One Man’s Crusade for Ecology in India
Indian TV has described you as a “green crusader”. Do you see yourself as a crusader?
V. G. : I do not subscribe to a warlike vision of ecology, yet it is true that I feel vested with a mission. Cbalance, which I founded, helps companies to put a real internally sustainable development policy into place. To do so, we thought up an ecological calculator that measures not only carbon emissions, but also the resources used by an organization. At the moment, the majority of Indian companies outsource the management of these tasks to a third-party, which explains why environmental concerns are always perceived in terms of cost and constraints. However, their ecological footprint should be considered a non-negotiable imperative, in the same way we make sure that a building conforms to safety standards. Another project of ours, Green Signal, is a label that helps ecologically committed consumers to spot the products and services that respect the environment.
How do you evaluate the impact that these companies and products have on the environment?
V. G. : We apply the GHG protocol,1 developed by the World Resources Institute. First, we calculate all the greenhouse gas emissions coming directly from a company’s activities, which we call the attributable carbon footprint. The same goes for an individual: if you drive your own car, you are personally responsible for the vehicle’s CO2 emissions. But we also focus on the emissions that are partially or indirectly caused by the company. For example, when electricity is used, a coal plant somewhere might have produced it. So we evaluate the suppliers, who also have an environmental impact.
Tell us more about this eco-label: how is health taken into account?
V. G. : Every product likely to contain chemical components, like paint, kitchen utensils, cosmetics or textiles, is analyzed to detect toxins and endocrine disruptors. So far, we have awarded this label to one hotel, one school and one online store. A company producing compost and another one specialized in an ecological additive for fuel should receive it soon as well. It is our desire to be able to grant the label to plants and factories. Green Signal is still very recent, but it is definitely going to grow in the years to come.
Are Indian consumers really responsive to these environmental indicators?
V. G. : We are witnessing a shift in public awareness. The megalopolises have entered the age of mass consumption: today, individuals define themselves through what they buy. In India, we already have a star-rating system indicating how much energy a product consumes. As the population sees its purchasing power increase, it becomes gradually more aware of the environment. These labels are crucial in order to avoid “greenwashing”.
Do you practice carbon footprint reduction in your everyday life?
V. G. : Yes I do, because I believe that a more responsible individual accountability is the key to improving things on the global scale. Unfortunately, many self-styled environmental advocates don’t follow a very eco-responsible lifestyle. At our Bombay premises, we practice what we preach. We turn our left-overs into compost, we favor daylight as much as possible and we turn on LED lamps when it gets too dark. Even when we travel, we opt for trains instead of planes. It is slower but much more relaxing.
We often hear that India should not feel so concerned about climate change since it is only releasing a small amount of CO2 proportionally to its population.
V. G. : This is a widespread but fallacious argument that consists in hiding behind the poor. But it simply ignores India’s global responsibility, which is now the world’s third most polluting country, after the US and China and in front of Europe. This is not going to improve with the combination of population increase and the multiplication of cars and air conditioners. It also fails to see that India is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and the rise in sea-level.
Even more to the point, this ecological turning-point is a golden opportunity for India. Developing renewable energies will allow us to rely much less on external sources of energy, like oil, and to diminish the number of premature deaths linked to the levels of pollution.
With that goal in mind, how do you reconcile India’s future growth with the environmental imperative?
V. G. : As the saying goes: “a negawatt2 will always be cheaper than a megawatt”. The first thing to do is to curb the demand for energy, which will rise dramatically as our GDP increases. People often think in terms of individual emissions or of the ecological cost of an activity, but it is important to understand that our ultimate goal is to lower our total greenhouse gas emissions. Next, we have to ensure that the largest possible proportion of the energy consumed comes from renewable and non-polluting sources. And last but not least, the benefits of the economic growth must be distributed equitably among the population, for social inequalities foster inequalities in the access to energy which in turn contribute to environmental problems.
By Côme Bastin