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Wipro’s green warriors

Wipro’s green warriors
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First Published: Tue, Apr 21 2009. 10 15 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Apr 22 2009. 01 45 PM IST
When Wipro launched Eco Eye—an initiative that would ensure the company didn’t do business at the cost of ecology—in June last year, it was a radical idea for an Indian company. Just the year before, Wipro Infotech, the company’s PC business, had gone green. Earlier this month, Greenpeace rated IT hardware and
software services division Wipro Infotech the No. 1 green brand in India and among the top five green brands in the world. In all, it’s a different kind of corporate world from the one you usually encounter. Everyone from AHP (as chairman Azim Premji is known), to 35-year-old employee Channa Basavaraja (who has been known to stand outside malls and convince shoppers to give up plastic as part of a company initiative) believes that ecological and social sustainability can be part of a company’s psyche. And that it’s the big business opportunity of the future. We met some key carbon-neutral, water-positive change agents.
Corporate vice-president, social and community initiatives
Anurag Behar joined Wipro in 2002 because chairman Azim Premji understands the concept of purpose alignment. Essentially, that means Premji knew Behar had very little interest in a traditional corporate career and that he allows Behar to do what he feels is right. “He gives you an incredible amount of space to create,” says Behar. In the years since he joined, roles have come and gone, but the social initiatives portfolio has stayed with Behar, the man with the mad gleam in his eyes (one colleague calls him Osama). Behar grew up on eco-bibles such as “Small is Beautiful” and “Silent Spring”, but he only really started thinking of ecology as a way to define Wipro’s future three years ago. “More people were keen on this idea than I thought, and for the first six months, everyone worked outside their normal work time,” he says. Behar believes that sustainability will be a massive business opportunity. Recently, he had another aha moment. Why not go all out to use education as a vehicle of change for ecology? He’s currently thinking of ways to infuse ecological sensitivity in children through education.
Carrying work home: He recycles plastic and has an organic waste composting set-up. He and his wife now drive to work together instead of separately. Behar has also stopped buying things as much as possible and is experimenting with LEDs at home. “Eventually, all of it has to do with consumption,” he says. Then he throws in some Tolstoy: “How much land does a man need?”
Vice-president and evangelist, Eco Eye
This is Brij Sethi’s second stint at Wipro. The softspoken Sethi, who runs the programme office of Eco Eye, believes we should use biodiversity as a speedometer needle on the journey to sustainability. Translated, he’s waiting for the day when he spots sparrows on a Wipro campus. Sethi, who rejoined the company when Eco Eye was conceived and started thinking green when Behar asked him to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” a few years ago, is a convert now. When I ask him how Wipro manages to fulfil its higher goals in the midst of an economic downturn, he agrees that if sustainability were only about corporate social responsibility, it would be badly hit. “But it’s a business opportunity for us,” he says. Nearly 200 employees in the company work on future technologies and Sethi liaises with the chief technology officer’s office on eco-friendly business ideas. “Soon, you’ll be able to calculate the carbon footprint of a bunch of bananas in a retail store,” he says, adding that the company is likely to sign on three interested clients this year. Some of Sethi’s other responsibilities include tracking Wipro’s carbon-related sins and any changes in the broader, regulatory framework.
Carrying work home: He’s switched to a smaller car, doesn’t have shower baths and has turned vegetarian. He has also been trying to convince his neighbourhood to dispose garbage more responsibly. “But you have to support a good idea with backup infrastructure,” says Sethi.
General manager, facilities management
He is the man who maintains and manages all the IT business campuses—and his head is buzzing with projects on rainwater harvesting, experiments that use wind energy for street lights, and ways to reduce energy expenditure in common area lighting. Ram Ramakrishna’s green journey began almost from Day 1 of the decade he’s spent at Wipro, long before Eco Eye was formed. Wipro has been recycling sewage water for gardening and in toilets for at least 10 years now; the company currently recycles 36% of its water. By 2000, the ISO 14000 certificates were trickling in. In 2005, the Gurgaon campus received the platinum-rated LEED certification; two years later, Cochin snagged a gold rating. Next up for certification is the factory in Uttarakhand. Last year, the company’s battered MG Road office in Bangalore won a Confederation of Indian Industry award for energy efficiency. That’s because, in addition to focusing on the new, Ramakrishna also retrofits and updates the old. His department’s achievements have included setting up an Eco Avenue (that houses all the company’s sustainable practices such as the sewage treatment plant, rainwater harvesting, paper recycling plant, biogas plant, dynamic car pool area and hybrid wind-aero generator) at Wipro’s Electronics City campus in Bangalore. “Many a time, I have to get involved in replacing things and I have to figure out how to do these activities in an ecologically sustainable manner. That’s imbibed in everyone in my function,” he says.
