ESG or environmental, social and governance credentials, currently a global marker of good corporate citizenship and resilience, will soon become a growth driver for corporations, according to Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group. The three-day virtual conference powered by BizLabs NXT based on the theme 'ESG Road to Resilience' began on 28 September.
The Covid-19 pandemic, the Chairman said, had given rise to a paradoxical world — connected yet disjointed, global and local, vast and small, safe and risky — which provided opportunities to accelerate progress on many dimensions, especially sustainability. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of delivering financial results aligned with ESG performance, he said.
Mr. Birla spoke about how ABG businesses have equipped themselves through relevant tools, credible information, and systems and processes, to achieve the Group's ambitious vision to become the leading Indian conglomerate in sustainable business practices across its global operations. The Group will now focus on ways to accelerate the mainstreaming of ESG in executive and operational decision-making. The 2020s, Mr. Birla reiterated, is 'the decade of action'.
"The ESG priorities and imperatives may vary from business to business and market to market. And yet, our actions, every day and everywhere, must recognise the guardrails and principles that underpin our Group's ethos," he said.
The ESG-led sustainability actions based on transparency and trust, responsible resource utilisation, zero harm, sustainability as an integral part of all value and, collaboration and synergy for disproportionate gains, will guide the Group's strategies and actions. He expressed confidence that the Group can achieve global industry leadership and thrive in the new world through the cross-functional confluence of sustainability, innovation, technology, and customer-centricity.
Mr. Birla concluded by exuding confidence that the conference will arm ABG companies with the requisite insights to energise people to focus on demonstrating global leadership.
Curtains go up
Earlier, the conference commenced with the opening remarks by Ms. Deeksha Vats, Chief Sustainability Officer, Aditya Birla Group. Explaining the rationale behind the theme, she said, the ESG path will help the Group recover quickly from business shocks like the one posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Expressing pride at the recognition garnered by ABG for its contribution to the UN's SDG goals through the ESG framework, Ms. Vats said, "The corporate who plays sustainability well will be the winners tomorrow, and the measure of success will be to create surplus not only for the organisation but for every stakeholder." She also explained the Group's four-dimensional approach towards sustainability and concluded by exhorting all to identify ways to work as one ABG to achieve the Group's ESG goals. "The corporate who plays sustainability well will be the winners tomorrow, and the measure of success will be to create surplus not only for the organisation but for every stakeholder," Ms. Vats added.
The next session saw Mr. Shrijeet Mishra, Chief Innovation Officer & Head Group Services; Dr. Santrupt Misra, Director, Group Human Resources, Group Director, Birla Carbon, and Director, Chemicals, Fertilisers & Insulators Business; and Mr. K. K. Maheshwari, Chairman, Business Review Council (Manufacturing); Mentor, Trading Business, Aditya Birla Group, articulate on the three aspects of ESG.
Mr. Mishra explained the 'E' aspect and explained how corporates could create value by embedding the environmental ethos in their business strategy. He stressed that enmeshing environmentally sustainable practices and technology into product creation can provide corporates with a competitive advantage. "Sustainability for value creation and not just compliance will create value and provide a competitive advantage," he said.
Dr. Misra elaborated on the S aspect and said each individual in ABG has the ability, privilege, and opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to improve human living. Dr. Misra expressed the need for ABG employees to handle seemingly challenging relationships with social stakeholders, such as the government, communities residing near the plants, contract, staff etc., with empathy to minimise conflicts. "The way we connect with people will be central to our ability to mitigate the restlessness and conflict in society," he said.
Mr. Maheshwari spoke about the 'G' aspect by stating that organisations at the forefront of ESG come out winners in the long run as stakeholders respect their endeavours. He cited examples of ABG companies which had created benchmarks through good governance practices. "We need to collaborate with the world's best to scale up our systems & processes and expedite action, to convert the challenges posed by intense scrutiny from the world, into opportunities," he added.
Vision and strategy for sustainable business success
A free-wheeling Keynote Conversation between Mr. Peter Bakker, President & CEO, WBCSD, and Mr. Nitin Paranjpe, Chief Operating Officer, Unilever, followed next. The duo dwelled on making businesses resilient by building sustainability. Mr. Paranjape provided an overview of Unilever's journey to reduce its environmental footprint, product-wise. Today, Unilever stood vindicated as its approach is being considered the need of the day, he said. "A company that is not investing in sustainability has no future at all," he said.
