The journey to sustainability begins with assessing materiality

29 Apr

My biggest takeaway from the class on “Strategic and Sustainable Business Solutions” at UC Berkeley has been the concept of materiality assessment and the related idea of “speaking the appropriate language of sustainability” to communicate priorities and impact with different stakeholders.

As defined by Serwinowski and demonstrated in class by Champa Gujjanudu, a professional from PWC,  materiality assessment is an exercise in stakeholder engagement designed to gather insights on the relative importance of specific environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues for a corporation. While the insights are mainly used to inform sustainability reporting and communication strategies, they are also valuable for making strategic planning, operational management and capital investment decisions.

Very often, it is difficult to quantify the impact of CSR and sustainability issues since they are not clear cut, often very complex, related to externalities and not properly priced in the marketplace. For example, the 2013 GlobeScan/SustainAbility Issues Survey, mentions climate change, air pollution, access to energy, water pollution, bribery/corruption and biodiversity loss as priority issues that require high levels of accountability and urgency. Without a clear price signal, estimating materiality and putting a price on the problem and thereafter justifying the need for any sustainability initiative may be viewed as a subjective instead of objective exercise.

However, there is growing awareness about the need for materiality assessments in corporations. According to Serwinowski, the three recent developments driving adoption of materiality assessments include investor demand for more disclosure, global reporting framework synergies, and financial market convergence.

Figuring out what data is really important to internal and external stakeholders is the key goal of materiality assessments. This materiality assessment process involves bringing together various internal stakeholders such as the company’s leadership, sustainability teams, financial departments, managers. Based on the corporation’s decision, external  stakeholders such as suppliers, regulators and NGOs may also be involved. Very often, an external agency may be the facilitator leading and facilitating the process. The results not only guide which factors demand attention but how that information should be presented, and to whom it should be disclosed.

This brings us to the crucial point of speaking the right language to different stakeholders. Once the materiality assessment is conducted, it is important that the insights from the assessment are framed and presented appropriately, in a manner that different stakeholders understand and appreciate. This is critical in order to enlist support of the different stakeholders to agree on the priorities, plan appropriate sustainability activities, implement them effectively and thereafter measure and report impact of those activities. Communication plays a critical role in each of these stages. The assessment itself may be able to shed light on the communication formats that would be most suitable and effective for engaging and holding dialogs with different stakeholders. As discussed on numerous occasions during class, how information is packaged and presented to a CFO may be different from how it is presented to a supplier or NGO partner. Discussions with guest speakers during the course also highlighted the need for multi-pronged strategies – the use of numbers, stories, visuals, reports and other forms of communication – depending on the audience.

Conducting materiality assessments are not without its own problems or challenges. There are several frameworks available and choosing the one that is appropriate for one’s organization is challenging. Organizations may feel that they do not have the time or other resources to make this a priority. A disconnect with the ESG issues and fear of the unknown often make materiality a difficult concept for many sustainability managers to comprehend. Some companies might worry that disclosing certain information will result in the loss of competitive advantage, while others are reluctant to discuss matters that are not entirely within their control. Still others may struggle with quantifying the cost implications.

As discussed during our class, getting the backing of a company’s top leadership is critical to make the exercise a robust one. This is also critical to signal the commitment of the leadership to everyone in the organization, so that they take the exercise seriously and participate in the activity.

As the noise and confusion around sustainability and CSR activities in organizations become intense, it is increasingly important for organizations to acknowledge ESG concerns related to their business, prioritize activities to address these concerns, execute them effectively and consistently and demonstrate impact. While some organizations are ahead of the curve in terms of incorporating such activities into their core operations, several companies are trying to understand what can be the best way forward that benefits society while adding value to their business. Conducting a thorough materiality assessment may be the first step an organization can take as a structured reflection exercise to plan its sustainability operations in a collaborative and strategic manner.


Selected Web Stories produced at UNODC, Regional Office for South Asia

28 Jan

Following are links to select web stories I produced while working as Communications Officer at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Regional Office for South Asia

1) India: Community vigilance rescues Roshni – The story of a survivor of human trafficking

2) Sri Lanka: Enabling community-based treatment and support for recovering drug users

3) Nepal: Making a creative connection with HIV/AIDS – An exhibition of paintings to create awareness about issues related to HIV/AIDS

4) North East India: A ray of hope for female injecting drug users and female sex partners of male injecting drug users

5) India: The principle of balance to make opioids accessible for palliative care

6) India: ‘Journey of Hope’ – a UNODC compendium of anti-human trafficking and victim support initiatives

7) Maldives: ‘1410’ – Help for drug users just two rings away

8) India: Spreading the message of non-violence – Notes from Colombian musician César López’s visit to India

9) India: 332 days at the mercy of Somali pirates – a survivor’s account

10) India: Psychosocial care for women in shelter homes – a dire need for trafficking survivors

11) Bhutan: Safeguarding youth from the perils of drug use

12) South Asia: Fighting ‘tooth and nail’ to address wildlife crime in the region

13) India: HIV testing and counseling reaches prison’s doorstep

14) South Asia: The growing use of narcotic and psychotropic prescription drugs amongst injecting drug users

15) India: Securing livelihoods to safeguard against human trafficking

16) Sri Lanka: Empowering women and vulnerable communities to strengthen democracy and good governance

17) Nepal: New UNODC study maps female drug use in country

Graphic Design – Environment and Livelihoods

23 Dec

Book design for Under the Canopy, a teacher training manual on wildlife education in north-east India. Produced by IUCN, Netherlands and Dusty Foot Productions, New Delhi. Under the Canopy – Web version

Front Cover

NE Manual cover

Back cover

NE Manual Back

CD cover design for Voices from the Forest, a film on the importance of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFPs). Produced by Dusty Foot Productions, New Delhi and ECONET, Pune. This cover was prepared for the Marathi language version of the film.

