Ep. 246: Sunil Deshmukh and Sandhya Sriram - CFO Views on India's ESG Evolution

Tune in to the latest episode Count Me In, where host Adam Larson brings you an engaging conversation with some of finance's leading voices in India. We're thrilled to feature Sunil Deshmukh, IMA’s Chair Elect boasting over three decades of global business management expertise, and the astute Sandhya Sriram, Group CFO of Narayana Health, renowned as one of India's Top 100 Women in Finance. 

In this episode, Sunil shares his distinctive perspective on sustainable finance’s competitive edges, such as improved global market access and cost of capital benefits. Sandhya, on the other hand, offers a deep dive into the real-world applications of ESG strategies within large organizations, while addressing the intricate issues surrounding ESG disclosure transparency.

With this powerhouse duo, you're privy to a rich discussion that spans everything from the transformative ESG initiatives at Narayana Health to the visionary roadmap laid out for sustainable finance under India's G20 presidency.

Don’t just listen, be part of this enlightening session. Whether you're a CFO grappling with ESG strategy, or simply intrigued by the evolution of sustainable business practices, this is an unmissable dialogue loaded with experience and insight. Plug in and join us for a compelling narrative where finance and responsibility converge.

Full Episode Transcript:
< Intro >
Adam:            Welcome back to Count Me In. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and today we're diving deep into a topic that's reshaping the corporate landscape in India, ESG, or Environmental, Social, Governance, factors and their growing influence. We have two esteemed guests joining us. First, Sunil Deshmukh, who is IMA's chair-elect and an expert with over 30 years of global experience in business management. Also, we have Sandhya Sriram, the group's CFO for Narayana Health, and she is among India's top 100 women in finance.
In this episode, we're not only looking at the current regulations and the evolution of reporting requirements. But also how Indian markets are responding to the pressing need for ESG integration in risk management and long-term sustainability. Sunil will highlight the rewards tied to sustainable finance, has enhanced global reputation and reduced capital costs. While Sandhya will shed light on the practical challenges and opportunities like achieving transparency in ESG disclosure, and leveraging sustainable solutions through startups.
Get ready to impact the complexities and innovations within the world of ESG, with insights from the CFO's desk. As the G20 turns its eyes to India for sustainable finance directives, we, too, focus on how Indian companies can translate these directives into competitive advantages. Let's get started.
 < Music >
Sandhya and Sunil, I'm so excited to have you both on the podcast, today, as we talk about ESG, and especially ESG in the Indian market. And to just jump right into the conversation, how would you describe the importance of ESG integration, within financial strategies for companies operating in the Indian market?
Sunil:              Thank you very much, Adam. A great question, very relevant question to the Indian market conditions. Before we get into the formal discussion, I would say that the concept of triple bottom line was already existing in the world before ESG, which was coined by John Elkinton in 1994. Where we used to talk about 3P's, Profit, People, and Planet. I would say that ESG is a formal expansion of that concept, which has come into the existence.
Now, ESG is in existence in India, I would say right from 2011. Indian Companies Act Department or, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, as well as the Securities and Exchange Board of India, have been coming out with different regulations, different advisories, guidelines, and some reporting requirements by Securities and Exchange Board of India, on this topic. 
Now, you asked me the question about the importance of ESG in financial strategies. I would say that in today's world, almost all companies in their financial strategies start with a concept of risk management first. And when we talk about the risk management, one of the most important strategy that comes is the sustainability. Whether your business is going to be sustained for a longer period of time or not. And there comes the ESG, which is of course sustainability pertaining to environment, risk relating to the environment, risk relating to the social, which is typically the people. And, of course, the governance, which is more of a compliance risk based on the requirements of the stock market or government regulations, and all those things. 
So I would say that most of the companies start with integrating the ESG in their risk management strategy, and from there they take it. And, in today's world, ESG has become very important not only from a financial strategy point of view or a business strategy point of view, but also accessibility to the capital. If you want to access the capital at the world level or global market, and if you want to have a cheap capital or affordable capital as compared to the market prices, I think sustainability and ESG is going to play a very important… 
ESG strategy integrated into a financial strategy, will help the companies have a competitive advantage as compared to their competitors. It will also help the companies to have a long-term sustainability strategy. And we also talk in finance domain, that every single business is supposed to have a going concern concept or is a perpetual continuation.
