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March 30, 2012

Sustainability: It's not only just the right thing to do

Posted by Srikantan Moorthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:19 AM

The world is currently grappling with the challenge of having to adapt to rapid change.  With 7 billion people and counting, there is now a lot more to worry about if the planet is to endure. Sustainability is no longer a synonym for a softer form of environmentalism. Companies are seriously asking how to merge responsible behavior with corporate growth and economic development.  Now, customers and shareholders are all trumpeting the same tune - it makes sense to band together to ensure that our resources are renewable and that non-renewables can benefit mankind for as long as possible.  We can argue over the corollaries and sub-definitions, but one thing is true: It is no longer something that is merely "good to do". Sustainability has become a core practice. If a company is thinking about the long term, it needs to be in harmony with society; it must use resources efficiently; it must create jobs; and it must create value for investors, customers and employees in the foreseeable future. Sustainability, therefore, is about consistently producing value for its stakeholders while protecting the environment and being socially responsible. That is the broadest definition of sustainability and something I think we can agree on.

Sustainability has become a business unit within many enterprises, as they realize it is part of any sensible strategy. Going green is not just the right thing to do, but it is a way to make operations run more smoothly, efficiently, and at the same time lower the costs of doing business.  It is as much a business opportunity as it is the right thing to do.

However, there are questions to ponder. How to take care of the short term but then make sure that long-term sustenance is guaranteed? How to make sure that the organization is a good corporate citizen and yet tends to all the stakeholders - from investors through employees to society at large?

I'd say, think of doing the right thing as a business opportunity.  Here are some examples:

•   Members of the board of directors of Infosys serve on global councils and contribute to policy making in corporate governance, education, healthcare, diversity, and the environment.

•  At $100 a ton, the landfill tipping fee can be expensive. But in the past two years, General Mills has turned its solid waste into profits. Take its oat hulls, a Cheerios by-product. The company used to pay to have them hauled off, but realized they could be burned as fuel. Now customers compete to buy the stuff. General Mills is now recycling its solid waste, earning more from that than it spent on getting rid of it.

•  Infosys empowers rural youth by providing them with hands-on experience in Information Technology. The on-campus program initiates rural Indian high school and engineering students into technology practices. It partners with academic institutions to enhance the career prospect of these students while also meeting the burgeoning demand for industry-ready talent at Infosys

•  General Electric's new diesel engines cut fuel consumption by 5 percent and emissions by 40 percent compared with the last generation. A hybrid diesel-electric locomotive runs just like a Toyota Prius, capturing energy from braking and improving mileage.  The energy dissipated in braking a 207-ton engine during the course of a year is enough to power 160 homes for the same period.

Every firm has inefficiencies, from their rote operations to the behavior of the workforce.  On conducting a diligent study, it is not that difficult to find ways to buy in to the notion of sustainability, and at the same time reduce operating costs and impact the bottom line positively.

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