Interesting panel discussions and fireside chats dotted Day 2 of Smbhav 22. The one on building responsible businesses of the future and how enterprises can drive sustainability agenda through innovation and collaboration saw Sweta Ramdas, Sustainability Lead, Amazon India Operations in conversation with Dr Vibha Dhawan, Director General at TERI and Abhinav Singh, Director, Amazon India Operations, Customer Fulfilment and Supply Chain and Global Specialty Fulfilment at Amazon on sustainability issues in India. Along with, a special message by CP Gurnani, CEO, Tech Mahindra.
Read below for full discussion:
Sweta Ramdas: Let's dive straight into the questions we have for you today and start with you Dr Vibha. We all know that TERI has been working closely with different players in the ecosystem to mainstream sustainability in their business strategies and practices. What's your view from a macro level on how things are? And what kind of steps do we need to take in the next 5-10 years?
Dr Vibha Dhawan: Thank you so much for your introduction and for asking this important question. We all know that sustainability is the buzzword today, everybody's talking about it and largely because we want to survive on this planet. And the way things are, we are convinced that this is not the sustainable way of either development or consumption the way we are doing it today. The COVID-19 pandemic has served to place India's sustainability issues under a magnifying lens, with the market becoming more sensitive to sustainability concerns, and the observable positive impact on the brand value that environmentally responsible firms enjoy that I think is on the wall. The businesses ignoring sustainability, perhaps are putting their businesses at risk. A medium-term risk assessment for any business requires factoring in sustainability scenarios and implications for those businesses.
Fortunately, Indian businesses are increasingly recognizing the importance of sustainability and therefore, they are ensuring that sustainability gets engraved in their DNA and they work towards achieving sustainability in the long run. And that's also very clear what our Hon’ble Prime Minister committed at Glasgow. If a Prime Minister is giving a sort of promise that we will be net-zero by 2070 and the role of renewables in years to come is going to increase, it shows what is today, companies on their own are doing it, but tomorrow maybe it will become mandatory, it will no longer be voluntary.
The other thing that we must look into is what is happening at the global level as well. ESG which was not even heard of a few years back- that is environmental sustainability, that governance is looking at the company level and those companies their indices are performing much better in the international market as well compared to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. So, it is showing that it is also the consumer who's looking forward to the products which are made by a company which is concentrating more on sustainable development. I'd also like to draw your attention to companies that take care of social performance, they also reflect better on their financial problems and create long term value for the stakeholders.
One good example, which comes from India is Jain Irrigations. You all must have heard that they are leaders in supplying irrigation systems, but you know, they integrated everything. Their first thing was how do we give superior quality planting material, and they are the biggest producers of tissue culture propagated banana plants. Why are they doing better than other companies? Because they just don't sell tissue culture propagated plants, they give the entire package. They tell you what kind of fertilizers to buy, if there is a disease their team will go and work with them and thereafter, they'll buy the produce from those farmers. So, it becomes the entire value chain, where a farmer is willing to invest. Once they become more sensitive towards water utilization by making use of drip irrigation, they are conserving the natural resource- water, which will remain available for those very farmers for a long time to come. The other is fertilizers are given, again I'll say it is an expensive input for agriculture and will only be given when the plant requires it and in the right dose. Farmers can afford this because they know they will get X amount of money once they have produced. Jain irrigation is even exporting those bananas and therefore they are getting the right value for the farmer. So, it's a win-win situation. But then they have taken into consideration the most important stakeholder farmer, how he will get economically benefited, and in a way that's the social responsibility of the company.
The other example, which I would like to bring to your notice is regarding LED bulbs. Again, that's something like if you remember five years back, we were reluctant or rather it will be which light we use maximum, and we'll change that with LED because that was very expensive. But then there was a will from the government and therefore they started subsidizing it. That subsidy was for a very short period, because thereafter it was, savings from large scale production. And today I think they have taken over the entire market. So, if that is what we want to do, we can achieve results. The way we want them.
Your words couldn't be truer Dr Vibha. Thanks for sharing that. Coming back to you Abhinav, a lot has changed over the last two years due to the pandemic. Do you think the pandemic has also changed the approach toward addressing societal shifts and meeting Sustainable Development Goals?
Abhinav Singh: Dr Vibha put it very succinctly when she said that businesses ignoring sustainability are putting their own business at risk. And, that customers care about it and businesses looking to create long term value can't ignore sustainability. At Amazon, we've been committed to sustainability for a while now. In September 2019, we became the first signatory to the climate pledge, through which we committed to meet the goals of the Paris Accord, 10 years ahead of the timeline of 2050. So, by 2040, we aim to become net carbon zero.
