Blogs - TERI Council for Business Sustainability (CBS)

Sustainability officer's role in Services sector
Mahesh Pratap Singh, Head of Sustainability and Social responsibility, Flipkart Group

It's been a very intriguing aspect for me that sustainability discussions In India have often revolved solely around manufacturing, B2B or traditional sectors. India, today has Services sector contributing nearly 54% of GDP and as we leapfrog towards a $5 trillion economy, over the coming decades services will continue to play an ever bigger role. Service sector companies are involved in retail, transport, distribution, food services, technology, financial services, hospitality, healthcare as well as other service-dominated businesses. With services leading the economic growth, employment is increasing in this sector and more people are shifting to find work in the service economy. It is therefore imperative that the services sector contributes not just towards the country's GDP but also leads on broader sustainability objectives in terms of responsibility towards the environment and society. This puts sustainability officers in services sector in a spotlight as they will play a massive role in India's sustainable development.

While sustainability officers in services sector have an advantage of relatively cleaner slate to work with, they still need to grapple with challenges which are quite nascent but a massive disruption risks to business. Take an example of consumer packaging where viable and scaled recycled alternative to plastic needs to be identified or transportation and mobility where emerging technologies around e-vehicles is redefining the whole sector at a very rapid pace. Millennial customers buying these services are increasingly basing their buying decision on social and environmental footprint of a brand and pushing for sustainable consumption. Not just the customers, employees are increasingly taking a moral stand - publicly protesting and staging walkouts. And then there is Social media and an always connected ecosystem we are operating in, which spreads these customer voices and employee activism which could cause massive setback to brand reputation in case if businesses are found shying away from their broader responsibility to the planet and communities.

In this backdrop, sustainability officer's role, particularly in the services sector becomes a very multidimensional one. While Sustainability officers will continue to do a fair bit of technical problem-solving and execute on those, that's only one part of the solution. Every ecosystem player including partners, suppliers, customers, employees, regulators and other constituents all have a very unique vantage point and view of sustainability conundrum and working together with each of them and listening to their perspectives can provide very interesting insights. Sustainability officers in services will do well by taking calculated risks, not waiting for solutions to be perfectly proven before trying, fail early and improvise, and most importantly make the whole ecosystem part of that process and learning experience. Sometimes when there are no easy solutions, it helps for the whole ecosystem to know that you are committed to the cause, sincere in your efforts, open to suggestions, willing to experiment and will share with them what's working and equally important what's not and why. Building that trust and transparency with key stakeholders will provide and renew business's environment and social license to operate.

At Flipkart, collaboration, audacity and risk-taking is part of our culture. This cultural fabric has enabled us to launch many bold and industry-first sustainability initiatives while working closely with all our stakeholders with a shared vision. I am hopeful that Indian services sector will see increasingly more attention and spotlight for its sustainability agenda and some of these hallmarks will be equally helpful in shaping sustainable development in India towards a $5 trillion economy.

The Changing Role of Chief Sustainability Officers in India
Manoj Kumar Singh, CTO & Chief of Regulatory Affairs & Sustainability, Indus Towers Limited

Indus Towers has a simple business model of enabling the highest quality of network connectivity and communications across urban, rural, semi-rural and remote areas in India. With over 1,23,000 operational towers, as a strategic approach, Indus technology function is moving towards automation oriented technology environment so that more and more systems can be integrated on a common platform. An analysis of this data on energy consumption patterns has been the driving force in evolving a business case for sustainable actions incorporated into a business strategy.

How do we translate our words into actions?

Our approach is wide-ranging. We are supporting the energy transformation by adopting Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) in terms of eliminating direct CO2 producing fuel from our operations and promoting renewable energy.

