What Drives Firms Towards Green Initiatives?—An Emerging Economy Perspective

  • Debabrata Ghosh
  • Sirish Kumar GoudaEmail author
  • Prakash Awasthy
Part of the Managing the Asian Century book series (MAAC)


Sustainability is fast emerging as the new paradigm of conducting business. With increasing focus on the environmental impact of firms’ operations, there is a need to understand the factors that drive green initiatives of firms. In this work, we aim to understand those factors by studying environmentally friendly initiatives of firms. Our observations, primarily based on the emerging economies of India and China, serve to provide an insight into fast-growing economies which also often face scrutiny for poor environmental performance. We observe and analyse common factors that determine firms’ green initiatives. The work aims to derive insights into environmentally friendly practices of firms in emerging economies and also provides directions for further research in green operations.


Green operations Environmental regulations India China 

3.1 Introduction

The United Nations Climate Change discussions have led countries world over to pledge sustainability initiatives towards goals of better and healthier living and environment. The policy initiatives undertaken by Governments world over have significant ramifications for firms as they start to reconsider their existing product and process designs. But the change is not easy. For example, among the two fastest growing economies of the world, namely, India and China, it is observed that their ranks in environmental performance index have been below par. India ranks 141 out of 180 countries while China ranks 109 in the annual environmental performance index developed by Yale University.1 Also, the per-capita CO2 emissions in India and China are on a rise (See Fig. 3.1).2 Yet, firms in these countries are gradually undertaking pioneering efforts to redesign their products and processes to become more environmentally sustainable. For example, while giant beverage manufacturer, Coca-Cola, has often faced resistance from local communities and state authorities in the southern state of Kerala, in India (Chang, 2010), due to its operations which affected groundwater table and contamination levels, its competitor, PepsiCo, has undertaken significant strides in maintaining a positive water balance in regions and communities that it operates in.3
Fig. 3.1

Per-capita CO2 Emissions (India and China)

Another large conglomerate in India, ITC4 has undertaken several initiatives towards soil and water conservation by investing in watershed development programmes in the communities that it functions in. The firm has also increased its renewable energy portfolio by fuelling 47% of its total energy needs from carbon-neutral sources like wind, solar and biomass (ITC, 2016). In China, Shanghai Sharp electronics co. and Coca-Cola Shanghai Shenmei Beverage & Food Co. (China Greentech Initiative, 2014) have come together to save water by installing a grey water pipeline from the Coke plant to the Sharp plant (Carberry & Hancock, 2014). The pipeline provides waste grey water from Coke plant to the Sharp plant, thus substituting the need for regular freshwater leading to significant savings. In a different sector, KPMG China has continuously reduced its carbon footprint through various process initiatives which minimize environmental damage. These initiatives include reduced travel, more video conferencing, reduced paper usage, energy efficient lighting, green building infrastructures, etc. Traditional sectors like automotive and industrial firms have also undertaken several green initiatives in India as well as China.

However, several firms still today shy away from undertaking green supply chain initiatives. Managers often are sceptical of the benefits of investing in environmental-friendly initiatives since the long-term results are often not visible or quantifiable. Several firms often pick the low hanging fruits of greening while questioning the long-term investment requirements and the resulting benefits from them. In such a context, this study aims to look at various factors that drive green initiatives of firms. We identify and analyse certain common factors that drive firms towards green initiatives. Outlining these factors, we believe, will provide a better understanding of green initiatives and an insight into firms looking to conduct sustainable business in emerging markets. Our study spans across firms in China and India, and focuses on their operations in these economies. The green initiatives, as we observe, are being driven by the following factors:
  1. A.

    Environmental regulations driven greening,

  2. B.

    Consumer demand driven greening,

  3. C.

    Price premium potential driven greening and

  4. D.

    Cost reduction driven greening.


Among the above four factors, the first two factors represent the external factors influencing firms to invest in green initiatives, while the other two factors represent internal motivations of firms which directly impact their profits.

3.2 Factors Affecting Green Initiatives by Firms

In this section, we discuss each of the above-listed factors in detail with relevant examples from Indian and Chinese firms and markets.

