India’s CSR Leapfrog: Expanding Growth, Reducing Carbon, Saving Lives

Guest Commentary October 2018 CSR Leapfrog
India’s CSR Leapfrog: Expanding Growth, Reducing Carbon, Saving Lives

(Left) GEORGE HAMILTON is President of the Institute for Sustainable Communities

(Right) ANIRBAN GHOSH is Chief Sustainability Officer of Mahindra Group

As the global community works to address big issues like climate change, the integration of sustainability into the global supply chain is crucial. Only through that integration can economic growth be decoupled from environmental degradation, carbon emissions and worker safety.

While some countries seem to be ignoring that truth at the peril of their economy, their environment and their international good standing, other countries, such as India, are tackling it head-on.


Manufacturing as a sector is rapidly growing in India. The launch of the Make in India programme, aimed at supercharging the Indian economy and bringing global attention to possibilities in India, has added even greater emphasis to the sector. As of 2015, India became the world’s sixth largest manufacturing country, with a goal to grow manufacturing by 10 % by 2022.

This has the potential to improve the standard of living for Indian citizens – expanding the middle class and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. However, it could also bring serious environmental damage (air pollution rates in India are among highest in the world), increase safety hazards for workers, and threaten India’s ability to achieve its critical Paris COP21 commitment (India’s INDC calls for reduced intensity & increased renewables).

Can India’s manufacturing sector enhance economic growth, ensure carbon reduction and environmental health at the same time? We see powerful possibilities as the world’s largest democracy doubles down on economic growth, while simultaneously working to codify corporate responsibility.


In 2014, the first nationally mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme went into effect in India, and the numbers are in: Indian CSR spending went up nearly 10 % in the 2015-2016 period. Yet, even before the CSR law went into effect, progressive Indian companies like Mahindra & Mahindra were recognizing that rapid expansion without responsibility would be detrimental to Indian communities, as well as the international leadership role they could take in sustainability and corporate responsibility.

After the Institute of Sustainable Communities and Mahindra worked closely for the past two years to develop the innovative EHS+ Center in Pune, we are finding solutions to some of India’s challenges and converting them into powerful opportunities to tackle some of the bottlenecks that have held back India’s manufacturing sector.

One way to do this has been to accelerate the investment in developing skilled factory managers, who enhance the cause of manufacturing while simultaneously integrating issues of health, safety and carbon reduction into their work process. This is the ethos of EHS+.

Our EHS+ Center gives factory leaders the skills they need to manage effective, efficient factories that meet international health and safety standards, while reducing energy use. The strategic partnership with Symbiosis Institute for International Business is helping revolutionise business training and seeing incredible results.

The goal is to mobilise holistic thinking and action among more than 1,500 people in India over the next four years – setting up factory managers to take decisions that are better for their factories, better for their workers, better for their bottom lines and better for the environment.


We’re doing this through a truly inclusive partnership that brings together public & private entities, academic institutions, philanthropic foundations and non-profit organisations, in both India and America. Far-seeing partners like GE, The Walt Disney Company and the MacArthur Foundation are betting that the most effective way to transform India’s economy is to invest in the people running the factory floors. This level of stakeholder buy-in is crucial for success.

Demand for this EHS+ approach is likely to grow as India’s innovative CSR legislation prompts Indian companies to recognise something many multinationals (and countries) do not: corporate responsibility efforts can benefit local communities where factories are based, the companies themselves as well as the global community.

We’re passionate about the power of investing in people to make a creative change, and we’re committed to investing in India’s success – in creating economic prosperity, in improving safety, and in reducing pollution. We think these factory managers are the key to India’s future – and to the future of Asia. And that means the future of this planet.