MAHINDRA & MAHINDRA ‘Demystify Sustainability’
Early t h i s y e a r, when the Mahindra Group unveiled petrol engine vehicles within a couple of months of the ban on big diesel vehicles in Delhi, it took the establishment by surprise. How did this blitzkrieg-like response come about?
Only insiders know that it emerged from an intense scenario planning engagement of years within the Group centred on sustainability and the future of mobility.
Over the past eight years, the $ 16.9 billion Mahindra Group has evolved into a business entity with a remarkable degree of sustainability thinking. Petrol and smaller diesel engines, expectedly, were already in the works.
And it helps if the person driving Group sustainability, Anirban Ghosh, earned his spurs in sales, marketing, and importantly, strategy. Anirban, on his return to India, after a harrowing stint in the US, leading the tractor business, during the 2008 financial crisis, has been pivotal in the creating the Group’s agri vertical.
“My approach to sustainability is not from an activists’ perspective. It comes from hard-core business,” says Anirban.
The Group, seen as a federation of companies, has notched remarkable progress in the usual indicators: water conservation, waste management, and energy efficiency. The Group has signed up for EP 100 of the Climate Group to double energy productivity by 2030. “Energy efficiency gives us great- er and faster returns than many of the products we invest in,” he explains. Chairman Anand Mahindra champions sustainability and also recently signed up to the global Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. The tone from the top is critical. Anand is slowly acquiring a sustainability mien. He says: “Our effort to erase the perceived dichotomy between sustainability and profits is paying rich dividends.”
Apart from quickly plucking the lowhanging fruit in sustainability, the Group is seriously looking at greening its portfolio. Micro irrigation, solar, electric vehicles are coming centrestage. It’s around half a billion dollars
turnover already and is expected to double in five years, if not earlier.
The runaway success of the recent global launch of the Model 3 electric car by Tesla and its intention to come to India is a good augury. Mahindra acquired Reva Electric Car Co. in 2010. How did Anirban and the Group’s Sustainability Council, take the agenda across its 28 varied businesses? It has been a mix of evangelism and a nudge with processes. All CEOs are encouraged to lay out a path to sustainability for which a dashboard has been created. The dashboard is re-configured every six months and displays each company’s progress.
Anirban often pitches in with the ‘business case;’ critical for convincing reluctant CEOs, showing how adoption will increase their profitability. Sustainability is now also integral to the Mahindra way- basically a TQM process spread across all group businesses.
He has, in a way, simplified or demystified sustainability for seniors within the Group as many hail from a generation or ecosystem not attuned to sustainability thinking. “It’s spoonfeeding,” says Anirban, “you plug it into a process and CEOs learn from it.”
The proliferation of sustainability thinking is evident by the response of Group companies. Anita Arjundas of Mahindra Lifespace Developers, for instance, began looking for a replacement to sand that is rapaciously mined, destroying riverine ecosystems. She now supports many entrepreneurs who supply her co. with ‘manufactured-sand.’ “The switch has also impacted project efficiency significantly,” says Anita.
Anirban, meanwhile, is battling a particular challenge which many sustainability professionals also face. ‘How do I communicate sustainability to individuals, to employees, to consumers?’ This is the question that bedevils him. He made a small dent last year when he announced a scheme to refund electricity bills to employees who showed a dip in power consumption at home over a six month period. The response is muted but converts are emerging.