Q. How do you view sustainability from a business perspective?
A. Sustainability is about giving future generations the ability to prosper. It’s important for everyone — individuals, communities, businesses, nations and the planet itself. The concept emerged from a growing realisation that we are taking away enormous resources that should be preserved for future generations, leaving them in peril.
Sustainability aims at balancing our needs with the needs of the future. That’s led us towards resource efficiency, circularity and renewable resources such as electricity.
Alongside, while the environment covers one part of the sustainability equation, the other part is people. We need ecosystems to be managed better — we also need gender equality, equal opportunity, protection of human rights, quality education and such agenda to ensure social sustainability.
Corporates need to build such sustainability into the heart of their business operations for longterm value creation. Today, businesses are trying to address the impacts of their operations on environment and society and create appropriate governance frameworks. Sustainability plans are thus termed Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programs. Business leaders clearly understand there is only one way to run a business successfully now — by embracing ESG.
Q. Industry focuses on profitability — how can it also build a culture of sustainability?
A. While the idea of sustainability is the same for all, how companies build their own programs can vary, depending on the industry sector and the impact these factors have on their business model.
It’s typical to approach it systematically, first evaluating the environmental and social impacts of business operations, identifying key areas and designing an appropriate governance framework. With this process, most industries identify key action areas, for example, water, packaging waste and circularity (which come under environment), diversity and inclusion and employee wellness (social) and responsible supply chains, compliance and transparent and ethical business (governance).
Companies can then move their ESG needle forward by setting specific targets and action plans, building and bettering their performance in these areas year after year.
Importantly, creating a culture of sustainability involves a more democratic approach where everyone, employees, suppliers, vendors, clients and other stakeholders, become involved. A policy or vision statement, board-level oversight and communication and engagement with stakeholders help to grow that culture. Sustainability then becomes part of a company’s value system, with every decision the company makes seen through this lens.
Q. Are there specific steps your company has taken in this direction?
A. At Infosys, the key environmental aspects we focus on are climate change, energy, water and waste. Climate change is the biggest environmental threat the world faces today — the com mit ment u nder t he Pa ris Agreement to keep global warming below two degrees led to the ultimate climate goal of a net zero planet by 2050.
That means the entire planet needs to transition to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 — however, Infosys is a pioneer in this space.
In 2011, well before the Paris Agreement, Infosys voluntarily committed to becoming net zero. Through our efforts to reduce or remove CO2 emissions from our operations via energy efficiency and renewable energy, Infosys turned net zero in FY2020 — that’s 30 years ahead of the timeline under the Paris Agreement. We’ve also embraced sustainable water management. We’re striving to reduce our freshwater needs by improving demand-side efficiency and finding renewable sources.
Our campuses are designed to harvest rainwater and help replenish groundwater locally. We also recycle 100% of our used water. Similarly, food waste is treated on our campuses in biodigesters, producing biogas. That’s used in our food courts to cook with, displacing LPG – a perfectly integrated waste management process.
Q. Are environmental concerns and corporate bottom lines opposed or aligned?
A. Corporate bottom lines and environmental concerns are inalienably connected and aligned. That is precisely why environmental sustainability, along with the ESG framework, has become a key agenda in boardrooms today.
Ignoring environmental concerns associated with business operations can be detrimental to any industry — it can cause serious supply chain disruptions, local stakeholder ill-will, customer backlash and investor displeasure, a loss of brand reputation and market value. All of this is understood well by business leaders now.
Financial capital is the lifeblood of corporations and ESG-focused funds are expected to have over $50 trillion of assets by 2025, which you can only ignore at your peril. The markets also endorse environmental stewardship, rewarding companies doing steadily well in ESG with consistently better returns. At Infosys, I strongly believe our efforts at ESG over the years have helped us become both a responsible and successful brand.
Views expressed are personal