We didn't want to do it alone. We can't do it alone. And honestly, it is a collective effort for the planet, which every single company like Dr Vibha quoted, needs to get involved in. And hence we are driving more participation in the climate pledge and today, we have more than 300 companies- 330 to be precise, who have signed on to the climate pledge. These companies like PepsiCo, Procter and Gamble, Verizon, Siemens, and others collectively have upwards of $1.8 trillion in revenues and 7 million employees across 21 countries. So, the impact of the climate pledge is reaching millions and millions of people across the world.
What we intend to do with them is fairly simple from the structure perspective. Measure the greenhouse gas emissions that we have in our operations across these companies, implement decarbonization strategies and neutralize any remaining emissions with additional quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially beneficial changes. This will involve not just adopting technologies which are available and ready in place to adopt, but also inventing and innovating new technologies so that we make them viable for the businesses in the long run. This will run the full gamut of transportation, packaging, the solar, wind, and all other sources of renewable energy. Amazon’s commitment to the climate pledge and working with companies across the world to make it happen is important to us.
Thank you, Abhinav. Very pertinent points across both the environmental and the social lens that Amazon adopts. Moving on to you Dr Vibha. Recently, TERI organized its 21st edition of the World Sustainable Development Summit. What were the key takeaways from the summit that Indian businesses must implement? How can they ensure a sustainable and equitable future by collaborating with global leaders, government stakeholders, and youth to deliberate on the modus operandi required for equitable responses to enhance planetary resilience?
Dr Vibha Dhawan: Thanks, Abhinav. In a way, Amazon is one of the few companies which is reaching practically every Indian, or I'd say many stakeholders across the globe. And therefore, people will value what is being followed by Amazon in years to come. They are also going to investigate whether they are working sustainably. So, like other companies, you will also have to be extra careful, because for you it is every citizen kind of a thing.
And thanks for asking me this question. We are very proud of our annual event called Sustainable Development Summit, which initially started 22 years back. So, this is an important summit in which we try to bring stakeholders from across the globe and when I say stakeholders, I'll say we are very sensitive in terms of participation. There should be participation from women and policymakers, those who are very good academies, policymakers because they are the ones who are going to influence the policy, and youth and financial institutions practically from all the countries. There were over 33 countries that participated in the summit. We also give Sustainability Awards during this summit, so we chose one of the leaders, who had demonstrated sustainability at a very high scale. So, I should say, it is the only track globally at this scale, which is held apart from COP-26 because it is more action-oriented.
We also believe very firmly that the future of climate change and its actions are reliant on youth. Therefore, they should understand and participate in suggesting actions to us. This particular edition and the last year it was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister. I was very happy when he called upon TERI as a premium think tank to continue building knowledge in this discourse. I'm proud to say that this particular summit had followed its tradition in the past. And basically, we came across these three days of discussion. We and our partners across the globe exhibited how investments, actions, partnerships, and policies are shaping the 2030 agenda and vision to achieve the gift of five elixirs. When you say what came out of that summit, I'll say again, that we have already lost much of the precious time. The urgency for climate action should not take a backseat. And while we are witnessing heatwaves, floods, extreme storms, in different parts of the world and pandemics, I won't say it is due to climate change, but somewhere, it has told us, first, we have only one planet to live. And whatever happens in other parts of the world is going to have a direct impact on you. And it's not just the pandemic, we are now also seeing the impact of the Ukraine-USSR war on each one of us.
So, I'll say it, the world is perhaps now coming together and looking at building more resilient economies. We are getting better prepared than before, and perhaps at the end of the pandemic, we are again, seeing that while we are saying the fourth wave, we are also better prepared. We don't have to enter lockdown, and so on.
Although the investments are still not coming in. Because when we talk of the energy transition, we must make major investments, it's still not coming up the way it should. But the overall realization is that there is an urgency to address the climate crisis- and therefore it is financing as well as sharing technology. I'll just like to add one more thing. When we are talking of inclusive growth, it is not just about sharing technologies, it is about developing technologies together. One shoe doesn't fit all and therefore a country with so much diversity like ours, the socio-economic conditions are so different. And at the same time, we are a growing economy, we talk about how much infrastructure is yet to be built. In years to come, perhaps because we will take advantage of what is available in the world, the best technologies- we will be able to adopt them and develop technologies which are suitable for small and medium industries. Say for rural housing, how to make them greener more energy conscious and so on.
