ESG Practices Have Continued To Occupy Center Stage Akanksha Sharma Global ESG Head STL

In an interaction with Urvi Shrivastav, Editorial Lead, BW ESG, BW Businessworld; Akanksha Sharma, Global Head, ESG, STL, speaks about ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) trends, as well as STL’s role in the same

How have the ESG trends evolved over the last two years?

Prior to Covid, there was already a focus on ESG investing globally, and this awareness is set to increase since the pandemic. All businesses have started focusing on sustainable investing more than ever before. As per data 32 percent of consumers spend on brands that are environmentally responsible. As action and awareness about long-term sustainability is likely to increase ever further, this is a positive catalyst for ESG. Fundamentally Asia has long laggered in ESG investing, but the movement is spreading now too in a big way. The disclosures and regulations are being discussed in multiple jurisdictions. The world post Covid 19 continues to remain volatile, however, ESG practices have continued to occupy center stage, not just in boardrooms but also the government.

I also believe it is a potent tool to safeguard the sustainability of the planet, people, profits, and businesses. For example, in India SEBI has made the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) mandatory from the next financial year. It is a tremendous move in global ESG reporting, transparency, and disclosures. It has also become a part of a corporate’s annual report, it becomes imperative for companies to relook at their operations.

In the past we have also seen the introduction of Carbon Water Tanks, and other such regulations globally. This is just an indication of the importance ESG has been gaining around the world. On the social front also, we are now seeing partnerships and social financing options. SEBI has just mandated social stock exchange in India that will further enable sustainable and impact-driven investing. Overall, all of this has made everything transparent and data driven.

What is the STL approach to sustainability and ESG?

ESG has always been integral to our policies, with a very sharp focus on energy and waste management, water stewardship, green product development, employee diversity, social impact, governance, etc. In fact, our entire business strategy is based on our vision of transforming a billion lives through digital networks. It is closely linked not just with India, but global agenda. All our ESG projects focus on bridging our social and economic divide through innovative, eco-friendly and sustainable offerings that create last-mile access and solutions.

In terms of areas that are a priority and are also focused within our communities, including areas like gender equality. We are extremely focused on healthcare and well-being. Also in digital education, particularly for rural communities, we focus on bridging digital and socio-economic disparities. Over and above, we are also focused on achieving net zero emissions and have ambitious goals about water positivity. We have already taken a certificate on zero waste to landfill from a third party.

We are also signatories to United Nations Global Compact, and UN Women Empowerment Principals. STL aligns with all the UN guiding principles, which helps us align with 15 out of 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). All of this speaks volumes about how integrated business is with our ESG practice, and how committed we are to reaching our to communities and environment.

What are some of the recent initiatives of STL to promote sustainability?

There is a relentless effort to step it up further. For example, we have committed to becoming a net zero emission company by 2030. To achieve this target, in addition to switching to renewables, we also have to reduce our energy consumption. We have reduced up to 7500 tons of Carbon dioxide and are also making continuous investments to build more proficient and efficient systems.

We have transformed everyday living for over 1.3 million people, planted 1.7 million trees, and replenished 1.4 million cubics of water. By 2030 we aim to become water positive across all our manufacturing units and to achieve this target we have implemented water recycling models. All of our manufacturing plants are zero waste discharge, particularly in Aurangabad. We are looking to replicate this model across units. Five of six of our manufacturing units in India are already zero waste certified. Everything is so integrated when it comes to the environment that you cannot separate waste from emissions.

We also conduct life cycle evaluations for our product families, which a cradle to grave assessments to ensure they are eco-friendly. We have already done this for 10 product families to date and our aspiration is for all by 2030. All these are very technical frameworks, but they guide the entire ecosystem.

When we talk about ESG, the focus is usually on the environment and people forget the social aspect of it. How is STL bridging the social gap?

In FY 22 STL reached out and benefitted 1.2 million people across some of the poorest regions of the country. Throughout the pandemic, we offered quality healthcare facilities and Oxygen supply along with emergency gear. This was required in areas where primary healthcare was broken, especially in 200 villages across aspirational districts.

Along with this, we are extremely focused on gender equality initiatives. We have a program called ‘Jeewan Jyoti’ through which we are reaching out to 800 women, to provide them employment opportunities. We also provide them vocational training, leadership skills, and microfinance opportunities.

Also, during the pandemic, our digital empowerment initiatives also took off. We made sure they were fully utilised. Be it learning opportunities, or livelihood opportunities via digital economies. We have realised the importance of digital literacy. Besides this, we were also doing a program on digital education, across Aurangabad and Silvasa. This program reached out to over 100,000 children in marginal communities.

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