Front cover

Voices front

Back cover

Voices back

CD cover for Who am I?, a film on non-pastoral nomadic Indian tribes. Produced by ECONET, Pune and Dusty Foot Productions, New Delhi

Front Cover

Who am I CD cov front\

Back cover

cover back

Cover design for ‘The Non-Pastoral Nomads of Maharashtra’, a 3-part publication on the ‘Pardhi’ community of Maharashtra state. Produced by ECONET, Pune

Front and Back covers

Who Am I book cover

Book cover design for NREGA Reforms – Building Rural India, the first annual report of the National Consortium of Civil Society Organisations on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), India

Front cover


Poster for Forests for a Few, A Living for Many, a film on Joint Forest Management produced by Moving Images, New Delhi


Poster for Turf Wars Revisited, a film exploring the dynamics of conservation policy, in tandem with the law, in the protection of biodiversity in the Great Himalayan National Park, India

turf wars

Logo design for the Centre for Environment, established by the Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi

CCS Logo

Graphic Design – Others

23 Dec

CD cover for Sakshar Log, Swast Log, a radio series on rural literacy and health produced by UNESCO

Front cover


Back cover


A series of standees (6 feet x 3 feet) prepared for FXB Suraksha, India, on the launch of their book Hopes Alive







A folder created for FXB Suraksha, on the launch of their book Hopes Alive

folder 1

3-fold funding appeal for FXB Suraksha


3 fold appeal 2


3 fold appeal 1

New Year funding appeal for FXB Suraksha

letter pg 1 copy

letter pg 2



23 Dec

Notes from a Green City (2010)

A film on the climate change mitigation efforts of the Municipal Corporation of Surat city, Gujarat, India. Made under the United Kingdom Environment Film Fellowships (UKEFF), 2010.

Responsibilities: Research, script and direction

Listen, we’re on air (2010)

A film documenting the impact of rural Community Radio initiatives on gender empowerment in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat states. Made under the UNDP Asia Pacific Human Development Media Fellowships 2009

Responsibilities: Research, script and direction

Work at my Doorstep (2008)

A film on the success of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Jharkhand state, India. The Act supports the largest workfare programme in the world, assuring manual employment while creating environmental assets in rural areas. Produced by UNDP and the Ministry of Rural Development, India

Responsibilities: Research, script, editing and direction

 Reflections of Change  (2008)

A film on the development interventions of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in India, marking 60 years of the India-Switzerland Treaty of Friendship. Documented community water management, solar technologies and governance strengthening mechanisms in Kutch district, Gujarat

Responsibilities: Research, co-scripting, and co- direction

The Power to Change (2007)

A film urging citizens in urban areas to conserve electricity in their everyday lives. Produced by IBM and the Delhi Government

Responsibilities: Direction

Renewing India (2007)

A film on the use of renewable energy technologies in India, produced by the Ministry of External Affairs, India. Documented government-supported hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand state and use of solar technologies in Bangalore city

Responsibilities: Research and co-direction

The Cutting Factor (2007)

Researched, scripted, directed and edited, a film on energy efficiency in glass and ceramics sector for the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Ltd (IREDA). Documented initiatives from small-scale glass and ceramic enterprises in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat states

Responsibilities: Research, script, editing and direction

Stranger in the Forest (2005)

A film highlighting the issue of the the displacement of the nomadic Van Gujjars from the Rajaji National Park, Himachal Pradesh. Made under the EU–India Economic Cross Cultural Programme (2005 –2006) Focus on the Environment: Developing Media Capacity to Cover Environmental Issues in India.

Responsibilities: Co-scripting and editing, was adjudged Best Film from the entire series of TV features produced in 9 Indian states

Devta Activists (2005)

A film on contradictions between development and conservation in the Great Himalayan National Park, India in the context of the traditional Devta system of conservation. Produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) and aired on Doordarshan, the national TV network

Responsibilities: Editing and production assistance

Watch the trailer here:

Watch the complete film here

Jeevika festival promo (2004)

A 40-second festival promo prepared for Jeevika, a South Asia livelihoods documentary film festival organized by the Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi

Colours of Nature (2003)

A film on the natural dyeing traditions in India, made as part of the NID Graduate Diploma Project. Produced by Moving Images, New Delhi

Responsibilities: Research, production, editing and co-direction

Something to chew on (2003)

A film on the betel nut, made as part of the NID Graduate Diploma Project. Produced by Moving Images, New Delhi

Responsibilities: Research, production, editing and co-direction


23 Dec

Publications developed at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA)