With CSR becoming the norm for all medium- to large-scale companies, private and public, CSR causes and fields have also expanded substantially. This means that companies are now doing work that was hitherto the exclusive domain of governments or, in many cases, collaborating with it. There are legitimate questions and concerns around the fact that the private sector is stepping in to provide basic services which, after all, is the raison d’être for the government’s existence. However, companies do take more from society than they give back and this is one way to tip the scales in the right direction.

This led the team at CB to wonder: Does the government know which company’s CSR programme is complementing which ministry and how? After all, many CSR projects are similar to what the government is doing or supposed to do. By harnessing synergies between CSR and their own multiple, multipronged programmes, the government can make its own life a little easier and avoid repetition of work. Various ministries could leverage the large coffers and social commitment of companies to plug their own funding gaps as well as address the sheer number of issues that need addressing.

The ministry of environment
We decided to start with the environment ministry since climate change, sustainability and environment have become critical issues facing humanity and the planet – a fact that almost all companies recognise.

The ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) is responsible for the ‘planning, promotion, co-ordination and overseeing the implementation of India’s environmental and forestry policies and programmes’. Its work is mainly focused on conservation of the country’s natural resources, biodiversity, forests and wildlife, ensuring the welfare of animals, and prevention and abatement of pollution. So, all matters related to protecting the environment and its inhabitants are this ministry’s business. It also serves as the first touchpoint for international environmental organisations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Accordingly, the projects taken up by the ministry span an impressive range: biomass in rural India, land degradation, energy efficiency and low-carbon projects, coastal and marine biodiversity, and sustainable agriculture. Some of the current projects can be read about here.

In the 2019–20 interim budget, the budgetary allocation for the environment ministry increased by 20.27 per cent to Rs 3,111.2 crore, from Rs 2,586.67 crore. Prior to this, the allocation had increased by a mere 4.5 per cent for 2018–19. The allocation for pollution abatement decreased by 50 per cent, from Rs 20 crore to Rs 10 crore.

Most eco-conscious corporates are trying to clean up their own workplaces, along with implementing efforts for a greener environment. Projects directed at bringing down internal carbon emissions, efficient use of energy and water, waste management including recycling, and encouraging suppliers to cut down on their carbon footprint have become fairly common for some of the country’s biggest companies. However, it should be noted that not all provide enough data to accurately assess improvements, if any. Many still do not have a long-term vision with actual targets and checkpoints.

Noteworthy environmental CSR projects
Hariyali is the company’s flagship programme for rejuvenating the planet. Launched in 2007 with the aim to add 1 million trees to the country’s green cover every year, it has now planted over 15 million trees. Employees as well as stakeholders (customers, vendors, dealers) have taken up tree-planting drives across the country. The company is promoting green energy by collaborating with IIT(M)’s COE, starting an electric taxi service, and use of biogas produced from waste.

Coca-Cola India has a few projects related to environment protection. As part of its global vision, ‘World without Waste’, its Swachhta Kendras aim to reduce the impact of plastic by collecting and segregating plastic waste from different sources. It conducts frequent beach clean-ups and awareness campaigns in government schools. Through its project Anandana, it supports sustainable-water availability for water-stressed regions in 600 villages, thereby helping in water conservation.

Water conservation is important to Unilever too. The Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF) has created more than 450 billion litres of water potential through improved supply-and-demand management of water. It operates the ‘Water for Public Good’ programme which helps local community institutions to govern water resources and enhance farm-based livelihoods through more efficient use of water.

Godrej, on the other hand, has adopted a vast mangrove in Vikhroli East, Mumbai, an area of 1,750 acres. It is responsible for its conservation and management, as well as research and awareness, while maintaining its rich biodiversity. In 1999, Godrej implemented a large-scale mangrove planting of around 80 acres at the southern border for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The company is now the custodian of a large part of Mumbai’s mangroves. These mangroves protect the east coast of Mumbai from soil erosion and help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

For Hero MotoCorp, environment conservation and sustainability are a big part of its CSR. Apart from the tree-planting drives that have already planted over seven lakh trees, the company’s awareness campaigns focus on sensitising young students, resulting in 10,000 children from 100 Delhi schools becoming Green Corps. Project Aarush promotes clean energy by installing solar street lights in rural areas, with over 6,000 lights already installed in over 120 villages. The company has also installed LED lights in more than 12,000 rural households, bringing down electricity costs as well as units consumed.

Reliance Foundation has been helping farmers on sustainable crop-management practices and adoption of organic fertilisers, biopesticides, etc., to enhance productivity and improve incomes through its flagship programme Bharat-India-Jodo. The water-efficient Reliance Nutrition Gardens (RNGs) are producing diverse varieties of fresh organic vegetables. For water security, rainwater is conserved in all of the Foundation’s programme villages through technology (new or renovated earthen dams, masonry/concrete check dams, farm ponds and open wells).

Wildlife conservation is increasingly becoming a pet project for some corporates. For instance, Tata Capital Housing collaborated with WWF India to support animal-welfare projects such as conserving the great Indian bustard, red panda and one-horned rhinoceros. TCS along with Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, an NGO, implemented a marine turtle conservation programme in 2010–11 to conserve the depleting number of turtles and to protect breeding sites.

Muthoot Environment Research Foundation (MERF), the environment research wing of Muthoot Group, has a few projects for wildlife conservation. In partnership with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) and the Periyar Foundation at Muthoot Cardamom County Resort, a detailed study on nocturnal flying squirrels in the Western Ghats was taken up. The purpose of this initiative was to protect two known species of the flying squirrel. It also supports the Vasantha Sena, a group that is committed to preserving the forests and keeping poachers at bay at the Periyar Tiger Reserve. It worked with WWF India on elephant-conservation projects in selected areas of Uttarakhand, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal, with special focus on managing the human-elephant conflict (HEC) and protecting elephant habitats. The project includes measures such as formation of anti-depredation squads (ADS), conducting regular training and orientation sessions for them, and setting up low-cost solar fences around villages and electric fencings and infrared motion sensors around agricultural fields.