3.2.1 Environmental Regulations Driven Greening

Our study reveals that in several cases, where firms often do not undertake voluntary initiatives to go green, policymakers play an important role in influencing green initiatives. It is well established that over the last two decades, China has emerged as a major global manufacturing hub (Zheng, Jia Wern, & You, 2005). Exports from China have grown by over 900% over the last 15 years.5 While China has significantly benefited from global outsourcing of manufacturing activities, it has also faced serious consequences of associated pollution. As a result, today, China faces various pollution-related challenges such as poor air quality and respiratory illness, poor water quality and high water consumption costs. In order to address these challenges and to support various national and international environmentally concerned groups, the Government of China in the last two decades has proposed various environmental regulations. For example, in 2002, the Chinese Government implemented the ‘Law of the People’s Republic of China on Promotion of Cleaner Production’. This law encourages reduction and prevention of pollution-generating products, and promotes the use of efficient modes of production, and overall sustainable development of economy and society.6 This law apart from incentivizing cutting-edge research in cleaner production also penalizes heavily those firms which tend to violate the various articles provisioned. Similarly, Chinese government has come up with regulations such as the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Renewable Energies (Adopted in 2005, Revised 2009 which promotes the development and use of renewable energy) and the Regulation on the Administration of Ozone Depleting Substances (Adopted in 2010; which monitors firms producing and trading ozone depleting substances).

For the automobile sector, Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), China has mandated all vehicles to meet Chinese V standards (equivalent to Euro 5 standards) by 2018 and all light-duty vehicles to meet Chinese VI standards (equivalent to Euro 6 standards) by 2020. These legislations have pushed firms in the auto and auto-component industries to work on improving the standards of fuel injection systems, catalytic converters and the engine core (Reuters, 2016). To further add, the Chinese Government has promoted a circular economy policy since 2002. The central idea of the circular economy is to promote—reduction, reuse and recycle activities which improve resource utilization. In 2008, circular economy promotion law was enacted with the objective to promote better resource utilization and improvement in environment (Li & Lin, 2016).

In addition, China has pledged to reduce coal consumption in energy sector by 60% by 2020 (Yeo, 2016). To bring forth the challenges that firms face under such legislations, our study reveals that China cancelled 104 new coal plant operations in a bid to reduce emissions. Encouraged by efforts of economies globally, China also plans to launch the world’s biggest cap-and-trade system (Cheadle, 2016) in a bid to reduce pollution and improve the country’s environmental performance. With ongoing pilot projects of cap-and-trade system in five cities and two provinces, China is likely to start nationwide cap-and-trade system by July 2017 (He, 2017). China has also tightened its erstwhile pollution discharge policy and has revised the amount of penalty and charges for non-compliance significantly.

In India too, recent changes in environmental legislations are gradually enforcing green initiatives. For example, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, has enacted strict wastewater generation and effluent standards cutting across various industry sectors. As a part of its National Manufacturing Policy, India has mandated development of National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs) where, among other guidelines, the Government has stipulated firms in NIMZs to procure a certain percentage of electricity mix from renewable sources.7 In addition, the policy also supports conservation of energy and technological adoptions through suitable incentives to firms.

Under the Companies Act, 2013,8 the Government of India has also made it mandatory for firms to invest at least two percent of their average profit in the previous three years in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. A recent study by Rai and Bansal (2014) indicates that firms from various industries have invested at an average more than 20% of their CSR spends on environmental sustainability. These activities not only include greening of the processes of the firms but also involve environmental sustainability efforts in the external society.

It is estimated that India would produce close to 2 million tonnes of e-waste by 2018 (CPCB, 2011). With growing concerns on landfills and e-waste generated in India, Government of India has also set policy guidelines for e-waste regulation. In alignment with the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, India also requires producers of electrical and electronic equipment manufacturers to be responsible for the life cycle of products and engage in take-back, recycling and disposal.