  • Ensuring the reliability of the data evolved into a platform that connects all devices to the Tower Operations Centre (TOC), which focuses on engineering solutions for enhanced lifecycle management of the telecom towers and to connect all Indus site devices with Cloud.
    This technology aids Indus sustainability operations by energy management in additional to monitoring alarms at sites, assets monitoring, security management & control.
  • Indus Towers uses Fibre Optic Cables (FOC) which is more sustainable to natural elements (copper wires). FOC not only doesn’t damage easily, but also improves operational efficiency since they don’t need to be changed once installed and can be upgraded by electric light pulses and not by replacing the cable.
    FOC is a greener solution since it has a minimal ecological impact, reduces waste, consumes less energy and helps reduce greenhouse emissions.
  • Dedicated IT teams that work with the field and operational teams have evolved iAcquire, an application which automates the data collating and reporting part of the site acquisition team.
    It has led to tripling the average number of potential site visits by a site acquisition field staff over the last two years.
    Solar cooling units (SCUs) have been piloted and we target to cover 50% of all telecom sites by the year 2021.
  • Indus Vehicle Tracking System (VTS) continuously tracks the 3000 vehicles on real time behaviour, time of movement, distance covered.
  • Indus is committed to reducing the use of diesel just as it is committed to deliver 99.9% uptime. Replacing air conditioners with energy efficient cooling solutions has enabled enhanced battery solution to support the reduced use of diesel generators.
  • Indus has invested in developing new age battery solutions and energy efficient equipment for telecom towers to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Higher utilization of grid power or electricity through faster restorations, converting electricity connection category from rural to urban to gain from the increased availability of grid power across India.
    This reduces the direct diesel consumption substantially.

As we blur the lines of technology as an everyday essential, Indus has established a 'Next Gen Solution portfolio' which provides aesthetic tower solutions developed for both ground and rooftop installations. Indus approach to integrate telecom tower design with existing infrastructure has been an award winning proposition with the Smart City Mission.

While there is no back tracking on telecommunication as a way of life, we are dedicated to finding sustainable – smart solutions to increase productivity and establish an economic case for undertaking environment sustainability business actions.

The equilibrium of attention: will the supply chain provide impetus to achieving sustainability?
Arupendra Nath Mullick, Vice President, TERI CBS and Pooja Kumar, Fellow, TERI CBS

Yet again India grabs attention globally by introducing the National Resource Efficiency Policy - the first ever by an emerging economy. TERI's recent submission on circular economy and resource efficiency through Think20 (T20) - the research and policy advice network for the G20 - at the 14th summit of the G20 countries in June 2019, brought the need for conducive policies and practices to enable business models at centre-stage. These developments clearly depict the fact that resource efficiency measures can bring about benefits along the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, with savings to the tune of ? 60.8 billion accruing on account of material saving in the manufacturing sector alone.

Will these resonate with professionals leading the sustainability portfolio in the Indian corporate sector? Will these lead to new thinking to disturb the equilibrium and afresh the engagements with the supply chain?

Responding to the call-for-action by the Economic Survey of India 2018-19, the National Resource Efficiency Policy, 2019 provides a framework for leveraging existing efforts and fostering collaborative partnerships among relevant line ministries, institutions and corporates for charting resource efficient, sustainable pathways to growth in India.

But are we, as a country, ready to embrace such collaborations? Or we are waiting for another precedence to prove the business benefits?

Despite being the global benchmark for specific energy consumption, ACC Limited, Ultratech Cement Limited, Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Limited and others in the Indian cement industry continue to engage with their value chain towards enhanced utilization of Alternative Fuel and Raw Material (AFR). This not only enables realizing GHG emission reductions in their manufacturing processes, but also effective waste management in their value chain. Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Ltd is experimenting with its Micro-Manufacturing Model which was initiated as a strategic project to reduce the cost of manufacturing; over time has led to become a sustainable model that addresses challenge of labour scarcity. Recently, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Ltd was recognized by F&S-TERI Sustainability 4.0 Awards 2019 edition.

