Abhijit Gaikwad, a 26-year-old engineer with Ingersoll Rand, cycles to his office in Bengaluru every day. Depending on traffic it takes about 15-20 minutes to cover a distance of 2.5 kms from home to work.

Having joined the company about three years ago, Gaikwad has been inspired by Ingersoll Rand’s commitment to adopting sustainable practices. He is among the many employees at Ingersoll Rand who have pledged to adopt small yet impactful habits such as minimizing the use of plastic bottles, using rechargeable batteries or cold water for laundry as part of the company’s “Small Changes that Make a Big Impact" campaign launched this year.

“Cycling has always been my hobby. Due to the increase in the carbon footprint and growing traffic and population in Bengaluru, I decided to turn my hobby into a habit. Some of my colleagues also cycle to work and I am trying to encourage my friends to do the same," Gaikwad says

From eliminating single-use plastic to recycling waste, multi-national companies and startups are trying to adopt sustainable practices at the workplace and involve employees as well.

Accenture, for instance, which has offices in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune, runs the EcoWatch initiative comprising over 1,000 employees who volunteer to run awareness campaigns. Last year, on World Environment Day, this group conducted a “No Food Wastage" campaign as well as a tree plantation drive through which over 1,000 saplings were planted and more than 750 saplings were sold at pop-up stalls in their office cafeterias.

Abhijit Gaikwad cycles to work every day after his employer Ingersoll Rand introduced sustainability initiatives at work.
Abhijit Gaikwad cycles to work every day after his employer Ingersoll Rand introduced sustainability initiatives at work.

Volunteer efforts

Apart from volunteer efforts, companies are making it compulsory to eliminate single-use plastic items such as straws, cups and cutlery from the workplace. Monica Bindra, co-founder of feminine hygiene brand Laiqa, based in Gurugram, says, “No plastic accessories like pen holders and paper holders are used in our office. We use recycled cardboard boxes instead."

At larger organisations such as SAP Labs, which has 8,500 employees in Bengaluru, substituting paper cups with durable polycarbonate glasses has meant saving on about 18,000 use-and-throw paper cups a day. Around 80% of the total energy consumed at its 21-acre campus in Bengaluru comes from solar and hydro energy.

Similarly,Microsoft, which has introduced rainwater harvesting at its Hyderabad office and uses solar energy at the Bengaluru office, has done away with plastic stirrers and single-use bottled water. Employees are encouraged to use a centralized waste recycling bin instead of individual dustbins thereby reducing waste and plastic bags usage by 15%.

Bacardi, which has a tie-up with a paper recycling company, places a cardboard recycling bin at every desk. “Every week, the recycling company collects the waste paper and provides Bacardi with notepads and environment-friendly pens," says Arijit Sengupta, director, human resources- India and neighbouring countries, Bacardi.

Talking about how they stopped using plastic spoons, plates, straws and bottles about two years ago, Bharat Sharma, administration head at the Bacardi office in Gurugram, says, “We don’t use any plastic at home and I like to volunteer for awareness campaigns." Sharma was a volunteer at plantation drives and other campaigns conducted at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Gurugram since 2012.

Gifting with a cause

Last Diwali, Nagarro, a leading IT consulting firm, gifted Milton steel water bottles, Borosil lunch boxes and jute bags to 4,000 employees in India. “The idea was to discourage single-use plastic or packaging materials," says Manas Fuloria, CEO of Nagarro.

On a similar note, Bacardi celebrated its Founders’ Day by gifting employees mint seeds and a glass made of recycled paper to grow them in. “Plastic was deliberately eliminated from any gift pack that was given to the employees, globally," Sengupta adds.

On this World Environment Day, SAP is giving away 15,000 water aerators (which can be installed on taps) to its employees across India. Each aerator reduces water consumption by 70% by regulating the flow of water.

Good for business

To practice what they preach, companies have undertaken initiatives to help conserve the environment while building their business.

SoulTree, an organic beauty and personal care brand based in Delhi, introduced biodegradable bubble wrap in November last year. “We introduced biodegradable packaging for our face pack sachets. Our most recent initiative is to replace plastic tapes with paper tapes at consumer level packaging," says Vishal Bhandari, founder, SoulTree.

Tackling e-waste

According to data storage company Western Digital, e-waste is a growing problem in India. India generates the fourth highest amount of e-waste after China, US and Japan, according to Global E-Waste Monitor 2017. But a mere 5% of this e-waste is recycled.

In Bengaluru, Western Digital disposes its e-waste through a Karnataka State Pollution Control Board approved recycling vendor. But to promote greater awareness among citizens, it has tied up with Saahas, a non-governmental organisation, since March 2018 to conduct collection drives in residential areas, schools and offices in the Mahadevapura area.

Till date, 246 employees have volunteered to participate in six awareness campaigns and Western Digital along with Saahas has collected 4,100 kgs of e-waste.

Saahas, which is headquartered in Bengaluru but has operations in Gurugram, Surat, Chennai, Hubballi and Ballari, works in the area of waste management. According to Archana Tripathi of Saahas, 95 per cent of their work is supported through corporate social responsibility funding.

Apart from funding, some companies such as Western Digital and VMware participate through volunteer work—from organising waste segregation awareness campaigns to supporting capacity building training exercises for NGO staff (teaching them to operate the computer or English speaking lessons).

Larger role to play

Saahas also has a separate social enterprise to collect waste from bulk waste generators (including corporates such as Accenture, Microsoft and Tesco).

Wilma Rodrigues, founder of Saahas, believes that lot more can be done by the corporate sector to control waste, above and beyond just complying with laws to regulate waste generated by large organisations.

The problem is that most companies don’t have a budget for waste management but only for waste disposal. Management involves bringing back the waste. “For instance, if it’s wet waste, you bring back the waste in the form of biogas which can be used in kitchens or to run vehicles or in the form of compost to grow plants. The biggest resistance is to pay for such services. If the corporate sector takes a little more interest in this, it can change things quite a bit," Rodrigues says.

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