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Vikas Goswami is the head of sustainability for Godrej Industries Ltd and associated companies. With 25 years’ experience in the corporate and development sectors, she drives the group’s “Good & Green" vision, innovating for green products. Goswami believes the background of sustainability officers is important, for those who have worked on the ground can help companies look at each business vertical through a sustainability perspective. They can help other teams accept sustainability as a crucial cog in the innovation of new products, procurement, the supply chain, etc.

Goswami says the person leading sustainability efforts needs to ensure his/her vision is shared by the entire organization. “If it has to be brought to the rank and file of the organization, one has to have interaction with all cadres of people for them to buy into that vision," she adds.

What is sustainability? It is a concept, and conceptual definitions don’t come easy. Sustainability is an ever-evolving field, with dimensions and discussions being added on an almost yearly basis. Its definition is, and will remain, fluid. Goswami says her concept of it involves using resources in a manner that will not impact future generations’ access to these. There is no waste in biological systems—one’s waste is another’s input. That’s what we should aim for, she says—a cradle-to-cradle economy when one product of a system that is wasted seeps into another system to manufacture something else. That, she believes, is the most advanced way of looking at sustainability today.

The biggest challenge: The challenges are of a different nature. A sustainability person cannot go with problem statements to departments, he/she has to go with solutions. Like I can go to a design person, says Goswami, and say a design doesn’t work because plastic use is too high, or I can say let’s work together so that your plastic per unit comes down and we can relook resource allocation, which, in turn, will also reduce the company’s input costs. 

The business case: You have to make sustainability relevant to each and every department. You have to bring new ideas and innovate because market disruptors will otherwise eat into your market share. You have to innovate because you want to reduce the input cost.

One aspect of sustainability is gender equity. So, you will have to work with your HR teams to figure out how you can hire more women, retain them, look at gender-friendly policies, and their effectiveness at the shop-floor level. Often, people assume sustainability does not encompass gender and diversity, or diversity and inclusion.

But sustainability isn’t just about environment and energy. It’s also about the public you are interacting with, your consumer. Having and retaining good human resources helps make the organization sustainable. 

Making sustainability sexy: I would say sustainability is difficult to make sexy because the impact of what you are doing, negative or positive,will be seen, say, 30 years from now, and the impact will be collective. My small action of doing certain things or not doing certain things does not lead to a visible impact now, and what is not seen is often not understood.

There has to be a very strong media campaign. Public behaviour changes when media campaigns have positive, rather than negative, strokes. From a psychological perspective, people need to understand the good that will come out of their actions. So, the focus of campaigns needs to be on target groups, and the communication should be specific to these groups. It can’t be one size fits all. 

CEO and sustainability: It is collectively the CEO, the board, your own team. The trigger can be the senior-most management, or the board, but you have to work within the rank and file to see that the management, the middle management, the person on the shop floor—the person who is going to implement it—also buys into your vision. So, the vision cannot be just your vision. 

Are SDGs realistic? I wouldn’t ask if the (UN’s) sustainable development goals are realistic or not, I would ask whether they are relevant. Unless you have a goal that can be measured and completed, you won’t even understand what you are rallying against. 

In-house initiatives: We are working to get all our manufacturing units to be zero waste to landfill. Our offices are, in fact, zero waste to landfill. We segregate our waste, recycle, and compost it. We want to become carbon neutral and water positive, have renewable energy as 33% of our consumption, and reduce the energy consumed to manufacture each unit of a product by another 30%. We seek to train one million youth by 2020 in areas such as construction, rural entrepreneurship, agro-industry, animal husbandry, sales, etc. and create green and more sustainable products. Sustainability is a journey. No organization or country can say they have arrived. 

Sense and Sustainability is a series where chief sustainability officers talk about SDGs, and the challenges in making sustainability appealing to businesses and employees.

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