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Guest Column

Published on: Oct. 25, 2021, 2:57 p.m.
Planet, people and profit
  • CEAT's mission is to reduce carbon footprint by 50 per cent by 2030

By Anant Goenka. The author is MD & CEO, CEAT

For many decades, humanity has been paying a huge price for irresponsibility and complacency. And the change has been so slow that we have not taken cognizance of it, until now when we are forced to. It is like the water hyacinth, the aggressive invader that covers the entire surface of a pond, depleting the fish of oxygen leaving it to die till someone takes the action of cleaning the pond to bring back life into it. 

The earth is desperately sending us signals in the form of soaring temperatures, flash floods, rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, famine, animal migration and newer diseases. In the past decade alone, devastating wildfires have ravaged several ecosystems around the world, including in California, Australia, Brazil, and Greece. Flash floods in Europe, Asia and even parts of India have disrupted homes and livelihoods. 

As the global economy continues to recover from the pandemic, emissions are returning to normal far quicker than society is. While countries work towards restoring their economies, it is critical to realise how this crisis has created an opportunity for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy and a greener world at large  One that works for both people and the planet. In other words, “doing good” can have an immediate bearing on the company’s capacity to “do well” by creating a shared value opportunity.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is a shift from shareholder responsibility to stakeholder responsibility. As the sustainability agenda becomes the cornerstone of organisational purpose, it actively feeds the evolving priorities of the entire stakeholder network. Shareholder interests reflect in annual reports as ESG disclosures are becoming critical benchmarks of future business performance.

With proven ethical and financial gains, interest in ESG funds is increasing faster than in their traditional counterparts. Rightly so, the MSCI ESG Index and Nifty 100 ESG Index have consistently outperformed their benchmarks, reinstating the market sentiment towards investment in sustainability.  

A positive sustainability scorecard also lends comfort and confidence to employee and consumer expectations. As the Indian millennial and GenZ become increasingly conscious of a brand’s social and ecological stance, many firms risk losing talent and business to more environmentally sustainable peers. Sustainability focus is now blanketing the business’s entire value chain by becoming a competitive advantage for the players.

OEM manufacturers, suppliers and vendors seek to partner with green utilities, making greener supply chains and good governance a fundamental pre-requisite. It is now interesting to witness how core sustainability integration has enabled entities to tap new opportunities for more investment, innovation, and incentive to stay ahead of the curve.

I would like to share three key steps that companies should take for driving sustainability.

Firstly, make it a top management priority guided by a clear long-term sustainability goal. At CEAT, our mission is to reduce our carbon footprint by 50 per cent by 2030.  It is also imperative for leaders to model their intentions towards sustainability through their day-to-day actions, embed them in the KPIs just the way they would for profits and sales, create strong rewards and recognition systems, and regularly communicate the importance of the same in their town-halls and review meetings.  

I have found our young Management Trainees deeply passionate about sustainability. Tapping into this zeal, we have created a Sustainability Circle which comprises of young managers to drive thought and action in the company. Recently, we also celebrated a sustainability week at CEAT. Several external and internal experts were invited to discuss the significance and urgency of the subject and what each of us can do.

As part of the initiative, we floated a challenge statement to engage more employees and generate ideas through our innovation platform. This really helped amplify our sustainability agenda, gain knowledge and drive action.

Secondly, it is essential to embed sustainability in the heart of business. Planting trees and doing rainwater harvesting are ideas that first emerge, but how can sustainability be integrated with business operations? There is a misplaced notion that some people feel that sustainability could conflict with making profit, but I beg to disagree. It is like saying healthy food cannot be delicious. 

To share with you a few examples from our business – if you increase the life of the tyre, it is beneficial to the customer as well as the environment. Improving rolling resistance for instance, enhances fuel efficiency and therefore minimizing cost for the customer and the environment. Moving to renewable sources of energy, reduces the cost of power which benefits both the environment and the company. Intel, worked on reducing the power consumption by its chips which greatly improved the battery life of the PC. For Intel, this move towards a sustainable business model was a game-changer for the company. Eventually all manufacturers wanted “Intel Inside”! 

Our sustainability framework at CEAT is relayed across every stage of the product life cycle, beginning with raw material procurement, manufacturing, logistics, product usage till the end-of-life tyre disposal. This simple categorization can be applied to almost all manufacturing companies. Such systemic integration of sustainability has a multiplier effect, a responsibility of the leadership and a distinct differentiator for a brand in the highly competitive business landscape. 

And third, this is one space where fierce rivals can work together for the greater good. There need not be secrets when it comes to helping the planet. For instance, Coca-Cola has joined hands with rivals Pepsi and Dr. Pepper to combat plastic waste – these companies have invested close to $100 million for improving sorting, processing and collection of discarded plastic bottles. Allbirds, one of the most sustainable shoe brands in the US has shared its sustainability calculation formula with all shoe brands and is available on its website. Collaboration and a collective purpose are at the heart of sustainability.

As the decibels rise on climate change, it will be our collective responsibility to leave behind a planet that is liveable for our children and the generations after them. There is no better time than now to take actionable steps towards Social Return on Investment within the framework of Planet, People and Profit. Let not zero-emission, carbon-neutral, green-economy be “…blah, blah, blah” as Greta Thunberg said but a clarion call for real change and real action towards nurturing the planet for prosperity for every living being. 

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