies that govern the conduct of the market have also begun to adopt ESG reporting norms as a benchmark for a company’s performance.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) recently replaced the earlier mandatory Business Responsibility Report (BSR) with the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR). Applicable to the top 1,000 listed companies by market capitalisation, the report aims to enable investors to make a more informed decision. The report not only focuses on the financial performance of a company but also delves into the ESG impact of a company’s operations. 

Furthermore, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, the national accounting rule maker, has developed 16 social audit standards. These developments are set to significantly increase the momentum of companies working towards highlighting their adherence and contribution to ESG tenets.

ESG reporting
For any company and its accountancy consultants to work towards robust ESG reporting, there is a need to lay a concrete foundation. There may be a need for some companies to get back to the drawing board to see the exact environmental and social impact that their economic operations are having. While initially taxing and cost-intensive, this exercise will definitely bring about a marked and welcome change in the macro-economy of a country through a butterfly effect.

Second, ESG data collection mechanisms will need to be made mandatory across levels and business units of a company. This cross-functional approach to gathering ESG data will not only make it easy for companies to report their ESG performance but will also help in course correction for companies looking to be responsible corporate citizens.

Third, reporting must be dependable and transparent in nature. Internal ESG leaders and change agents will need to ensure that policies are consistent and controlled. An easy way to approach it is that systems and processes follow a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound (SMART) approach.

Finally, developing internal talent with an orientation towards understanding ESG is important. The need for talent (from senior to junior leadership) to be in tune with strategy, climate, net zero, decarbonisation, water, supply chains, governance and social sustainability will play a key role in the success of ESG goals. 

Benefits of a robust ESG framework
The holistic positive impact of a robust ESG alignment for companies is far-reaching. However, there are a few pertinent points that create a strong case for Indian companies to accept ESG norms. As India Inc continues to attract investment from global economies, ESG can further help our economy grow. Socio-economic concerns in the aftermath of the pandemic, climate change issues and the depletion of natural resources remain contentious for investors across the globe. 

An ESG-compliant economy will go a long way in reassuring investors. Furthermore, fair ESG reporting also builds customer loyalty. Many studies have shown that a trend has begun to rise wherein customers are more likely to spend money on products and services of companies that are seen as environmentally and socially responsible.

Finally, transparent ESG reporting can help reconcile any remaining divides between socio-economic requirements and public policy formulation. With a clear picture of what is available, what is expected and what needs to be done – industry and policymakers can band together to help create a tangible positive impact on the country in a more holistic way.

(Rajesh Khosla’s ability to create convergence between innovation and creativity has helped the business to scale newer heights over the past five years. He has experience in joint ventures, anti-dumping duty, and market development. Khosla has 27 years of corporate experience spread across domains. Before joining HSIL, he served as the president, director and CEO at PT Jindal Stainless, Indonesia.)

Tags : ESG
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