This article has been written by Abhishek Ray pursuing an Executive Certificate Course in Corporate Governance for Directors and CXOs from Skill Arbitrage.

This article has been edited and published by Shashwat Kaushik.


“There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed” – Mohandas. K. Gandhi. God has designed this earth in the most perfect manner, where human life has sustained and thrived until our growing demand, population and habits have started straining this delicate creation. Everyone knows and uses the word environment every day, but how many of them add sustainability to it? With the mammoth increase in technology and production, it has become very important today to not apply brakes, maybe but to definitely shift gears to make the trajectory efficient and sustainable.

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What is environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is reducing and efficiently consuming natural resources for a better future. As it is, we have consumed natural resources shamefully. At a very basic domestic level, anyone wasting food is part of that shameful band of humans. Traditionally, our ancestors have taught us not to waste even a single piece of rice on your plate. This thought is not about being miserly, as many perceive it. Every action, even as small as saving a grain of rice, echoes into the years to come. It’s a thought that initiates actions towards environmental sustainability. A key aspect of environmental sustainability is a future looking approach, as today’s decision does not impact nature immediately. Environmental issues faced today are the results of wrong actions taken in the past.

Take for example, the surge in solar power generation with all the enormous zero carbon energy targets set by the global powers. While it is an extremely good direction that we are moving in by generating energy from renewable sources like the sun, one must also think of what will happen to the millions and millions of solar cells being installed at the end of their life cycle. There is no clear end of life policy for these panels. Just for your information, they have a standard 25 years life cycle, with the installation taking place in 2018. Today, while I’m writing this article, there are no separate solar waste management policies laid down. If the right steps are not taken today, we are in the process of creating tonnes and tonnes of hazardous solar panel waste in the future. That will effectively lead to a renewable energy crusade done in a non-sustainable manner, leading humanity to a hornet’s nest.

In India, a country rich with diverse cultures where we see rivers as gods and goddesses , what have we done to the river Yamuna? All we witness every year is a political slug throwing contest for a period of time, with the media raising their volume in the quest for TRP and then all goes into silence. This is not a result of today’s action but unsustainable industrialization actions in the past have led to this. To add to it my ears and eyes have not come across any sustainable action being taken even today. A few good soul nature crusaders might have the will to get their hands dirty and clean it in tits and bits but that is not sustainable. That is what we call firefighting.

In recent years, we have witnessed a surge in natural disasters occurring, causing several deaths. Our once serene natural hill stations have now been converted into a money-making machine, with an exponential increase in hotels and commercial centres attracting more and more tourists. Most of the hill stations today cannot be entered without crossing congested uphill roads, most of the time for hours and hours. Clearly, in these cases, money minting behind the curtains of development has far exceeded what nature can withstand. Consumption is way more than capacity. Today, anywhere you go in the name of having some nature time, I’m sure you will see plastic waste lying all around. This is both an environmental and a cultural issue for us. While we clean our homes daily with maids and servants to help, we ensure that trash is sent out of our dwelling every day. We don’t feel and act in the same way as mother nature. This is not only an environmental crisis; it’s a cultural disconnect. It’s time for responsible tourism.

The economy and environment are codependent. Hence, development should be achieved in such a sustainable manner that we ensure that we honour our moral obligation to hand over the earth to our future generations in good shape. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.”

Types of sustainability

Broadly, there are three types of environmental sustainability: natural, economic and social.

Natural sustainability

It is the balance between extraction and consumption. The natural environment of our planet has been the foundation of human life and for that matter, all living organisms. Whatever we eat comes directly or indirectly from nature. The environment has given us the air we breathe, which is essential for our lives. We drink water and it is a gift to us from our mother nature. All these are extractions that we do from nature to fulfil our consumption requirements. Sustainability would mean we reduce our consumption by using efficient, green methods and reducing waste. Take for example, the consumption of sea fish. The fish trade is currently a $360 billion industry, as so many people rely on protein from fish. Fish has been a part of human food habits across the globe for centuries and it is not that fishing is inherently bad for the ocean. It has become bad due to overfishing. Overfishing not only means catching more fish; it also means unwanted sea life getting captured in the process. Overfishing is the reason for several species of sharks, including the great hammerhead, being pushed towards extinction. It impacts the overall food chain of the ocean by causing severe degradation to the ecosystem. Such a large industry equates to so many job creations and livelihoods but at a huge cost to the environment unless run in a sustainable manner.

