World Earth Day – How adoption of sustainable practices by companies can rebuild nature

New Delhi

Every year on April 22nd, Earth Day is observed by more than a billion people across the globe. The day is dedicated towards environmental awareness, engagement, and action.  The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. This year the theme for Earth Day 2020 is ‘Climate Action,’ which is a personal reflection for mankind on the steps being taken to make Earth a better place for the future generations.

Today, sustainability isn’t just the province of non-profit advocacy groups. It’s also a time for companies to embrace the role that they can play in creating a healthier planet. In order to achieve an environmentally sustainable future, companies need to adopt a collaborative approach, which involves collaboration between their business goals, employees and consumers towards environment protection.

With advancements in technology, businesses are in a unique position to make a significant difference to the physical, structural and cultural environment we work in today.  From eliminating single-use plastic to recycling waste, the last decade has witnessed increased efforts from multinational companies and start-ups towards environment conservation and sustainability practices they have been aiming to adopt at their workplace.

According to a recent UN Global Compact – Accenture study, 94% of Indian CEOs reckon that sustainability issues are key to their long-term business success. Yet only 44% think that businesses are doing enough to effectively deal with global sustainability issues. The discrepancy between the intent and effort of the companies is primarily due to the lack of proven best practices that would enable companies to “do better with less.”

The role of sustainability in business success has become imperative today. Establishing a sustainable workplace culture can not only reduce the carbon footprint of the company, which can attract customers externally, but can also lead to increased talent retention for the companies. Organizations which have a clear and a well-managed approach to their environmental and social impacts are better positioned to shape their future and to benefit from it.

Currently, there are several ways for companies to integrate sustainability into their core business models and pave a sustainable path –

Analysing and measuring your carbon footprint – To reduce the impact on the environment and better support our climate, companies should get a clear understanding of their current energy usage and waste management. Wastage can be significantly reduced by moving to green energy contracts and determining the excess electricity usage in the company. 

Reimagining the supply chains – Several studies have found that 90% of companies impact on the environment comes from supply chains. These studies have highlighted that companies which are betting big on sustainability have improved processes, higher growth rates and increased brand value. Hence, digitization of supply chains can play a critical role in promoting the sustainability measures further in an organization. Implementation of new age technologies such as AI, machine learning and Augmented Reality for digitization can not only lead to better worker engagement and increased productivity but can also reduce the overall carbon emissions, bringing an overall change in society and the environment. Additionally, companies can also look at adopting other best practices such as setting sustainability or carbon footprint goals for the key suppliers to meet in order to be included on preferred vendor lists and rewarding them, thereby encouraging them to bet on renewable energies.

Encouraging Conscious Consumerism – In recent years, increased awareness on environment protection has also brought a shift in consumer behaviour which has given rise to conscious consumerism. Today, a majority of millennial consumers are using, choosing and loving products from businesses that make it easier for them to support the environment. The current Indian generation is more environmentally conscious and is constantly looking for viable, environment-friendly alternatives. This has indeed provided Indian companies an opportunity to not only align their business goals with environment conservation efforts but also adopt strategies which can shape good practices among the consumers.

A change in consumer mindset has made it critical for companies to unlock the full potential of their research teams and budgets in the development of green products, which are not only ecologically beneficial, but also keep the consumer at the center. For instance, water purifier manufacturers are working on developing products that facilitate lesser water wastage. Technologies such as Green RO which use Advance Recovery Technology (ART) have the potential to cut down on water wastage during filtration. Such technologies not only ensure good health and well-being of the consumers but make them more environmentally aware.

Additionally, energy efficiency is a crucial tactic in the fight against climate change which involves reuse, proper resource utilization, efficient design, good maintenance and change in lifestyle that is oriented towards sustainability. Companies looking to reduce the weight of unnecessary expenditures are usually pretty quick to adopt energy efficiency practices and introduce innovative products. And those efforts aren’t just good for their bottom line. They’re good for our environment, too. While companies have been making use of disruptive technologies towards developing eco-friendly products, however, shaping good habits among their consumers can be a more cost-effective method which will further leave a wider impact on the environment. Companies can also actively offer to take back used items for recycling when delivering new or replacement products. This is increasingly done by consumer electronics brands, and increasingly mandated by laws in some countries.

Collaboration and not competition – The world’s problems are far too complex for any one person or company to solve. In order to provide groundbreaking solutions that can restore balance in the environment, companies today need to collaborate with their competitors to benefit the environment at scale. Working with peers can often lead to innovations that can help an entire industry reduce its footprint and can encourage policymakers and regulators to take action advocating for greener policies. These collaborations can also bring behavioural shifts in the society and organizations which can help address climate change at a lower cost. Simple actions such as reducing travel for meetings by using collaboration tools can significantly benefit the environment. We, the people of the earth, have been given the wondrous gift of life and a place to live and enjoy it. Even though recent approaches towards sustainability have resulted in incremental improvements, there still remains a question whether we can learn to live peaceably with each other within the ultimate parameters set by nature before we destroy the earth? At numerous occasions and through several incidents in our history, we have been warned by nature that “Whatsoever you sow, so shall you reap.” Hence, it has become necessary for human beings to measure the environmental impact before initiating any developmental project. When companies address their own impacts and work within their industry to innovate, real change happens.

Let’s make Earth Day every day, together.

Parag Kulkarni. Managing Director, A.O. Smith India