India currently follows Bharat Stage (BS) IV (equivalent to Euro 4 standards) norms for its automobile emissions. However, keeping in consideration the increasing levels of pollution in cities due to automobile emissions, the government has proposed skipping BS-V norms (which were earlier planned to be implemented by 2021) and directly adopting BS-VI norms (equivalent to Euro 6 standards) by April 2020 (Salhotra, 2016). This has severe implications on the auto and auto-component manufacturers not only in India but also firms which supply to assemblers in India. Analysts also claim that this move will provide impetus to the introduction of newer hybrid and electric vehicles in India which automatically adhere to stringent emission norms proposed by the government.

With various new policies and laws to fight the growing environmental problems, both India and China are making attempts to fare better than their past environmental performance. Studies have shown that regulations once they come into force change the competitive landscape for firms. It is evident that while some firms whose operations and supply chains cater to the regulations enjoy significant competitive advantage, others face the risk of penalty or taxation. We studied the operations and supply chain innovations of firms in the two economies to cater to the environmental legislations and found that to cope up with such legislations, while few firms have strengthened their own research and development capabilities, others have formed joint ventures or invested in third-party research organizations to develop and implement cleaner technologies. For example, the project ULCOS (Ultra Low Carbon Emissions) is a consortium of several steel manufacturing companies in Europe in which Indian steelmaker Tata Steel is also involved that aims to reduce carbon emissions in steel manufacturing by at least 50%.9 In another example, Asian Paints10 in India recycles its effluents and the treated water is either used back in production processes or invested in horticulture development. Asian Paints has also experimented with achieving zero effluent discharge in its production facilities through reverse osmosis techniques. In order to adhere to the E-waste Management and Handling Rules framed in 2011 by Government of India, several electrical and electronic equipment manufacturers in India like Samsung, Acer, Dell and Toshiba, have established several collection centres throughout cities in India and in certain cases have tied up with third-party recyclers as well.

3.2.2 Consumer Demand Driven Green Initiatives

Today, global manufacturers face changing preferences of consumers towards less polluting, green products. A survey done by Nielsen in 2015 indicated that Millennials and Baby-boomers across the world have sustainability as a priority when they go shopping (Nielsen, 2015). This serves as an important opportunity for firms to capture the green-sensitive consumer markets while benefiting in return. Several firms realize the brand value that green products carry and this is turning into an important value proposition for competition.

Both China and India have an increasing number of green-conscious consumers who demand products and services which are better from environmental perspective, for example, fuel-efficient cars, energy efficient appliances and organic produce. A survey commissioned by DuPont in 2014 indicated that consumers in India and China have very high awareness and confidence on green products.11

To cite a few examples, Changan automobile, one of the big four automakers of China (Business Standard, 2016), is a state-owned company that has charted out a performance goal to be achieved by 2025 by designing and developing both plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) for the consumer market in China. Key goals of Changan are about product greening where the vehicle would consume lesser per unit fuel while in use. In 2015, Changan had also launched Eado EV which claimed to save 85% on costs when compared with gasoline run cars.12 Automakers in India too are increasingly under pressure to design and deliver environmentally friendly vehicles. For a cost-conscious Indian consumer, fuel efficiency of vehicles remains a key product attribute to consider during vehicle purchase. As a consequence, vehicle manufacturers in India often go an extra mile through advertisements to pitch their fuel-efficient vehicles in a highly competitive market. Vehicle makers like Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors in India are constantly innovating in new vehicle designs to cater to the environmental-friendly and cost-conscious consumer segments in India  (Ghosh, Gouda, & Shah, 2015).

Interestingly, our research also revealed that unforeseen effects of pollution also lead to significant rise in demand for environmental-friendly products. Two distinct phenomena can be observed in this respect, namely, proactive and reactive demand of consumers. Proactive demand is where consumers are green conscious and demand greener products which reduce environmental harm. Reactive aspects of green consumer behaviour, on the other hand, can be observed through increased purchase of products which not only mitigate the environmental harm that already exists but also make them feel safe. Organic food purchases are on the rise in China, and Hall (2016) says that this is not primarily because of concern for environment. The managing director of a market research firm in China says that ‘Consumers want organic products but they don’t necessarily believe [what they are offered is] organicWhat they hope an organic label means is at least better quality, better safety , better control of the production process’ which indicates the reactive nature of purchases (Hall, 2016). Purchase of products such as masks for air filtering, water, and air purifiers by consumers are examples of such behaviour. The demand for these products has increased drastically in countries like India and China as there seems to develop a growing concern among consumers about living in highly polluted environments. While proactive consumers drive green initiatives of firms, reactive consumers also contribute to green initiatives, although their effectiveness is questionable. Nevertheless, the existence of environmental conscious consumers tends to provide a source of competitive advantage for firms involved in the production and sale of green products.