India also has an option to develop these technologies and perhaps share them with the rest of the world as well. We are talking these days quite a bit about hydrogen. Now, will it be the best thing to just get it from a few companies and start manufacturing? Again, the hydrogen mission has been announced by the Prime Minister on the last Independence Day and we are working towards that. But over there as a country, it is our responsibility. We are intelligent, hard-working people, and in our country, Indians are very hard working. So, therefore, we should contribute towards developing the hydrogen economy and ensure that it is not just limited to large industries, rather, it is made available to rural India as well in some way or the other. And that is where perhaps, we also need to set up units like the Centre of Excellence- where you train everyone- because technology development is imperative. Beyond that, if hydrogen is produced, we need a distribution channel. We want it to be as safe as possible. We want it to be made available to small and medium industries as well. It's not just the large industries and whatever we do, there will be some problems coming. There will be some teething problems, even maintenance issues. Therefore, you need training and manpower in those disciplines. That is what we need to work towards- if we want the country to move towards net-zero. I'll say much before what has been committed, and we can do it. And if we take everyone along with us, we can do it.
Sweta Ramdas: Absolutely! Thank you for sharing those very important thoughts and underscoring the urgency that's required for climate action. Abhinav, I'll move back to you. Can you talk us through how businesses across the world leverage technology to make their operations more sustainable?
Abhinav Singh: Dr Vibha spoke about adopting existing technologies and developing new ones. I’ll just extend that thought process a little bit further. It starts with intent. An intent to do something about the impact we're having on the climate. And then look around to see that there are technologies that already exist, which will help us significantly shrink the carbon footprint that we have in the world.
Let's talk about operations facilities, climate control, using motion-sensitive lights and technologies to audit closed doors. All of these technologies exist today, using these technologies and adopting them in a meaningful way so that we can reduce the carbon footprint of those buildings is important, and we are doing it at Amazon. We are retrofitting buildings; we are doing energy consumption studies to determine the footprint of every single building and see how it is that we can make the energy use intensity lower with every single passing month and year. We measure it at a building and a network level and so forth. But the major point is that there is a technology that exists in some cases- it is about adopting it.
And then of course there would be invention from an energy use perspective. How do we make solar more affordable? How do we make the wind energy in such a way that you're able to consume it throughout the year and different parts of the world which do not have that kind of bent throughout the year? So, there will be some invention that is needed. But more than that intent in the adoption is important.
If we talk about transportation, Dr Vibha spoke about hydrogen as a fuel. That is certainly the fuel of the future from what we know now. In today's scenario, we spoke about 10,000 EVs in India by 2025. We made a commitment to 100,000 EVs in global markets by 2030 and we are moving towards that goal. Similarly, using fuels which are more energy efficient- we use green fuels in our Amazon air business. Also moving to rail, which is from a carbon emission perspective, a better option. In India, we partnered with the Indian railways and a significant percentage of our customer shipments today travel by rail. That, again, is an example of adoption rather than invention.
If you think about packaging, it's about using machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimize packet size so that you're not wasting packaging when it reaches the customer. Understanding which shipments can go without packaging because they will not get damaged from our fulfilment centres on the way to the customer. And we're investing significantly in this and doing primary research ourselves. We have packaging test labs in quite a few of our fulfilment centres where we test new packaging designs and invent them with manufacturers based out of India. We use paper tapes, not plastic tapes to seal our packages. That's something which has a significant reduction from a climate perspective and requires a lot of invention. Just to give you a sense, the adhesiveness to make sure that it's as effective as a plastic tape has to be 25 times that of the plastic paper- that required investment and invention. But moving to a more optimized packaging size and design would be the adoption of existing technology like machine learning.
Finally, from an invention perspective, we are investing. We have a Climate Pledge Fund, which is $2 billion, and we are investing in companies across the world which are committed to making a change and dent in the climate crisis. In India, one of the examples is ION energy. It's an Indian startup, which develops software to improve the life and performance of lithium-ion batteries, which will help power electric vehicles and make them more efficient.
If I were to draw a virtuous cycle, I'd make it a four-step cycle starting with intent, then adoption, then invention, and finally encouragement for startups across India- which ties in well with the government's Make in India initiative, and empowering SMBs. So that would be my humble recommendation to companies all around the world- develop an intent, declare that intent, adapt existing technologies, invent on your own and with partners, and finally encourage smaller, small and medium enterprises as they'd like to invest on your behalf.
