Corporate Climate Responsibility, In Earnest

03/09/2017 05:03 pm ET

The term “corporate social responsibility” has always been troubling for me. Such “responsibility” seems too often manifested as feeble lip service to notions of the greater good; act(s) practiced out of obligation rather than from any true sense of altruism. Often the contradictions of such CSR initiatives can be staggering, as in oil companies pledging funds to wetlands conservancy in Louisiana while continuing to drill just off-shore, or major cable compaies who administer grants in support of children’s literacy. In relation to the environmental and cognitive impacts of these aforementioned companies, such CSR initiatives serve as meagre offsets to their daily mission and operations. Any “corporate social responsibility” efforts seeking to escape such contradiction must be holistic, that is— the practices of the corporation must be in harmony with the aims of its CSR initiatives

There is no more pressing social issue now than the warming of our planet, and there is no act more “socially responsible” than being mindful of, and working in opposition to, that warming. For the majority of corporations, the bottom line asserts itself as far more important than mitigating the effects of climate change, thus necessitating the creation of financial incentives for them to do as much. That a concern for the continuance of humanity, well-proven under threat, must be incentivized at all is deeply troubling. That fact aside, any corporation today laying claim to social responsibility not actively involved in efforts of sustainability has no business doing so.

As most corporations respond to climate change at the behest of external regulations or incentives, the best do so of their own accord. That the 17.8 billion multinational Mahindra group based in Mumbai, India—a burgeoning industrial country with few environmental regulations—should be on the forefront of green consciousness suggests that there exists at least one genuine exhibition of corporate social responsibility in practice today.

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Some months ago, I wrote another piece on this platform touching on corporate responsibility and the environment. In that article, I noted Mahindra managing director Anand Mahindra’s pledge before the United Nations in April 2016 to commit upwards of 350 million towards establishing a green revenue portfolio for his company. The Mahindra Group has since exceeded Mr. Mahindra’s pledge, devoting more than $393 million towards low carbon, climate friendly product lines and corporate practices. Such a commitment is in line with the Mahindra Group’s “RISE” credo—a philosophy geared toward enacting positive change in the local and global community of which they are a part. Additionally, the Mahindra Group believes that sustainability will be a defining driver for their company’s long-term profitability. A deeper look at Mahindra’s green approach reveals how even the largest companies can innovate, create value, and build competitive advantage while acting in better service to the planet on which they operate.

The Mahindra Group’s diverse approach to climate stewardship stems, in part, from the breadth of their operations. Active in 19 different sectors from Aerospace and Information Technology to Financial Services and Automotive, the Mahindra group has a broad sphere by which to effect climate action.

On the mobility front, Mahindra Electric focuses on the future of transportation. In deploying their detailed “5C strategy” (clean, convenient, connected, clever, cost-effective). Mahindra Electric has managed to deliver sustainable transportation solutions to customers across the world. Those who think Tesla or Toyota when EVs are mentioned will be surprised to learn that Mahindra Electric today boasts one of the world’s largest deployed fleets of electric cars, with Mahindra vehicles in 24 countries having now driven more than 200 million kilometers emission free. For a company who first made its name and profits largely through the manufacturing of rugged diesel-powered SUVs in India to so willingly explore the EV sector evidences the financial and ethical viability of alternative transportation.

With regard to housing and real estate, Mahindra Lifespaces has been at the forefront of transforming urban landscapes by creating sustainable communities. A residential developments group that provides housing and communities for Mahindra employees—Lifespaces voluntarily became India’s first true “Green Homes” developer, and is currently among the only real estate operations to receive Platinum-rated pre-certification from the Indian Green Building Council. The company’s residential and commercial footprint includes 13.5 million square feet of completed projects and 7.80 million square feet of ongoing or forthcoming projects. All of the Mahindra Lifespaces properties optimize solar power and cross-ventilation leading to lower energy consumption and a reduction of materials expended on insulation. Mahindra’s “World City” in Jaipur was the first Asian development project to recieve recognintion from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global network of large cities taking action to address climate change.

The success of the efforts above can, in part, be attributed to the clean technology arm of the Mahindra Group, Susten. Driven by and committed to providing state-of-the-art climate sustainability solutions, Mahindra Susten offers diversified services within the renewable energy sector, including utility scale and rooftop solar panels, solar DG hybrid solutions, solar car charging stations, telecom tower solarization, and solar PV O&M and analytics. Perhaps the leading player in Indian solar power, Mahindra Susten has over 556 MWp commissioned to date with 450 under current execution.

As Mahindra makes the world’s number 1 best-selling tractor by volume, agricultural sustainability remains one of the company’s predominant interests. In support of this, Mahindra has invested heavily in micro irrigation technologies. The Mahindra Group’s EPC branch has committed itself to provide solutions to rural farmers in modern scientific water management through uniquely tailored drip irrigation systems and agronomical support in order to achieve higher crop yields and superior produce quality. As India is a water-stressed nation with with an agrarian economy highly dependent on water availability, sustainable irrigation is of vital importance. Conscious of this, Mahindra EPC worked in conjunction with leading agricultural scientists to derive methods, like drip irrigation, to opitimize the use of water in planted fields, reducing its use by 35% while simultaneously providing more yield to feed India’s ever-growing population.

It is creative and committed conservation strategies like those outlined above that put the Mahindra Group on the cutting-edge of climate preservation. That the Mahindra Group has chosen, voluntarily, to exceed, by far, all mandated national and international climate action indicates them to be one corporation in possession of real social conscience. Hopefully, more are soon to follow in their footsteps.

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