Several retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies in economies like China and India are designing and developing low-cost and innovative products to cater to environmental conscious consumers. In order to provide safe drinking water to millions of households in India, Tata Chemicals in India launched, in 2009, portable water purifier named ‘Tata Swach’. Requiring no separate energy to run the product, the introduction of an innovative water purifier was based on principles of solving emerging complex problems of clean drinking water availability in the country while attempting to attract an environmental-friendly consumer base which is also cost conscious.13 Several other competitors like Hindustan Unilever (HUL) have also attempted to target this consumer segment by launching zero energy consuming water purifier named ‘Pureit’. HUL has also targeted environmentally conscious consumers as a part of its ‘Sustainable Living Plan’. It has set three ambitious goals namely, ‘(a) Improving Health and Well-being: By 2020, HUL aims to help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, (b) Reducing Environmental Impact : By 2030 HUL’s goal is to halve the environmental footprint of making and use of products and (c) Enhancing Livelihoods: By 2020, HUL aims to enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as their business grows’.14 As a part of this, HUL has introduced several innovative products which consume fewer resources during their usage. ‘Comfort One Rinse Fabric Conditioner’, introduced by the company targets to save water consumption during post-wash activities. Similarly, after wash laundry product, ‘Magic’ intends to reduce water usage during the rinsing of clothes. In addition, shampoo and hair conditioners which reduce water consumption during usage are also being worked on by the firm. HUL’s strategy to introduce environmental-friendly products in the Indian market while leveraging its well-established distribution network is aimed to extract a significant competitive advantage with a change in consumer behaviour towards environmental-friendly products.

3.2.3 Price Premium Potential Through Greening

Contrary to common understanding, research has shown that there are consumer pockets in India and China that are increasingly focussed on products built through ethical and sustainable sourcing, clean manufacturing practices and health friendly. The 2014 Greendex survey revealed that 71% Chinese and 68% Indians agreed that it is worth paying more for energy saving products (Whan, 2015). This provides an opportunity for firms to extract price premium for environmentally friendly products. Today, such products range from organic food and apparels to paints, furniture and electronic gadgets.

It is estimated that the organic food industry in India will grow to a potential value of USD 1.36 billion by 2020, increasing at a rate of 25% (The Times of India, 2015). Several initiatives have been taken by firms focussed on such niche markets. Ecofarms (India) Ltd., for example, started with a group of farmers in 1995 practising organic farming. Over time, the practices have spread to several districts of Maharashtra and Orissa in the country. Today, the company has around 20,000 growers who raise 40 different crops in 60,000 hectares of land. From humble beginnings, the company has tied up with major retailers such as Big Bazaar, Reliance, Aditya Birla (More) and others for reaching out to consumers in India.15 In another example, Fab India (an Indian craft based retail chain) has set up upstream community of artisans, handloom workers and craftsmen to procure most of Fab India’s product categories. This supply chain innovation has turned Fab India into a profitable business over the years and a well-known brand reaching out to the organic apparel loving urban consumers in India (Thomas, 2012). Future group in India also launched a similar initiative in selling ethnic products under the brand name ‘Mother Earth’. Like Fab India, Mother Earth’s merchandize is largely procured from self-help groups, NGOs and communities of artisans in the country. Bhu:sattva is another example of organic and eco-friendly apparel manufacturer that uses ethical methods, organic material and fair trade practices to produce and sell apparels in the country. The success of the brand has also led it to internationalize its sales to other countries such as US, Canada and Australia.16

In 2014, China became the world’s 4th largest market of organic products (Heinze, 2016). Rising disposable income and environmental and health concerns in China have led to unprecedented growth and consumption of environmentally friendly products and food produce in the country. In a recent study by Nielsen, it was found out that more than 50% of consumers in China were willing to pay a premium for products that were made with organic or environmentally friendly materials (Nielsen, 2017). In the food industry in particular, incidents of tainted milk powder and chemical infested agricultural produce have led to significant increase in demand for high quality, safe and organically produced food products which can fetch higher price premium for firms (Duggan, 2015).

