“Can Silicon Valley repeat itself in Sustainability?” asked @ XLRI-WWF Sustainability conference

XLRI School of Business and Human Resources in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF India) held a conferernce on 21st November,  titled “Sustainability: The Outlook of Business and Government” of which I was a part of. The main takeway after walking out of it was that the dialogue on sustainability has started and some of the industry leaders are taking the lead in showing the path for other Indian companies to follow in devising their respective sustainable business strategies.

Before diving into what the industry had to say, I’d like to commend an institute like XLRI to drive forward this sustainaility agenda in tandem with the business community. XLRI may not be the most glamorous or most sought after B-school in India, but it has certainly taken this step in the right direction as it’s just a matter of time before sustainability becomes a business imperative and XLRI with its CRUX or the “Consulting and  Research Undertaking at XLRI” has positioned itself right in the middle of the future.

The Indian growth story is that it contains 17% of the world’s population living in only 2.4% of the landmass with 4% of fresh water reserves and 1% of forest resources. Making sustainability work in Indian context requires a very much different mindset that calls for complete re-modeling of business and delivery models. They must together create shareholder value with the primary aim of creating societal value.  This is not an easy task – economic growth along with looking after the environment and the communities that businesses exist in.  

ITC, BEE, KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Citibank, Wipro, SustainAbility and WWF were present to demonstrate their business case for sustainability – how companies from different sectors are making headaways on the sustainability front.

The consulting firms showed how they have formed seperate Climate Change teams in their firms as their clients demand for their services.

ITC and Wipro have not only increased their topline but also added to their bottomline as a result of embedding environmentally friendly practices in their organizations. Anand Nayak of ITC said that his company is now carbon and water positive, meaning they give more than they take from the earth.

Ravi Singh of WWF pressed on the urgent need for businesses, government and NGO’s working together.

Dr Shermon from KPMG talked about the role of HR in building a sustainable paradigm within an organization.

Satish Kumar from Schnieder Electric referred to the role of energy management in creating a sustainable management systems  and developing Building Energy benchmarks. The skills gap in the Indian construction industry is one of the widest in the world and this needs to be filled up soon, as the mindset shifts from fixing problems to solving them.

Rajib Debnath from Deloitte said that we as consultants need to get down to the “nuts n bolts” of the business model and its time to stop talking and start doing something.

Indra Guha from E&Y showed the many companies that have reaped immense benefits in the sustainability space.

Shankar Venkateswaran from SustainAbility talked about balancing profits with sustainability and believes along with BMW that F1racing is the most unsustainable business and that is why we don’t see BMW in the scene.

PS Narayan of Wipro  alluded to the need for a systems thinking and ended with throwing an open question to the audience – Can Silicon Valley repeat itself in Sustainability?

The business leaders talked about all the right things – how India needs to devise its policies so that it can grow more sustainably. The one common theme that binded the speakers was that sustainability is now here to stay in India and only those companies will succeed who make themselves future-ready. As more of such conferences take place, awareness in the industry about sustainability will become a commonplace. Fundamentals are in place. Indian values and culture is inherently in alignment with sustainable principles. But India is diverse, huge and a poor country. Silicon Valley can and is repeating itself in sustainability –  no doubt. The inherent question is “Can India and others repeat a Silicon Valley in Sustainability?

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