Doing business while protecting the global commons
A CEO panel discussion involving Mr. Nitin Prasad, Chairman, Shell Group of Companies, India; Mr. Dilip Gaur, Managing Director, Grasim Industries Ltd.; Mr. R. Mukundan, Managing Director and CEO, Tata Chemicals Ltd.; Mr. Satish Pai, Managing Director, Hindalco Industries Ltd.; followed. The session moderated by Dr. Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group; saw the leaders talk about keeping businesses sustainable in today's uncertain and complex environment. Mr. Prasad explained how Shell was committed to a net-zero carbon status by 2050. "There may be severe global implications if we do not deal with carbon emissions over the next decade," he said.
Mr. Gaur, spoke about Grasim introducing circularity in its textile operations. Through the examples of Liva Reviva, he explained how the corporate had introduced sustainable fibres in the market. "The world has to replace its takemake- use model with a take-make-use-regenerate one."
Mr. Mukundan spoke about the Tata companies water management efforts especially through 'Water for Life' and 'Water for Livelihood' approaches to become net water positive. "The customers are the key as they ensure the 'pull'," he said.
Mr. Pai said that a zero-harm approach needs to include various stakeholders, such as employees, contractors, customers, vendors, etc. "Safety is more than a priority; it's a fundamental value," he said.
The inaugural day session was brought to an end by a fireside chat about unlocking investment for the transition to a net-zero future. The chat, moderated by Mr. Ajay Srinivasan, Chief Executive Officer, Aditya Birla Capital Ltd., saw Mr. Hector Gomez Ang, Regional Director-South Asia, International Finance Corporation, and Mr. Neeraj Seth, Managing Director and Head of Asian Credit, BlackRock, throwing light on the efforts by investment companies to mitigate climate change and the steps initiated to accelerate the shift towards a net-zero future.
Setting the context for the chat, Mr. Ajay said, environment, social and governance (ESG) criteria which had gained considerable traction, and it "was being used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments." He listed out how ESG consciousness had led to the growth of investment funds and assets under management (AUM) chosen according to the ESG criteria. He said signatories to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment had grown exponentially from 63, 15 years ago to over four thousand signatories and AUM over USD110 trillion today. The India story was no less different. The top 10 ESG funds in India have AUMs of about USD1.5 billion as of 31 March 2021.
Mr. Ang and Mr. Seth talked about what it meant to be ESG compliant and how investing firms could catalyse action by enterprises.
"The pressure from shareholders was an opportunity to accelerate action on climate finance business," Mr. Ang said, adding "FIIs have an important role in sustaining the shift towards enterprises becoming more environmental compliant operations."
Echoing the sentiments, Mr. Seth described the compliance of ESG conscious approach as a tectonic shift and said it was no more an either-or situation for businesses. "Businesses had no choice but to accelerate the journey towards an environmentally sustainable way," he said while pointing out that the climate related investments offered tremendous opportunities for FIIs.
While underscoring the fact that enterprises need to cover more ground to combat climate change, he said the transition to a net-zero future will only happen through incremental efforts by enterprises. "Businesses will need to balance growth imperatives with their climate change mitigation efforts," he added.
Day 2 of the three-day conference witnessed engaging discussions on sustainability.
The Day 2 of the Aditya Birla Group Sustainability Conference was a power-packed event like the inaugural day. The day's proceedings were divided into four broad themes of decarbonisation, circularity, sustainable water management and zero harm which are at the core of the Group's efforts to build a climate conducive business. Discussion on these themes ran as four parallel tracks.
The session began with Ms. Deeksha Vats, Chief Sustainability Officer, ABG, presenting a recap of Day 1 and an introduction to the four parallel tracks.
Track 01 – Decarbonisation
Decarbonisation or reducing global greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2) is required to keep global warming within acceptable levels to limit the increase of global temperature. Track 01 of Day 2 revolved around decarbonisation and ways to reduce it.
The opening session saw Dr. Arunabha Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, deliver the keynote address while Mr. K.C. Jhanwar, Managing Director, UltraTech Cement Ltd., gave the business keynote address.
