Before environmental sustainability became an element of consideration for capitalists; it was, for the longest time looked upon as an image-building tool alone. Keeping in mind the triple bottom line definition of sustainability, companies took up CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) driven by ‘paying-back-to-society’ notion or for branding and marketing purposes. However, as we saw in the article on sustainability risk, sustainability considerations impact the profitability of corporations in one way or the other and how imperative it has become to factor it in while formulating policies or taking business decisions. As we stand today, for one reason or the other sustainability is getting more attention than ever by the corporate world. Let us now see what does the sustainability corporate profile of some of the largest corporate houses looks like.
IBM started the ‘Big Green’ campaign in 2007, a US$1 billion-a-year service initiative aimed at building and redesigning data centers that consume less energy. It also started the Smarter Planet’ initiative in 2009, which seeks to mobilize resources and engage forward-thinking leaders in business, government and civil society around the world to achieve economic growth, near-term efficiency, sustainable development and societal progress. In order to capitalize on the ongoing market trends such as urbanisation and energy efficiency, IBM also built the Green Sigma industry coalition. It acknowledged that even a $100 billion revenue firm does not have all the capabilities to meet the sustainability market opportunity.
JPMorgan Chase, a global bank with 2011 revenues of about a hundred billion dollar and over 250,000 employees, has acted to incorporate environmental and social risk management into its corporate lending and project finance. To begin with, JPMorgan Chase signed up to the Equator Principles, a credit risk framework developed by the World Bank for assessing and managing environmental and social risks in project finance transactions with a total capital cost of $10 million or more. This is just one of the risk management frameworks applied by the bank which has created ‘enhanced risk assessment’ policies for projects which impact or involve primary tropical moist forests, critical habitats, plantations and palm oil.
GE had taken up its sustainability responsibility quite seriously about a decade back by launching the ‘ecoMagination’ initiative, whereby the endeavour was to develop energy efficient products as well transform the existing grids into smarter grids to bring carbon-intensity to abyssal levels. Ecomagination offerings range from energy efficient smart appliances for the home to high-performance engines for industry, and GE investments in projects and technology to generate and save energy span everything from solar power systems to using cow manure to produce biofuel. The initiative lays special focus on innovation. It already spent about $5 billlion as of 2009 and set aside another $10 billion to be spent by 2015 on research and development. Aside from achieving the sustainable pursuits, the corporation makes claims of significant incremental revenue owing to the initiative. If counted separately, 2009 ecomagination revenues would equal that of a Fortune 130 company and ecomagination revenue growth equals almost two times the company average.
On a similar note, Siemens, the $76 billion revenue industrial giant had its revenue growing at a faster rate with the enhanced offering that well incorporated sustainability. The Siemens Board stimulated its growth by carefully capitalizing on opportunities in the areas of electrification of urban transport and minimum building energy efficiency standards. In the financial year 2009-10, Siemens reported $31 billion of sales for its ‘Environmental Portfolio’.
A classic example of a corporation that paid due heed to the sustainability needs and correctly anticipated the associated, further to which adopted an appropriate strategy is PepsiCo, the $58 billion revenue food and beverages producer. It invested ahead of the time to manage sustainability risks associated with speculated water scarcity. As a business critical raw material, water impacts input costs, competitiveness, and the ability to maintain production. Other than mitigating the production risk due to water scarcity, any move unto conservation would lead to community social welfare, and consequently improved brand perception. In 2009 PepsiCo announced 15 global goals and commitments focused on the sustainable use of water, land, energy and packaging. The firm aims to reduce water usage intensity by 20% between 2006 and 2015 across all manufacturing operations.
In 2010, global food and beverages firm Unilever launched a sustainability initiative called the ‘Unilever Sustainable Living Plan’ (USLP) focused on growth for employees, suppliers, customers, investors and farmers. With the belief that consumers and retailers want more sustainable brands, and sustainability fuels innovation and that it will help Unilever grow new markets, USLP intends to save significant amount of money by reducing energy, packaging and waste
Even Indian corporations are not far behind in the investing in innovation and contributing to a sustainable growth. ITC Limited strengthened its commitment to green technologies by introducing ‘ozone-treated elemental chlorine free’ bleaching technology for the first time in India. As a result, it opened windows to an entire new range of top green products and solutions such as the environmentally friendly multi-purpose paper that is less polluting than its traditional counterpart.
While companies do take sustainability initiatives themselves, there are times when the financers or investors create pressure on the firm. When Vedanta sought to expand the scale of its alumina mining and refining operations in India, the firm was required by its primary lender, Standard Chartered Bank, to invest in an independent assessment of sustainability risks. Subsequently, the corporation was recommended to upgrade its corporate governance of sustainability firm-wide and implement much stronger policies and reporting.
While corporations are making extra efforts to integrate sustainability with their businesses, there are corporation who have lost out on economic grow owing to negligence of environmental sustainability. The requirement made by Standard Chartered followed a nine-month study by NGO Survival International into Vedanta’s human rights record in India, as well as a rejection of a Vedanta application to expand a Bauxite mine in Niyamgiri, Orissa, by the Ministry of Environment and Forest of India on ground of threat to the environmental sustainability of the region.
It is now evident that all forces are leading to more and ever more inclusion of sustainability in the businesses which now seems to be seating more deeply in the value chain of the companies.