Social sustainability

Social sustainability is not about extraction; rather, it is about our consumption habits, patterns, and their effect on the environment. It primarily points to the irresponsible behaviour adopted by us when we cause waste by not consuming responsibly. The point I had stated at the very beginning of this article. I know for a fact, without naming the eatery chain’s globally recognised brand, how they consume irresponsibly. One thing that is very good about them is that they have a very stringent quality check department to ensure the quality of food served to their customers, preserving their brand image. But to do that, what goes behind the scenes is the dumping of unsold items within 24 hours, which on their low sales days accounts for almost 60 percent of the food for sale. I questioned the insider, do they have a process for distributing that food to so many hungry people across the city? His answer was negative. It was a shock because the company has a strong nation builder and socially responsible image. I’m sure all of us have witnessed the same happening in our marriage functions, which is now in itself a billion dollar industry.

The number of motor vehicles has increased from 3 lakh in 1951 to 30 crore in 2019. Most families today have more than one car, so let me not go to the billionaires of India and their collection of CO2 emitters. While the sustainable method is to share transport, we have taken the approach of buying more than what is essentially needed and, in the end, polluting the air that we breathe.

Economic sustainability

The economy represents the selling and buying of natural resources to further refine, produce and reproduce final products essentially for human consumption. It would cover the entire value chain, from extracting to manufacturing to selling—the value chain that would finally monetize the natural resource. Economic sustainability is the method of reducing consumption by adopting efficient methods and reducing waste throughout the entire value chain. Consider this as per various reports in 2021, wheat and rice lost in the last 4 years could have fed 82 million Indians for a month. This loss was mainly due to transit and filching. Translate it into tax payer hard earned money and you will feel the real pain. Our country’s food storage and transit facilities need a major overhaul with sustainability in mind. Economic sustainability will begin right from a small household making the right choices while buying for its consumption to the government body, which needs to provide the necessary laws and infrastructure that will result in economic sustainability.

The pitfalls

While the introduction has given you a fair enough idea of what environmental sustainability is and why we are where we are, it is important to understand the challenges faced.


One out of five people is ruined by poverty in developing nations. This leads to multi fold issues ranging from diseases, malnutrition, family breakdown, increase in criminal activities, increase in drug addiction, etc. In a struggle for survival, people and society at large may be forced to adopt sustainable practices. With no money in your pocket. How will you have a sustainable approach to life?

Political instability

It leads to a hindrance to economic and social stability, crashing down any efforts taken or to be taken towards sustainability. If the government is not sure about tomorrow, will it take the effort to implement a sustainable policy? Environmental policies need a continuous and consistent approach; otherwise, they’re as good as not done.

Population growth

The increase in population further puts pressure on the natural resources of the Earth. Although consumption patterns per person are more impactful than the sheer increase in population, the growth in population is still concerning. An increase in population leads to an increase in environmental waste and expands human settlement.

Deteriorating environment

With the increase in consumption, the first casualties are forest land and its natural flora and fauna. Earth’s natural resource depletion is happening at a neck breaking speed beyond sustainable capacity. Increasing pollution levels are affecting the earth’s natural habitat from all corners.


There is a huge disparity between countries from an economic point of view. Huge external debt, food and energy insecurity, corruption and the burden of  slow economic growth cause the marginalisation of such countries. Marginalised communities have a lack of access to resources and opportunities, a lack of voice and knowledge gaps. These effects are multigenerational, leading to long term impacts. 

A few silver lines

Now let us look at some of the strategies that need to be put in motion to achieve sustainability for the environment. The ultimate aim is to reduce energy use and emissions, create a sustainable and resilient community, protect our nature and environment and achieve a circular economy. Every country will have to adopt a specific strategy that is based on its own socioeconomic and cultural fabric.

Non-conventional energy source

For a sustainable future and to preserve the Earth, it is extremely important that we lean towards the non-conventional energy sources available to us in abundance. In the recent past, there has been a significant move towards solar and wind energy. The use of LPG, CNG and biogas should be adopted more and more. The concept of mini hydel plants can be very successful, especially in mountains where there are abundant small streams flowing. The research in solar energy generation is moving very fast, with not only silicon cells but also cells based on CdTe technology now available on the market with better efficiency. However, as highlighted in the beginning, merely using non-conventional sources will not solve the problem; they need to be used in a circular economic way as much as possible.


