Building Sustainable Businesses fit for a Sustainable World
The fifth edition of the ABG Sustainable Business Conference covered a wide array of topics, ranging from modern innovations and future-proofing to building sustainable brands and managing crisis
In the backdrop of the 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg’s thunderous speech at UN’s Climate Action Summit, the fifth Aditya Birla Group (ABG) Sustainable Business Conference got underway in Mumbai on 24th September 2019. Her impassioned speech lent an introspective mood to proceedings at the conference. It made the leaders present at the conference reflect on the progress being made by the corporate world, especially global conglomerates like ABG, towards the fulfilment of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This year’s conference theme was titled Building Sustainable Businesses. A sustainable business is one that is capable of continuing to operate successfully within the tougher legal standard of laws and regulations and stricter enforcements driven by information technology (IT) needed in a sustainable world. The two-day event had a comprehensive agenda, covering insights from industry experts and CEOs to interactive panel discussions among industry authorities, and a debate between ABG’s future leaders for bringing scientific knowledge to our strategy discussions, provide learning opportunities to stay ahead of the curve, align ourselves with international best practices and truly understand the multifaceted challenges that we as businesses will face tomorrow. This year, the conference saw a record presence of over 350 attendees, drawn from senior & junior line management together with key functional experts from all parts of the Group, candidly discussing how to be future ready.
Devendra Katiyar, Head of Safety, kick-started the conference, with the ‘Safety Moment’ where he stressed on the importance of ABG’s “Zero Harm” as a target to integrate safety consciousness at a level of belief when we work safe not because we are asked to but because we believe and want to. He briefly spoke about how leaders can influence the adoption of a safety culture in the organisation. A minute’s silence was observed for Group employees, across various businesses, who lost their lives while at work, in the last financial year and so far. Mr Katiyar also launched the One SAFE ABG communications campaign, as an action to reiterate Mr Birla’s memo to Business Heads on 26th August 2019 with an endeavour to work towards a step change in safety performance. The Campaign in the coming months would involve us to work with speed, and seamlessly taking actions to identify and put barriers for various hazards in place for potential category 4 &5 incidents starting with ‘Working at Height’.
Shrijeet Mishra, Chief Innovation Officer and Head Group Services, ABMCPL, then delivered the opening address in which he highlighted the need to move toward creating stakeholder value rather than purely shareholder value. Mr Mishra said, “Our goal is to think about how future changes are going to impact businesses, how do we reduce the side-effects our businesses have towards these areas and plan a strategy for continuing success in a sustainable world.”
Subsequently, the Chairman, Kumar Mangalam Birla addressed the conference through a video message. The Chairman congratulated Hindalco for entering the Dow Jones Sustainability Emerging Markets Index 2019 and commended Grasim and UltraTech for their considerable improvement in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index score. Commenting on ABG’s current strategy, he said, “Our systematic approach towards creating sustainable businesses not only encompasses legal compliance and conformance to ABG's Sustainable Business Framework (ABG SBF) but also adopts best practices from across the world.” Looking at the future, he also announced the ABG Sustainable Business Mission and Targets.
Next on the dais was Tony Henshaw, Chief Sustainability Officer, who shared the Group's progress in the last financial year. Elaborating on the Group’s accomplishments, he said, "ABG SBF has accomplished two more certifications (certified by Lloyd's Register), International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 45001, and the Responsible Care (RC) 14001."
Mr Henshaw also explained how various units had contributed to implementing the ABG SBF, to meet international standards. Three units were recognised for their contribution: Epoxy Division – Grasim Industries Limited, Vilayat (for leading occupational health practice), Epoxy Division – Aditya Birla Chemicals, Thailand (for completing maximum number of self-assessment questionnaires towards implementation of the ABG SBF) , and Indo-Thai Synthetics, Thailand (for demonstrating a good level of conformance)).
Next up was a stimulating panel discussion on ‘Financing Sustainable Businesses’ moderated by Dr Ajit Ranade – Group Executive President, Corporate Economics Cell, ABMCPL. The session deliberated on the expectations of national and international investors from businesses during the project financing phase. The panellists included Priya Subbaraman - Chief Regulatory Officer, National Stock Exchange of India Limited, Ramesh Ramanathan - Manager, Manufacturing and Chemicals, Asia, International Finance Corporation, and Roger Charles - Executive Director, Environmental and Social Risk Management, Standard Chartered Bank. The panel discussed the various sustainability risks, including water availability, carbon footprint, human rights, fatalities, etc., that need to be evaluated for funding entities. The panel was unanimous in the understanding that the definition of sustainability today has to include people and planet, along with profits.
The post-lunch session saw a CEO panel discussion on 'Why building a sustainable business is necessary to have a sustainable world?’, moderated by Thomas Varghese – Business Director, Textiles, OS & AC, ABG. The panellists included Masood Mallick - Joint Managing Director & Executive Director, Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd., Chris Koci - Business Director, Business Assurance - Head of Global Certification, Lloyd's Register, Ashish Dikshit – CEO, ABFRL, and Sunil Kulwal – CEO - Indo Gulf Fertilisers. The panel discussed the reasons why it is critical to find environment-friendly alternatives in each sphere of business activity, especially the usage of fuel. This was necessary also in the wake of an impending carbon tax. Mr Varghese remarked, “Let us be prepared for a carbon tax and prime our businesses to find alternatives to fossil fuels.”