Sony India, too, partnered with WWF India in 2015 on conservation initiatives for the red panda and the snow leopard in western Arunachal Pradesh.

Since the 1970s, Tata Power has been involved in large-scale forestation initiatives around its hydropower facilities. It has also helped in conservation of the golden mahseer, found in the Himalayan rivers. This programme helped save the mahseer fish from extinction and facilitated an additional source of livelihood for local communities.

One of Ambuja Cement Foundation’s programmes is to work with farmer producer companies (FPCs) to gather crop residue in order to combat air pollution. By using this agro-waste as a biomass fuel for its operations, the company helps mitigate the burning of such residue which otherwise results in severe air pollution. The FPCs get paid by the company for providing bio-wastes like sugarcane trash, cotton stalk, etc, replacing conventional fuels like coal in the company’s kilns, creating an additional revenue stream for farmers. A win-win for the environment and the farmers.

How to form public-private synergies
The environment ministry can, and should, leverage the CSR work being done on environmental issues. As we have seen, there’s no dearth of projects that have been taken up and implemented by companies, often in partnership with NGOs. The ministry should try and ensure that such programmes complement its own work. For example, taking a leaf out of the Namami Gange programme, the ministry can list out projects where it can potentially collaborate with corporates or where the latter can contribute by working on initiatives that have the same synergies and goals as that of the ministry. Such information can go up on its official website so that the public has access to it and can track the progress of live projects.

  • Internal sustainability efforts: Most companies have in-house sustainability initiatives that try to mitigate environmental damage. However, many don’t have set targets and timelines, and progress reports (if any) are quite shoddy. The ministry can intervene by issuing guidelines and best practices on the hows and whats of implementing such projects, using the wealth of data on environment, pollution, emissions, etc., that it is privy to. For instance, it can use data on waste management to help companies reuse and recycle their goods and sustainably dispose of the rest in the most efficient ways possible. It can also encourage and incentivise (although climate change is a good enough reason to clean up one’s act) companies to become truly green and sustainable through awards, recognitions and collaborations.
  • Tree planting/Afforestation: The MoEFCC can list out locations where green cover is an urgent need or places that are rapidly losing their rich flora and fauna and need to be conserved. Companies can also be encouraged to adopt biodiversity hotspots and take end-to-end responsibility for maintaining them, an example being Godrej’s ownership of the mangroves in Mumbai.
  • Clean energy: Aside from promoting the commercial usage of clean energy, the environment ministry can partner with corporates in rural areas by asking them to facilitate the distribution and usage of green electricity sources such as solar and LED lights. Many corporates have adopted villages with a long-term goal of enabling their complete transformation into model villages. There’s no reason why clean energy cannot be a part of such efforts. It should be noted that such programmes need to be worked out in tandem with the ministry of new and renewable energy (which deals with the solar and wind power sector) and the ministry of rural development.
  • Sustainable agriculture: Behemoths like Reliance Foundation have made sustainable agriculture, along with food and water security, a key part of their rural transformation programmes. The environment ministry can study and replicate successful models or promote them among other corporates. In some cases, they can ask companies to scale up such models in other locations. For example, the Maharashtra government has adopted the RNG model in eight districts, establishing 3,035 nutrition gardens.
  • Wildlife conservation: As mentioned earlier, companies are delving into animal-welfare issues as part of their CSR. While some companies take up such projects as part of their overall CSR work in a specific location, others need to be prodded into it by organisations. What is not lacking, on the part of corporates, is funding and an interest in this kind of work. The ministry should tap into this by getting them to bolster its own wildlife-conservation efforts as well as take up projects in regions where it is unable to intervene due to funding constraints and/or other limitations (such as projects with lower priority).
  • Waste management: Many companies are already working on recycling initiatives such as PepsiCo’s waste collection centres and reverse vending machines in Delhi to recycle PET plastic bottles. This is due to a combination of global-warming realities, increased environmental consciousness, and pressure from consumers and civil society. By replicating successful local models such as the one in Mysore, and working with local municipalities, NGOs, big corporates and innovative startups, the environment ministry can be the right nodal agency to get these stakeholders on board and mitigate the country’s waste-management crisis. For example, it can maintain a running list of credible startups that are working in this field so that government bodies and companies can easily collaborate with them. Both land and water pollution are a direct result of bad waste management; reusing and recycling need to be the ministry’s mantra.
  • Pollution control: While there are less examples of companies taking up pollution control/mitigation projects outside the sphere of their operations, the environment ministry’s strategy should be to encourage them to do much more in and around their factories and offices, and ensure that their supply chain as well as end-of-life disposal measures are ecofriendly and in accordance with global sustainability standards. Aside from this, tree planting and cleanup drives, recycling initiatives, using alternative fuels (as demonstrated by the Ambuja Cement Foundation), and protecting green cover such as forests and mangroves are viable CSR projects that help in pollution abatement and the ministry can ensure that those complement its own efforts.

All government ministries should ideally list out the areas/projects (with key metrics, expected outcomes, and measurable impact) where corporates can add value. Ultimately, the goal for both the environment ministry and CSR is a better, greener, cleaner planet. While the government cannot and should not shirk its responsibilities and attempt to outsource them to companies, it should recognise those that are doing genuine, impactful work. It should help and guide them without encumbering them with unnecessary rules and bureaucracies. When it comes to helping those who need support, collaborations and knowledge sharing among do-gooders are always good options.