To win the race for increased production, the agriculture industry has shifted completely to the use of chemicals, which have not only polluted nature but have also had side effects on our health. Compost is made of organic waste and is a powerful natural fertiliser. It is a sustainable method for every household to recycle its organic waste. There has been an upward trend visible in recent years but it is far from what is actually required. One additional benefit of composting is that it presents us with  a significant decrease in the volume of waste in landfills.

Biopest control

Chemical pesticide usage has led to multiple environmental and health issues. Its adverse effects have been visible in the farm produce, resulting in water bodies being contaminated. In some cases, it has had a profound negative impact on the soil quality. To avoid this, we must move towards biopesticides. Biopesticides are derived from natural materials like plants, bacteria, and animals. More work needs to be done from research and development points to enhance their efficacy, which is less than that of traditional chemical pesticides.


It is a close looping process of reusing used items to create new products. There are various types of recycling like organic waste recycling, electronic waste recycling, water recycling, plastic recycling and many more. However, the challenge is that recycling is a complex value chain. It involves identification, collection, sorting, and processing, which finally leads to reproduction.

Embracing the journey

This is not a task to be accomplished by one but by all. By all means, I mean we as individuals, along with the policymakers, the bureaucrats and the corporations. Small steps taken by individuals may look miniscule, but they contribute to building a sustainable environment. But when looked at collectively as a society and as a country, the benefits and dividends are unimaginable. Just imagine you and your local population dumping garbage every day, and then imagine that same population embracing house composting. Such a massive reduction in garbage dumping pressure on your city’s environment while improving your home garden using 100 percent organic fertiliser.  

Robust ecological policies, just on paper, with accountability and measurability, are the need of the hour. There have been multiple reported cases where government bodies designed to protect the environment have failed miserably. For example, responding to a lawsuit filed by non-governmental organisation (NGO) Samaj Parivartana Samudaya in 2011, the SC suspended iron-ore mining in Karnataka’s Bellary district (Samaj Parivartana Samudaya and Ors. vs. State of Karnataka and Ors. (2012)). What is seen here is that the honourable Supreme Court had to intervene because, in spite of the Lokayukta report documenting several mines operating without environmental and forest clearances, the MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, forest and Climate Change) did not take any action. This is just one of the many such failures on the part of the governing bodies’ failure or keeping eyes closed stance adopted. To add to this, the MoEFCC has brought in the Forest (Conservation) Rules of 2022 under the 1980 Forest Conservation Act, which effectively bypasses the previously required consent of the Gram Sabha (elected village councils). With this new rule, the forest dwelling communities will have no say in deforestation projects pertaining to their areas.

However, there are many success stories too. From a global point of view, the Montreal Protocol has been successful in reversing the depletion of the ozone layer. It is projected that the ozone layer will reach  its 1980 levels by the mid-2030s. In India, there have also been many successful efforts, one of which is the return of tigers. At one point in time, tigers were being pushed towards extinction. But with sustained efforts, their population has been seeing an upward trend. Another success story goes back to the 1970’s and is popularly known as the ‘Chipko Movement’. This environmental non-violent movement originated in modern day Uttarakhand in the early 1970’s. It was aimed at protecting trees from logging and deforestation. The protesters would form human chains and hug the tree to stop contractors from cutting the tree. The movement garnered quite a few successes, bringing in a temporary ban on tree cutting in the Himalayas. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of protecting jungles and how even a small group of people can make significant changes.

Corporates big or small need to imbibe environmental corporatism, with their mantra being reduce, reuse, and recycle. They should transfer accountability to non-traditional stakeholders more and more. They must continuously identify each corner of their manufacturing and operational processes to look for opportunities to apply the above mantra. Like all business parameters are reported and reviewed with key performance parameters attached, environmental sustainability should also be driven. The good sign is that with an increased level of education and awareness and an increase in per capita income, consumers today are ready to pay more for environmentally sustainable products.


Finally, I believe culture and education are the keys to environmental sustainability. We all must have heard the saying “like father, like son.” Our future generation will be what they see and learn from us and our actions. Education today should put tremendous focus on the importance of environmental sustainability and the inexorable and disastrous implications of not doing so. It should not remain on a few pages of a particular subject; rather, it should be a subject. A sustainable environment would lead to stability, which would bring in investment and lead to prosperity.

Let’s rethink our relationship with nature’s resources, starting with the leftover rice on our plate.



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