A similar phenomenon can be observed with respect to battery electric vehicles (BEV) in China. While government regulations aid the demand, customers also prefer electric vehicles over other options. This has driven major global auto firms like Tesla, Volvo and Ford apart from local auto firms like BYD to ramp up their production (Economic Times, 2017). China accounts for the highest number of electric vehicles in the world (close to 30%) (Rusli & Kirk, 2017), and the demand for these vehicles will only push this higher. Using data from China and US in 2012 and 2013, Helveston et al. (2015) find that American consumers have a lower willingness to pay for electric vehicles than Chinese consumers confirming our hypotheses for electric vehicles in China.

3.2.4 Cost Reduction Through Greening

Greening also provides an opportunity to eliminate waste and reduce costs for firms. 3M was one of the first firms which identified such benefits. In the year 1975, 3M came up with a concept ‘ pollution prevention pays (3P)’ which exemplified the benefits of greening initiatives for firms. Over the years, many firms across the world have invested in pollution prevention, waste reduction and other greening initiatives to reduce various costs associated with these activities. This is also in line with the principles of lean production techniques aimed at waste reduction which in turn helps in cost reduction for firms. Smaller firms in the value chain (like small component manufacturers for various machines) have also invested in these initiatives as they are either mandated by regulation or larger firms or educated by these firms or industry associations helping them improve their bottom line.

It was found that several firms in our study realize the potential that design and development of environmentally friendly products and processes hold. For many firms, efficient processes are synonymous with environmentally sound practices. As discussed above, reduction in consumption of fuels, energy savings and reduction in waste aids development of environmentally friendly products and practices. To cite few examples, Dongfeng motor corporation is a state-owned and one of the big four automakers of China.17 The firm runs various green initiatives such as Green R&D, Green Procurement, Green manufacturing and Green logistics. One of the several initiatives undertaken by the firm include, Dongfeng launching a programme to reduce its suppliers’ environmental load by reducing energy consumption at their facilities. The firm has also created a platform to track pollutant emissions of its suppliers through an online system. Other green manufacturing initiatives at Dongfeng include various process improvements and waste elimination efforts as well as use of alternative materials. For example, use of water-based paints instead of oil coatings has reportedly reduced emissions by nearly 50% (DongFeng Motor Corporate, 2015). Moreover, the firm has achieved zero discharge of waste water through physical, chemical and biochemical treatment of wastewater. In addition to aforementioned initiatives, DongFeng also recycles and remanufactures automotive products to reduce its carbon footprint while simultaneously improving its revenues [for example, its remanufacturing revenue was 22.78 million yuan in 2015, (DongFeng Motor Corporate, 2015)].

To cite another example, Bao Steel is China’s state-owned steel company which was the fifth largest steel producer in world and second largest in China for the year 2015.18 The green initiatives of Bao Steel are at three levels, namely, green products, green manufacturing and green supply chain. Under green products, Bao steel produces oriented steel and high-strength steel plates which require lesser resources when used by consumers. As part of its green manufacturing initiative, Bao Steel aims at improving resource utilization. For example, the firm saved energy equivalent of 0.3 million tonnes of coal by installing a 70 MWp solar power station which is expected to conserve conventional sources of energy (BaoSteel, 2015).