So from that point of view, ESG will help companies to look into, naturally, how long the business strategy is going to sustain and stabilize. So long-term aspect of ESG is also going to help the companies in their financial strategy.
Other small things, or other very important but small things, which are helping companies due to ESG is talent retention. The today's generation Z employees, they don't want to work for companies which are not following the people strategies or governance strategies. So talent acquisition and talent retention is one area.
I would say supply chain resilience. In today's world, the Indian companies use global supply chain. We import a lot of raw material. So if we have a sustainability strategy, in the global supply chain, that's also going to help the companies. And, obviously, the last but not the least is the stakeholder engagement. 
And when I say stakeholder engagement, it could be your customers, it could be your suppliers, it could be your employees, it could be government, a municipal corporation, and, of course, shareholders, investors of the company. All these stakeholders are looking at ESG as a strategy from a long-term continuity, as well as comprehensive success formula for the company.
Adam:            Now, I think that's an amazing overview of where to look at things from a 10,000-foot point of view, to see how everything's working within the organization. Now, Sandhya, as a CFO, how do you perceive your role changing and developing, especially, as you try to implement these strategies and some of the things that Sunil talked about?
Sandhya:        Absolutely, in fact, I want to build on to what Sunil said. Traditionally, they say CFO, ESG, which means that maybe it allows you to raise funds more efficiently or maybe able to attract a larger investor pool. But, really, if you take a step back and think investors are asking, but we don't need investors to ask. 
There is a lot of value in championing the business objective through the lens of ESG. And here I want to take a little practical example of my own organization, Narayana Health. I lead the ESG committee, for the group, and I want to take an example of one of our sustainability goals, which is paper reduction. 
Now, it's a simple environment goal, one may think. So in 2020 we were consuming eleven pages. Now we are consuming five pages per patient, and we want to have it in the next two to three years. But, really, a paper is not an environment goal only. Of course, it's good for the environment, you use less paper.
But it is forcing us, as an organization, to think digitally. It is enabling better patient workflows. It is improving the quality of electronic health record because nobody can actually write something for the patient on a piece of paper because we are not allowing them to use that paper.
So, then, someone goes on record and writes it. When that's written, then, it is improving the quality of data mining in the organization, and it's obviously improving the digital mindset in the team. We are starting to think more digital on processes.
So when one may say, "It's an environment goal; I want to consume less paper." But it's an organization goal. If we want to be a digital organization tomorrow. We have to train our people at grassroots, to think digitally, and paper optimization is leading us in that direction. 
So I feel that it is very important for finance heads, who is typically called a co-pilot to the business, to understand the aspects of sustainability that play an integral part to business outcomes. And we have to channelize the organizational energy and resources in that direction. So we are able to achieve development and growth in the organization, and not just our ESG objective. So this is what I feel the roles CFOs can play in an organization, to be able to champion ESG.
Adam:            Yes, it takes time. You can't just throw all these regulations at the team and say, "Okay, start this now." You have to slowly build it to build that organizational culture to help build that. Say, "Hey, this is something we're going to do as an organization." So it's not something that just happens overnight. And I can imagine that, as you were mentioning that it's not something that you should wait for the investors to say, "Hey, this is what we have to do." Or wait for the consumers. 
But there are some elements, especially, when the regulatory environment in your country is changing. And maybe we can discuss a little bit about some of the effectiveness in the existive regulatory environment, within India, in fostering the sustainable finance. And are there any enhancements you can suggest to help improve upon that?
Sunil:              Yes, thanks, Adam. It's an interesting question because effectiveness is a very loaded word. What is effective to someone may not be effective to someone else. Now, as far as India is concerned, the regulatory environment in India has made significant strides in fostering the sustainable finance, in recent years. And, of course, there is room for improvement, nothing is perfect unless you keep on improving.
Now, in India's regulatory environment, I would tell a little bit more about the existing scenario. So we have our Securities and Exchange Board of India, which we call the SEBI. So SEBI has prescribed some ESG disclosure requirements for the listed companies. And these requirements have been evolving over a period of time. I will not go back all the way to the year 2011, when in India we started talking about sustainability through a concept called National Voluntary Guidelines, NVGs. That's where we started in 2011.
