Opinion: Can Green Credit Programme Change Behaviors Towards A Sustainable Future?
In recent years, the issue of sustainable development and meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) goals has become a critical focus of attention for governments, policy makers, scholars and practitioners the world over, including India. A key requirement for achieving SDG goals by any country would be for all stakeholders – individuals, corporations and local bodies - to adopt environmental-friendly behaviors. Tackling the challenges in environmental and social sustainability that our planet currently faces cannot be done without high levels of public and private participation, with long-term transformations in everyday behaviors of individuals, and adoption of environmentally responsible behaviors by corporations and local bodies.
The announcement of Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26) was a significant step in this direction, aimed at placing individual behaviors and actions at the centre of the global dialogue on climate change and sustainability. LiFE came as a clarion call to individual citizens across the world to undertake simple acts in their daily lives that can contribute significantly to climate change.
In order to reinforce this initiative, and make India’s journey towards a sustainable future more inclusive and all-encompassing, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced an allocation of ?35,000 crores in the Annual Union Budget of 2023, to achieve energy transition and net zero emissions, through the "Green Credit Programme" (GCP). Accordingly, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has notified the Draft Green Credit Programme Implementation Rules 2023 and invited suggestions from the general public. The GCP, to be notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, is aimed at encouraging behaviour?change by incentivizing environmentally sustainable and responsive actions by companies, individuals and local bodies. The GCP aims to incentivize adoption of pro-environment behaviors by individuals, industries, farmers producers organisations, urban local bodies (ULB), gram panchayats and private sectors, by enabling ‘green credit’ to be earned for undertaking environment-friendly actions such as planting trees, conserving water, waste management, reducing air pollution, mangrove conservation and restoration, sustainable building and infrastructure, etc. The green credits are proposed to be tradable, and those earning it will be able to put these credits up for sale on a proposed domestic market platform. The GCP, while complementing the domestic carbon market (focused on reduction of CO2 emissions) will also help to address a wider range of environmental concerns.?
Globally, the concept of providing incentives for behavior change, especially in the domain of environment and sustainability, is not new. For example, the “Cash for Caulkers” scheme by the United States government, “Bike to Work” initiatives across multiple countries, "Carrots for Communities" program by the government of UK, “RecycleBank” rewards program in USA and UK, etc. provide a range of financial benefits and incentives to homeowners, consumers and citizens to encourage adoption of various environment-friendly behaviors. Government of India has also experimented with similar such incentive based social welfare programmes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission (incentives for constructing household toilets), Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (cash rewards and scholarships to families who educate and empower their girl children), Jan Dhan Yojana (incentives to open bank accounts and benefits like access to insurance, overdraft facilities, and direct transfer of subsidies), and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (free LPG connections to households), to name a few - with varying degrees of success.
Despite its good intentions however, the success of the GCP scheme will depend on a properly designed roadmap of implementation. This is more so since experts have already voiced concerns regarding the possibility of tokenistic or superficial activities, gaming the system, and ‘greenwashing’ by stakeholders in ways that earn them credits without really having any meaningful impact on the environment. Such concerns arise especially from questions of whether financial incentives and rewards are effective enough to bring about long term and sustainable social behavior change among recipients of such rewards and benefits. Research studies have found that while both monetary and non-monetary incentives helped to change individuals’ and households’ pro-environment behaviors, the impact is higher for non-monetary incentives. Often, with prolonged usage, extrinsic motivators such as monetary incentives come to be viewed as entitlements, whereas non-monetary incentives are perceived as gifts and hence likely to act as intrinsic motivators and consequently have a greater impact on positive behavior change.?
In this backdrop, the discourse around social norms (unwritten rules about what is considered acceptable or appropriate in our particular community or culture) and their impact on long term behavior change assumes significance. As German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin has aptly noted, humans fear to stand out from the group, and “the unwillingness of the individual to depart too far from group standards” is a strong lever to influence behavior. In fact, the Mission LiFE also plans to leverage the strength of social networks to influence social norms surrounding climate, to create and nurture a global network of ‘Pro-Planet People’ who will have a shared commitment to adopt and promote environmentally friendly lifestyles, and build an ecosystem that will reinforce and enable environmentally friendly behaviors to be self-sustainable. For example, the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, which has been effective in bringing about large scale social behavior change towards sanitary and hygienic practices and creating Open Defecation Free (ODF) communities in various developing countries, uses the principle of social norms, without providing any government subsidy or financial incentives. More recently, the Swachh Survekshan, the annual cleanliness survey conducted by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs of the Government of India (under the aegis of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban) across 4,800+ Urban local bodies in India to rank towns and cities on their cleanliness levels, has leveraged the power of competition and citizen engagement to bring in a sense of pride among cities and administrators where ‘cleanliness’ and a ‘garbage free status’ has become the new social norm, despite there being no monetary benefits given by GoI to any of the top ranked cities.
In this backdrop, a combination of monetary incentives and non-monetary rewards such as social recognition needs to be conceptualized for implementation of the proposed GCP. To begin with, there is a need to do a detailed stakeholder mapping in terms of which group of stakeholders can undertake what kinds of environmental initiatives, and what would be the expected outcomes for each group to earn the green credits. Subsequently, a series of ground-level implementation strategies for each group of stakeholders, involving a combination of financial incentives through GCP, coupled with systems of public recognition of exemplary behaviors by each of the groups, and nested within a robust monitoring and evaluation framework by the Government, can probably be a more effective strategy and act as a long-term behavior change and reinforcement tool for the desired outcomes towards a sustainable future.
About the authors:?Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay and Sanghamitra Bhattacharyya are from the?Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurgaon.??