My Professor Friend and I normally visit one of our usual coffee shops on the Carter Road in Bandra in Mumbai. This coffee shop is a great place in the rains. The sips of hot coffee keep us warm for equally warm conversations while watching the drenched Arabian sea.
This time Professor suggested that we visit the Atrium bar at Taj Lands’ End in Bandra. His suggestion was that in the wet weather of Mumbai there is nothing like having a single malt whiskey with a dash of honey and pepper. He knew Tony, the bartender at the Taj who did the best concoction. I readily agreed. But I knew that Professor had an ulterior motive as he always loved to listen to the honest and frank conversations happening at the bar when people are slightly drunk and speak aloud. Very cunning.
When we reached Lands End it was early evening and not many people were present. In fact, there were just two other people sitting together. One looked a bit senior in the fifties and other in the early thirties. Both gentlemen were suited with smart neck ties. Professor opted to sit close to their table so that we could hear every bit of the conversation. They were already loud.
In few minutes we gathered that the senior man was running a very successful consulting company for past twenty five years. His company was offering a service of environmental clearance (EC). He kept saying that his company was leading in environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA). Contrary to his saying, my Professor Friend always maintained that obtaining EC had nothing to do with ESIA. I used to tell him that he is rather crude in making such a statement and he should learn how to say the same thing in a more polite and sophisticated manner. Some people don’t change.
While the senior was using the term EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) frequently in his conversations, the younger or junior person was using another three letter word – ESG i.e., Environmental, Social and Governance. The junior was with one of the reputed consulting companies who were best in the word play and make a cocktail of several three letter words like SDG (Sustainable Development Goals), GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) and ICE (Inclusive Circular Economy) apart from the supreme three letter word – the ESG. So, their services looked diverse.
By that time, our concoction had arrived. Bartender Tony had done a great job and Professor was pleased when he brought a large portion of unsalted cashew nuts without asking. The two gentlemen (let us call them by the three letter words EIA and ESG) said “repeat” to Tony. They were having Long Island Iced tea in tall glasses. (A Long Island iced tea is a type of cocktail typically made with vodka, tequila, light rum, triple sec, gin, and a splash of cola, – a potent cocktail for getting into frank conversations)
Mr EIA said “We had a great time last twenty years my friend. Made good money and fooling around. Within first five years, we mastered a template for preparing EIA reports and all we had to do was to change name of the company, location, few maps and pictures to get 60% of the document ready for any additional “customization” if required. We could successfully develop a boiler plate environmental and social management plan that was impressive and used all the key words that an appraisal committee member wanted to see. The business has been satisfying and personally I am happy that I could create “MSW EIA experts” in no time. He took a large gulp of Long Island.
“What’s MSW EIA Expert Professor?” I whispered this stupid question. Professor did not speak. Instead, he scribbled on the tissue paper and passed on. It said “MSW EIA Expert means person who knows how to effectively generate a new EIA report from the old one using Microsoft Word and with no knowledge what the three letter word EIA means).
I didn’t like Professors attitude of dismissing the genuine contribution made by Mr EIA to the community of “environmental professionals” in India.
Mr ESG was patiently listening. He took a larger gulp of Long Island. He said “Our situation is no different but perhaps more creative than what you guys do. We are the masters in creating ESG ratings by crunching some useless, irrelevant, most unreliable and outdated data and accordingly write narratives. I get a sadistic pleasure to see how the investors and corporate world chases these stupid numbers and the big daddy’s in the industry set the KPIs for their teams. When it comes to Environmental and Social Due Diligence (ESDD) we have also achieved a templatization like EIA but here we smartly pass the “risks” or “work unfinished” to the borrowers by taking undertakings and framing loan covenants. Game of ESG is essentially that of passing the buck. He made this profound statement while doing a “bottom up” with the Long Island. He asked Tony for the next round.
I thought the young man was too self critical about himself and the job he was doing. If all ESG experts understood this “ultimate truth” then not only will they be ashamed of what they are doing but will stop glorifying their careers. I knew that today the ESG community works on unrealistic time pressures, especially the ESG managers (who in turn make their consultants life miserable). I wish a study is undertaken on the work-life imbalances, damaged health parameters and strained personal relationships of the ESG community. But perhaps, the inflated salary packages provide the solace or justification. Today, salaries of ESG experts are much more than those working in EIA although both do the same kind of (shoddy?) work. This is really not fair I thought and very sincerely.
The conversations between Mr EIA and Mr ESG continued. We could see that both the gentlemen agreed that the two three letter words were making no “impact” on “improving” the ground realities. Today, despite saying XX trillion dollars are under ESG or YY trillion dollars have been appraised through EIA, the world continues to be in a resource stressed situation. pollution remains unabated and the greenhouse gases remain on the rise. Whom are we fooling?
We wanted to stay longer to learn more from these two seasoned professionals, but Professor had another appointment to attend. So, we left, but reluctantly.
I was on my way home.
The only thing I had learnt was the impact of a Long Island iced tea can be much more than the collective impact of the three letter words – EIA and ESG
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An excellent introspective satire, Dr. Modak (like all your other blogs)! Only, this one is absolutely scathing. I too have come, more or less, to a similar conclusion. Neither Mr. EIA nor Mr. ESG can make any difference until Mr. Purse Strings makes all decisions. Problem is; ESG failures do not really impact businesses in a manner or at a scale which really hurts business. Few cases which we hear about are anecdotal and “happening to others”. Even there, the top brass always manages to get out unscathed. So, there is no real reason for most businesses and managements to do anything more than lip service.
Pretty depressing for the “committed” environmental/ESG professional!! ☺️
And that’s that.
PS: Congratulations Prof. Modak for the transforming the most trustworthy three letter – EMC – from LLP. to PVT. LTD.