But I would say, particularly, in the last two to three years, from the year 2020, we created a concept called Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting, BRSR, and that was prescribed by The Securities and Exchange Board of India, and it was applicable to top thousand listed entities in India. And later on in the year 2023, this current financial year, what has happened is they came out with a concept called BRSR Core.
It means Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting system for the core companies. And they have identified some specific types of companies, listed companies, and they have given a roadmap over a period of time, in the next four to five years.
In '23, '24, financial year 2023 and '24, top 150 companies are expected to give this core reporting on BRSR. In 2024, '25 top 250 company, after that top 500 company, after that top thousand companies. So Securities Exchange Board of India is expecting that within next four to five years, almost all listed companies will be covered under the ESG reporting, on a core basis. And there are criteria, there are nine basic principles of ESG reporting. There are formats, and I will not get into all those nitty-gritties because it's very comprehensive way of talking on that.
But where the improvement is possible or where there are possibilities of enhancing this effective network, I would say one is we need to have a uniform ESG standards in line with global standards. In today's world, if you see ESG requirement of reporting it varies in America, it varies in Europe, and it varies in India. So how do you bring a comprehensive, consolidated, and uniformity across this reporting?
That's very important because most of the companies are global companies, international companies. Their parent headquarters in U.S. does a different reporting. A subsidiary in India does a different reporting. So bringing them on a common platform is very important. I would also say that government can think of providing some tax incentives for ESG compliance, to become effective. 
Because our effectiveness will also come when companies see that there is some financial incentives, some benefits, like tax holiday, or like tax incentives, or reduced rate of tax for the companies. I think that would help for companies to foster more on ESG.
Also impact investing regulations can be brought into India in a little bit more detailed way, and incentives given to the green projects. We are already having green bonds into India now. But any project which is being invested through a green investing or they are able to ensure that environmental impact on the society or on the community is being protected. So government can think of giving such incentives and benefits to new green projects through green bonds, or tax benefits, or tax holidays.
And, of course, ensuring that stakeholder involvement is enhanced, at all levels. Not only at the shareholder level, or not only at the governmental level, but even customer level, supplier level. I would even say the employees who are working in the company. How can we ensure that? So there can be some possibilities of enhancement into these areas. I think that's the right approach or that's the ideal approach to go forward.
Sandhya:        Just to add to what Sunil said, I think, in the G20, which India hosted recently, there was a segment on sustainable finance, and there was a roadmap that was set out and I was going through that in a different context, and I could see the depth of thinking that has gone into putting that roadmap together.
Of course, with all the nations, and India also playing an important role and really the spirit of how this is coming together. Many of the enablers that Sunil is bringing, maybe they'll come in different forms. But I feel it's only a matter of time, that there will be more enablers that will come to play.
Sunil:              That's a great point, Sandhya, you just hit the nail, absolutely. The India G20 presidency has put a lot of importance on sustainability. And we have already given commitment to the world, at large, that what we as India would like to do on green gas emission, carbon footprint, and every single commitment is properly drafted and roadmap is put forward to the United Nations, as well as the G20. Thanks for bringing that, Sandhya, great point.
Adam:            Mh-hmm, and that'll be the day where all the regulations worldwide match up perfectly. I mean, that's a dream we can all have when politicians can actually agree on something. So I think we can all look forward to that, maybe, in the future. Now I know that enabling these regulations that are coming is not easy. And, so, maybe we can discuss a little bit about some of the challenges and barriers that are being encountered, as they try to integrate these sustainable finance principles into operations.
Sandhya:        Yes, actually, I want to take a step back in the strategy itself. The biggest challenge today for many companies is that they're not integrating ESG into their core strategic vision. It's like a compliance exercise, or an obligation, or a requirement. It is because a lot of effort is required to fundamentally integrate ESG into the core vision of an organization.
So, again, I want to come closer home, NH, again. So when BRSR became mandatory, what Sunil mentioned, last year, for us, we said, "Ok, let's not just do this as an exercise to update the BRSR. Let's take a step back and see what ESG means for us."
