• Supriya Verma

How Kaushik Sridhar Globally Crusades For Better Business Through CSR & ESG

SustainabilityX®’s #DecadeOfAction Interview Campaign

Kaushik Sridhar's #DecadeOfAction Interview for The SustainabilityX® Magazine

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As part of SustainabilityX®’s #DecadeOfAction change-making campaign for 2020 to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we’re interviewing trailblazing global leaders in sustainability who’re taking the world by storm through their groundbreaking work and impactful contributions to advancing global sustainable development.

The goal is to gain more depth and understanding of sustainable business and development in practice while celebrating leaders’ work to inspire and motivate others to take action in such a crucial era.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Kaushik Sridhar in this regard, a Global Top 100 CSR Influence Leader.


Here’s what he had to say:


Q: How do you define sustainability and sustainable development, and what does it mean to you?

Sustainability is caring for the planet, bit by bit, habit reform by habit reform, to ensure there still is a planet for our children and our children’s children. I think the effectiveness of sustainability lies in the way that we define it for ourselves and then put that definition into practice. To me, sustainability means living so that what we consume does not vastly exceed what we contribute. It is to take care of our planet so that our planet can continue to take care of us. In a sustainable world, there is a harmonious and healthy equilibrium between the Earth and all of its inhabitants.


Sustainability requires that we take action. Action should be a natural outcome of our thoughtfulness and this is where our definition of sustainability is really put to the test.


Do we care enough about that fresh produce in our supermarket to check where it came from and how it was raised? Would we turn off the tap when brushing our teeth or take shorter showers if we wanted there to be an equitable amount of water available to everyone?


It’s important to recognize the immense power we have as consumers and to make choices that reflect a sustainably conscious life. By doing so, we become an example for others who then may be empowered to do the same. Sustainability is not about being afraid of a resource-deprived future or accepting limitations as an answer. It’s about appreciating what we have, making wiser consumer choices, and finding innovative solutions to current global challenges. It doesn’t just apply to the environment either.


Sustainability, to me, in short, is making sure the world still exists in great shape for future generations. I think I was brought up in a “Disposable Era”, and now, fortunately, there is a shift to both reusing and minimizing consumption and waste.


Doing anything that is unsustainable must, by definition, have implications for our current and future generations.


Q: Why did you decide to go into the field of sustainability?

My first career was in tennis; I was a professional tennis player, traveling around the world, with no idea of what sustainability meant. All this changed in 2008 when I was given an internship opportunity to work in environmental sustainability for a US-listed entity. By this time, I had quit tennis and wasn’t sure about my future, impact, etc. I seized the internship and after completing an MBA, a Ph.D., and working for 13 years in the field, I haven’t looked back!


A couple of years ago, in a viral interview, Simon Sinek said the youngest generations weren’t just looking for any job — they were looking for a job where they could have an impact. Today, this impact is likely to be strongly tied to the climate crisis or social inequality.


A career in sustainability is an exciting opportunity for my work to have a real-world impact on the environment and society. I believe one person can make a real difference and inspire others to do the right thing in the process.


Q: How can business help advance sustainable development and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

When closely evaluated, both the SDGs and COP21 operate on the same premise: sustainability is a community effort. Sustainability issues affect all members of a community, and everyone in the community should do their part in addressing these. Included in this community are businesses, and helping achieve the SDGs is a worthy investment for them. Achieving the SDGs equates to a healthier and more competent workforce, which results in businesses operating more efficiently and profitably, as well as being role models to other organizations and consumers committed to promoting social welfare.


The mission of SDG 17 is to “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” Sustainable development is achieved faster and easier when all stakeholders are involved. Governments, the private sector, and civil society can pool resources, manpower, and ideas to create and implement effective sustainable development initiatives. When all stakeholders take part, the initiatives outlast management and the regime changes.


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Global Impact = Corporate Success + Social Progress
Q: How do you incorporate sustainability practices into your business strategy to help achieve these goals, and what practices are they?

Sustainability programs set organizations up for success. According to an ENGIE Impact report, which surveyed more than 200 global executives, 75 percent of executives believe that the successful execution of a sustainability strategy will provide a competitive advantage. However, only 30 percent of this group believe they are successfully executing their current strategies.


