FE-ECube Study: How some trailblazing companies are unleashing a green tidal wave

The nature of green transition is seeing a fundamental shift. Leading Indian companies are opting to have green practices “built in” rather than “bolted on” their business operations. The journey of corporate India, especially over the past decade, has traversed from practices that promote sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion to getting every root and branch of the organisation to think green – be it product design or setting green goals for vendors and suppliers.

To catch a glimpse of this, Financial Express dipped into the expertise of ECube and had conversations with some of the leading companies, including those from sectors normally associated with high emissions, on their goals, targets and their approach to sustainability. The discussions carved out: 1, identification of the “material” issues, which for manufacturing enterprises encompasses water consumption and energy use; 2, a long-term vision, with goals stretching to 2030 and beyond; 3, clear oversight and direction from the top, with board involvement on strategy and clear KRAs for management; and 4, strong communication and cascading of information across the workforce, and to external stakeholders, suppliers and vendors.

The aim of this study has not been to rank but is an attempt to trigger a deeper dialogue on sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance). The industry leaders and conglomerates covered here span broadly across sectors such as FMCG; auto; steel, pharmaceutical and IT. Here are some of the key findings from the study:


At ITC, India’s well diversified conglomerate, efforts to accelerate decarbonisation and build resilience against climate risks are a priority. S Sivakumar, group head of Agri & IT businesses, who also oversees ITC’s sustainability initiatives and social investment programmes refers to the Sustainability 2.0 (S2) vision articulated by ITC chairman Sanjiv Puri as one that is “anchored on the inclusive and innovative business models that the company has implemented over many years.”

The focus and approach having been curated to suit each line of business. From its green building movement with the first 11 hotels in the world to be LEED Zero Carbon certified being from ITC to specific directional shifts in each of its businesses. For instance, the company’s paperboards business has opted for a state-of-the-art and future-ready high-pressure soda recovery boiler at its Bhadrachalam mill in place of the conventional soda recovery boilers. This boiler is to improve utilisation of black liquor, a renewable source, as fuel.

ITC has commissioned at Trichy an ancillary manufacturing & logistics facility (AMLF), with advanced features like automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), rail guided vehicles (RGV), conveyors & lifters integrated with multiple layers of optimisation software to minimise the movement of material by trucks between the plants. The site uses solar electricity leading to 86% reduction in GHG emissions. Roof top solar plants in Hyderabad and Ambernath warehouses have helped reduce the GHG emissions by 72% in these locations.

The ‘ITC One Supply Chain’ initiative that covers ITC’s total network in India has resulted in route optimisation thereby lowering total kilometres traversed by ITC’s products contributing to lower GHG emissions. It has also deployed electric vehicles for shipping material to the distributors. ITC aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.


At Marico, circularity is one of the integral components on the path to sustainability. Amit Bhasin, the chief legal officer at Marico, who also leads its sustainability efforts, points to efforts underway at the Marico Innovation Foundation to come up with plastic keeping in mind the principles of circularity in the product configuration. Also, with an aim to improve small-scale farmers’ productivity, Marico’s Parachute Kalpavriksha foundation, since its founding in 2017, has helped 81,000 farmers create more sustainable coconut farming practices and increase farm income.

The whole philosophy, according to Bhasin, is around building sustainable practices in each process of the business itself – right from product conceptualisation looking at various elements from the kind of packaging to be used and resources to be deployed to built in sustainability and make it a way of doing business.

All five Marico factories have become water neutral with water used compensated by more than the consumption getting generated. Marico’s Perundurai plant is carbon neutral. It aims to achieve net zero emissions across India operations by 2030 and globally by 2040 and has adopted science based targets initiative (SBTi).


At Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the company spokesperson points to the mantra of “load more and travel less” using bigger trucks to load more and reduce the distance travelledhelping reduce emissions. It has also completed a successful pilot of electric vehicles and CNG/bio CNG and intends to scale it up in the coming years. These and other measures are apparently paying as HUL has been able to reduce emissions in its factory operations by 94% (compared to 2008 baseline) per tonne of production. It is also “exploring use of cutting-edge technology” to reduce material carbon footprint at the suppliers’ end, such as carbon capture technology.

It has also partnered with Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited (TFL) for key raw material for its laundry products which use carbon capture technology. The company “also uses environment-friendly freezer cabinets for its ice-creams that use hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants instead of hydrofluorocarbons refrigerants and has over 1,46,000 freezers in its fleet across the country,” the spokesperson adds. HUL aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2039.

Apollo Tyres

Articulating the mission, goals and the approach to the green transition, Rinika Grover, head, sustainability and CSR at Apollo Tyres says, “the company intends to be carbon neutral by 2050 and to move towards embracing the concept of circular economy.” It is today working with suppliers and has established a sustainable procurement policy under the framework of ISO 20400 (guidance on social responsibility) and potential suppliers are asked about ESG indicators such as environmental performance; occupational health and safety and human rights.

