There is every reason to want to focus on sustainability and energy efficiency in India! The world's most populous democracy, home to 1.3 billion people, is also one of the fastest growing economies. However, this remarkable growth has been marred by the resulting environmental degradation and energy insecurity. In fact, a report by the World Bank finds that environmental degradation costs India $80 billion per year or 5.7 percent of its economy.
In another survey by the World Bank, India ranked 155th overall and almost last in air pollution exposure out of the 178 countries where the environment was surveyed. The survey also concluded that India's environmental quality is far below all other BRICS countries. According to the latest WHO survey, 14 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. It’s no wonder then that environmental sustainability is considered to become the next major challenge as India surges along its growth trajectory.
It is commonly acknowledged that eco-innovation, i.e. incremental and groundbreaking innovations in terms of product, processes, business models, and utilization systems for sustainable development, is an integral part of the successful transformation towards a green economy. Its potentially significant benefits, competitive gains, and social and environmental benefits have been widely discussed and universally accepted. In fact, Allianz suggests that eco-innovation would be the driver of a new wave of industrialization, just as steam engines, the railways, automobiles, or more recently Information and Communication Technology drove earlier business cycles.
The question then is - why is India lagging far behind what is needed and expected in both the innovation and sustainability domains, despite enormous potential and a critical need?
India’s innovation potential is grossly underutilized and has largely bypassed its younger population, especially in the field of eco-innovation. India needs to build capacities for researching, inventing, adapting, or adopting new technologies. Doing so is prudent not only from an environmental perspective but also from an economic one.
But as the situation stands, while there is an undisputed need for eco-innovation, it hasn't translated into demand yet - probably because there aren't strict standards in India today that reinforce the need for sustainability. The government on its part can take a number of different steps varying from tax-based approaches to regulatory approaches to entice investments in and encourage companies to focus on eco-innovation.
At the same time, it is also time for the business community to step up and play its role. Today, the total R&D investment in sustainable technologies in India adds up to $3 billion per annum, which is less than one-third the investment into two companies, Amazon and Flipkart. There are not enough startup companies starting out outside the realm of e-commerce, traffic aggregation, or transportation who are solving problems of air quality and energy. It's high time that innovators don't start their journey by looking at valuations and positive cash flows, but focus on solving real problems instead.
Given sufficient government support and a genuine need/problem such as sustainability, the positive cash flows will soon come.
In my view, there are three key steps that will help eco-innovation gain momentum in India:
For eco-innovation to make a real difference in India, bold visions need to be converted into feasible plans that help share risks and promote synergies among different stakeholders. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenge for our generation to overcome.
Gaurav Burman is the VP and Country President of 75F India.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)