Leveraging its globally recognized inclusive business model, Jain Irrigation Services Ltd is collaborating with FMCG major Coca-Cola India to implement Orange Unnati - as part of their Fruit Circular Economy strategy. Orange Unnati is first-of-its kind tripartite partnership between Coca-Cola India, the State Government of Maharashtra, and Jain Irrigation Systems Limited. The integrated agricultural development project aims to augment the quality, productivity and profitability per unit of land used for citrus cultivation. Mahindra Yellow Belt (MYB) Business Partner's Training Program has exhibited clear business benefits of better integration of 'Sustainability' strategy in the supply chain. These initiatives are actually perceived as incentives by the suppliers and negate the myth that all suppliers only work for financial incentives. Likewise, BASF - a leading chemical company - creates awareness, and provides training, technical support and motivation to its suppliers in to ensure sustainability in its procurement.

To inflict change in the equilibrium of attention for the decision makers, a key would be to get started with a structured approach towards integrating sustainability in the supply chain. This change process shall involve several critical steps. TERI CBS's guidebook Operationalizing Sustainability in Value Chain provides a step-by-step approach and do-it-yourself assessment and audit tools. In fact, TERI's report Circular Economy: A Business Imperative for India and experience on Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) practices could provide significant insights for a spectrum of industry sectors.

A pertinent question beckons here. Will the circular economy principle make it inevitable for a business to move beyond the boundaries of its supply chain and engage across its entire value chain instead? Will the equilibrium of attention shift?

The Changing Role of Chief Sustainability Officers
Shalini Singh, Chief - Corporate Communications & Sustainability, Tata Power

Over the last few years, sustainability has shifted from boardrooms to grassroots and its effectiveness will determine the future quality of our lives. The understanding of this change is at the very core of the role of anyone working on sustainability.

The concept of a connected world may have become more obvious in the age of the Internet. But in reality, it has always been so, only less visible than it is today. Sustainability, in its essence, is about recognizing these myriad connections and preserving them for the future. For all practical purposes, the Chief Sustainability Officer is the conscience keeper for the company -- the bridge that connects the two worlds

When Tata Power started its Masheer Conversation Project more than four decades ago, our objective was not just to save a species of fish from extinction. We saw Masheer as an important cultural and biological icon of the rivers of India linking livelihoods and biodiversity conservation to each other. After all these years, we continue to remain acutely aware of this delicate connection. This is but just one example of what sustainability means to us. The foundation of this idea of sustainability goes back to the founding years of Tata Power when we started in 1915 with the commissioning India's first hydroelectric project in Khopoli, Maharashtra, a clean start on which country largest integrated utility has been built. Our strategic intent now is to ensure 40-50% of our generating capacity comes from renewable sources by 2025.

Before we go into the changing role of a CSO, it is important to understand why sustainability rests at the very core of everything we do. For example, when we set up a new power plant it is not just about a piece of land on which it sits or where and how we get fuel to fire it up. An infrastructure project of this nature also brings about some fundamental changes in the community around which it is built. It needs clean water, good roads, skilled people, good living conditions for the people working there and their families, law and order, etc. It touches the community in so many ways. There is a strong symbiotic connection at play that needs to be understood, appreciated and nurtured. This connection thrives throughout the entire lifetime of the project. Further, it also becomes part of the community when new supporting businesses start to mushroom around such a project.

In today's context, the role of the CSO is all about defining and establishing the role of the business in the larger community within which it operates. In that sense, we have come a long way from cheque-book philanthropy to being an active member of the community. So for all practical purposes, the CSO is the conscience keeper for the company -- the bridge that connects the two worlds. The primary role of the CSO is to help the senior management and the board to work effectively within the community. The CSO now has the responsibility of being the change agent within the organization who brings in a cross-function approach and converges all stakeholders to define and implement the organizational strategy for long term sustainability.

More specifically in the case of Tata Power, the new consumer businesses that we have ventured into including rooftop solar, EV charging infrastructure, solar micro-grids, ESCO, and Home Automation, all have the common thread of being environmentally responsible. Our CSR commitment pre-dates the regulations that make it compulsory for the industry to engage in community development and we have also included the future generations in making responsible decisions through our decade-old Club Enerji initiative covering 500 schools across 12 cities.