It was followed by a panel discussion on 'Why Zero?' The panellists included Dr. Ritu Mathur, Director, Integrated Assessments & Modelling, The Energy and Resources Institute; Mr. Thomas Guillot, CEO, Global Cement & Concrete Association; Ms. Pernelle Nunez, Deputy Secretary General, International Aluminium Institute; Ms. Maria Mendiluce, CEO, We Mean Business; and Ms. Hatuna Pokrovskaia-Verkuyl, Senior ESG Business Development Manager, S&P Global Market Intelligence. Mr. Rajat Gupta, Senior Partner at Mckinsey & Company, moderated the panel discussion.
A session focusing on technology issues maturity and adaptability followed and saw thematic presentations by Mr. Chetan Joshi, Gas Power Technology Manager – Asia, Black & Veatch; Mr. Milind V. Baride, Vice President India Region Head, Tecnimont; Mr. P.V. Balaramakrishna, General Manager, L&T Hydrocarbon Engineering Ltd; and Mr. Zakir Khan, Lead – Business Development, Wartsila India. Mr. Anupam Vasudev, Group Head – Innovation, ABG, helmed the deliberations.
The Aditya Birla Group STRIDE Award presentation marked the end of day's proceedings. It was moderated by Mr. Raju Goyal, Chief Technical Officer, UltraTech Cement Limited and Dr. Arvind Bodhankar, Chief Sustainability Officer, UltraTech Cement Limited.
The finalists were selected by a jury comprising Mr. Girish Sethi, Senior Director, The Energy and Resources Institute; Prof. Rangan Banerjee, Department of Science and Engineering, IIT Bombay; and Mr. Homi N Daruwalla, Senior Fellow, Indian Green Building Council. In the above 15000 TPA category, Hindalco's Hirakud Smelter was declared the winner while PT Elegant Textiles, Indonesia won in the below 15000 TPA category.
Track 02 – Circularity
The circular economy agenda is fundamentally intertwined with the zero-carbon agenda stemming from the realisation that earth is a finite system constrained by planetary boundaries. Embedding circularity can create substantial socio-economic, environmental, and business benefits. ABG has achieved significant success and serves as a benchmark.
Dr. Naresh Tyagi, Chief Sustainability Officer, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited, set the context of the Circularity Track and presented his introductory remarks. He said that sustainable development requires disruptive and transformational changes as the Group continues implementing ESG governance across businesses.
Mr. Ashish Dikshit, Managing Director – Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited; and Ms. Katrin Ley, Managing Director, Fashion4Good, kick-started the afternoon's proceedings by deliberating on the role played by innovation and technology in introducing circularity in the fashion and apparel business.
A panel discussion on how collaboration and innovation could accelerate circularity, featured next. The discussion moderated by Mr. Vineet Rai, Founder and Chairman, Aavishkaar Group; included Mr. H.K. Agarwal, Business Head and Head of Pulp & Fibre Manufacturing, ABG; Mr. Mark White, Executive Director – Alumobility; Mr. Michael Hahne, Vice President, Novelis; and Ms. Magali Anderson, Chief Sustainability and Innovation Officer, Holcim.
Thematic presentations on various aspects and ways to embed circularity followed. Mr. Brendan Edgerton, Director, Circular Economy – World Business Council for Sustainable Development, spoke about measurement of circularity through a circular transition indicator. It was followed by Mr. Venkat Kotamaraju, Director, Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF) on the circular business model for the textile value chain. A presentation on GRI standards for a circular economy by Dr. Aditi Haldar, Director – South Asia, Global Reporting Initiative, (GRI), marked the end of the session.
Ms. Vaishali Surawar, Head Sustainability, Hindalco Industries, summed up the day's proceedings and marked the end of the Day 2 of the conference.
Track 03 – Sustainable Water Management
Climate change can threaten ecosystems and environments that protect vital water resources, further limiting access to them. Protecting the environment for the coming generations begins with more effective water management today. And this criticality underpinned the discussions and thematic presentations of Track 03 on sustainable water management.
Mr. Kalyan Ram Madabhushi, Chief Operating Officer, Pulp &Fibre business, ABG, provided the keynote address. Discussion and deliberations will give new ideas and drive new thoughts for the Group to integrate into its business strategies, he said. "We need to collectively think and reflect on how to make a difference," Mr Madabhushi said.
A panel discussion on sustainable water management followed. Moderated by Mr. Tom Williams, Director Nature Action and Water, WBCSD, the discussion included Mr. Sanjiv Paul, Vice President Safety, Health & Sustainability, Tata Steel, Mr. Sanjib Bezbaroa, Executive Vice President, Corporate EHS & Sustainability, ITC Ltd; and Mr. Surojit Bose, Associate Vice President, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd. The trio gave insights into the water management efforts of their respective companies.
