Sustainability through an emerging markets lens

Prateek and penguins

“After camping, cruising and a survival skills workshop, a puzzled penguin audience observed Prateek Majumdar of questionable sanity, plunge into 2°C Antarctic waters…” so reads the certificate that the ship crew gave me after I jumped into the sea for a swim, amidst icebergs, whales, penguins and seals. The last 2 weeks have been nothing short of phenomenal – climbing glaciers, jumping across crevasses, camping out in the Antarctic, swimming in ice-cold water – and exploring the last great wilderness on the planet!

I started out on this expedition, thinking that this would be a wonderful adventure – but after having had the privilege of experiencing the Antarctic, I now return with one question: what do we need to do to make sure that we preserve this? To me Antarctica is a symbol – a land which hasn’t witnessed a single war, where man and nature live in harmony, a fragile continent which serves as a barometer for the health of the world. The day we pollute the world enough, the greenhouse effect will melt the ice in the Antarctic – leading to ~60m increase in sea level across the world, which will drown many great cities and low lying agricultural lands.

The UN wants to restrict man-made global warming to 2°C – though many scientists believe that such an increase will lead to mass extinction of many species from the planet. According to some estimates, we are already losing more than 10,000 species per year (though I don’t believe that statistic – the fact remains that an increase in temperature will make many species extinct, and ruin our ecological balance). According to the site www.trillionthtonne.org  – we will reach this mark (2°C increase in temperature) by the year 2041, at current rates of CO2 emission. 2041 is just 28 years away – we will be affected directly by this…this is no longer a problem that future generations need to solve.

But how do we restrict global warming to 2°C? Emerging countries will have to develop and increase their emissions while doing so – India and China have too many mouths to feed…we cannot stop developing to save the planet. We cannot stop using fossil fuels, because other forms of energy just haven’t become scalable enough. As per some estimates, the largest coal based power plant in the world generates ~250 times more power than the largest wind energy plant, and ~3000 times more power than the largest solar power plant. And in any case, the estimated gap between demand for energy and its supply by 2050 will be around the total energy consumption in the US in the year 2000. The answer perhaps lies in using a mix of energy sources, reducing waste and recycling whatever we can – as individuals, corporations and societies.

Anyone and everyone has the power to reduce their own and their societies’ carbon footprint, but as Bainies we also have an incredible power to work with corporations. There are numerous examples which prove that sustainability is good for business – it reduces costs (Walmart is believed to have identified $10B savings from packaging efficiencies alone, as part of their sustainability program), opens new avenues for increasing revenues (P&G’s Tide Coldwater saves $60 in home energy use and as per some estimates, has already realized profits of $13.1B), improves brand (with customers and with employees), and helps manage risk (eg: oil and gas companies like Shell and BP are exploring alternate sources of energy, to mitigate potential risks with fossil fuels). Isn’t it time for us all to focus more on sustainability?

Over and out!

Prateek

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