The Financial Express

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

| Updated: January 12, 2022 21:31:41

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practitioners are understandably aggrieved by some searing criticism levelled at them. Under gimlet scrutiny in trying times, the best of efforts stir more controversy. True blooded enthusiasts had seen it coming. The quick-fix solution seeking corporates threw caution to the winds when they missed the cardinal principle of horses for courses. The wrong personnel appointed took the heart out of CSR purpose creating a new brand of practitioners that began on the wrong footing. The theories developed were just destined to go the South. Added to this incongruity has been the increasing concerns related to the environment.

Anyone worth the salt knows that the essence of CSR lies in careful retracing of the footprint impact of any business or industry. That should, ideally, lead to remedial measures. The obvious questions about sectors with no obvious footprints to address didn't probe deep enough. As businesses integrated in the digital world, some of it became clear. Thereafter, purpose list out in the internecine conflict of whose baby it was. The upshot has been the more sore-thumb targets sticking out even larger. Now that some form of convoluted focus has been given to Climate Change and Global Warming the bigger questions are being asked.

Forget Genetical Modification. Traditional Agriculture is being looked at with suspicion for the environmental malaise. Multiple cropping, such a boon twenty-five years ago is now a bane. Tree plantation long considered as a measure of balance in bio-diversity isn't such a good idea anymore. Everything in proportion, we are told. Some forests must go to allow bogs and such to flourish because their carbon emissions are lower than-guess what?-trees. So much for sustainable deforestation! The kind doctor's advice on more veggies in diets is under stress-test. Over farming greens isn't good for gold old environment. Nor is an over indulgence in or artificial rearing of livestock. The average animal contributes towards carbon emissions and growth beyond organic is being frowned upon.

It all opens up rude and deep wounds in whatever had been previously sacrosanct. Think of the poorer sections of the world where women empowerment begins through a form of economic emancipation fuelled mostly by NGO support. Small loans in poultry and livestock farming rings a bell. One that may now be compelled into silence! Small countries with large populations don't have answers to multiple cropping to keep granaries full. Those that point fingers aren't exactly making available surplus stocks to help. Nor are they opening up land subsidised into green fields as optional crop area. Increasingly irrelevant UN bodies aren't diverting funds from fat-salaried experts to transportation of food that otherwise goes to waste.

Concepts have been slow to adapt be they economic or otherwise. Demand and supply, diminishing returns continue to be relevant. Over consumption spurred by over-aggressive advertising hasn't been theorised yet. Cost and convenience leading to the explosion in plastic consumption hasn't been thought through. The looming apocalypse of non-degradable waste dumping is a far greater threat to mankind than most know, appreciate or realise. Greenhearts put on a brave face in accepting the pared down outcome of COP26. Something is better than nothing.

There is, as of now, no agreed moot points of affordable alternative energy, agriculture and lifestyles. For that to be attained policies must rewind to get inclusive inputs. In business the CSR practitioner suddenly has a bigger, overarching role to play. For social scientist it's a far difficult hurdle to cross. The settlers in the Amazon forest believe it their right to clear up for agricultural land. For the indigenous such thoughts border on sacrilege. In riverine Bangladesh clean, navigable rivers are lifelines. Those that live by land grabbing don't necessarily share the idea.

Governments don't seem to mind admitting that procedural and design flaws lead to burgeoning costs of projects. Businesses don't mind when product or service improvements bomb after high-cost years of experiments. When it comes to social cost or CSR projects similar albeit smaller debacles aren't viewed kindly. Innovation must be encouraged; risks have to be taken. True enough. Provided it's in line with conformity!


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