Thematic presentations on adaptation to climate change and building water resilience followed the discussion.
Dr. Mekala Krishnan, Partner, McKinsey & Company; Dr. Sreenath Dixit, Principal Scientist and Cluster Leader, ICRISAT Development Centre; and Dr. Sandhya Rao, Founder Director, Integrated Natural Resource Management; presented their perspectives on the subject. More informative thematic presentations followed, which provided information on proven models for emulation on the theme of sustainable water management.
Mr. Mukul Agrawal, Chief Sustainability Officer, Birla Cellulose, spoke about water savings through eco-enhanced viscose fibres, and Birla Cellulose's water initiatives; Mr. Aniket Jalgaonkar, Principal Consultant, ERM, threw light on overall value chain initiatives for water stewardship and in the end, Mr. Abhishek Bansal, Head Sustainability, Arvind Mills Ltd., spoke about replacing fresh water for industrial use by treated sewage water.
The unit level best practices on sustainable water management contest – an eagerly awaited event – followed next.
The jury comprised Ms. Nutan Zarapkar, Director, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), RTI International India; Mr. Anupam Vasudev, Group Head, Innovation, Aditya Birla Group; and Mr. Shirish Thakre, Senior Vice President – Fibre& Textile, Aditya Birla Science & Technology Co Pvt Ltd. As many as 28 case studies, representing the transformational work done by ABG Group companies in water management, were presented. Star Cement, UAE; Pulp & Fibre, Birla Cellulose, Nagda; and Hindalco's Renukoot plant were adjudged the winners. The teams from the three plants delivered short presentations on sustainable water management at the plants.
Track 04 – Zero Harm
Zero harm shows that a company is truly committed to providing a completely safe environment for workers, contractors, and visitors. Zero harm, the theme for Track 04, is at the core of the Aditya Birla Group's sustainability initiatives.
The session began with a keynote conversation between Mr. Jayant V Dhobley, Business Head and Chief Executive Officer, Global Chemicals, Fashion Yarn & Insulators, ABG and Dr. Krista S Geller, President GellerAC4P, Inc on the human dynamics of achieving an injury-free workplace.
A panel discussion on the influence and building of an outstanding safety culture followed. The panellists included Mr. John Loudermilk, CEO, Birla Carbon; Mr. ER Raj Narayanan, Business Head & Chief Manufacturing Officer, UltraTech Cement Ltd.; and Mr Ewan Alexander, CEO, Analex. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Randy Waskul, Global Director, HSE, Birla Carbon.
Mr. Shankar Rajagopalan, ESG Head, Granules India Ltd helmed the next panel discussion on integrated operational risk management. The panellists included Corrie Pitzer, CEO, Safemap International; Mr. Srinivasan Rambhadran, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, DuPont Sustainable Solutions; and Mr. Peter T Susca, Principal, OpX Safety. They deliberated on how enterprises could manage risks.
The panel discussion was followed by a round table interaction on strategy for SIF Prevention Program.
Moderated by Mr. Mark Tichenor, Vice President, Global EHS & Sustainability, Novelis Inc., it saw Mr. Antonio Tadeu Nardocci, Senior Vice President, Novelis; Mr. Bibhu Mishra, President & Head Manufacturing Center of Excellence, Hindalco; and Ms. Natasha Porter, Chief Customer Officer, Benchmark ESG, Gensuite, talking about strategies to achieve zero harm.
Day 3 of the three-day conference was dedicated to sustainable solutions developed by innovators and corporations.
Where Day 2 was a power-packed day with stimulating insights, the final day of the three-day Sustain-ability Conference 2021 – Powered by BizLabs NXT witnessed discussions and presentations on innovations that could accelerate sustainability by enterprises such as Aditya Birla Group.
Track 01 – Decarbonisation
Speakers delivered thematic presentations on process innovations to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, and productively utilise renewable energy.
Mr. Deepak Mahurkar, Partner, PwC, spoke on the commercial viability of Hydrogen fuel cells at scale for stationary usage in the future. Mr. Mahesh Kolli, President and Joint MD, Greenko, presented ideas on making Renewable Energy Storage cost-effective in a coal-intensive economy. Prof. Colin Hills, Founder Director of Carbon8, and professor at University of Greenwich, UK, provided information on mineralisation through the use of carbon dioxide.
