Indian Corporates Still Show Only Tokenism on Sustainability


I have sat on many company boards in the last 20 years and I get a sense that we are living in a very unreal world. We are behaving like a driver of a family car who sees a truck coming on the opposite side. He touches the brakes instead of slamming on it. This is the behavior of almost everyone in business, including myself.

The issue of environment and climate change is enormous and is threatening the future of human existence. We are only touching the brakes instead of slamming it because financially it is not a good idea to do that.

I only see a dark future for human kind. Look at what happened to Paul Polman’s Unilever sustainable model. The company has miserably failed to achieve any of its goals – not for lack of trying – he didn’t achieve them because he was concerned about returns to shareholders.

We are all trapped in the cage of capitalist system. As long as we are trapped in that cage, there is no way that we will become a sustainable world.

I sit on many boards where the issue of sustainability is never discussed. How many quarterly meetings do companies put out and discuss sustainability targets and achievements? Discussions are always about return on net worth every quarter. Do they even put up sustainability goals and achievments once a year?

How much of a CEO’s compensation is based on achieving sustainability targets? Some have 5% or 10% of their compensation linked to sustainability goals. Why not 50%?

Only this will show the real commitment of the corporate sector, not tokenism.

Companies today issue press releases for doing away with plastic bottles in their offices at a time when the seriousness of the threat is right in front of our face. Can banks now boldly tell companies that they will not give loans if their sustainability practices are suspect?

I am a pessimist. There is really tokenism today.

How many in this conference are CEOs? This is a national conference on sustainability (and run by top consultancy firm and the country’s most active body on policy support – TERI), not even one CEO has bothered to attend it.

We are in a serious crisis and I feel frustrated. I worry about the future generations.

Mr. Mirza is connected to 41 board members in 4 different organizations across 9 different industries. Has been an independent director of Tata Power, Thermax Ltd and Mphasis Corp. Read his full profile here –

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