Post the CEO panel discussion; three guest speakers presented their views about the various types of risks faced by companies when building sustainable businesses. Shubha Sekhar – Director Human Rights – Eurasia and North Africa, The Coca-Cola India Pvt. Ltd. spoke about human rights risks while Ulka Kelkar - Director - Climate Policy, WRI India, talked about carbon risk, and Anshuman - Associate Director - Water Resources and Forestry Division, TERI, presented on water risk. The first day of the conference ended with a debate involving six future leaders of ABG on ‘Carbon versus Water – The next big business imperative for a sustainable ABG’, moderated by Mr Varghese. Two teams, consisting of three people each, from diverse functions, presented compelling arguments in favour of the ‘bigger’ issue. After an audience poll through the ABG Sustainable Business app, team Water was declared the winner.
The second day of the conference was divided into two tracks with simultaneous sessions through the day.
Track I began with ‘Sustainable Manufacturing’, which provided a roadmap in the age of digitisation and Industry 4.0, and its impact on employability in developing economies like India, South East Asia and Africa. Atul Jaywant – Group Executive President - Group IT, moderated the session, and the panel included Dr Kuldip Singh Sangwan - Professor, BITS Pilani; Aldo Sollazzo - Founder, Noumena; and Dr Subhash Pandey - Honorary Mentor, Invest India.
‘Sustainable Supply Chain’ was the next panel discussion that highlighted the latest innovations for resilience in supply chain and responsible sourcing. Moderated by Anna Warrington – Director, Forum for the Future, the session explained how block chain technology is enabling transparency and traceability in supply chains, connecting consumers directly to producers, and the significance of certifications within the supply chain to strengthen brand reputation. On the panel were Sundeep Singh - Director - Supply Chain & Operations Sustainability, Accenture; Dr Amar Dhokia - Innovation Specialist, Lloyd's Register; and Karen Ho - Head - Corporate and Community Sustainability, WWF, Hong Kong.
Ms Warrington said, “Aspects like carbon, water, and human rights not just focus on our operations but also apply to our supply chain. It is tough to be a sustainable, future-proof business if you don’t have a supply chain.”
Post lunch, Prasad Modak - Executive President, Environmental Management Centre LLP, moderated a session on ‘Enhancing Circular Economy’. The panellists included Ulhas Parlikar - Ex-Director - Geocycle Business, ACC Limited & advisor to Thinkstep Solutions India Pvt. Ltd.; Mukul Agrawal - Head Sustainability & Strategic Projects, Grasim Industries Ltd. (Pulp & Fibre); and Hiten Bheda – Chairman, All India Plastics Manufacturers Association (AIPMA). The discussion presented ideas and practical expertise on how organisations can transition from a linear-based business model to a circular-economy one. Commenting on circularity in the textile value chain, Mr Agrawal said, “Circular fashion involves three steps – Recycle or reuse everything, keep products and materials in use, and use sustainable raw materials.”
The last session of the day for the first track was on ‘Building Sustainable Brands’, moderated by Prakash Nedungadi - Head - Consumer Insight and Brand Development, ABG. On the panel were Manohar Samuel - Business Development Head, Grasim Industries Ltd. (Pulp & Fibre); Susmita Panda - Design Thinking - CIBD, ABG; Pierre Labat - Commercial Head - Auto Business, Novelis; and Dr Waldemar Pfoertsch, Professor for International Business from Pforzheim University of Germany. Discussions revolved around understanding customers in the sustainability context, recreating and redelivering value to them using these insights and the ways in which brands can capture value. Mr Nedungadi outlined the role of Group businesses in one line, “Sustainability is having more talk than action. Our ABG Re-Imagine Customer Centricity framework tools help create and capture value from our sustainability investments.”
‘Upcoming Environmental Regulations’ was the first session of Track II. A J Rao, Member, Expert Appraisal Committee, Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC); gave the audience a sneak peek of what they could expect from the proposed Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2019, and the National Resource Efficiency Policy, 2019. He explained the salient features of both draft legislations and how they could affect the different Group businesses, which enabled the audience to enhance their compliance preparedness and be future ready.
This was followed by an insightful session by Dr Vidya Tikoo, Group Sustainability Cell, on why human rights matter to business. She also explained the Group’s Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) Tool, a simple methodology to identify the potential for human rights abuses by an ABG site and its contractor’s activities. As Dr Tikoo explained, “Human rights violations could happen within our own industry, the supply chain or value chain.”
The third talk also dealt with EHS software that the Group has been using for sustainability data management. The interactive session – jointly conducted by Asim Jana and Harshal Limdi of the Group Sustainability Cell – included details of the new self-assessment process in ENABLON’s Assurance module.
The next two sessions post lunch dealt with risks: how to be prepared for them and manage the outcome. Anna Warrington, Director, Forum for the Future, led the first one where she explained the link between future proofing, Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) and strategic resilience. Through a team activity, she also demonstrated Impact Cards – a tool developed by her team to identify the effects that the world may have on a business (external factors) and vice versa (externalities).
Taking the concept of risk a step ahead was an eye-opening chat on crisis management by Derek Taylor and Kannan Krishnan of the Control Risk Group. They spoke about why reputation matters to a business and how to attach a cost to a crisis that it could face. They also elaborated on the 3Rs of managing a crisis: Readiness, Response and Recovery.
The final session of the day was on how to investigate an incident using TapRooT®- Root Cause Analysis. Through a series of interesting activities, Ansuman Ghosh from the Group Sustainability Cell and Kausikisaran Misra from Utkal Hindalco took the participants through the world-class technique to investigate major accidents, equipment failure and environmental damage.