Green Enterprises -
Creating Resource Efficiency and Jobs

India is today among the world’s most rapidly growing economies. It is also home to a population of working-age youth that constitutes one of the largest potential labour forces anywhere. This combination of factors has led many to believe that the ‘demographic dividend’ it produces will automatically drive our nation to the top of the global economic ladder within a few decades.

For this dividend not to become a ‘demographic disadvantage’, let alone a ‘demographic disaster’, several of our economic, sectoral and social policies will need radical change. Some of these changes have been steadily evolving since the grand liberalisation of 1991. These are self-evident and generally recognised by government and business leaders. Others are emerging, subsumed under the more recent concerns with raising the ‘ease of doing business’. While many of these are important and necessary, however, it is less well-understood that they are not at all sufficient.

The national economy unquestionably needs to grow, and to grow rapidly. But its benefits must also spread to all our citizens and be sustained for our children and future generations. The basic purpose of national development is, after all, achieving universal human wellbeing and social justice, now and in the future – which are the constitutionally defined goals of our society. GDP growth is simply one of the means to that end, no more important than equity and social fairness, education and participation, opportunity for fulfilment and a healthy environment.

Measures to facilitate business activity must therefore be complemented by measures that unequivocally raise the quality of life of the poorest half of the economic pyramid. This means that economic policies must also be put in place to accelerate job-creation and facilitate the ability of communities and businesses at all levels – local, regional and national – to speed up regeneration of the environment, while producing the goods and services needed in the marketplace.

To ensure widespread sharing of the benefits of economic growth and maintaining the health of our resource base, without which the demographic disadvantage could become a heavy, long-term ‘demographic debt’ burden on future generations, the equity and environment underpinnings of sustainable development must receive equal support to that received by the economy. Otherwise, many in the present generation and most in future ones will pay a debilitating cost in declining human wellbeing and mounting resource scarcity.

With less than 30% of India living in urban areas, we also have a very large agrarian population, a majority of which will probably want to move to the cities in the coming decades. Our job markets are experiencing deep macro-structural changes from farming to other occupations. At the more micro-structural level, the drive for global competitiveness and higher productivity is revolutionising activity in all economic sectors such as manufacturing, construction, trade and transport. The pursuit of ‘economic efficiency’ is now forcing all sectors of the economy to adopt technologies – mechanisation, chemicalisation, genetic manipulation, robotics, data analytics, artificial intelligence -- that raise productivity. But, these can also have a huge potential impact – often negative -- on both social goals, such as loss of jobs, identity and lifestyles and environmental objectives such as the health and productivity of land, water and air.

If not proactively and systemically dealt with, these factors will create a complex set of pressures on the types and quality of jobs and simultaneously a very large impact on the health and productivity of our human and natural resources. The overall consequences could in turn harm many and will certainly show up in slowing down the nation’s economic progress into the future.

Within its own microcosm of creating low carbon pathways, Development Alternatives (DA) in association with Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), the social enterprise wing of the DA Group, has been facilitating the creation of sustainable livelihood opportunities in a business-like manner. These are not only mere economic activities but revolve around the three pillars of sustainability i.e. establishing economic viability, creating local jobs and protecting the environment. In fact there has been a growing need of these technologies and related business globally. To cater to these needs, DA in association with various national and international partners has been developing and disseminating these technologies and associated systems both within the country and also worldwide. Most of the technologies and business opportunities are related to the construction industry. This is due to the fact that worldwide the construction industry is seen as one of the largest emitters of CO2. It uses the largest amount of virgin natural resources and also is one of the largest employment generator in the manufacturing sector. Thus, the basic premise of technology development within DA has been focused on utilisation of waste materials for construction, for profitable creation of enterprises and jobs for unskilled youth.

Some of the identifiable technologies developed over the decade are utilisation of stone dust in production of building materials for roofing, walling and flooring. For making available an alternate to GI sheets or thatched roofs, DA developed and disseminated the Micro Concrete Roofing Tiles technology popularly known as MCR. These are small village based enterprises with low investment creating job opportunities. They produce durable and load bearing tiles suitable for both rural and urban houses. For walling materials using similar kind of waste materials - hollow concrete blocks has been developed. These are very small enterprises, requiring low power and suitable for village based economies unlike their large counterparts. For flooring applications in households and various commercial purposes, DA over the years has developed paving blocks of multi-faceted use from various waste materials e.g. stone crusher dust, foundry slag waste, construction and demolition waste etc. Use of these type of waste materials completely replaces the consumption of virgin natural resources i.e. sand or stone aggregates. Products are durable and designed for various applications ranging from walking pathways to roads.

Within the construction industry, the cement sector is the largest contributor to CO2 emissions both in India and globally. Over the years, some significant development has been made to provide a solution to the cement industry. In association with leading research agencies in India and across the world e.g. Indian Institute of Technologies at Delhi, Bombay and Madras; Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne, Switzerland and University of Santa Clara, Cuba a new cement has been developed conforming in quality to the existing cements. This cement called LC3 uses around 45-50% of mine rejects and waste materials and emits around 20% less emissions.

Apart from national interests, TARA in association with local organisations has been emphasising on supporting and leading South-South Cooperation so that the benefits of technologies, delivery models and system thinking can benefit the whole world especially Africa and Asia. Thus Development Alternatives has been developing and demonstrating new paradigms of sustainable livelihoods without degenerating the natural resource base and therefore making the world a better place to live in for our future. With the creation of new jobs and profitable green enterprises, these initiatives will contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of the world.

Ashok Khosla


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