Being environment-conscious is not just politically correct, it also makes good business sense as niche ventures and careers come up.
Namrata Dadwal | Print Edition: November, 2009
As the world wakes up to its precarious ecological condition, it has sparked a wave of green warriors across the globe. Be it entrepreneurs eager to protect the environment or organisations intent on working in sync with their habitats, the green movement has gained momentum. This, in turn, has spawned a booming industry, leading inevitably to a spurt in the job market.
According to a report published by the International Labour Organisation in September 2008, the global market for environmental products and services is pegged at $1,370 billion a year. Titled ‘Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World’, the report states that this market is projected to double to $2,740 billion by 2020.
Nearly half of this market is expected to be dominated by the energy efficiency technologies segment, which is estimated to grow to $1,233 billion from the present $617 billion. The other areas that are expected to see high growth are water supply/sanitation, waste management/recycling and sustainable transport.
Building the Green Idea
As the eco movement spreads, new careers and business opportunities have begun to crop up across all sectors. You can get a job as an environmental consultant in waste treatment industries or you could manufacture electric vehicles. “Several avenues are now opening up in the solar/renewable energy field. Biofuel research, carbon trading, sustainability reporting and auditing and environmental risk assessment are some of the upcoming career options. Almost all companies now have either a sustainability officer or a corporate social responsibility (CSR) department, which looks into environmental issues,” says Annapurna Vancheswaran, director, Sustainable Development Outreach, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Delhi.
Vidur Bharadwaj, an architect, jumped on to the green bandwagon when he, along with two associates, set up the 3C Company in 2004 in Delhi. The company builds energyefficient buildings. “Most structures that are being built don’t respect their habitats. We wanted to construct buildings that made optimum use of natural resources,” says Bharadwaj. Green buildings are more economical in the long term as they have water-saving fixtures, insulated walls that reduce heat by up to 60% (which means AC bills come down), motion-sensor lights, solar lights, etc. However, the upfront cost of construction can be high, which may put off many people. “Though we have had good response from corporates and retail customers (for a residential project in Noida), as of of now, we are taking a cut in the profit to promote the idea,” he says.
Recycling the Concept
In November 2007, a study was conducted on e-waste by GTZ, an international cooperation enterprise for sustainable development, along with the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology. It showed that the annual e-waste generated in India by three devices—televisions, mobile phones and computers— was 3.8 lakh tonnes. Of this, only 19,000 tonnes was being recycled. The e-waste is projected to increase to 4.5 lakh tonnes by 2011. Almost 95% of recycling in the country is done by the informal sector, while the organised sector handles the remaining 5%. However, entrepreneurs like B.K. Soni, are beginning to alter the ratio.
Soni began his career as a cost accountant and sharebroker. After working for almost four years, he decided to branch out on his own and set up a financial services company, Soni Capital Markets. Never one to miss an opportunity, Soni decided to diversify to computer software and hardware in 1994, the height of the dotcom boom, and set up Infotrek Syscom. How did he survive the bust? “I have always avoided borrowing money for my ventures. I prefer to plough back whatever I’ve earned. This means I don’t have to worry about any liabilities or debt,” says Soni.
Some years ago, Soni began getting enquiries about old computers that companies wanted to get rid of. Intrigued by the idea, Soni visited recycling plants in the US and Europe. He set up Ecoreco in Mumbai in September 2007 with an investment of Rs 12 crore. His company recycles computers, ACs, microwave ovens, mobile phones, medical equipment, etc, and has 400 corporate clients. Does he plan to approach retail consumers? “It’s in the pipeline but it’s not financially feasible to go from door to door collecting equipment. Currently, I’m putting money in the business. It requires patience and will take time to churn a profit,” he adds.
“The biggest challenge in recycling is the collection of waste. This becomes even more complicated in the case of e-waste as it has monetary value even when it reaches the end of its life. Entrepreneurs need to devise effective strategies for waste collection before they enter the business,” says Dr. Ashish Chaturvedi, technical manager, Advisory Services in Environmental Management, GTZ India.
Nitin Goel and Utsav Sharma recognised the deficiency in the supply chain and chucked their jobs to set up a waste paper collecting company, GreenOBin, early this year. They provide segregated recycling bins, carry out waste audits and also ensure that confidential papers are shredded securely. “The most difficult task has been to make people aware of the amount of paper they waste unconsciously, but, thankfully, the mindset has begun to change,” says Goel.
There are many entrepreneurs who are joining the green brigade with novel ideas. One of them is V. Ramesh, who has set up Ecomove Solutions. Ramesh worked with ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund, Birla Sun Life AMC and as CEO of Prabhudas Lilladher Financial Services before venturing on his own. On a trip to Barcelona last year, where he saw people hiring bicycles to commute, Ramesh became fascinated with the concept. He resigned from his job to set up Ecomove in January 2009.
Ramesh has invested Rs 1 crore in the venture (Rs 55 lakh loan from Bank of Baroda and Rs 45 lakh personal savings) and has bought 800 bicycles. He has also earmarked 20 locations in Mumbai from where people can hire bicycles. Will they pay for the service? “In 1980-81, when water was being sold on the street for five paise a glass, people found it amusing. Yet, now the bottled water industry is one of the biggest business in the country. My gut instinct says the idea will take off,” says Ramesh.
This firm belief in a cause and the ambition to bet on the next big thing is likely to see green ventures prosper.