So, how can this ambition be translated into actionable results going forward?


First, sustainability must be at the core of every organization — and be driven, communicated, and championed from the executive level. Companies with early success are those that have invested in tools to measure emissions and risks, engaged with stakeholders, enacted change across the organization, and are willing to take chances to innovate. Employees and stakeholders are also holding companies accountable for this integrated strategy. A survey conducted earlier this year by Glassdoor found that 75 percent of employees ages 18–34 expect their employer to take a stand on important issues, including sustainability and climate change.


Second, while we’ve seen an uptick in carbon-neutral commitments, to truly be successful in combating climate change and reducing global emissions the equivalent of 1.5° Celsius, we must pivot from focusing on carbon neutrality to focusing on becoming carbon regenerative — a process that restores, renews or revitalizes an organization’s own sources of energy or materials, and integrates business needs with the integrity of nature. This strategy demonstrates how sustainability is becoming strategically integrated not only into a company’s operations but extending into its products and services in a way that benefits communities.


Last, corporations must reframe their mindsets when it comes to collaboration. The business world is understandably competitive by nature; however, to accomplish a true sustainability transformation, organizations must break down their silos and work together as a problem-solving group. This need for collaboration also extends to private-public partnerships.


Q: Where do you see the world 10 years from now in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals and global sustainable development?

COVID-19 has already disrupted the way many businesses across the world operate. In the span of a few short weeks, workforces have had to go remote, offices have shuttered, and commuting has been put on pause. Leaders have had to rise to the challenge of guiding their people through these changes, and many are now settling into this new way of operating.


These shifts are proving effective in slowing the spread of the virus, but they’re also having another effect. The data shows that where COVID-19 has spread, carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution, congestion, and related transport emissions have significantly decreased.


While it’s true that COVID-19 may bring about the first major drop — around 5% — in emissions in over half a century, this is not the way we want to be achieving it. Millions of people out of work is not the way we want to reduce emissions. And it’s highly unlikely that these declines will last. As soon as places begin to lift stay-at-home sanctions, emissions are likely to climb again.


What business leaders need to think about now is their role in avoiding the ‘bounce-back’ effect of pollution spiking again after this crisis.


What policies can carry through to protect the planet after the pandemic passes? Can you establish a clear work-from-home policy, where possible, across the company? Can you encourage green transportation options, like cycling and public transit, to keep emissions from commuting at low levels? Can you conduct an audit of your buildings to ensure that they’re operating at the highest efficiencies standards?


For policy-makers and elected officials, the World Bank notes that in the aftermath of the pandemic, one of the key focuses will be on stabilizing the world and its economy in the long term. That means redesigning subsidies to shift dependence away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and making significant investments in sustainable transit infrastructure and environmental remediation projects.


Across sectors, these are big shifts to be contemplating. But the coronavirus has already upended our business-as-normal. Leaders need to be thinking about the future and how to set us all up for success in our new reality.


While the ‘tipping point’ has been used to characterize this market for almost as long as it has existed, I do believe a substantial shift is underway: stakeholders are increasingly pricing in sustainability preferences, which should lead to a reconciliation of ‘sustainable’ and ‘financial’ materiality over the long-term.


I remain inspired and invigorated by the words of both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late Kofi Annan. Archbishop Tutu defines himself as a “prisoner of hope”, a phrase that resonates deeply with me and inspires me to remain determined to fight for change. And Kofi Annan always called himself a “stubborn optimist”. His life-long commitment to justice and equality did not permit any other way of looking at the world.


In just a few short months, COVID-19 has reshaped the world. While we don’t know how long the pandemic will affect our day-to-day lives, we can already see the impact it is having in so many areas; the economy, our personal lives — and the environment. COVID-19 is a global health crisis, but it is also showing just how closely our economy and lifestyles are linked to the overall health of the planet.


An observation frequently attributed to Winston Churchill is that we should never let a good crisis go to waste. The coronavirus outbreak is a deeply unfortunate situation that is unquestionably causing widespread suffering. While this is regrettable, we should not dismiss that the event provides an opportunity to make some significant headway toward a timely and necessary sustainability transition.

Cheers to a sustainable world!
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