Damandeep Singh heads CDP India, a role he has held since establishing the India office in 2012. Daman has worked on environmental and developmental issues in India for over 30 years, and was a journalist prior to joining CDP. As part of the celebrations for CDP’s 20th anniversary, we approached Daman for his perspective and stories.
Why do you believe in CDP?
I used to work as a journalist and had seen first-hand the devastation industry can cause to people and planet, such as at Bhopal. My interest in the environment led to me writing a feature on CDP in the Times of India for Earth Day. While I had been very critical of corporate impact on the environment, I became very impressed at how CDP was working with the biggest polluters to push them to do better. Subsequently, whenever I got the chance to visit London, I would visit the CDP office to convince them to set one up in India!
Why should a company in India start disclosing through CDP?
Many Indian companies harbour ambitions to access global marketplaces. The only way these companies will crack into global markets is by becoming leaders in their industry and conforming to global best practices. Disclosure through CDP is increasingly considered a standard business practice and Indian companies must take note, and step up on environmental transparency.
What has been your proudest accomplishment during your time at CDP?
CDP India was the only NGO to be named in the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), submitted prior to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. The official government document recognizes CDP’s role in helping companies respond to climate change, and I was even invited to be part of India’s official delegation to Paris. I told Sue Howells (Chief Operating Officer of CDP) and Paul Simpson (CEO of CDP) at that time that they could fire me right there and then, because I didn’t see how I could ever top that in my career!
How have you seen CDP evolve since you started working for the organization?
I've seen CDP grow phenomenally and its importance becoming better acknowledged globally. That’s particularly the case in India, where 67 of the top 200 companies are now disclosing through our platform. CDP is never static and is always finding new ways to drive action and push the envelope to do more and better. This is the longest I’ve been in any organization. I’ve been offered several other jobs and people have told me "Look, you've been there long enough”, but working here is consistently interesting and inspiring.
How would you summarize CDP’s 20 years of impact?
CDP is right in the eye of the storm as the primary data set underpinning environmental action. While there are many organizations beating the drum with arguments for climate action, CDP insists on concrete data and evidence to help actors see their risks and impacts, and subsequently manage them. This is what makes CDP unique.
20 years since launching, how has CDP stayed relevant?
CDP remains relevant by focussing on quality data and deriving insights from it. This leads to interesting and cutting-edge work, such as the recently launched CDP temperature ratings for investors. At the same time, CDP encourages ambition and action beyond what’s required by government policy. We inspire good corporate practice, leveraging the power of investors and peers. CDP’s tagline is “Disclosure Insight Action” and I often joke that “D.I.A.” is the next step from “C.I.A.” CDP is providing crucial insights leading to action. It's not just one or the other.
What do you think has been the biggest challenge to CDP’s mission over the past 20 years?
One challenge is getting corporates to respond, but I think we’ve crossed a threshold where organizations understand the imperative to disclose their data, and this is becoming easier. There is no better proof than the record-breaking 9,600 companies who disclosed through CDP this year. The biggest threat that an organization such as ours must remain vigilant against is greenwashing. I remember in my first few years here I’d sometimes take interviews and find my words taken out of context. We always have to make sure our work leads to genuine action.
And what do you think will be the biggest challenge in the next 20?
Globally we need to find a way to make to make our data accessible to the widest number of people. In particular, we need to ensure this evidence base reaches young people as they are the champions standing on the front lines with the most to lose.
CDP’s 20th anniversary falls in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. What do you think is the importance of CDP’s work as we start to recover?
My vision is to live in a harmonious and green world wherein we are all equipped to deal with the shocks that are clearly coming our way. While there may soon be a vaccine for COVID-19, when it comes to climate change and environmental destruction, our only defence is to take responsibility for our own actions, investments and way of life. Our values will be the biggest challenge in shaping our future. And this journey must be equitable and just – one that doesn’t unfairly harm developing countries. CDP data will be more essential than ever in driving this action for a thriving economy that works for people and planet.
In one word: what does CDP mean to you?
What is the single most important thing people should know about CDP?
We push companies to do better by helping them see their impacts and risks clearly.
Finish the sentence, ‘I work at CDP because…’
I work at CDP because I know that I am helping to drive change.