So we worked on building that sustainability vision for our company. So we did stakeholder interviews, materiality assessment. We came up with outside-in on what we need to do, but somehow it was just not falling together.
Then we got together as leadership, did a brainstorming on what inspires everyone to work for the organization, and what they feel proud about. And every member of leadership expressed in their own words, tremendous pride. We have strong values, leading governance practices, we do work on renewable energy. But the core of what it was for us was our "Health for All" mission, which is a socially-leaning approach to healthcare.
But, then, for us it was a bit easy. We got a little lucky that way because we were deeply embedded in that social cost, even though we were a for-profit listed entity. But it had taken us 20 years of building this entity and now we discovered it in our ESG mission. For many organizations going that deeper and looking into what they stand for. How they impact their stakeholders. How they impact their investors, their consumers, their society, the regulatory bodies, and how can this impact be positively amplified into their ESG charter.
I think that's the challenge that people are trying to get to battling with, get that right. And maybe some of the pioneers, like the Unilever Sustainability Plan. I thought that was way ahead of its time, and really well thought through, across the walk of different aspects of how the business impacts its stakeholders. 
Recently, Apple came with a very beautiful video, very creatively done, about how they are looking at sustainability, and why it's so important to them. Now, that requires an organization to go deep inside, find that soul, and that exists in every organization, it's not that it doesn't exist. But we need to find that, and that has to help us build the ESG on top of it. I think that's when India Inc., can embark on a truly meaningful ESG journey.
Adam:            I think that's a beautiful way of describing it. Of how you can lay that foundation and it can lead your organization forward. And it's not an easy task, especially, when you're trying to adopt sustainable finance, and investors may have different feelings about it. And how do you help your investors' sentiment shift toward the sustainable finance, especially if there's different definitions, people feel different ways about it. But it's becoming more socially acceptable and people are understanding the importance of it.
Sunil:              Yes, thanks, Adam. As far as sustainable finance is concerned, I personally think that adopting the sustainable finance practices, particularly, for Indian companies, at a global level. There is a huge, or I would say numerous opportunities of a competitive advantage for Indian companies. As India is one of the fastest-growing economy in the world. And when economy grows, you need access to the capital, quick access to the capital.
And this sustainable finance will help India, or Indian companies, or India Inc., to get access to the global capital, as quickly as possible. 
But not only accessibility, I will also say lower the cost of capital. The cost of capital is the cost at which you borrow the money in the market, in the financial market. And, of course, as you may know the cost of capital, or borrowing the cost of capital in global level, and in India, there's a huge difference. There is no parity at that. So sustainable finance will help Indian companies to borrow the money at lower cost of capital, that's a huge advantage.
Other advantages I look at is it will help companies to improve their credit rating. Nowadays, to borrow the money, you need to get a credit rating. And one of the criteria applied in credit rating is about your ESG strategy, your sustainable finance strategies. So if companies follow sustainable finance initiatives or strategy, they are likely to get a better credit rating. Of course, in turn, it means that, again, you will get a lower cost of capital, and a higher accessibility to funds.
I also see that it will enhance companies' reputation, in the global market. And reputation today is one of the very important aspect, we all know. Not only from ESG point of view, but from any other point of view. So sustainable finance can enhance companies' reputation. You get access to the global market. Some of the markets today, we are not able to reach out to because we are not following ESG practices.
For example, European Union has got very stringent requirements as far as supply chain is required. So we will have access to those markets, once we follow the sustainable finance facilities, sustainable finance initiatives. Risk mitigation will happen much better than it used to happen. We will have more competitive differentiation.
Indian companies will be competitive enough to global companies, by following the sustainable strategies. And many global players prescribe that when they buy the material or when they supply the material. The supply chain and entire value chain should be ESG compliant. So there also we will get opportunities.
I also see that there are a lot of partnership opportunities. Of collaboration and various companies, various, I would say finance houses, they will come and partner with you if you are following the ESG sustainable finance strategy. But one of the very important thing I see in today's world is that innovation and India is world startup capital, in today's world. We are creating more unicorns than anyone else is creating in the world. And my colleague or my panelist, Sandhya, lives in the city where the highest number of unicorns are being created.
