Sustainability incubator is the need of the hour: Miniya Chatterji

She recommends that the protecting the environment certainly needs to be part of the agenda of every organization’s operations.

By Rusen Kumar

NEW DELHI: “A sustainability incubator is the need of the hour, to establish that sustainability means growth that is not just speedy but also authentic and holistic. It means attending to issues that are important rather than only those that are urgent, beneficial to the organization in the long-term and not just in the short-term”, says Miniya Chatterji, Founder Sustain Labs.

India CSR Network interacted with Miniya Chatterji to understand the uniqueness of its venture. Edited excerpts of interview:

What motivated you to initiate a sustainability incubator? How is it different from other organizations working towards sustainability?

There is a gross confusion in the industry as well amongst the general public regarding what sustainability means. For most people sustainability means CSR and protecting the environment, and for many more sustainability is reduced to some sort of a fancy first world issue only. Given these misperceptions and confusions, it would be apt for people to wonder that with 22% of our population below the poverty line who needs to care about sustainability! Also, as a result of these misperceptions and other factors, the 2017 Forbes ‘Global 2000’ list has 58 Indian companies, but less than 10 of these 58 companies have established an organized sustainability function. Hardly any SMEs in India incorporate sustainability in to their business model either.

A sustainability incubator is therefore definitely needed in India, to establish that sustainability means growth that is not just speedy but also authentic and holistic. It means attending to issues that are important rather than only those that are urgent, beneficial to the organization in the long-term and not just in the short-term.

Sustainability includes ensuring energy efficiency, risk management, social development, reputation management, financial sustainability, adequate due diligence on new investments, business diversification, employee protection, sustainability reporting, and much more.

Sustain Labs has a unique model, because firstly, it incorporates sustainability within each of the four incubates it brings on board every year such that these organisations become completely self-sufficient on their sustainability model by the end of the year. Second, it brings in leading academia from India and the world to solve the sustainability challenges of the incubatees… so it is not a commercial enterprise. Third, after a year of the incubatee being part of Sustain Labs, each incubatee will continue to be a lifelong member of Sustain Labs free of cost – in this way I hope to create a community of organisations who can continue to interact and learn from each other.

My motivation to create Sustain Labs was to each year multiply the impact by four of what I have been able to achieve at the Jindal Group.

How will an online platform for a sustainability incubator be beneficial to the Industry at large?

The online platform is a part of Sustain Labs, and will be hosted on the website of the French government’s platform for scientific and academic exchange. It would be a go to place for norms, laws, resources, research, best practices related to sustainability in India. So far we do not have a single spot where we can find all this information.

How will Sustain Labs help in strengthening India-European ties?

The French government, especially Business France and the Institut Francais India have been an important anchor for establishing Sustain Labs in France and in India. French diplomat Nicolas Idier and his team at the Institut Francais India immediately recognized the enormous role that France can play in transforming the business models of Indian businesses towards being sustainable. They do see scope for partnerships, collaborations, and business in this domain between France and India. This also reflects the inimitably strong leadership position France has established in the field of sustainability, marked also by the success of COP21 and the Solar Alliance taken forward by our own Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the French.

How will sustainable development help in tackling Climate Change, which is a major challenge for the industry?

Protecting the environment certainly needs to be part of the agenda of every organization’s operations. We are not getting anywhere if we are destroying what surrounds us.

People often use Sustainability as a synonym for CSR, what are your views about the same?

Yes this is fact. In India especially, sustainability means CSR and is perceived to be limited to just that. However like I mentioned before, sustainability instead is implied in every aspect of an organisation’s operations, focusing on the long term and important issues.

How do you plan to diversify Sustain Labs?

Why diversify? Instead, Sustain Labs will be very focused on transforming each of the four incubatees it takes on every year. These incubatees could be from any industry or region of the world.

Why is sustainability relevant in today’s day and age?

We can give it different names – long term thinking, holistic growth, sustainability, or just plain common sense – this is relevant in every age for every organisation. However capitalist structures and market driven economies often create major incentives to focus on short term gains, so now we have to make an extra effort to also ensure that the long term aspects are taken in to account, that we are not just left firefighting the urgent issues and instead have the band width to also address the important issues in the organisation.

Now that you are a parent, how do you plan to maintain the work life balance?

I love everything I do – working with the private sector, writing, public speaking, teaching – and so none of this feels like work at all. since the time I left investment banking at age 29, there has never been a challenge for work-life balance for me as all of what I do since then is, in fact, life. Having said that, I wish to give ample time and love to my child, and do not want to be an absent parent or a mum trying to juggle several things. So yes I will have to manage my commitments well such that everything gets its due time and attention.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee in this feature are entirely her own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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