Environmental Sustainability And CSR Role In Bringing About A Reversal In Degradation Of The Environment

Col. Prakash Tewari (Retd)

With increasing industrialisation, environmental issues are getting center stage. Ecological degradation has its own consequences such as loss of vital lifesaving resources like water and food. Moreover, loss of productive soil, increasing pollution, depleting terrestrial and marine resources can pose serious challenges for India’s one billion plus population. Climate change has further added new dimension to these challenges. We can endlessly debate the consequences of climate change as it seems to be the new ‘environmental mantra’ or advocacy focus. Subtle change in atmospheric temperature, rise in sea temperature and sea level, acidification of ocean etc. has its share of problems.

Responsible Corporates have to keep in mind the triple bottom line, but also take lead in showing the world new ways of development – ‘sustainable development’. It is easier said than done. Instead of looking at case to case basis, it is important to formulate a guiding ecological protection and restoration policy. For example, many a time, nonscientific restoration is far more dangerous than doing no restoration. Thus, our restoration efforts must be guided by sound and scientific policy.

Environmental Sustainability

p2Big infrastructure development projects in various ecosystems in coastal, mainland, desert or mountain areas generally come in close proximity of ecologically important areas. It is therefore very essential to understand the surrounding and assess the environmental and social impacts that these projects are going to have in the value chain. Ecosystem processes and biodiversity form an important part of Earth’s life support system. Besides contributing to the ecosystems, biodiversity also supports livelihood for millions of people worldwide. Rapid industrialisation and climatic changes have pushed many species to extinction.

‘In terms of carbon emissions, how do we get to deliver solutions to our climate and energy challenges? For those who simply wish to get there quickly, it may look easy in terms of technology. However getting there requires more agreement, more collaboration and more action.’

Human survival depends on a complex chain of ecosystem processes and   biodiversity. Contribution of insects in   agriculture is critical so does the role of   soil run off to the sea. Understanding   biodiversity is thus important. We have   started to realise the contribution of   biodiversity in terms of ecosystems,   goods and services. Developing a   business plan which also looks into   biodiversity conservation has significant   value. Thus for corporates having   presence in ecologically important areas,   it is imperative to understand and take necessary measures to save the   ecosystem and biodiversity.

Climate and Energy Challenges

In terms of carbon emissions, how do we   get to deliver solutions to our climate and energy challenges? For those who   simply wish to get there quickly, it may   look easy in terms of technology.  However, getting there requires more   agreement, more collaboration and more   action. In the renewable energy space,   many people see their own technology as the way forward, arguing their point   endlessly while claiming that other   technologies are not quite “there” yet–or marginal at best: We need to work together– and soon. The Government is promoting and recommending   renewables, efficiency, grids, transport and training. So opportunities will be emerging at all levels, despite the   difficult economic landscape.

Our preference would be for biological carbon sequestration, or bio-sequestration, rather than geosequestration.   Aside from the issues above, ecosystem restoration, reclaiming fertile land from the deserts and improving the health of the oceans and soils is critical to increasing the carbon-absorbing capacity of the biosphere. Forests need to be created, recreated or protected worldwide, soils can be improved with organic farming methods, and seagrass and mangrove restoration can not only yield many benefits to the biosphere, but also local economies.

Success Factors 

While doing a three month’s course on environmental and resource-based conflicts in SE Asia in Chulalongkorn   University, Bangkok in 2005, we realised that these projects were not able to come up as the adverse impacts were not   foreseen and appropriate mitigation measures taken. The livelihood of the communities near these projects was   affected and most of the hydroelectric and other projects from China to Vietnam were in great stress and risks. It must be reiterated that some areas are   priceless in terms of ecosystem quality and biodiversity, and no amount of   mitigation measures can reduce the damage. Such areas must remain   inviolate areas for any activity and   corporate bodies are expected to exclude such areas from undertaking any activity. However, there are many areas where, with good quality baseline data, appropriate mitigation strategies can be developed.

I have worked in big infrastructure development projects on Power and Steel throughout my career in all   continents of the world. Most of these   projects were able to come up in record   time because the biodiversity mapping   of the area was done religiously and appropriate management strategies planned. For all projects, we did Environmental and Social Risk Materiality Mapping so as to ensure that CSR activities were aligned to mitigating the perceived risks through proper conservation/ restoration/ mitigation plans by developing Bio Diversity Assessment and Protocols.

