Hisham Mundol, Chief Advisor at Environmental Defense Fund, India, Shares Insights on the Country's Green Future

Hisham Mundol, Chief Advisor at Environmental Defense Fund, India, Shares Insights on the Country's Green Future
Hisham Mundol, Chief Advisor, Environmental Defense Fund, India

In the spirit of World Environment Day, StartupTalky presents an exclusive interview with Hisham Mundol, Chief Advisor at Environmental Defense Fund, India. Explore his expertise as he discusses India's sustainable growth, EDF's impactful initiatives in climate action, and the crucial role of businesses and individuals in protecting our environment.

Gain valuable insights on environmental challenges and solutions, inspiring corporate action, and empowering the next generation of climate leaders. Join us in celebrating World Environment Day with this enlightening conversation.

StartupTalky: How can India ensure it grows economically while still protecting our environment?

Mr. Mundol: India needs to grow. That is non-negotiable. That growth needs energy. Increasing the share of renewable energy in our energy systems is the first priority. The second is to foster innovation to drive circularity. Circularity is about recycling, but so much more. It also includes more efficient use of resources as well as energy efficiency. Climate tech and climate policy are also essential for Indian industry to make money by going green.

StartupTalky: What are some amazing ways EDF is helping India fight climate change and pollution, making a real difference in people's lives?

Mr. Mundol: Across different sectors, Environmental Defense Funds’s (EDF) efforts are aligned to support the country’s economic development — while stabilising the climate and providing a healthy environment. Our approach provides catalytic support in four distinct strategic areas. These include: (1) enhancing sustainable livelihoods in agriculture, livestock, and fisheries to achieve the triple win of improved incomes, secured yields, and protected climate; (2) advancing corporate action to generate shareholder value through sustainable business operations; (3) supporting government capacity in areas like carbon pricing; and (4) helping India balance economic growth and environmental sustainability imperatives.

StartupTalky: How can businesses and the government come together as a team to safeguard our environment for future generations?

Mr. Mundol: Past examples where business and government have come together are instructive to how this can happen. Light Emitting Diode (or LED) bulbs are both longer-lasting and more energy-efficient than conventional lighting. The government incentivised production and companies responded by scaling up volumes which brought down prices. Governments worked with the industry by directing public procurement, and industry responded by marketing LED bulbs to other consumers. LED bulbs are now a multi-billion dollar industry in India. This kind of cohesion is what is needed.

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StartupTalky: Could you share an example of a time when EDF worked hand-in-hand with local communities or businesses in India to solve an environmental challenge?

Mr. Mundol: EDF has equipped 40,000 farmers with a new tool to manage nitrogen fertiliser use — and save costs. Nitrogen is essential to crop production, but too little reduces crop yields and depletes soils, and too much accelerates climate change, degrades air and water quality, and increases costs for both farmers and governments. EDF created the N-Balance tool to help farmers, governments, and food companies to determine how much fertiliser is efficiently needed on a given plot for a given crop. N-Balance can help farmers save INR 500–2,500 (about US$6–30) per agricultural season for households which is consequential as their average monthly income is approximately INR 10,000 (about US$120).

In 2023, EDF worked with Samagra Shikshan Evam Vikas Sansthan in Bihar and Syngenta Foundation India in Maharashtra to pilot this tool. We expect these pilots to not only reduce farmers’ costs and optimise government spending, but also encourage other farmers and organisations to adopt the tool in different states.

StartupTalky: What are the biggest environmental problems India faces right now, and what can we do about them?

Mr. Mundol: The two biggest challenges are heat and water. Increasing temperatures are caused by greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and shorter life but higher-warming gases like methane and nitrous oxide). The most effective carbon sink we have is our forest and biodiversity and we should secure these. On methane and nitrous oxide, there are solutions with proven science and viable economics. For instance, reducing methane emissions from the oil & gas sector is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to decarbonise.

Water management should be a strategic national priority. In particular, we need an ambitious and science-based plan to manage groundwater – on which agriculture is majorly dependent but is under severe stress.

StartupTalky: How can India switch to clean energy faster, and how can EDF help?

Mr. Mundol: India’s energy system is transitioning from a conventional fuels-based power system to one where half of energy comes from renewable sources. The transition has significant technical, economic, social, and environmental impacts. Renewable energy has significant advantages but also comes with unique constraints like weather, land availability, and lack of flexibility on when power generation can happen and when it cannot.

State governments need energy modelling capacity to factor in these complexities.  EDF recently launched a made-in-India, open-source, transparent, energy transition model – the Indian Zero Carbon Pathways (IDEEA) in partnership with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru and Global Change Program at Jadavpur University (GCP-JU) in Kolkata.

StartupTalky: Why is it important for businesses to care about the environment, and how can they make a positive impact while still being successful?

Mr. Mundol: Very simple. There is money to be made in responsible business! It raises revenues and builds brands and it improves margins. It protects against risk. It attracts and retains talent.

There also happens to be real and big downside if they do not care. The history of the business sector is littered with examples of giant companies that fell by the wayside and entire sectors being upturned by those that did not keep up.

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StartupTalky: What strategies do you use to inspire leaders and companies to care deeply about the environment?

Mr. Mundol: The best strategy is to showcase leaders and companies who have done the right thing as far as the environment is concern. A visionary State government is the best voice to inspire and inform action by other State governments. A progressive company is the surest way of inspiring (and indeed perspiring) competitors to follow suit. We want those who act on climate change to serve as lighthouses for their peers.

StartupTalky: Could you share some exciting upcoming projects EDF has planned in India?

Mr. Mundol: Climate change is both the environmental crisis and economic opportunity of the century. By adopting sustainable business practices, companies have a significant opportunity to create shareholder value — though achieving this requires authentic, ambitious, and concerted action by the corporate sector.

EDF’s Climate Corps programme is helping to address this challenge by cultivating the next generation of climate leadership in India. By recruiting, training, and embedding post-graduate students in leading companies and organisations, the programme seeks to support businesses’ efforts to meet India’s development and climate objectives and develop a pipeline of talented professionals equipped with knowledge and skills that will be essential in India’s growing green economy.

In 2023, EDF placed nearly 30 Climate Corps fellows at 13 large national and multinational corporations to support sustainability and environmental projects at top companies including Larsen & Toubro, Tata Steel, Zomato, and others.

StartupTalky: What advice would you give to young people who dream of making a positive impact on the environment here in India?

Mr. Mundol: First of all, thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring and dreaming. The climate and environment are the most defining issues for the planet. There is so much you can do. If it is a career, sustainability is going to be one of the top career options for the next several decades. If it is individual action, every little action adds up. So many of the most amazing changes have come through one person doing one right thing. Lastly, I’d say, stay optimistic. This is tough, but we will make it through to the other side.

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