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Material Security: The Need Of The Hour

India has 18% of the global population occupying 4% of the world’s surface. At independence, India had used up a third of its bio-capability, today this has increased by 70%. By 2025, we are set to surpass China and be the most populous country in the world. This will tax the already burgeoning demand on material resources to its limit. Dr Ashok Khosla from Development Alternatives highlighted the stark difference between India as an affluent consumption society where the rich suffer from “affluenza” and Bharat as an impoverished subsistence society where the poor suffer from “povertitis”. Despite India’s rich history of minerals, current consumption patterns make it imperative to mitigate and minimise the impact of extraction technologies. A wide systemic approach driven by policy is needed.

Experts discussed the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), which shows the relationship between environmental degradation and economic progress. It states that pollution increases with initial development because for those with low incomes, development is more valuable than environment quality, leading to exploitation of nature and its resources. However, further development, wealth accumulation and an increase in per capita income causes individuals to care about improving the quality of the environment, thus reducing pollution and conserving resources, which eventually decreases environmental degradation. A further analysis of the EKC shows that industries migrate from richer countries to middle income countries and in turn to lower income countries, transforming them from ‘poor and clean’ to ‘(comparatively) rich and dirty’, calling for their transformation to ‘rich and clean’.

Conventionally, construction in India takes place on site, with each project taking 30-36 months (without accounting for delays), and showing a poor quality of finishing, minimal or no safety during construction and a lack of attention to performances of materials or their impact on the environment. A strategic alternative is to explore the use of off-site constructions which is a green initiative that can provide large volumes, speed and an assurance of safety and quality, in addition to many other benefits. The National Building Code 2016 and the recent Niti Aayog Strategy Paper on Resource Efficiency both call for sustainability in construction by the use of Environment Product Declarations (EPD). While the latter recommends the use of eco-labelling in design and the use of green procurement policies, they both advocate that Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of building materials should be conducted and its analysis information displayed. Mr Cesare Saccani from EPD India shared that the goal was to make the use of EPD in new constructions as popular as dietary information available on food products. The Niti Aayog paper also calls for a stronger regime of standards, certifications and labels to help consumers in assessing the authenticity of claims by manufacturers and foster trust in the claims of green products.

Another major policy reform, the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative focusses on 25 sectors which use natural resources as raw materials, such as automobiles, chemicals, construction, electrical machinery, mining, oil and gas, renewable energy and thermal energy, among others. It provides incentives for the production of equipment/machines/devices that control pollution, reduce energy consumption and work towards water conservation. .

Despite the availability of local solutions, it is necessary that the problem of scarce material resources be tackled on a global scale. The future seems promising only if we make the much needed paradigm shift from scavenging to preservation. In terms of the industry, Mr Anirban Ghosh from the Mahindra group listed their green initiatives such as their commitment to achieve carbon neutrality and become water positive (by saving 12 times the water they use) in an effort to be self-sufficient from municipal sources. Mahindra owns India’s first and the world’s second certified ‘zero waste to landfill’ factory; examples of by-products that are being explored for repurposing and creating value were shared.

EVPL also provides assistance to industries and organizations to reduce their eco-footprint, in keeping with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Rules under the Companies Act, 2013. As part of obtaining an Environmental Clearance (EC), it is mandatory that fly ash is used to make bricks, to reduce the amount of soil used. EVPL ensures that its clients comply with this requirement and also test the efficacy of coal obtained from foreign sources

The experts shared that by 2050, only 10% of automobiles will run on gas and the market will have a large share of EV (electric vehicles), making it critical to reduce the demand for liquid fuels in India. This will need the use of innovative, radical and holistic solutions, such as a move from diesel cars to EVs or from individual to community/sharing transportation. Similarly, harnessing kinetic energy generated by walkers or joggers can be converted into electric energy; encouraging energy-efficient homes, vertical farming and a plastic-free life; and exploring the use of augmented realities which will help meetings and presentations happen from anywhere resulting in a distributed team with minimal travel and thus low carbon emissions, are all innovative solutions for the future.

In conclusion, decisions taken today will preordain the future for generations. Ms Henriette Færgemann, from the Delegation of the European Union to India thus raised an important aspect of waste management for consideration; in 15 years, most of our current products will turn into waste, so it is important that we plan for the future. Not enough discussion takes place in the industry on material security and this prevents rational policy formulation. Collaborative efforts are needed between the private sector, businesses, and policy makers alike. We need to focus on material security while ensuring that the provision of basics is not affected. In terms of individuals, there should be enough awareness generated so that each one can pledge to follow a sustainable model of consumption.

Content by Natasha DLima

About the CLUB OF ROME

The Club of Rome was founded in 1968 as an informal association of independent leading personalities from politics, business and science, men and women who are long-term thinkers interested in contributing in a systemic interdisciplinary and holistic manner to a better world.

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