The first Aditya Birla Group Sustainability Conference was held in Mumbai on 15th and 16th September 2015. Mr. Birla was unable to attend due to pressing personal engagements, Mr. Rajiv Dube, Director - Corporate Services, gave Mr. Birla’s speech on his behalf. The Chairman’s speech touched upon the sustainability challenges that industries are facing today, due to external pressures such as legislation, climate change, newer technologies, etc., and why businesses have to learn the skills of mitigation and adaptation.
This was followed by a speech by Mr. Tony Henshaw, Chief Sustainability Officer, describing the ABG Sustainability Model and its three pillars of Responsible Stewardship, Strategic Stakeholder Engagement and Future Proofing, and how far the Group has progressed on its journey towards it. Mr. Henshaw said that although international standards are not mandatory for the Group, meeting these standards would enable us to achieve the Groups’s vision. He stated that all ABG businesses have programmes in place to help them move towards global standards and benchmarks.
Next on the agenda was a lively CEO panel discussion moderated by Mr. Peter Baker, President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The theme of the discussion was ‘Building Resilience into Our Businesses’. The CEOs on the panel were Mr. Arun Kumar Gupta, Chairman and Managing Director, The Shipping Corporation of India Limited; Mr. Nadir B. Godrej, Managing Director, Godrej Industries Limited; Mr. K. K. Maheshwari, Managing Director, Grasim Industries and Sector Head – Fibres and Textiles; and Mr. Satish Pai, Deputy Managing Director and CEO, Hindalco Industries Limited. The key takeaways from this session were: businesses are facing tighter legislation and external expectations of performance, transparency is a requirement, and all expect to see major changes to their business due to global issues such as climate change and the increasing shortage of water.
Following the CEO panel discussion, each of the Group’s businesses were allotted 20 minutes to showcase their best practices and the achievements made to support the 2017 ABG Sustainability vision. This was done through detailed presentations by the Heads of 12 key businesses. The presentations outlined what the business was doing to uphold the three pillars of the ABG Sustainability Model, namely:
Responsible Stewardship — in the areas of building capable systems aligned to international standards (legal and ABG framework compliance, safety, health, water, waste, supply chain, human rights, energy and carbon reduction, and measuring performance).
Strategic Stakeholder Engagement — in the areas of sustainability reporting, horizon scanning, disruptive technologies, transparency, traceability, migration, innovation and crisis management.
Future Proofing — in the areas of scenario planning and building resilience across ABG value chains by integrating the effects of the global megatrends and increasingly fierce externalities into each of their strategic business plans for the future.
The businesses participating in the conference ranged from the oldest in the Group to the newest, from manufacturing to services, from old-timers who have already published a number of Sustainable Development Reports to new members who were planning to bring out their own in the near future, from India-based businesses to global players, and from green businesses to not-so-green ones. Thus, the presentations were eye-openers for the audience because the sustainability challenges that each of them faced were different but their programmes were aligned to the ABG model and best practices.
The evening ended with a fashion show imaginatively put together by the Madura F&L team, showcasing the improving sustainability performance of their clothes through design, process and retail measures. The high energy ‘Design for Good’ show included khadi and natural dyes, zero-detergent and zero water denims, ending with a special collection for the fashion line ‘Troopr’, that re-uses Indian army fatigues and is inspired by the efforts of the military. There could not have been a finer way to wind down and help soak up all the sustainability learnings and insights of an informative and thought-provoking day.
Seekers of insight into business sustainability issues had many of their questions answered on the second day of the conference. The agenda included 12 panel discussions in parallel sessions of three. The panelists included 51 external speakers who were distinguished in their respective fields, and Aditya Birla Group leaders from across the globe. The moderators ensured that there was never a dull moment and that the audiences actively participated in the sessions.
The topics for the four parallel sessions were:
Session 1 -
Occupational Health Management
Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
Session 2 -
Compliance and Performance Reporting
Expanding Business Risk Management
Session 3 -
Building Resilience into our Supply Chains
Financing with Equator Principled Banks and UNPRI Investors
Session 4 -
Product Stewardship and Life Cycle Assessment
Crisis Management and the Incident Command System
The Role of Assurance in Sustainable Businesses
As on the first day, hot beverages, cookies and a mouth-watering buffet kept the mind and body nourished and spirits up. As the days drew to a close, audience members continued their animated exchange of views in a relaxed atmosphere, with many reluctant to leave the premises!
The Aditya Birla Group Sustainability Conference was thus a great success.