Thus, biodiversity benchmarking becomes prime importance. However, it needs to be done before any   developmental activity takes place. Subsequent monitoring through   standard monitoring protocols will help   identify baseline shift thus providing   management early warning to take   necessary corrective measures.


The stakeholders for the company are its shareholders, its customers as well as the community in which it functions. Here the identification of the first two is quite simple; however the problem lies in identification of the ‘key community’ (Key community is defined as those local communities which are in the vicinity areas and directly or indirectly affected by the business). CSR activities so far are oriented towards these key communities. However, the difficulty is that every location and every ‘key community’ is distinctively separate   from others and hence their needs differ widely. Thus, developing a baseline   protocol for biodiversity assessment and   mapping of all existing as well as proposed sites and developing a long term plan for conserving the biodiversity at existing as well as proposed sites becomes a very critical part of CSR. In pursuance, the three primary goals for sustainable social trusteeship, specific issues and tasks need to be identified for each type of project and activity. There   are alternate methods of classifying these   issues and tasks and organising them for easy comprehension.

‘There is a fundamental interdependence between the company and the communities    that interact with the company, be they “stakeholders” in the sense of impacting on, or being impacted by, the company; be shareholders, customers or  staff. The well-being and future prospects of the company are inextricably linked with the wellbeing of its companion communities.’

One way to do this is by organising them so as to easily   interface with the organisational structure of the organisation. Towards this end, the first classification is of the four chronological stages of a project: pre-construction, construction, operation, and decommissioning.

Within these four stages, information is organised according to the type of project or activity (storage/ run of the river hydro-generation, thermal generation, solar-generation, distribution, etc.) Within each, information is organised geographically and on the basis of the type of impact and whom or what is being impacted.


This phase is essentially when the feasibility of a project or activity is assessed, and the location and design is   firmed up, keeping in mind all relevant factors, especially the social and environmental factors within the   economic and profitability parameters of the project or activity. It is at this phase that the project partners are identified   and negotiations are completed. Bids are also made at this phase and it is also an important phase for establishing contact with the local stakeholders, especially the local communities, and establishing a process of constructive consultations.

The success or failure of the project and   of its various components is critically dependent on this phase. It is critical that the project (or activity) is properly   located, designed and planned. The   project partners must be appropriately   chosen and oriented to be in consonance with company values. Local stakeholders must be consulted and   involved at this stage. If all this does not   happen, it becomes very difficult (and   expensive) to sort out at a later stage the   resultant problems.


In many ways, this is the phase of maximum impact for most of the projects, especially for infrastructure   projects. Also, as this is the start of the negative impacts, even though many might escalate at the operation stage (especially for thermal generation projects), nevertheless this is the phase   where a majority of the preventive and   ameliorative measures are tested and   established.


p3This is by far the longest phase and however well a project or activity is planned, given the long years that it would be operational, new and unanticipated issues and problems are bound to arise. Therefore, not only is there the challenge of maintaining a high standard of monitoring and maintenance over long years, but also a need to constantly be on the lookout for surprises, and have the flexibility and innovativeness to tackle them, as they   emerge.


This is pretty much a new and emerging issue and, in fact, for most other facilities. All projects have to be ready for decommissioning, and planning for that has to be done.

CSR Sustainability Strategies

For each of the issues and impacts, specific strategies need to be developed to prevent, minimise, mitigate or compensate for adverse impacts. There are few overriding principles that must be kept in mind while strategising.

There is a fundamental interdependence between the company and the communities that interact with the company, be they “stakeholders” in the sense of impacting on, or being impacted by, the company; be shareholders,   customers or staff. The well-being and future prospects of the company are inextricably linked with the well-being of its companion communities.

The prescribed values and standards are dynamic, involving a constant effort to improve upon them. On the other hand, they are not theoretical constructs but based on best practices within the company and elsewhere.

Processes are as important as outcomes, and essentially the means must be as ethical as the ends. To ensure that the strategies and objectives are appropriate and optimal, they must be designed and implemented in a participatory and transparent manner.

It is essential that coordination and cooperation exist between institutions and agencies within and outside the company so that overlaps can be avoided, and each learns from the experience (and expertise) of the other, ensuring that the good work done by one is not inadvertently undone by another.

All aspects of the strategy need to be constantly monitored, whether it is the setting or pursuit of values and standards, the processes being employed, the performance of the selected institutions and even the monitoring system itself – a type of Meta-monitoring.