Sweta Ramdas: Thank you. I think technology is indeed a great enabler, and nothing more than the need of the hour to address our climate crisis. So, we are nearing the end of our discussion today. But before we close, I would like to know, Dr Vibha and Abhinav, how your organization is looking to create a long-term positive impact on both our society and the planet? If you can both share, your comments would be greatly appreciated.
Dr Vibha Dhawan: Well, if you ask me to describe TERI in two words, I'll say we work on sustainable development. And TERI thinks, much before the issue becomes an issue. The thinking behind setting up TERI was that it will work on the problems that mankind is going to face in the future. And I'm talking of way back in 74 when renewable energy was not even thought of, and that's the time we started working on renewables, biomass-based gasification etc. In 1997, when India completed 50 years of its independence, we launched a study, which was green India 2047. I'm very happy to report that it was supported by the corporate world. Everyone was talking about development, which is good. But then what have we lost in this path of development? And what is going to be the scenario if we do business as usual? Therefore, it was that let's look beyond today. And not just put those problems. We brought out another study, which was ‘Disha’, like, what should you be doing? So, we are early voices and all these subjects, and we continue doing that.
Everyone talks about air pollution; I'm just giving pure examples. But then, what is the source of that pollution? So, let's look into it. And let's also try to correlate air pollution with health impacts. Let's not look into any of these things in isolation, if you have to invest, look into that investment, just not for that sector look into that investment, say on public health. So how do you correlate that? So as an institute, it's a knowledge-based not for profit research organization, and we are working across the board. As an institute also it is not that we look into any project in isolation, we look into the total impact. We also look into whether you have to adopt new technologies, which might perhaps sound to be expensive today, but then how they are going to benefit society as a whole.
Just giving you one example from agriculture. If you talk of precision agriculture, it will be okay sprinkler, and subsoil irrigation, these are expensive, but what are you saving a resource which you can't generate? Water! TERI is working on nanoparticles and nano-fertilizers. It is not just saving for the farmer; it is the huge subsidy that is offered on Urea. So that gets reduced. Your transportation costs because it is not even 100 of the volume that you have to take to the farmer. So, your entire transportation emissions, they get reduced. And now there are technologies, that use drones to spray etc- what are the expenses associated with this?
Therefore, as an institute, we try to provide the ultimate solution to a particular problem. And Abhinav just mentioned Amazon and steps taken by them for green buildings. So, TERI also has a Gray Hat council, which is committed to ranking buildings, five-star, four-star- and it's not just the design of the building, now, we are getting into the next phase of it and that is sustainable building material. We also have a university, we have youngsters. We also have a program for the youth, we go to school children, and college children and sensitize them about their carbon footprint and what they can do for the society. So, we are working at different levels and with different kinds of organizations. We are researching, and consultancy, into implementation- not just in India, but also in neighboring countries. So, it's a very vibrant organization that is committed to the cause that we need- or rather, we need to survive. So, if humans must survive on this planet, they cannot ignore all the issues related to climate change, and so on.
Sweta Ramdas: Thank you, Dr Vibha. Thank you for continuing to be the knowledge hub for our nation. Abhinav over to you any last comments from you?
Abhinav Singh: At Amazon, we realize and take seriously a responsibility towards the climate, we recognize that success and scale bring broad responsibility and that our actions have an impact much larger than our small world. It has an impact on the ecosystem that we inhabit. We take that responsibility very seriously. We spoke about initiatives we have taken within our supply chain and operations. Taking a cue from what Dr Vibha was talking about education and empowerment. We also do a lot of work in educating and empowering our associates, the communities in which we operate, and the importance of sustainability.
We celebrate Earth Day in a very meaningful way across our operations across the world. We also had an initiative where we switched off our lights across our operating buildings in India for an hour, and that saved a significant amount of energy through the small initiatives but go a long way in building a culture of appreciating sustainability and educating the youth of tomorrow.
In terms of specific steps, we continue to march down the path of building more sustainable buildings, making our transportation greener through electrification and experimenting with cleaner fields, working with railways and other organizations, which would be a much greener way of transportation. Inventing when it comes to packaging. This invention is not just from the perspective of machine learning and AI to optimize packaging sizes, but also inventing with local manufacturers, the kind of packages that we develop so that we can encourage local manufacturing and as well as make our packages more sustainable and reach the customer safely. And finally focusing on a circular economy, which is to create more value than we consume, by recycling a lot more than we consume as an organization. And you know about the climate pledge where we are encouraging companies all over the world to come to join us in this journey of accelerating the world's move towards a net-zero carbon environment.
