CSE’s efforts are specifically designed to create awareness about problems and propose sustainable solutions. CSE searches for solutions that reconcile economic development with environmental conservation; solutions that people and communities can implement themselves; and it pushes the government to create frameworks in which people can act on their own. CSE believes that the urban, educated group are the most environmentally illiterate and therefore, directs its activities towards educating this group.
Building on its knowledge-base and communication skills, CSE has fashioned for itself, a unique strategy called knowledge-based environmental activism. It is built around generating books and ideas which are then used to advocate policy change. The Centre networks extensively with grassroots organisations, industry leaders, experts, government agencies and mass media in India and abroad in lobbying for change.
CSE has been working to improve air quality of the city of Delhi for the past ten years and there have been measurable improvements. CSE’s Right to Clean Air campaign has addressed the issue of vehicular pollution from aspects of fuel quality, emission norms, vehicle maintenance and fiscal and regulatory measures and transportation management to reduce pollution levels.
During the first phase of the campaign the focus was cleaning up the air in Delhi and was able to make substantial impacts. These include advancement of Euro II emissions standards for new vehicles in 2000, lowering of sulphur content in diesel and petrol to 500, lowering of benzene to 1 percent, implementation of the largest ever CNG programme for the public transportation systems, and phasing out of the 15 year old commercial vehicles. Simultaneously, certain important cross cutting measures including the inspection and maintenance programme for in-use vehicles, strengthening of air quality monitoring and checking of fuel adulteration were brought to focus. These first generation reforms have made significant impact on the city’s air.
In 2004, CSE organized a conference, The Leapfrog factor: Towards clean air in Asian cities which brought together experts, policy makers, civil society groups and industry representatives from different cities of India and Asia and captured the learning in the region and outside to help cities evolve strategies to control pollution from mobile sources. The objective of the conference was to find ways to address critical issues of common concerns among cities of India and south Asia and to facilitate policy makers and regulators to learn from each other’s experiences.
CSE organised several exhibitions and published several public interest advertisements to make awareness on the impact of air pollution on public health.
By adopting the slogan, ‘Make Water Everybody’s Business’, the People’s Water Management campaign promotes a new paradigm in water management – community-based rainwater harvesting. Eight years of research yielded the influential publication, Dying Wisdom: The Rise, Fall and Potential of Traditional Water Harvesting Systems, a book that catalysed senior political leaders, judges, editors and other decision-makers into thinking about rainwater harvesting. At the invitation of K R Narayanan, who was then the President of India, CSE set up a rainwater harvesting structure at the Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s House) in 1998.
The campaign got a major boost after the timely publication in 2001 of a briefing paper, Drought? Try capturing the rain, written by CSE founder-director, the late Anil Agarwal. The paper highlighted the successful grassroots efforts of villagers in Gujarat, western Madhya Pradesh,
Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh who, in the face of the worst drought ever recorded in over a 100 years, drought-proofed their communities by employing traditional rainwater harvesting structures. The result: everybody – from the Prime Minister to state Chief Ministers – have started rainwater harvesting programmes. Other influential publications of the campaign include: Making Water Everybody’s Business, and the Water Harvesting Manual, which are practical guides on rainwater harvesting for planners and policy-makers.
In its efforts to make rainwater harvesting a national movement, CSE has taken the campaign to rural areas by creating a network of communities called jal biradaris (water communities). The campaign also promotes water harvesting in urban areas by distributing publications, conducting lectures, organising paani yatras (eco-tours of harvesting structures in rural regions), demonstrations, exhibitions and training workshops. A Rain Centre has been established in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
In addition, the campaign networks with thousands of water harvesters through CatchWater, a bi-monthly newsletter. The campaign established the National Water Harvesters Network to help interact with water harvesters. A Rainwater Harvesting Advisory Service helps schools, residential colonies, households and industries start water harvesting.
CSE started the green rating project to rate the environmental performance of major industrial firms by developing the industrial rating methodology. Despite the initial challenges of conceptualisation, CSE was successful in improvising and developing an extremely robust rating methodology under the Green Rating Project. The Green Rating project was thus launched in May 1997 by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister of India. Pulp and paper industry was taken up as a test case for development of a transparent and credible rating methodology followed by rating of automobile, caustic chlorine and cement sectors.
The pulp and paper sector rating was considered to be a pioneering work done by an NGO in developing world and it received tremendous response from all sections of the society. The ratings were also presented to the President of India, who appreciated the efforts taken by CSE to bring the industry in the forefront of the environmental movement. The industry response to the rating programme has been so good that the International Finance Corporation held the GRP as a model alternative governance mechanism for industrial performance.
The programme was also instrumental in having an impact on the regulatory systems. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) took-up the issue of mercury pollution and wrote to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MEF), recommending the phasing-out of the Mercury Cell plants by 2005. CPCB also set up a team to revise its standards on mercury emissions from Chlor-alkali sector. Question on mercury pollution was raised in parliament and the chlor-alkali industry accepted its fault in not addressing the mercury pollution issue in time in its association publication.
The impact of Green Rating was visible in all the sectors it rated so far. In the second rating of pulp and paper sector, the paper companies agreed to provide all information, including the economic and trade information, and agreed for a time-table to conduct the rating. Water consumption, which was as high as 250 tons per tonne of paper produced, went down by 16% and one company shifted to elemental chlorine free bleaching. Few more companies are working towards ECF bleaching in lines of GRP’s recommendations. Significant innovation have also been done by paper companies at the grassroots level to promote farm forestry. The contribution of farm forestry to the total wood supply to the pulp and paper mills went up by 65 per cent. In general, there is a sense of seriousness within the industry to improve its environmental performance.
In the automobile sector, Hero Honda Motors developed an environmental reporting programme based on GRP rating to monitor its day-to-day performance. Hindustan Motors started addressing their environmental issues as per CSE recommendations. Hyundai Motors, in an unprecedented move, publicly announced that from now on it would produce same standard cars in India as its European plants. CSE was pleasantly surprised to note the impact of GRP rating on the stock market as shown by a study undertaken by noted economist, Mr Shreekant Gupta. GRP recommendations have paved the way for significant investments in process and pollution control technology.
It is also interesting to note that the ratings awarded by GRP was often used by the companies to get loans from banks such as, International Finance Corporation (IFC). These companies mention of the credibility of participating in the GRP and its ratings. Many of the companies such as Chemfab Alkalies, Hindustan Newsprints Limited, JK Papers, etc have highlighted the rankings given by GRP in their annual reports.
After four sectoral ratings, GRP has now initiated a cross-sectoral rating to identify the most sustainable company in the country. The rating exercise will cover 200 companies from different sectors wherein their energy and water usage efficiency and pollution index will be assessed.
GRP has also initiated training programmes specially designed for civil society and regulators on environmental clearance process and EIA assessment. Five training programmes have already been conducted. The Government of Bangladesh invited the team to provide training on environmental impacts of some key sectors and EIA process to their high level officials in the Department of Environment.
Another new component of the GRP includes specialized technical assistance to civil society to assess EIA reports and industrial projects under its Community Support Centre programme. The team has already assessed 35 number of EIA reports from different parts of the country on behalf of grassroot organisations.