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The Curious Incident of Discovering India

Matan Rudis
5 min readDec 14, 2023

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Two weeks ago I did a tiny experiment, and added India to the list of countries our carbon accounting platform, Vert, targets with GoogleAds, without increasing the advertising budget at all.

Reminder: Vert offers basic carbon accounting for free (here’s why), and charges for advanced solutions like consulting, decarbonization strategy and financing.

Here is what happened those 14 days: +428% unique visitors, +367% site sessions, +25% growth in number of accounts.

Following the surprising results, I started wondering why people in India are so much more attracted to Vert compared to any other region we experimented? Is it a hint there’s a big market potential for carbon accounting in India?

Regulation

Basically there isn’t any official regulation in India that could be compared to the European CSRD in ambition or coverage. Yet, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has been working in the past decade on building and enforcing business responsibility reporting into its mandatory requirements, but the adoption rate remained rather low. Earlier this year, driven by the need to meet India’s NDCs and align the economy to them, SEBI introduced BRSR Core, an enhanced set of non-financial metrics public companies should disclose. I must say that I only gave a superficial read to the KPIs, but my conclusion is that they’re pretty similar to well-known reporting frameworks, and that the GHG reporting is limited to only Scope 1 & 2 (the wet dream of many corporations regulated by the SEC), no Scope 3 at all. This is quite irritating but, trying to see the full half of the Massala chai pot, the rate of industrial companies in India is higher than the US, and for those companies, Scope 1 & 2 have higher significance than financial services companies. Anyway, in the course of the next 5 years SEBI expects the top 1000 public companies by market capitalization to provide approved reports on their ESG performance.

Indirect regulation

India exports goods to countries and regions where the regulation is more strict and mature, and Indian companies are required to align with the requirements if they want to keep trading. The gradual phasing in of the CBAM regulation in Europe, or the supply chain due diligence act in Germany, are good examples for regulations that have an impact beyond their jurisdictional region. This might push big companies like Tata, Adani and Bajaj to adopt a proactive approach and not wait for the local regulator to call them out.

Carbon markets

India is getting ready to launch its national emission trading scheme (ETS) sometime until the end of the year or early 2024. Since India considers itself a developing country (as demonstrated in the recent COP negotiations), the Indian version of ETS will embody a significant difference from the European one: while the EU-ETS is a cap-and-trade mechanism where the quota of permitted emissions is gradually decreased by the regulator, creating a competition in avoiding emissions, in India the metric is carbon intensity: Mt CO2e per GDP. That means that the GDP will keep growing (hopefully?) but the CO2e intensity per Rupee will drop. This might lead to an absurd situation that the ratio drops but the nominal emissions skyrocket, but this scenario seems to be planned and consistent with India’s goal to reach net zero only on 2070. Regardless of the results, basic carbon accounting is a must-have in any ETS-organized economy. More interesting facts about India’s carbon market and ETS.

A question of pricing?

When I did my Google Trends research for this campign I found out that people in India, the EU and US have the same interest in calculating emissions. They all search for free calculators and free tools. However, the Indian audience converts much much more than their European and American peers. Here we move from facts to assumptions… are the Indians more likely to choose a free/lower-market tool because they lack the means for a better solution? Or maybe other solutions that require more integration and complexity (but deliver more accuracy and robustness, no argument on that) are less appealing because one must spend on them first before seeing the value? Might be.

Out of pure curiosity, I went to check whether the leading carbon accounting vendors such as Watershed, Persefoni, Normative, Sweep, Emitwise, Greenly and a few others are at all addressing India through digital campaigns, white papers, webinars, events, etc. — the answer is a big NO (except for this nice article by Greenly, which is more informative than intentional).

Another assumption is that the carbon accounting market in India will lean towards solutions from large, trusted Indian software companies like Infosys and Zoho. The former already seems to have some sort of carbon accounting offering, the latter doesn’t but it reports on its own emissions somehow. Tata Sustainability Group even published a domestic carbon calculator — not sure what are outcomes to expect of such a process but it’s nice:

Captured from: https://www.tatasustainability.com/Environment/CarbonCalculator

One might also conclude that it means there’s no interest by enterprises in India to be measured — but this seems to be wrong: over 120 enterprises and 14 cities in India already report to CDP.

Interim conclusion

While I was trying to figure out why I got this huge stream of traffic from India I started feeling like a reverse version of Colombus — I always intended to discover the Western market, but an unexpected, unplanned turn took me to a different destination. There’s much more to discover here before I can say anything smarter about the market potential for carbon accounting in India, but my gut feeling is that it can’t be true there are 0 opportunities for it in the 5th largest economy of the world.

If you’re reading this and you have some insights to share, or you’re building sustainability and climate solutions for the Indian market, please drop me a line. I’d love to learn more. rudis[at]vert.earth

If you just read this article and found it interesting, please go ahead, share it and follow me here on Medium for more climate content.

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Matan Rudis

Climate action, minus the hot air. Climate strategy & more at rudis.earth | Kayaks | Israeli in New York | Twitter: @MatanRudis