The concept of corporate responsibility has evolved considerably over the past two decades, now encompassing such foundational ideas as the Triple Bottom Line, the Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI), and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)-based investing. More than $40 trillion of assets under management worldwide are based on ESG criteria, and analysis shows that companies that score high on ESG criteria outperform the market.
It’s increasingly apparent that ESG criteria are important in evaluating not only a company’s governance and leadership, but also its longevity. These trends reflect what survey after survey have shown: that growing numbers of stakeholders—employees and senior leaders, as well as customers and partners—want to work for or deal with sustainable companies.
Yet when it comes to sustainability initiatives, one thing that’s often forgotten is the power of collaboration. Any company that has succeeded in its sustainability efforts knows that these efforts take an unwavering commitment from the top. Many companies, Wipro included, have managed to embed the commitment to sustainability in their culture and value system. But this alone is insufficient. To sustain their sustainability aims, companies must look beyond themselves to enlist others in what is truly a global endeavor.
Sustainability is a Group—and Global—Effort
In July 2020, Wipro joined forces with nine of the world’s largest companies, including Unilever, A.P. Moller–Maersk, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, and the Environmental Defense Fund, to found Transform to Net Zero. By sharing best practices and knowledge gained from our collective experimentation and experience, this cross-industry coalition aims to inspire companies to action and help them advance in their efforts toward achieving net-zero emissions.
One best practice we’ve gained from our long track record in sustainability is to think outside our four walls. For many companies, internal operations actually represent a fraction of their total emissions. At Wipro, for instance, nearly 75% of our carbon footprint comes from outside our own operations. Herein lies the challenge: companies can only achieve carbon reduction across their value chain by looking at the full lifecycle of their products and services. Transforming to net zero is quite literally a group effort.
Addressing the value chain footprint is a complex business, more so today because of the interconnectedness of the global economy. Conversations have moved beyond “offsetting” negative impacts and towards “insetting”—investing in initiatives in your own value chain. With this approach, companies need to honestly assess their total footprint, upstream as well as downstream, and consider what changes they might make in how they design products. That includes designing for refillability and recyclability.
Whether launching a sustainability program or expanding an existing one, the following four takeaways—all of which have borne fruit for our company—can easily be applied by others.
- Take a commonsense approach. Start with a focused and practical mindset. This helps organizations make sense of it all, prioritize their actions, and act sooner rather than later. For example, we noticed during the past five years that an increasing number of employees were using their personal vehicles to commute to work. We scaled up our carpooling program, and by the end of 2019, close to 60,000 employees were carpooling. Working with local public transportation agencies, we also helped a sizable percentage of our employees at two of our large campuses switch from commuting in their own cars to using public transportation. In addition, we’ve scaled up our adoption of electric vehicles as part of our EV100 commitment.
- Keep an ear to the ground. Companies can learn a lot by listening to and observing developments outside their organization and industry. Our conversations with clients have enriched our understanding of their sustainability issues and opportunities, suggesting ways we could realign our solutions to meet their requirements. Practices triggered by COVID-19 are another example. Working from home and reducing corporate travel, for example, can inform companies’ future approach, inspiring the wider adoption of (and improvements in) remote engagements.
- Remember that sustainability is multi-dimensional. Promoting biodiversity is an important goal in Wipro’s environmental initiatives—and one that also contributes to the health and well-being of our people and communities. For instance, our campus biodiversity programs incorporate the planting of multiple plant and tree species. At two of our campuses, the ambient temperature has fallen, air quality has improved, and water retention in the soil has been strengthened, thus helping to mitigate flood risk. While measuring results is important, don’t obsess over hitting numeric targets. As our own experience shows, many less-quantifiable actions can yield important intangible benefits.
- Codify sustainability efforts to promote company-wide action and support. Wipro’s Corporate Sustainability Office, now in its 10th year, manages the company’s carbon-reduction plan, seeds and curates projects for internal teams, and engages with a wider set of stakeholders. It also produces an environmental P&L—an accounting of the company’s carbon footprint, freshwater usage, pollution and other impacts on nature across our value chain. Programs like this can increase enterprise-wide sustainability awareness and adoption.
Competition may be hard-wired into the business mindset, but sustainability depends on cooperation and collaboration within and across industries. The practices of every company, regardless of industry sector, have a bearing on the well-being of people as well as of the earth. Much as we live, work, and play on the same planet, we must think and act collaboratively to build and sustain sustainability programs for the long term.