The Business of Sustainability for Sustainable Business
Mahindra Group has a whole new portfolio of businesses, including electric vehicles, micro-irrigation, green buildings, solar power and waste to energy, which are in the space of climate change and helps a larger number of people fight it, reveals Anirban
Mahindra Group is present in more than 100 countries and its operations span in 21 key industries. How has the group integrated its operations with sustainable business practices across the board?
It takes effort to ensure sustainable practices over many businesses and regions. To bring coherence in work, we have created a sustainability framework so that there is a common understanding of the definition of sustainability as well as the areas of work. Each business picks up their crucial areas of work and sets goals and targets. Using the framework, therefore, harmonizes work across businesses and geographies.
Please elaborate with an example how Mahindra has adapted sustainability in its practices.
At Mahindra, one major area of work is energy efficiency and today our vehicles are produced using 60-70 per cent less energy than they were 78 years ago. Similarly, the work in energy efficiency has moved into our holidays business and spread to all the factories. We are working towards ensuring that no waste goes to landfills and 5 of our factories have been certified as zero waste to landfill already. Over time, all our factories will become zero waste to landfill. In this way, individual areas of work are identified and whatever can be deployed to various locations and businesses, we try to do that as quickly as possible.
How has sustainable development impacted business?
It has impacted business in very interesting ways. As a group, we have looked at the possibility of entering new businesses, which help fight climate change such as electric vehicles, micro-irrigation, green buildings, solar power and waste to energy. Therefore, there is a whole new portfolio of businesses that the group has which are in the space of climate change and helps a larger number of people fight climate change because of the services and the products that we are offering.
What are the challenges that you face as a chief sustainability officer?
Today, the challenge is mainly to help my colleagues and peers get a sense of how they can leverage sustainability with business success and not just carry out a single sustainability activity. That really is my role.
As the manufacturing people take up energy efficiency and renewable energy, the business strategy people start looking at new businesses, the marketing people start looking at green elements of the products or service as something, which could be positioned to the consumer as a differentiator, subsequently the finance people start looking at things like carbon pricing for equipment acquisition or even for investments, and the work in sustainability then gets embedded in various parts of the business, ensuring sustainability of sustainability itself.
How do you ensure that business looks at sustainability as an investment for the future not an expense?
We found places where sustainability brings costs down and we have invested in them aggressively. There could be examples like meeting regulations for emissions in a vehicle, which tends to drive up the cost of a vehicle. But the cost of the vehicle keeps going up anyway because of material costs and so on. Hence, it is one more aspect that may increase the cost a bit. More importantly, it is a reason for which consumers would be willing to pay whole-heartedly as nobody really wants high emissions from vehicles.
Also, today it is possible to build green buildings at almost zero incremental cost. Energy efficiency, renewable energy and circular economy save money for the business and biodiversity helps in bringing dust levels down and that improves a product's quality in manufacturing and again brings cost down for the business. It is a myth that sustainability increases cost, in effect it enables business more than anything else.
How do you engage your stakeholders to take up sustainable business practices?
We look at stakeholders basis their needs. Like for our colleagues, we have programmes to encourage them to adopt sustainable practices at work and in their lives and, of course, the benefits are obvious over time.
When we do work which benefits the business, we are quite happy to take it across and share it with our suppliers who, in turn, can apply the learnings. This is how we engage different stakeholders and get them to adopt the practices, which have already worked very well for us. They do not have to go anywhere to see whether it is working or not. They can just take it forward.
Please share the programmes at Mahindra encouraging sustainability?
At Mahindra, every employee who joins goes through an induction programme where sustainability is a critical element. We have a programme called 'Making Sustainability Personal', where each individual has a chance to take some sustainable action. Last year, around 25,000 of our colleagues adopted LED lamps, many adopted energyefficient applicants and several are now participating in the 'Beat Plastic Pollution Campaign'.
How is India faring on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
We are making remarkable progress. You cannot make progress independently on SDGs, as our country and GDP grow and develop, there are various aspects of the SDGs, which get addressed. There is no better way than a growing economy to pull people out of poverty and China is a notable example as is India. As population and the economy grows, concerns for water are becoming very real. You would have heard about how people in Shimla do not want tourists to come. Sometime ago, Cape Town ran the real danger of running out of water. These are not isolated cases anymore. We have not really protected ourselves from running out of water, so now we have to work and live in a manner in which we respect our resources and make sure that they are re-generated.
With the government proactively taking up sustainable development, what role do you envision for the private sector?
A. The government and private sector always have complementary roles. There are things that government needs to do, and mostly it is an enabling role. Then there are areas where the corporations must act.
'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle' is a not a new mantra, it has been known for a long time and many people practice it. When you have scarcity of resources, you automatically 'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle'. It is when you do not have paucity of resources, and you are chasing convenience more than responsibility, it then becomes a problem.
Any specific requirements that the industry has from the government to accelerate the process of adoption of corporate sustainability?
In the specific case of waste, one needs enabling policies. So far, our approach has been prevention of pollution. It has been an important objective, because despite having the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards, our water bodies get damaged.
It is time to move forward from the pollution control paradigm to circular economy paradigm. One needs enabling policies to make sure that plastic pollution can be avoided and ensures that the recycling economy gets a fillip. It is expected from the government, that they understand the situation and bring in enabling legislations.
FICCI's Circular Economy Symposium was held recently, which was chaired by you. What were the key takeaways that emerged at the symposium?
The conversation on 'evolving role of the CPCB to Circular Economy Promotion Board' was an important takeaway from the conference. We shared the idea with Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog, who has sought a proposal from us. Another big takeaway is that the best practices are isolated in their adoption. The possibility of getting more people to adopt what someone may have discovered as a best practice is a huge opportunity for Indian industry and the nation. Through the conference, we tried to spread some of the best practices, which could be adopted by others.
Going forward, how can sustainable development and business go hand-in-hand in preserving the interests of the industry, government and consumers?
This question becomes important if you see a dichotomy between the growth of business and the practice of sustainability. To my mind, there is no dichotomy. It is a better way of doing business and gives better results. If you ask, why were corporations not doing this earlier? I would only say that we never realized what a big problem our processes were causing. The moment we adopt practices, which do not cause the problem, it does not hurt the business at all.
We do not believe, there is a dichotomy in sustainability practices and growth of the corporation. We think it enables and helps us leapfrog in our quest to become larger, competitive and best in the world.
“Energy efficiency, renewable energy and circular economy save money for the business and biodiversity can help in bringing dust levels down and improves a product's quality in manufacturing like it has at our Igatpuri plant. That sustainability increases cost is a myth, in effect it enables business to save costs. ”
Anirban Ghosh Chief Sustainability Officer, Mahindra Group