Carrying work home: Ramakrishna has built himself a green home—energy efficient light usage, locally procured materials, the works. Rainwater harvesting has ensured that the water table in the area has increased and his neighbours are happy. “I’m personally very committed to this concept,” he says.
P.S. Narayan, 43
General manager, Eco Eye
It took him six months to produce an impressive looking sustainability report for 2007-08, the company’s first serious attempt to document its ecological game plan. While his partner Sethi focuses on external initiatives, Narayan works to engage employees. “I try to tap the energy and passion of our employees, who are the real agents of change,” he says. Already, some 5,000 employees are members of seven eco chapters. Narayan also works on risk management and reducing Wipro’s own carbon footprint. Narayan was one of the first employees to outline the need for sustainable practices. “It’s opened up mental horizons for all of us. It forces you to think long term and look at things holistically. The quality of your thinking improves drastically,” he says. Now he’s working on fleshing out Wipro’s sustainability plan for the coming years.
Carrying work home: He hates to see leaky taps. Closing taps and many other small, daily actions are now ingrained in this family. He has downsized his car and become a more responsible consumer. “When you know it takes 15,000 litres of water to make a shirt, you think a lot about whether you really need it,” he says.
General manager and head, personal computing
Two years ago, Ashok Tripathi didn’t spend too much time thinking about the planet. These days, green is an inherent element of his job. Tripathi recently launched e.go, a colourful range of RoHS-compliant (restriction of hazardous substances directive) notebooks for the green cause (even the cases are RoHS-compliant). Of course, being committed to this cause is quite a challenge in India. “There is no legislation, and it involves huge supply chain integration. Your entire ecosystem has to be in sync,” he says. In addition, the overall cost of doing business goes up. “Green also makes you less flexible and nimble. Beyond a point, you can’t cater to consumers who don’t care about anything except price,” he says. Wipro has stringent vendor assessment programmes and two employees are even stationed in Taiwan to ensure that suppliers comply with the company’s eco rules. Now, Tripathi is working on an environment-friendly range of servers that will deliver better performance. He also runs the company’s e-waste initiative, where customers can return old PCs at 17 collection centres across the country. Wipro ensures they are recycled properly.
Carrying work home: Five years ago, he was a city slicker who didn’t worry too much about the environment. Now, he’s thinking that when he retires, he will do something closer to nature such as farming. “My sensitivity has gone up multifold,” says Tripathi.
General manager, HR
Veena Padmanabhan has been doing her bit to save the planet for as long as she can remember. Even her father never accepted plastic shopping bags. Delhi-based Padmanabhan lugs her e-waste (mostly old batteries and floppy discs) in her check-in baggage and disposes it in Bangalore. Of course, she was one of the like-minded people at Wipro who came together to ensure the company stood for something more and that work was not merely business. Padmanabhan, who joined Wipro straight after she graduated from XLRI and who has worked with the company for the past 15 years, manages a diverse portfolio that includes human resources, people practices and internal communications. “Now, all HR people’s objectives are part of the GRI (global reporting initiative) framework. Suddenly, you need to see each and every policy of yours through the sustainability lens,” she says. From how to reach out to employees to developing an Eco Eye portal—as part of internal employee portal Channel W—to build awareness and education, she’s in the heart of all the ecologically-oriented action. She’s also part of the team that’s currently working on the second sustainability report.
Carrying work home: Like her father, she never accepts shopping bags. She uses kitchen water for her plants, segregates garbage, has been using CFLs for the past 15 years and disposes her e-waste responsibly. “Trying to be green is a little inconvenient, but that’s how it is,” she says.
Photographs by Hemant Mishra / Mint
Photograph of Veena Padmanabhan by Raj Kumar / Mint
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First Published: Tue, Apr 21 2009. 10 15 PM IST
More Topics: Wipro | Eco Eye | Ecology | Azim Premji | IT |