Sustainability, Knowledge Platform and G-20 for Emerging Economies
Dr Swati Mitra

The recent COP 28 in Abu Dhabi and prior to that the G20 Summit in New Delhi observed “at the midway point to 2030, the global progress on SDGs is off-track with only 12 percent of the targets on track”.

Global Leaders are tying loose ends to strengthen and implement Sustainability practices for an equitable outcome between the Global South and Global North marked by remarkable differences. For example, most countries in the Global South have low per capita income, agricultural economy, poverty, illiteracy with dense population as compared to the Global North which is technology driven with high per capita income, low population high Human Development Index. It is this background that sets the tone towards successful implementation in Sustainability practices in terms of public awareness and attitude that plays a key role to either expedite or slow down the SDGs by 2030. For example, segregating waste at source by common citizens or saving energy is at infant stages in countries like India, China, Brazil as compared to an average Japanese.

Highly developed countries espouse advanced regulations like CSRD prescribed by ESRS or Chemical Leasing in Europe on the other hand most emerging economies like India are focussed on GRI compliant report rather than attitudinal changes. Professor George Serafeim from Harvard University in his article “Making Sustainability Count” says, “Too many companies have embraced a "box-ticking" culture and fail to see any value from their ESG efforts”.

The problem therefore lies at two levels a) Lack of clarity on Sustainable Development as a whole and b) Implementing ESG in emerging economies like India with Socio-economic challenges. The Delhi Declaration calls for “Strong, Sustainable, Balanced and Inclusive growth” making it imperative for a change in strategy and implementation with achievable goals. A few steps may bring quicker and permanent results in achieving Sustainable Goals:

Gender Equality: International Labour Organisation states “Gender equality is crucial to economic growth and sustainable development. It is a key goal within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” With 50% representation of women at Leadership positions and across levels would change the socio -economic status of women in any emerging economy. Investors guided by the six principles of the UNPRI could play a crucial role in ensuring women in leadership positions. A good example is IKEA where 45% CEOs are women; and 56% at top retail management teams globally.

Volunteerism: is the medium that would ensure people’s involvement, ownership ensuring a permanent attitudinal change in sustainability practices. An iconic example is, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan set by Paul Polman on how employees were engaged at every level to achieve Sustainability. It was an entire process to put systems in place. Polman’s leadership to a falling Unilever says it all when he turned around the organisation into being profitable. This is a replicable model irrespective of the size of the organisation.

Setting up Good Practice & Knowledge Platform: Every stakeholder plays a role towards climate neutrality, for example: in her paper “Volatile Chemical emissions from car air fresheners” Steinmann et al found “air fresheners of all types including eco-friendly ones collectively emitted 546 VOCs with 30 VOCs classified as potentially hazardous.” This could be easily replaced by using fresh aromatic flowers as air fresheners commonly seen in India. This knowledge platform could be created by G20 for organisations/practitioners/CEO’s/CSO’s/Investors from member nations with easy access to good practices, technology, knowledge transfer.

Role of Chief Sustainability Officers: Finally, to drive change at every level a powerful CSO is needed to bring social impact within and outside giving a heads up to the profitability and materiality assessment in Sustainability. In her book Chief Sustainability Officers at Work Chrissa Pagitsas says “Sustainability and environmental, social, governance (ESG) strategies are increasingly central to businesses growth strategy and risk management. As a result, the CSO has become more important as a driver of both revenue and strategy.” The CSO needn’t be an environmental activist but someone passionate to motivate an organisation on how Sustainability could impact their own self and the future.

To conclude, Policy and Public awareness in sustainable practices marks any developed country. As Global Leaders said “no country should have to choose between fighting poverty and fighting for our planet. We will pursue development models that implement sustainable, inclusive and just transitions globally, while leaving no one behind.”

  • Social-Impact Efforts That Create Real Value, George Serafeim ,HBR, September–October 2020)
  • Chief Sustainability Officers at Work: How CSOs Build Successful Sustainability and ESG, by Pagitsas, March 2022
  • Purpose + Profit: How Business Can Lift Up the World, by George Serafeim, Harvard University,2022
  • Net Positive, Paul Polman & Andrew S Winston, Harvard Business Review Press,2021
  • UN-Women-2020-Asia-Pacific-Awards-Regional-Awardee-Profile-Gender-Inclusive-Workplace-IKEA India.pdf strategy and-chief-sustainability-officer.pdf

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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