sustainability and the brand

March 25, 2016 0 comments

When we think of pollution villains, the first one to come under the spotlight today is automobiles. Very few people know, however, that automobiles came into being as a cleaner alternative to horse drawn carriages which were admonished for the ‘pollution’ it caused in the form of dung and various air contaminants. How things change. The Industrial Revolution, which has been such a landmark in the history of mankind, is now believed to have let the gremlins of climate change loose over time.

602-1Think about this. Almost ninety corporations are believed to cause more than 60% of all emissions that lead to climate change. Yet, in its own way businesses have inherently tried to be sustainable from time immemorial. Entrepreneurs are not known to set up businesses because they want to shut them down. Nor are they known to be driven by a manic desire to destroy the world. When faced by the cries of ensuring sustainability, a business leader may well wonder, “Isn’t that my daily quest?” The question therefore arises, “What is this new thing called sustainability?”

The sustainability conversation reared its head as scientists realized that the actions of mankind were responsible for various developments that threatened the well-being of society, and indeed the earth itself. A lot of these actions were attributed to businesses—which were seen to be causing emissions, exploiting labor, and plundering natural resources in the quest for financial profit. A new class of risks emerged that threatened the survival of corporations. Nike’s infamous admittance of ‘We blew it’ on their child labor practices, Coca Cola’s forced localized shutdowns in India for excessive water usage, and more recently, Volkswagen’s diesel dupe are clear examples of corporations getting hit by these new kinds of risks.

embracing sustainability through actions

Corporations began the new journey towards sustainability by making environmental and social disclosures that went beyond the idea of sustainable profit, into the realm of people, planet, and profit. In the initial days of the journey, making disclosures and being transparent was considered as being sustainable. But things have evolved quickly. Making disclosures and expressing good intent is no longer enough, though it does help for some time in managing reputation. Over time, adopting a holier than thou position without supporting action gets labeled as greenwashing, and damages a company’s reputation.

As it turns out, nuggets of gold lie hidden in sustainability actions. In a recent push to make LED-based lights the technology of choice instead of conventional technologies, the Indian government has facilitated the adoption of more than three crore LED lights since April 2014. Households save R2.7cr and 68 lakh KW daily in Andhra Pradesh alone. Imagine the positive change it has brought about for the manufacturers of these lights and accessories associated with them, the people employed in the industry, and the financial and environmental benefits that have accrued to businesses and society.

Mahindra and Mahindra has been busy enhancing its energy efficiency. Over the last five years, hundreds of initiatives were undertaken within the company and with its suppliers—in the areas of heat recovery, renewable energy, cooling technologies, energy efficient retro fitment, etc. This has led to energy consumption per vehicle being reduced by one-third, leading to significant reduction in emissions and costs. Harnessing water and being more water efficient has helped Mahindra ensure business continuity at water-scarce locations. Our tractor factory at Zaheerabad faced severe shortage of water. Harnessing and afforestation efforts resulted in the factory becoming water secure and giving access to more water to the society that lived around it. The pilot of a small plane remarked that the enhanced presence of trees in the area makes spotting the runway a lot easier than before! Water is a critical resource for Mahindra Holidays and Resorts. The use of water-efficient technologies and active recycling of water ensures that the business does not impose a water burden on the communities that it is a part of. More than 60% of the water that it uses gets recycled.

Implementing integrated watershed management projects in rural India has led to the Mahindra Group becoming water-positive many times over. These projects have helped the villagers make more than 100 hectares of barren land cultivable, move from single cropping to multiple cropping, and enhance crop productivity through adequate irrigation. The resulting financial gains have helped the villagers buy tractors for more efficient cultivation, and micro-irrigation systems for energy and water-efficient irrigation. These examples are one offshoot of the desire to slow the pace of climate change, perhaps even to limit its long-term impact.

overhaul of existing businesses and evolution of new businesses

Electrical engineering-related industries are seeing the rapid introduction of new products and a radically altered sales portfolio as corporations adopt energy-efficient practices. Electric cars are widely seen as the wave of the future, and electric scooters are emerging in different countries around the globe. Micro-irrigation, a solution that is almost thirty years old in India but has achieved less than 10% penetration is being hailed as the key to India’s water woes and may soon see unprecedented growth. Investors believe that the renewable energy-related industries will soon be the cynosure of all eyes.

Sustainability practices help our steel business to be a part of the supplier ecosystem of BMW, while Mahindra and Mahindra builds vehicles powered by alternate fuels and promotes climate-smart agricultural practices. Once a business is changing its business processes and generating green revenue, it is fully invested in the new emerging economy and its reputation gets managed automatically. A fact that is recognized by the Harvard Business School, which has revamped the criteria it uses to evaluate top CEOs of the world by putting 20% weightage on sustainability actions taken by the CEO.

When it comes to sustainability, to do or not to do is no longer the question and the Mahindra Group has taken cognizance of that.

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