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July 24, 2013

How Sustainability Becomes a Strategy

Posted by Ankush Patel (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:00 AM

We need a Plan B because, as the former president of Costa Rica, José María Figueres, says, "there is no Planet B."

Those of you who have been fortunate to travel to Costa Rica have probably come away impressed that the country's population is working towards the tenets of sustainability. When an entire nation can proclaim its appreciation for la pura vida (being full of life), we shouldn't be making excuses for our own communities and companies not doing the same.

President Figueres has joined a group of prominent political and business leaders, including Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson, to form a global initiative called Plan B. Branson is already known for his company's Carbon War Room, which challenges his fellow entrepreneurs to begin putting their commitment to sustainability into practice.

Plan B's premise is rather simple: What's good for the environment is also good for the bottom line. Think of risk mitigation alone. Energy prices are projected to increase by 11 percent over the next decade. Insurance rates rose 10 percent in the first quarter of FY 2012. And in 2009, the corporate world spent more than $50 billion on workers' compensation claims.

The very essence of Plan B, according to Branson, is that it's not a vanity project. He is establishing a framework by which companies can reduce the carbon emissions of their various operations and put sustainable programs to work. His actions, along with those of the entire Plan B team, are a validation of the strategic importance of sustainability in the corporate world.

I head up the Sustainability Unit at Infosys, so you can imagine the kind of satisfaction I get when I hear about Plan B's advocacy for companies to make top-to-bottom overhauls. Plan B is about a lot more than just advocacy, however. It's about getting companies to move on their commitments, which isn't always easy. Depending on the company and industry, executives must cross many hurdles before they drive execution and ultimately change in the culture of their organization. If there is one single challenge that clients share with me time and again, it's about how they can bridge the gap between their vision and delivering on that vision with measurable results.

At Infosys we think that every company needs 'Sustainability Transformation'. The journey begins with understanding where a company is on the maturity curve and creating a roadmap for transformation. Then we work with enterprises to assess, plan, launch and execute initiatives that everyone can embrace. We take three issues - resource intensity, the social contract, and green innovation - and place them under a framework that combines technology with strategy.

A great example of resource intensity is Ricoh, the maker of computer printers and office copiers. After we set our private cloud strategy and emissions optimization program in place, Infosys helped them reduce their carbon dioxide output by nearly 17,000 tons. That's the equivalent of taking 3,350 cars off the road. Besides CO2, Ricoh reduced costs by 30 percent.

As part of our Digital Energy & Sustainability Solutions Campaign (DESSC) membership Infosys demonstrated its commitment to 'Social Contracts' in collaborating with the US-based non-profit organization Chesapeake Conservancy (CC) to invest in building a Stakeholder Engagement Portal. This portal will enable CC to raise awareness about the use of technology in precision conservation, a method of targeted "smart" conservation approaches to gain insights on environmental impacts from human activities in watersheds and identify the highest priorities for land conservation and ecosystem restoration.

My favorite example of green innovation is helping one of the world's leading electronics companies with product compliance by designing the foundation for full material disclosure. The solution lets them address regulatory compliance requirements so that product lines are not only free of as many toxic materials as possible, but they can launch products on time.

There's no doubt about it. Sustainable companies reduce costs and discover new revenue streams. They launch across-the-board operational efficiency initiatives and burnish their image and reputation. Ultimately a company's brand has the most enduring impact on customer loyalty and long-term growth.

By making the best-in-class solutions from Infosys part of any ecologically sensitive transformation, a company can achieve tangible results from the very outset. Consider business processes such as creating new product & packaging standards, the mapping of regulations and compliance reporting, and the management and elimination of waste - complex and time-consuming tasks without the right technology.

Companies don't transform themselves overnight. In some cases it's a five-year journey. But you have to begin by establishing a framework and sticking to it. Engaging diverse stakeholders from Boards and CEOs to employees, regulators and suppliers is the key to galvanizing action throughout the company's ecosystem. Governance will help you keep the plan on track and a data management strategy will give you the visibility you need to measure performance. If your enterprise isn't actively engaged in changing itself, then it's going to have no other option but to play catch-up at some point down the line. Investors know all too well when a company is scrambling to keep up with its peers.

By embracing 'Sustainability Transformation', you can demonstrate that it is more than just corporate bluster. 'Sustainability Transformation' becomes a set of strategic programs that deliver your vision. Your actions will send a clear message to your employees and the market that your organization views sustainability as an opportunity to align the program with its core values and strategy. Over the long term, all large global companies need to put this kind of transformation into effect. Because there is no Planet B.

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