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Consumers Voting for Sustainability: A Business Imperative

The emphasis on measurable targets, consumer preferences, and the economic viability of sustainable practices suggests a transformative journey toward a more sustainable future in the business landscape

In the context of “Reflect, Rethink, Remodel: The Big Leap Towards a Sustainable Future”, industry leaders provided valuable insights into the current state of sustainability efforts. Mainak Dhar, FMCG CEO and Bestselling Author, emphasised the need to integrate ESG measures as a business imperative, stating, “How can ESG measures be up there along with all other priorities?”

Robert Demann, CEO of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, highlighted the importance of personal change leading to organisational transformation. He connected the urgency of sustainability with observable climate changes, emphasising the need for measurable targets to drive effective strategies. Samir Shah, Managing Partner at Peak Sustainability Ventures, underscored the role of startups in creating sustainable solutions. He explained, “The objective of what we do is to support innovations globally as long as they solve India’s problems”. Shah’s focus on identifying companies that can scale and solve global issues aligns with the goal of creating positive externalities. Mahesh S. Anand, President of Nippon Paint (India), emphasised tangible actions for a sustainable world. He noted the reduction in carbon emissions from paint products and discussed the shift towards using products emitting less carbon, aligning with India’s net-zero targets.

When discussing consumer behaviour, Dhar highlighted that consumers are already “voting with their wallets”. He pointed out that sustainability is not just for rich consumers in developed markets, citing consumer data showing a growing preference for environmentally friendly products. Dhar’s perspective on consumer priorities focused on the importance of brands doing good for society, and the environment, and being biodegradable or organic.

“There was this myth a few years ago that sustainability is all for rich consumers in developed markets. There is hard consumer data that says when one is choosing a brand it is important for that person to look out for what good that brand does for society and the environment, if it is biodegradable or if it is organic or not. These are starting to become important factors.” said Dhar.

Dhar also emphasised the role of businesses in solving problems that benefit consumers, the environment, and the bottom line. He provided an example of a solution that eliminated plastic in packaging, demonstrating how a problem-solving mindset can lead to both environmental benefits and profitability.

Robert Demann addressed the misconception that business and sustainability are in contradiction, stating, “Business and sustainability are complementary”. He used examples such as e-buses being 30 per cent cheaper than traditional buses in Mumbai, showcasing the economic benefits of sustainability. Demann emphasised the importance of shifting from an investment-based decision-making process to a life cycle cost approach, making sustainability economically attractive for consumers.

“Business, and sustainability in contradiction to one another – this idea is false; they are actually very complementary. For example, the down-city buses in Mumbai which are the e-buses are 30 per cent cheaper than the ICE buses. The consumers have the benefit of moving towards green contrary to what most people think”, mentioned Demann.

Mahesh S. Anand discussed tangible changes in the next 2-3 years, highlighting the affordability of green buildings and the financial incentives offered by banks for sustainable construction. Anand emphasised that building a green building is now 5 per cent cheaper than a normal building, contributing to lower recurring energy consumption costs.

Samir Shah suggested a shift from measuring only financial returns to integrated profit and loss accounting. He stressed the importance of considering impacts on natural and social capital alongside financial returns. Shah also advocated for resource efficiency, stating, “The cleanest form of energy is the energy we don’t use”, thus highlighting the need for both resource and energy efficiency.

“One core principle that outlines what we do is just the principle of resource efficiency, the cleanest form of energy is the energy we don’t use. The question is resource efficiency and energy efficiency doesn’t get highlighted but energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways to energy consumption”, said Shah.

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