Later, Mr. E.R. Raj Narayanan, Business Head & Chief Manufacturing Officer, UltraTech Cement Ltd., and Mr. Colin Martin, Global Sales Director, Crowley Carbon, spoke about digital innovations to promote sustainable manufacturing operations.
Track 02 – Circularity
Dr. Naresh Tyagi, Chief Sustainability Officer, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited, got the ball rolling by presenting the welcome address and setting the context of the Circularity Track.
Various ABG companies and businesses presented best practices implemented at the respective units to promote circularity. The initiatives included development of sustainable carbonaceous material, named 'ContinuaTM' by Birla Carbon; Liva Reviva fibre by Birla Cellulose; the 'Recyclamine' project to recycle epoxy composites in a closed-loop manner by Aditya Birla Chemicals Thailand, and Hindalco Industries's red mud utilisation initiative.
These internal best practices were judged by a three-member jury comprising Mr. Ulhas Parlikar, Global Consultant- Waste Management, Circular Economy, Policy Advocacy, AFR & Co-processing; Ms. Sunita Bangard, Group Head – Consumer Insights & Brand Development, Aditya Birla Group; and Mr. Vilas Tathavadkar, Senior Vice President- Metals & Mining, Aditya Birla Science & Technology Co. Pvt. Ltd. The jury spoke highly about the level of innovation and enterprise shown by Group companies.
Ms. Vaishali Surawar, Head, Sustainability, Hindalco Industries, brought the proceedings to a close by exhorting attendees to innovate fearlessly to create circular businesses. Sustainable water management
Pollution of existing water reserves and increasing water shortage is one of the biggest environmental problems that the world faces. It poses grave risk to businesses too. It can lead to production disruptions, cause price fluctuations or increase energy costs. The criticality of the subject saw it being deliberated on Day 3 also.
The session began with thematic presentations on process innovations for sustainable water management. Ms. Tina Arrowood, Principal Research Scientist, Dupont India, spoke about innovations for wastewater reuse and improving water efficiency. She threw light on how circularity was being used to refine water solutions by the company. Mr. Bertrand Garnier, Technology Leader, Applications and Solutions Technology, SUEZ, threw light on management of organic contaminants and the importance of adopting a holistic approach.
The second session of the track saw more presentations on the subject. Mr. David Amir, CEO, BioPetroClean, spoke about ETP digitisation using BI which is going to be more relevant with current level of ETP operations. Mr. Devesh Bharadwaj, CEO, Pani Energy, spoke about digital twin for RO & ZLD operations. Mr. Asim Bhalerao, CEO, Fluid Robotics, threw light on solutions on leak detection.
The thematic presentation by Mr. Bhalerao marked the end of the Track 03.
Track 04 – Zero Harm
Mr. Devendra Katiyar, Head- Safety, Aditya Birla Group, anchored the presentation of the Safety Innovation Awards, 2021. The winners were selected after an objective evaluation by a three-member jury panel comprising Mr. Raja Debnath, Independent Advisor; Dr. O.B. Krishna, Ex-Senior Executive- Tata Steel Ltd., Visiting Professor- IIT Kharagpur; and Mr. Pankaj Raj, Group Chief Data Analytics Officer, Aditya Birla Group.
A common plenary— Spark Tank: Green Start-ups – saw green start-ups being showcased. Mr. Shrenik Khasgiwala, Group Head Innovation Fund, Aditya Birla Group, anchored the session. The valedictory address on collective prosperity: Hard choices Today – Imperatives for tomorrow by Mr. Sonam Wangchuk, Founding Director – Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL), Ladakh. The session was moderated by Mr. Shrijeet Mishra, Chief Innovation Officer & Head Group Services, Aditya Birla Group; and Mr. Sandeep Gurumurthi, Group Head, Communication & Brand, Aditya Birla Group.
Mr. Wangchuk presented a strong case for humanity to collectively take steps while transitioning to a sustainable future. Discussing the role of people in driving massive change, he said, "Governments in a democracy respond to moods of the people. They do not take steps unless there is receptiveness among the people. So, movement among the people makes the Government make progressive policies."
Ms. Deeksha Vats, Chief Sustainability Officer, Aditya Birla Group, brought the curtains down on the Sixth Sustainability Conference, which INSPIRED the attendees to INTERACT and INNOVATE to create a sustainable world.