So from that point of view, for the startup economy, the sustainable finance is going to help us a lot. And I made a comment last week, when I was talking at one of the CFO conference that there was a quote by Peter Drucker called "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." So culture is more important than strategy.
But, in view of this, I would say that culture eats innovation for breakfast. What I'm trying to say is that a culture of innovation is very important in an organization.
And if you have a culture of innovation, definitely, you are going into get into the sustainability because environment, social, and governance.
Adam:            I like that "Culture eats innovation for breakfast" and how important all those things to build up there. And, so, when you're thinking about things like disclosure in an ESG, with regulations. How can companies ensure transparency and build that trust, that Sandhya you were talking about, and how can we improve upon that? To make sure that we're being transparent and being open, but also being successful as an organization.
Sandhya:        So an ESG scorecard that was released by Crisil in 2022, showed the performance of companies on the environment parameter was weaker, compared to social and governance. In India, one in five companies reported their Scope 1, Scope 2 GHG emissions. The disclosure of Scope 3 emissions was even worse. 63 out of 586 companies published this data.
Now, if you take a step back, the biggest challenge which Indian industries are facing is on the supply chain side, Sunil mentioned about supply chain. But many supply chain providers are MSMEs unlisted, do not have the ability to track and report a large number of matrices. 
Deloitte had done a survey that revealed that only 27% of Indian organizations, feel that they are adequately equipped to meet their ESG strategy and compliance requirements. Only 15% believe that their suppliers are prepared to comply with ESG mandates.
Now, to all of this, there is that additional challenge of what quote within quotes "Greenwashing". There is a very interesting article by valuation guru Ashwath Damodaran, in one of his blogs. Where he writes a post about a large listed company. He says, "They've learned to play the ESG game well." And added to that, "The BRSR, is a bit of a prescriptive document, the way it has been designed." So it does not allow enough leverage to appreciate the nuances of different businesses and more importantly, their goals and what is core to them.
Now, if you take a step back in the West, ESG has a very strong E leaning, followed by G, and then S. But for India, the order is a little jumbled up. Many Indian companies are doing a lot on the social space, followed by environment, followed by governance. So we need to contextualize our ESG measurement to the country's needs. And somewhere our weightage, and line of what we want to go after have to play that balance.
But, finally, you can say a lot of things like this, but it really comes down to purpose and intent. If the purpose is not aligned and ESG is something on the sidelines, or if the intent is not there. I don't think any disclosure requirement will be enough to get the right perspective. So it has to start from within for organizations and how they can, like we spoke about earlier, bring their co-purpose. Then disclosure, compliance, can fall in place, maybe 60%, maybe 80%, but it will start moving in that direction.
Adam:            It will start moving in that direction, but it's going to take time to build that. And like Sunil was mentioning, these unicorns that are popping up.
They need to start it at the ground level as they're building their organization, and older organizations that have been around for a while, they have to change their whole culture, so that they can develop as an organization. And how can you develop, how can you incorporate these strategies into your organization, to make sure that you can build these strong foundation? Because, otherwise, it's going to be very difficult to make these changes that we've been discussing.
Sandhya:        We spoke about when ESGs are tied to the core of the organization benefits can be achieved. The biggest place where you are able to see this, in India, today, is in the banking sector. A large number of banks have been able to channelize investments into rural households. One of the largest banks in India, they've financed 7.6 million rural households. It's a win-win. The amount of credit growth that has happened for the bank, for India, and the financial inclusion goal of the country, you're able to tick all the boxes.
So some of these models are able to create value. So where businesses are able to create value with a sustainability goal. Maybe I want to take our example one more. We run one of the largest hospital-based, post-graduation programs for doctor training, it's called DNB. We also run a very large nursing paramedical training program.
In a country where there's an acute shortage of doctors, nurses, paramedics. This investment we are making in creating a talent pool for the future is a win-win. We believe it will secure our own talent pipeline for the future, and at the same time, we'll be able to create talent for the country.
Most business cases in renewable energy have a two to three years' payback. There is a lot of investment that's being channelized in the space. For our own company, there is one of our largest units, it's 77% renewable energy. But I'm a very happy CFO because my power bill is halved. So there is so much of benefit that one can achieve. 