The role of the CSO is also to ensure that the sustainability goals are made more engaging throughout the organization. For example, today Tata Power employees are an integral part of the sustainability journey and have clocked an impressive 82,867 hours also involving their families in this effort. Our social initiatives have positively impacted 24.67 lakh beneficiaries in FY19 in the areas of education, livelihood, skill-building, clean water, health and sanitation, financial inclusivity and women empowerment. The role of the CSO in such a context has been to influence the strategic thinking towards de-carbonization, circular economy, biodiversity conservation and empowering communities.

Tata Power is also aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs and has prioritized nine of these through a comprehensive study. We are spearheading the sustainability journey for the power sector by not only mapping our initiatives with SDGs but also charting a way forward through a roadmap with 3-year targets for all the prioritized SDGs. To enable this, we are building partnerships with global and national organizations like UNDP, WBCSD, Niti Aayog, ICSI, Nabard, etc. in the sustainability space to collectively further climate action efforts and make representations to the government on regulatory changes and social development.

Finally, the role of the CSO is also that of an effective communicator both within and outside the organization. Measuring and analyzing the impact of the work done and presenting them to all stakeholders in a form that is understood and appreciated by all is critical for the long term effectiveness of the organization's sustainability goals.

Changing Role of Chief Sustainability Officers
Madhulika Sharma, Chief Corporate Sustainability, Tata Steel Limited

Not very long ago the person at the helm of sustainability in many organizations was a face to the external world for their limited sustainability agenda and one who was driving its CSR initiatives.

However now across the world more and more organizations are crossing over from a compliance based approach to an impact measurement and mitigation approach. The hectic pace of technology advancement, growing complexity of corporate missions and the increasingly global connections and communication needs are forcing organizations to delve deep and evolve their long-term business model. The Paris Agreement ushered in a new fervour in the already burning issue of climate change coupled with rigor for reporting and the need for transparency. Many guidelines evolved into standards and issues such as forced labor, discrimination, migration and social empathy have gained speed across corporate corridors as important and necessary to address.

In line with Tata Steel's vision of becoming global steel industry benchmark in value creation and corporate citizenship and to become true sustainability leaders, the company has evolved its approach to sustainability leadership on similar lines.

The initial approach to sustainability was primarily limited to CSR activities and environmental compliance revolving around consent to operate. With growing understanding of the industry's impact on the environment and the society at large the organization evolved its lens of approaching the subject. Today steel industry accounts for 6-7 % of global CO2 emissions, is highly water intensive and has challenge of dealing with by-products generated as part of steel making process. Our operations in India are concentrated in states of Jharkhand and Odisha which considered to be one of the most socio-economically backward states of the country where Human Development Index lingers at the bottom of the list. Our stakeholders have become more demanding in terms of our community initiatives, mitigation of environmental impact and transparency of our disclosures over and above sustained profit-making. The organisation was proactive in gauging these inherent early warning indicators and took the step of creating a separate corporate sustainability function to devise strategies addressing these issues.

The CSO's role at Tata Steel has advanced to be more strategic than tactical with better understanding of the business impact on people, planet and profit and thereby quantify, qualify and set long-term roadmaps. The role is required to evolve over a period as the organization treads on its journey of successfully adopting a sustainability based business model. This role would be expected to progress from being compliance driven to driving efficiencies to innovating for being future ready.

The company has moved out of the treating sustainability as a standalone agenda in segregated functions such as "supply chain," "compliance," "environmental health and safety" and "government affairs," into a wider business imperative, looking at the entire spectrum of the company's operations and engage in cross functional teamwork. Going forward the CSO's role will be expected to innovate and guide the organizations long-term financial decision making, developing alternate business models based on the principles of circular economy and lead the organization to a future scenario of being carbon, water and waste neutral. As one of the precursors to the exciting times lying ahead of the company we have also launched a steel recycling business. We aim to shape the steel recycling industry in India and leverage opportunities in this space.

Is it time to align sustainability priorities and core business strategy?
Preeti Bathla, Associate -Corporate Partnerships, TERI CBS

Businesses across the globe have made remarkable progress in incorporating sustainable practices and policies into their existing framework of doing business. Businesses easily adapt these new Initiatives while learning from the success and failure of their peers. It is evident that sustainability adds to the competitive advantage and business growth. A recent report Mission Possible by the Energy Transition Commission provides strategic direction for steel, cement, petrochemicals sectors into possible technology investments to move to near-zero carbon emissions by the 2060s.