Several firms in India too have consciously moved beyond the existing set of processes and products, to adopt changes which are environmentally friendly while leading to reduced costs. Leading CPG firm in India, P&G has introduced several innovations which are both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. For example, the popular detergents Ariel and Tide have been redesigned so as to consume less raw material and packaging material, thus saving costs. P&G’s Baddi plant in Himachal Pradesh has successfully converted 380 tonnes of shampoo production waste into car washing agent and transformed 575 tonnes of scrap material into useful daily needs (P&G, 2016). The plant has successfully achieved 40% carbon footprint reduction as a result of these innovations. Mahindra Rise (Indian multinational automobile manufacturing conglomerate) has undertaken several green initiatives leading to cost savings and enhanced brand reputation. Among one of the initiatives, Mahindra Rise uses dryer to convert paint sludge to paint powder which can be used for interior parts of vehicle (Mahindra, 2016). The practice is not only environmentally friendly but also saved 3.03 million rupees in disposal cost saving. PepsiCo India has invested in a rice husk boiler in its plant in Kolkata to help satisfy 75% of the plant’s energy needs. The initiative has potentially saved Pepsico USD 0.8 million per year and also helped reduce greenhouse gas emission by 4500 metric tonnes per year (PepsiCo, 2011).

3.3 Conclusion: The Way Forward

Environmental-friendly initiatives by firms in emerging economies of China and India are growing. However, much needs to be done for focussed growth of green initiatives. It is observed that in several firms, managers often have day-to-day operations and supply chain issues to resolve. As a result, the focus on green initiatives often takes a back seat. Further, managers are often unsure about the benefits of greening, raising doubts on the resulting benefits from undertaking such initiatives. However, as our discussion shows, green initiatives have several potential benefits and innovative firms are undertaking significant strides in going green. While we have derived separate insights on each factor driving green initiatives, note that in practice, a combination of factors outlined above lead firms to undertake green initiatives. Firms which realize the potential benefits of greening and have already begun to undertake environmental-friendly initiatives will have a significant competitive advantage as policies and markets change. A case in point being the Paris Agreement, accepted and ratified by several countries in the world, who pledge to work towards capacity building and creation of new technologies to promote sustainable development in a climate-friendly manner.19 Such commitments by global economies have far-reaching consequences for firms. Faced with fast-evolving policies and markets, companies can find their cost structures significantly increased or face the risk of high environmental penalty in the years to come. Thus, innovative firms investing in green technologies and altering their processes and products to be more environmental-friendly stand to gain an advantage. In addition, our study suggests that firms which identify and target consumer segments which are environmentally friendly will develop niche market segments in otherwise highly competitive markets of India and China with thin margins. CPG companies and manufacturing firms in particular, with their extensive well-developed distribution chains also have an opportunity to reach out to the large Bottom of Pyramid markets in India and China. With ethically sourced, environmentally friendly product offerings which can also help reduce costs during both manufacturing and consumer usage, the strategy of many firms in India and China can lead to sustainable competitive advantage. With globalization, operations and supply chains of firms will undergo closer scrutiny of Governments, NGOs, consumers and media. From the sourcing stage to final distribution, firms would be held accountable for their operations and impact on environment and communities. In this changing landscape, firms which are moving ahead in undertaking green initiatives stand to benefit.


  1. 1.
  2. 2.

    Data Source: World Bank.

  3. 3.
  4. 4.

    ITC is one of India’s leading fast-moving consumer goods company (

  5. 5.
  6. 6.
  7. 7.
  8. 8.

    Only firms with a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, or an annual turnover of Rs 1000 crore or more, or a net profit of Rs 5 crore or more are mandated under this law.

  9. 9.
  10. 10.

    Asian Paints Ltd is India’s largest paint company and Asia’s third largest paint company (

  11. 11.
  12. 12.
  13. 13.
  14. 14.
  15. 15.
  16. 16.
  17. 17.

    Dongfeng is China’s third largest automaker (

  18. 18.
  19. 19.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debabrata Ghosh
    • 2
  • Sirish Kumar Gouda
    • 1
    Email author
  • Prakash Awasthy
    • 3
  1. 1.Indian Institute of Management TiruchirappalliTiruchirappalliIndia
  2. 2.Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain InnovationSelangorMalaysia
  3. 3.MYRA School of BusinessMysoreIndia

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