So when we say sometimes that government has to give benefits to enable ESG, et cetera, it's possible within the organization's contour to be able to create models that are able to create value for the organization, and are also sustainable.
Now, to see from a startup point of view, Sunil was talking about the startup capital is Bangalore, but India itself is the startup capital of the world. There are several startups which have built successful business models on sustainable solutions.
I mean, the count, the number is endless. The areas are phenomenal, renewable energy, of course. But say areas such as biofuel from waste, biomass, emission control devices, battery recycling, air purification. Rooftop solar for home, it's such a big thing now. And we always think that India is a hot country, tropical country, there's so much heat. But it's really created a new wave of companies with rooftop solar, vertical gardens for homes and offices, it looks beautiful.
People are now, instead of doing interiors with fancy wood, and color, and lighting, are doing interiors with vertical gardens, which is again, a win-win. It looks so beautiful and at the same time it's so sustainable.
Many technology solutions have picked up from this. For example, there are IoT solutions for energy monitoring, for various types of sustainability practices, improving sustainability practices. So it's really a long list of opportunities, that the space of sustainability has created to monetize in a win-win way. So businesses also see tremendous value in engaging with these startups.
So I would like to conclude that this explosion that has got created in the Indian context, and how we are able to bring all of this together in our organization. Is now becoming more a challenge of innovation, like Sunil was mentioning, than a challenge of compliance.
Sunil:              Just to add to what Sandhya has just said, is one of the interesting phenomenon I have seen of late, in the last two to three years, is that there are a lot of small and medium-sized companies who are voluntarily accepting the ESG standards. They're not mandatorily required to do that. There is no compliance requirement for them.
But as a good startup or as futuristic startup, they are talking from day one that "We want to ensure environmental, social, and governance aspects, from day one, when we are a small company, we are a growing company." And no one is forcing them.
So I really like that aspect because, normally, what we see, what this BRSR report, and all these SASB, and all this compliance, it is sort of forced upon the corporations. Either by the investors, or by the Security Exchange Board of India, or by some government authority. Whereas I'm seeing a different phenomenon here. On their own, the small and medium businesses are creating that culture of ESG, and which is really fantastic to see that.
Adam:            That is really fantastic to see. And maybe as we wrap up, this has been a wonderful conversation. I feel like we've covered so much and given so much great advice. If we're looking toward the future, how do we see the evolution of sustainable finance in India, or even the world? As we're looking at it from an overarching view. How can companies stay ahead of that curve? I think we've given some great advice. But maybe we can summarize some of that as we wrap up the conversation.
Sunil:              So I think the ESG is going to evolve very quickly, very rapidly, not only in India but worldwide. And one of the statements made by United Nations, last week, was that "We have transitioned now from global warming and we are now into global boiling." This was the statement made. Now, that is a very, I would say a very powerful statement. People need to understand that if we do not take care of our environment, what's likely to happen to us.
Evolution, on one hand, is through forced measures, compliance measures, typically, which will happen on requirement strategies, compliance reports,
and how to evolve with the new reports and all those things. But one of the area, or some of the few areas I would like to see, which may happen based on my experience, is board-level oversight will be required now into ESG. The global boards or the boards of the companies, they have to get involved into ESG now. And when I say involved, I'm not talking about the micromanagement, but ESG as a strategy on the board. When the board is sitting, they need to start discussing and overseeing what's happening on the ESG. That's a new way of evolving.
We need to start engaging more and more all the stakeholders, with whom we are doing the business. We also have to keep on doing the ESG risk assessment on a continuous basis because we may have new risks. Covid-19 was a classic example; we don't know what else is likely to come. So on a continuous basis, keep doing the ESG risk assessment, supply chains, innovation is required to happen.
Talent; retaining talent, acquiring talent, who respects the ESG, that's also required. And, obviously, we need to start looking into green financing, green bonds, and all those type of things. So I think these are some of the areas, which will evolve over a period of time. And, of course, technology will play a huge role in this.