CSR Role

CSR role has also to be perceived as a strategic consultant and think-tank. They combine business acumen with in-depth knowledge of the global sustainability agenda, including the challenges in emerging economies. They have to work with businesses to identify and manage key environmental, social and economic risks and opportunities and to develop innovative solutions that will protect and create future value. CSR has to work with those who have  far-reaching influence and who will be central to creating a sustainable future. All CSR work has to draw on long established relationships with leaders and experts from around the world. Their networks bring insight to key issues and dilemmas from the perspectives of business, civil society, international institutions, non-governmental organisations, consumers and beyond. Their formal partnership with various Foundations focuses on social entrepreneurship and the challenge of scaling up sustainable innovations into mainstream businesses.

‘All CSR work has to draw on long established relationships with leaders and experts from around the world. Their networks bring insight to key issues and dilemmas from the perspectives of business, civil society, international institutions, non-governmental organisations, and consumers and beyond’ 

Success Story

p4In one of the Ultra Mega Power Plant being constructed in a coastal area, we wanted to identify the potential adverse     impacts on biodiversity and livelihood due to our activities. The entire coastal area covered by the activities of the Plant was studied with reference to its biological diversity, thereby establishing biodiversity protocol. Our plan was to document the coastal and marine biodiversity and establish biodiversity monitoring protocol with special reference to indicator species.


It was decided to use relatively non-mobile species as measuring impact of the project is much easier, robust and measurable. Six mollusc species were used as indicators to monitor for change in substrate due to development activities. They are an excellent indicator due to their selective habitat requirements and therefore used to understand the natural density fluctuations of selected marine molluscan fauna. Seasonal counts (covering monsoon, post monsoon, winter, and summer months) were taken in correlation with temperature as one of the important variables. The data provided important information regarding spatial distribution of these six species. Based on this, data monitoring protocols were developed.

One of the major issues that came up in the land acquisition process was also the loss of grazing land of the local communities. As the land was very arid, it could not support grazing for the cattle, the local communities agreed to on the best option – having a fodder supply arrangement rather than provision of land. Fodder Supply arrangement was initiated for villages by registering a Charitable Trust. The result of this activity was that the production of milk increased substantially and the selling price of milk per litre also increased. This Project also created a unique biodiversity protocol created for coastal areas and a close decisionmaking relationship with regional stakeholders.


p5Large corporate footprints can transform the landscape of an area. While this may bring progress for local communities, it   also results in large ecological footprints in the extraction of the natural resource base as well as in the disposal of effluents. The industrial activity eliminates grazing grounds, stress the water table, eliminate pastoral livelihoods etc. Corporates can bring about sustainability through support for biodiversity resources on the vast grounds with them – a careful choice of vegetation can generate fodder and other NTBF resources [herbal products] which can set in motion new forms of livelihood. Corporate entities could lend a helping hand by helping train displaced villagers, providing marketing support. A traditional health system can also be revived based on the  medicinal value of the on-site vegetation. Support could also be given to revive the traditional weather forecasting system and skills of the area in a formal way.

The greening spaces can also be used to provide a habitat for vanishing flora/fauna of the region which would be a major societal goal. The regenerated biodiversity areas would acquire the characteristics of a natural forest over time improving the rainfall pattern of the area. The regional landscape approach can also be applied by mapping of adjacent areas resulting in identification of more suitable areas for biodiversity in the vicinity such as gauchars, pond catchments, stream beds, hilly terrain– these can all be connected through movement corridors resulting in vibrant bio- diversity and eco-tourism opportunities. Corporates could also adopt energy-efficient designs for its administrative and other smaller buildings and decrease each building’s ecological footprint.

CSR can play a major role in reversing the degradation of the environment by ensuring ecological optimisation of the eco-systems thus enhancing the ecological and CSR services to the society by biodiversity mapping of various project sites, creating and protecting green corridors, execution of a biodiversity conservation programme – either flagship species or seascape conservation and setting up of an environmental leadership training centre.

Col. Prakash Tewari (Retd) is an Indian Army Veteran. He is an independent Consultant for CSR, Education and  Ecology. He combines in him professional competence of various sectors including that of armed forces, private sector, international institutions and academics. He was the Executive Vice President, CSR and Education of the Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) and Group Head of CSR, Rehabilitation and Resettlement of Tata Power Company Limited. He can be reached at: prakashtewari6@gmail.com  LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/prakash-tewari-33502b27