Sweta Ramdas: Thank you, Abhinav. Thank you for continuing to champion the cause for Amazon and for creating an impact on our climate. With that, we have come to the end of this panel discussion. I truly believe organizations can work together and commit to running their businesses most efficiently to reduce their impact on the environment. I surely hope today's discussion and innovative ideas shared on the floor will serve as an inspiration to others to work on massive-scale efforts in adopting responsible practices for achieving a greener world. I would like to thank all the panellists for joining us today.
Special message from CP Gurnani, CEO, of Tech Mahindra
Thank you for inviting me to Amazon Smbhav. I think all of us do realize that the environmental risk, especially the devastating effects of climate change have become real. They have become significant and are no longer just a physical upheaval, they could create economic impact, and they could have a consequence on the business, countries, and the society. Natural catastrophes and extreme weather events pose a threat to operations continuity, social stability, and the failure of critical infrastructure. If you put all this into a mathematical equation, it translates into a financial crisis.
I think there is an opportunity for all of us to come together and try to reverse the impact. We can commit to preserving our planet's natural resources. We all can take a pledge to adopt a net-zero strategy. We need to plant more trees, pool our cars, or reduce the energy consumption, and adopt different alternate energies to counter climate change. So, there is an opportunity for corporates to avoid this crisis.
From my perspective at Tech Mahindra- being a people's organization in 95 countries with over 150,000 people- I can only say that my biggest achievement in life is that my young employees came back, and they said they want to be energy efficient, they want to use solar energy, they want to use wind energy, they want to harness every drop of water. So, it is not about Tech Mahindra it is about the associates at Tech Mahindra. I request that as long as we treat this problem as a humanitarian issue, we realize that the people in the company are the catalysts.
In Delhi when my children were growing up, I remember the menace used to burst crackers during Diwali. Till my children came back and said they are not going to spend that money on crackers, can they get the money, and I think that is the day at least in Delhi, bursting of crackers and the pollution reduced dramatically. And I think the more we can bring people into green and clean initiatives, the more successful we will be and that is a reason why Tech Mahindra has been successful.
We have put solar energy management platforms and digital energy efficiency platforms, we have looked at drone-based solutions, we have looked and advised our customers on sustainable manufacturing, we have looked at Waste optimization, and we even went ahead and told our clients that when you migrate to cloud, you save a minimum of 27% energy. I can only say what my colleagues started has now become a movement and it has got a life of its own.
I think all of us first need to be educated. We need to be educated that we need to make our homes sustainable, we need to make our workplaces sustainable. We must take into account that this is a problem which a policymaker can help you solve, but he will not be the one who will execute it. He can give you the concession to buy an electric vehicle, but he cannot buy an electric vehicle for you. So, sustainability management must come from within, and it will start with education. Similarly digital technologies, new-age solutions, intelligent sensors, AI-based platforms, measuring carbon credit, and building those platforms, which are more transparent and accurate, because sustainability is an immediate issue, it's also a long-term issue. and we need to be persistent.
It is not only about what you do inside your house, but also what you do outside your house. It's not only what you do in your corporate, but how you measure the impact on the ecosystem. It's no longer about a bar of soap, it is also about the chemicals, it is also about not about just a paper being printed on both sides, it is about how many forests you have cut. This is where I think the industry must evolve its codes, strong governance, clear policy directions on renewable energy, and single-use plastics or look at every player in the value chain. So, the only way it will work is not only we become disciplined, we make the whole classroom disciplined.
I think it is the end-to-end traceability. If I can develop sophisticated systems at Tech Mahindra which take into account an end-to-end traceability. I think it will work out. Every level of a gold ranking, every Excellence Award in sustainability. I think it just adds to our confidence that it is not only about Tech Mahindra, our duty is beyond Tech Mahindra. We are a company with a purpose. Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Group are looking at creating a long-term positive impact both on our society and the planet. We are meeting people and explaining to them that sustainability and profitability are interlinked. That next-gen technology also means that you use lesser power. I gave the example of cloud migration, but it is true in everything that we do in next-gen technologies whether it is the bulbs or whether it is the way you manage the waste, zero waste to landfill practices. You know, I again repeat for Tech Mahindra, it started by the associates when they made sustainability personal. The personal initiative of a few associated Tech Mahindra empowered Tech Mahindra. Today, Tech Mahindra will make it personal for the world. And we will continue a journey and our passion reflects in every conversation we have with society.