Sandhya:        Thank you, Sunil, maybe, I want to take a slightly sectoral view. Some of the sectors that are really making an impact, starting, of course, is energy. The companies in the energy sector are focusing the most on reducing GHGs, and investing in renewable energy.
For example, Tata Power, today, has 38% clean and green energy. They are aiming to be 80% by 2030. The advantage of Tata Power going green is that the Tata Group is such a massive group of companies, and they are in every sector. That means that all those sectors will go green because most of them consume captive power from Tata Power, and that really makes a very big difference. 
Similarly, the next big sector is the manufacturing. There are a lot of companies which are working on reducing pollution using sustainable material. Reprocessing plastic because manufacturing generates the most amount of plastic and pushes in, especially, fast moving. 
There's a lot of plastic that's getting pushed into the environment, and government has built a good set of regulations around plastic reprocessing. But there's a lot of thinking and research and innovation dollars, that are going into finding more sustainable ways of delivering materials to their consumers.
Agriculture, again, there are companies that are focusing on reducing water use, which is very important for a water-scarce country like India. Sustainable farming practices, even improving farmer livelihood is an important aspect for a country like India.
So one initiative I want to call out is the transformational work that Reliance Foundation does. They run a rural transformation program, which reaches to some 20 states, union territories. It has some 14.6 million people they've covered as of, I think, August '22.
Now, in this they have one part of that service is a Reliance Foundation Information Service. They bring technology solutions and help address information gaps and asymmetry for farmers, like agricultural farmers, marine farmers, livestock farmers. It provides them virtual advisory, and there are inputs on weather, better farming practices, diseases, livestock management.
Now, this is like a beautiful example of how information itself can empower a sustainable world forward, and in a sector which is so disintegrated, and disempowered, and not very affluent as well. So last one more sector I really want to talk about is construction. Of course, there are hundreds of sectors which are there, but I want to talk about construction.
Again, there is a huge amount of sustainable material thinking that's going into construction industry. People are looking at reducing energy, water use. Worker safety, it's a very important aspect because there are statutory regulatory requirements. But from an ESG charter, people are going above and beyond on safety.
A friend of mine, she runs a startup which focuses urban tech, developing scalable startups about livability, climate, resilience, inclusion. What she tells me is that the amount of interest that she gets from various, one is investors, but from stakeholders, on being associated with people who are in these sustainable construction has grown manifold by several orders of magnitude.
So a lot of sectors are being inspired to take on more sustainable ways. The other flip side of it is if we are running say at the rate of 100 kilometers, the speed that is required to reach, we want to is 200 or 300 km. So while we can be proud and we can celebrate that we have come from zero to 100, we still have to get to 300 to be able to leave a better future for our future generations.
Sunil:              Yes, just to add one small, she raised some very valid points. And one of the area of ESG which Indian government has taken as an initiative is agricultural. And in the agricultural side, India has taken an initiative called India's Millet Revolution. Millet is a type of food you may know. 
And, so, India's Millet Revolution is a movement that seeks to increase awareness of the health and environmental benefits of millets, promote the traditional agricultural practices in India, and it will also support the small scale. This is one of the big steps Indian government has taken, again, towards the environmental side.
Adam:            I just want to thank both of you so much, for coming on the podcast, for sharing your insights. I've learned a lot, and I hope our audience has learned a lot, as well. And, obviously, this is a continuing conversation that we'll have to keep having because it's ever evolving. So I just thank you so much for coming on, today.
Sunil:              Thank you, Adam.
Sandhya:        Thank you for inviting us here.
< Outro >

Announcer:    This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders, from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting in finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imainet.org.

Creators and Guests

Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
Sandhya Sriram
Sandhya Sriram
Group CFO, Narayana Health | CA Rank Holder | Awarded Top 100 Asia’s Power Leader in Finance | One Among India’s Top 100 Women in Finance | Economic Times Young Leader | Public Speaker | Caring Mother
Sunil Deshmukh
Sunil Deshmukh
With over 30 years of global experience in business management, Sunil Deshmukh is a C-Suite Executive, Leadership Coach, Strategy Consultant, and Independent Director. He is currently the Global Chair Elect at IMA | Institute of Management Accountants, the largest and most respected global association focused on advancing the management accounting profession.
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