I have been running a 100% eco resort called Our Native Village just outside Bangalore, for more than a decade now. My objective of starting a 100% eco resort was to build a model for sustainable living to prove to the world that it was possible to live a 360 degree self-sustaining life style in the modern urban setting. Since I have been passionate about sustainability for close to two decades, I have been an active 'applied sustainability' proponent, as this is where my expertise lies. In this journey, I was often asked, what are the governments subsidies, schemes, tax breaks, etc., that are available to help enterprises. To this I have always said that private businesses and entrepreneurs, should have enough energy to make things happen without relying on handouts from governments, and to say that they will only embrace sustainability if they get government sops is indeed sad.
But I was elated when at the COP 21 Paris deliberations, private enterprises were represented in a big way and made massive commitments. This acted as an impetus for governments to then act and deliver what they needed to deliver in the agreement, which they did. Promises were made by the private sector, but how much of their promises were real? How much was empty? Now, a study has found that several big companies that had announced ambitious sustainability goals have retreated for various reasons. The study is titled 'An Inconvenient Truth: How Organizations Translate Climate Change into Business as Usual', published this month in the peer-reviewed Academy of Management Journal.
he research tracked five major Australian firms in different sectors over 10 years, examining company reports, media releases and policy statements and conducting more than 70 interviews with senior managers. Between 2005 and 2015, the unnamed companies adopted progressive climate policies with much fanfare, only to quietly scale back the efforts in the years that followed. "There's so much hype about corporate good deeds, corporations will save us," Christopher Wright, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Sydney Business School, told HuffPost in an interview. "It's so at odds with the reality that it's pretty frightening."
Much hope rested on the actions of the private sector. This is because it comes on the back of private sector growing thanks to aggressive deregulation by many governments in the west. This was meant to free businesses of high taxes and bureaucratic red tape, as a result of which the hope was that companies will spread their fortunes around in the form of job-creating investments, and most importantly back the global imperative to fight climate change and sustainability.
Businesses wanted limited state intervention and widespread privatization, and they got it. But this has not worked according Wright. "We need to be rethinking the whole way in which we're handing over the future of our societies to markets and corporations," Wright said. "That was the consensus in the late '80s and '90s, that that was the way to do it. Unfortunately it's the exact opposite." This comes in the midst of fossil fuel emissions hitting an all-time high in 2017 as carbon dioxide emissions surged for the first time in three years. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions are also on the rise.
The study highlights some stark contradictions abound with even the most vocally eco-conscious corporate giants. Apple ? which hired Lisa Jackson as its sustainability chief after she served as Environmental Protection Agency administrator during President Barack Obama's first term ? issued a $1 billion green bond in June, vowing to become one of the greenest corporations, but the iPhone maker contributes to an ever-growing electronic waste problem by fighting to ban its customers from repairing their devices. Financial titans JPMorgan Chase and BlackRock participated in talks calling for more aggressive climate change action this month, but continue to fund oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest. All this, highlights the limitations of expecting the private sector to help in combating climate change. This for me is a deep disappointment, considering how much I expected that the zeal and energy of the private sector is far greater than the energy of governments. Staring at the empty promises of businesses from this study, and being part of the business world I hang my head in shame.