Sustainability also influences how we as consumers make our choices for tomorrow, eventually moving sustainability from being a check-box approach to one that is aligned to core business strategy. Interestingly, the Mission Possible report articulates that green steel use would add approximately US$180 on the price of a car, whereas low-carbon plastics would add 1 US cent on the price of a bottle of soda.

Indian businesses have been proactively on this account. Today several Indian companies features amongst the global DJSI community of 2018 namely, Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Mahindra Financial Services Ltd, YES Bank Ltd

For sustainability to be effectively aligned to the business strategy, it is important to synergize actions and commitments on environment and social dimensions alongside forging mutually reinforcing partnerships to fulfill such commitments. The various Initiaves taken by companies needs to be documented, recognized and incentivized to fast-track adaption among peers. This fits with the ethos of our partnership with Frost & Sullivan. Through our partnership, we aspire for more companies to adopt structured approach towards developing their sustainability strategy. Sustainability 4.0 Awards has emerged as a prominent platform to assist organizations unearths the risks, leverage onto the opportunities, handholds and enables them to benchmark their performance, and be rewarded for their accomplishments. The sustainability framework is based on the four pillars. Purpose, Partnership, Planet, People.

TERI and Frost & Sullivan invite you to be a part of this exciting journey and be part of Sustainability 4.0 Awards 2019 edition. Call for applications are open now. To know more details visit our website:

Reimagining the Role of the Chief Sustainability Officer
Anirban Ghosh, Chief Sustainability officer, Mahindra Group

Sustainability is a relatively new subject and the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer is newer still. The increase in regulations in the climate change space, need for non-financial business disclosures for investor organizations and the intensification of the international dialogue has made many organizations reposition the head of sustainability practice as a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).

The primary role of the CSO varies across organizations. Many safety officers have had their portfolio enhanced with environment and health and the combination has compliance high on the agenda. At some other organizations the energy officer has seen role enhancement and the primary focus is on operational efficiency apart from compliance. A third path has seen the evolution of the role of the CSR head and these organizations have greater focus on the social impact of the business apart from greater action on the EHS front post the creation of the position of CSO.

There are two other facets to the role that the CSO can play that are beyond compliance and beyond the intensification on one aspect of a broader portfolio. The first is the opportunity to shape the answer to the question – how can sustainability be leveraged to build a stronger, more resilient business? This gives the CSO a chance to make a business become greener in operations as well pursue relevant new businesses in the climate action space.

The second is to be an evangelist both within and outside the organization, rallying troops and exhorting action to enable progress on climate action. In this role the CSO makes an impact on enhancing the reputation and brand equity of the organization. Since sustainability is a relatively new area of work, the CSO is often perceived as a thought leader if (s)he has a progressive and pragmatic perspective of policy and action.

A person who understands business, can learn new concepts, has a sense of the technicalities of issues related to sustainability and is able to communicate well can embrace the multiple facets that the role of CSO can address, though there is substantial value in being a technical expert or a developmental expert as well. The profile of the CSO determines which of the four core perspectives – strategy, risk management, operations or communication – sees greater action within and outside the organization.

Whatever the profile of the CSO, there are three broad areas of action the CSO must pursue in greater or lesser degree – make the business greener (more climate friendly), enable entry into new green businesses (e.g. renewable energy, shared mobility, waste to energy, etc.) and enhance the social license to operate.

Sustainability is the greatest global challenge that we face. These are the ‘the best of times' for a CSO. Imagine being in a role that simultaneously enables organizational resilience and makes the world a safer, better place. The present ecosystem offers the CSO a golden opportunity to adopt green technologies, trigger innovation, growth and inclusive development. The planet can only benefit if the new tribe of CSOs are successful in their work.

