The joy and challenges of creating a sustainable business.

April 22, 2022

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“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Unprecedented imbalances are threatening our planet. It is exasperating to see environmental problems outstripping the progress enabled by advanced technologies. By disregarding environmental degradation and the signs of global warming, we are already in a burning house. Planet earth sent us an important memo this month: Both the earth’s poles are witnessing extremely high temperatures—parts of Antarctica were more than 40°C warmer than average that ranges from about −10°C on the coast to −60 °C at the highest parts of the interior; the Arctic was 30°C warmer than average whose average winter temperature is -34°C, while the average summer temperature is 3-12°C. While this was an unusual occurrence, experts agree it was not a good sign. If we look at the cost of just the extraordinary weather events, the enormity of how quickly this is escalating becomes apparent (and is scary). The total cost of unusual weather events in the US alone for the last five years was $742.1 billion, or one-third of the disaster cost of the last 42 years between 1980 and 2021 ($2.155 trillion). Things like this should make us sit up and inject urgency into our response.

We are at a point where we cannot leave these problems to be solved by environmentalists alone. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “We need not wait to see what others do.” Change and action start from us – as individual global citizens. Each of us must make a conscious effort to overcome the challenges around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues within our circle of influence. Positive change and attitude toward the environment start from us.

Visionary business leaders have already learned that focusing on ESG can help build socially responsible and sustainable businesses that outperform the competition. In this, we are fortunate—who can complain if something as pertinent as building a sustainable business also gives us a world that is a better place? This is why ESG has been steadily rising to the top of our priorities. However, our initiatives are guided by the direct influence we exert on the outcomes while staying aligned with being a global organization that behaves like a responsible citizen.

The small ESG steps we have been taking as an organization are quickly becoming mature strides. Not only have customers started asking us to be environmentally responsible, but we too have begun to change our policies to reflect our convictions. As an example, we will procure 50% of our hardware, infrastructure, and licenses from organizations committed to sustainability initiatives. Some of the other initiatives we have to improve our ESG posture are:

Organizational initiatives:

  • Sewage treatment:

We began treating our sewage on our campus from 2006-07 when it was not mandatory for businesses to treat their sewage. Now 60% of the water we use is treated and reused for toilets and gardening. This contributes to saving 2.5 million liters of water each year.

  • Electronic waste management:

Our employees and everyone in the city is encouraged to leave their electronic waste with us for safe disposal. An agency with the appropriate competencies and expertise has been appointed to carry out the disposal on our behalf.

  • Groundwater recharge:

870,000 liters of rainwater harvested annually in our office campus is directed into the ground through injection wells for groundwater recharge.

  • Green building initiatives:

Our premises, constructed in 2006, were already designed to maximize the use of natural light. Recently we changed our lights from CFL to LED. The air-conditioning systems use R32, a next-generation refrigerant that efficiently carries heat and lowers environmental impact. Our windows are reflective and double glazed to reduce the need for air-conditioning.

  • Private forestry movement:

Over the last decade, we have planted 10,000 trees creating a minor forest on a piece of land that had become arid. Six years ago, we began the practice of planting trees on behalf of our customers. Instead of sending the traditional New Year greetings and gifts to customers, we send them a picture of their tree, showing its progress. When I travel to meet customers, among the first things they ask is, “How is my tree doing?” It is a re-assuring question. It fuels the belief that our mission to serve must go beyond the goal of maximizing profit.

  • Sustainability training:

We will be providing leaders in the organization with training in sustainability practices, making ESG part of their lifestyle, and infusing it into popular organizational consciousness. In addition, we have appointed a Sustainability Officer and have our quality department working on creating solutions to reduce our environmental impact further.

  • Renewable energy:

Blueprints are being prepared to achieve a greater share of electricity from renewable power generation sources such as solar and wind. We are investing in solar power plants on the roof of our office building in Pondicherry to reduce consumption of up to 22% of electricity produced from coal or gas-fired power plants.

  • Carbon neutral pledge:

We have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. We are in the process of getting our ESG status audited by a French firm and are readying to acquire an ISO 14001 certification. The certification will demonstrate and validate our commitment to continuously improving and reducing the environmental impact of our operations.

Social initiatives:

  • Neighbourhood tree planting:

Planted saplings on an entire stretch of about 1km in the neighborhood of our office in Pondicherry in 2010 and are continuing to protect and nurture them even today.

  • Environment rebuilding initiatives:

In 2012, we participated in the Green Kalam initiative started by India’s former President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Also, after the ‘Thane’ storm that hit Pondicherry and Cuddalore in India, we actively participated in contributing to planting tree saplings to replace trees that were uprooted in the storm.

Personal initiatives:

  • Organic farming:

Being a first-generation tech entrepreneur coming from a family of agriculturalists, in my personal capacity, I have created a model organic farm near Pondicherry on land that had become uncultivable due to a lack of access to water sources, including groundwater. The objective was to check the loss of groundwater water. The initiative was also an attempt to encourage farmers in the adjacent areas to avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides that degrade the earth’s fertility and result in farm produce that is harmful to humans.

  • Water conservation:

We have built ten ponds that conserve 30 million liters of rainwater per year within the organic farm to rejuvenate the soil and improve the groundwater level. This also contributes to improving the aquifers in and around the area, benefitting the surrounding villages.

While the belief in creating a sustainable planet and a sustainable business drives our actions, there is an immediate and more practical aspect to our efforts. Investors, employees, and potential customers differentiate organizations based on sustainability and our environmental impact.

Business gains are the carrot to think hard and long about ESG and put our might behind it, as an organization and as individuals. But at the moment, the stick is hurting more. The imbalances that threaten the very existence of our planet make it our responsibility to act.

Let us contribute our bit towards replenishing the earth in all possible ways as individual world citizens and responsible organizations. Our shared responsibility is to leave the environment in good shape for future generations.

 

Sriram Subramanya

Founder, Managing Director, and CEO

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