A Tomorrow unlike Yesterday: Transitions in the Energy Sector in India
Arupendra Nath Mullick, Vice President - TERI CBS reflects on ETC India and its impact

Will our tomorrow mirror our yesterday? Will yesterday's technologies limit the ways in which we produce and use energy? The answers point out to the importance of being ready for this transition and the kind of issues that this transition will throw up. These were amongst the various trends that Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General of TERI and Co-Chair of Energy Transition Commission discussed at a recently held Thought Leadership TERI CBS webinar.

India is faced with a formidable challenge of maintaining rapid and inclusive growth but through clean and sustainable forms of energy. When one juxtaposes this primary objective with India's commitments under the Paris Agreement, the challenges become evident. TERI's analysis suggests that the scale of transformation is very ambitious and would entail a path that has never before been followed by other countries.

According to TERI's estimates, even if all households are connected and provided with adequate electricity and steady penetration of electric vehicles occurs, the current coal based capacity, including now under construction, will be sufficient to meet the demand till 2026. The study also accounts for the retiring of 5.2 GW of coal based generation stations up to 2021–22 and even more, up to 30 GW in the subsequent five years, taking in account the plant age, environmental considerations & obsolescence of technology. Faced with this scenario and to meet the NDC goal of 40% energy through renewables by 2030, both RE generation and storage would be critical. TERI estimates that within 8-10 years, the cost of battery backed renewable power such as solar or wind could be as low as 5 INR/ unit. This, along with stricter environmental regulations and more efficient RE & storage technologies will make phasing out of fossil fuels inevitable.

What role can Indian businesses play to steer and shape this transition?

Progressive Indian businesses have always played a key role in India's transition towards low carbon development. Even today, almost 100 per cent of the investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy are ultimately made by the private sector. Two key determinants of this transition – technology and finance - have space for business intervention. The challenge that remains is how to make the process certain and low risk enough for private sector investments to flow; this requires policy interventions where businesses could share their experiences and recommendations.

Last year the Energy Transition Commission published the global Better Energy Greater Prosperity report establishing how technology has enabled build low carbon economies at low costs while flagging some the really big challenges which we face to a low carbon economy. ETC India is a unique, multi-stakeholder platform to deliberate on and shape the energy sector transition scenarios for India for the years to come. The initiative engages with leading private and public-sector utilities and industrial firms; the banking and finance industry; policy makers, regulators and system operators; and the academic and research community.

We know that most of India's infrastructure is yet to be built. The choices we make – between business–as-usual and low carbon pathways will determine our future.

The Evolving Role of the Chief Sustainability Officer in India
Shankar Venkateswaran, TERI Council for Business Sustainability

Indian companies have always recognised their responsibilities to communities and have acted on them well before CSR was mandated by law. However, environmental issues have tended to be seen from a compliance perspective. This perhaps explains why when Indian companies became aware of the idea of triple bottom-line or sustainability – in the early 2000s, I reckon – the Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) function began to morph into a sustainability function.

To begin with, the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) - or equivalent - in India was about legal environmental compliance. Importantly however, and unlike the CSR function, it was relating to core business and remained “within the fence” but did not usually cover the supply chain. Many sustainability professionals of today come from the EHS space.

The next stage in the evolution was perhaps the advent of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Many Indian companies had been members of the UN Global Compact and reported regularly, anchored by the CSR team. But when Indian companies began to embrace the idea of GRI reporting, this responsibility fell into the hands of the sustainability/EHS team as much of the contents of the report pertained to operations, which the CSR people were unaware of. Thus, coordination of sustainability reporting became an additional role of the CSO.

As Indian companies began to realise that sustainability issues are a source of both risks and opportunities to their current businesses, the CSO's role came closer to what it is now in many companies – that of a strategic thinker, a provider frameworks and guidance to the CEO on building a sustainability vision for the company and embedding this thinking into core business. This also means that the role of the CSO includes ensuring that all functions in a company integrate triple bottom-line thinking.

As companies move from looking to future-proofing their current businesses to determining what their future businesses should be based on, amongst others, sustainability trends, the role of the CSO will get even more strategic. The business strategist and the CSO will, ultimately, blend into one.


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