The journey till 2050 is marked by clear milestones – from increasing the share of renewable power in total power to 25% by 2026 (against a 2020 baseline); reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions intensity (per tonne of product) by 25% respectively (against 2020 baseline); improve water withdrawal intensity by 25% (against 2019 baseline) and ideally exceed all these targets. Typically, scope 1 and 2 are those emissions that are owned or controlled by a company, whereas scope 3 emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company but occur from sources not owned or controlled by it.

Grover explains that the company has a life cycle assessment tool to help calculate emissions for the entire life cycle of a tyre. Also, for a circular tyre economy, it is investing in fostering partnerships with research institutes to enhance the recycled materials in its product mix.

By 2030, it intends to have 40% of materials as sustainable raw material where 30% would be bio-material and 10% would be recycled material. For example, the company accords high priority to using zinc oxide recovered from end-of-life tyres and recovered carbon black.

Sustainability, reminds Grover, “is an inherent feature dovetailed with all our operations. It is not just a ‘good to have’ but a ‘must have’ and we have been working on this for the last few years.” Apollo Tyres aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


At Mahindra, the thinking within the group is not just about greening the operations and reducing carbon, water and waste but it is also about venturing into green businesses and thinking green. Saying so with a palpable sense of pride is Abanti Sankaranarayanan, the chief group public affairs officer, who also leads the group sustainability efforts and is a member of Mahindra Group executive board.

Looking back at the Mahindra sustainability journey since 2008 when it brought out its first sustainability report, she says, in 2016, M&M was the first company in India to sign EP-100 (energy productivity) to double energy productivity. In the same year, became the first Indian company to adopt carbon pricing.

The focus, all along, has been on the two key aspects of carbon neutrality and water. “At the group level we attained water positivity in 2014,” she says and its factory at Igatpuri attained carbon neutrality in 2018. Two of Mahindra’s manufacturing facilities, at Igatpuri and at Zaheerabad operate around 200 days a year without drawing water from external sources. Five facilities – Igatpuri, Nashik, Chakan, Swaraj Plant 1 & 2 are certified water positive with measures like rainwater harvesting, automation and water recycling.

In 2010, Mahindra acquired Reva, a Bangaluru-based entrepreneurial venture in electric cars. Similarly, the same year got into Mahindra renewables through Mahindra Susten. Also, under Mahindra Accelo which is in the area of steel processing a new business, CERO, which is India’s first authorized vehicle recycler- a new business where you get end-of-life vehicles and they get processed and recycled, started in 2018.

Mahindra’s IT company – Tech Mahindra – in September last year launched an end-to-end offering on sustainable transformation that helps businesses to measure, monitor, improve and achieve sustainable goals.

In the farm business, the focus is on helping farmers improve productivity and other measures, including precision farming through farming as a service.

Since it is a large group with auto and IT being major elements, a good measure is the approach and direction of change rather than the financial contribution of each measure. For instance, she says, “we see that about 27 to 30% of our total vehicles in our auto portfolio will be electric by 2030.” Also, M&M’s ‘born electric vision’ is thinking electric vehicle rather than converting. It is a single platform called INGLO that could help deploy five different SUVs starting from 2024. This is on the passenger vehicles side. Also, XUV400, a passenger electric launched in January 2023 is its first fully electric SUV.

Even in buildings and real estate, where Mahindra Lifespace Developers, the real estate and infrastructure development arm of the group, launched “India’s first net-zero energy residential building in Bengaluru through project Eden.” Mahindra has a net zero target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and has adopted the SBTi.


At JSW, a $ 23 billion group, putting circularity into motion is a major priority, clear KRAs on sustainability are in place within the organisation. For the group that takes pride in having the largest steel capacity in the country and the metal contributing to almost three-fourth of the group’s total revenue (about 75 to 76% of total revenues from steel), Prabodha Acharya, chief sustainability officer, JSW Group is clear on sustainability and its emphasis within the group’s vision statement, which he says, stands on three pillars of environmental, social and responsible business practices. “Under the three pillars, there are 17 focus areas ranging from climate change, water, waste to human rights,” he says.

Consider some specifics: Since, coking coal is a primary input in the reduction process in the making of steel, focus is on greater efficiencies to reduce the consumption of coking coal. This requires refining the iron ore and putting better quality iron ore in the blast furnace involving massive investments in beneficiation. That is also being looked at by the company. “Reducing 1 kg of coking coal use in the blast furnace beside the environment benefit and reduction of carbon dioxide, we will be saving almost Rs 70 crore to Rs 100 crore per annum for every one kg reduction and therefore there is a business imperative too,” he says.

On circularity, he says, “we have steel-making capacity of 140 million tonnes in India and only 25 million tonne scrap is consumed in the country but at JSW Steel we want to add use of scrap by another 10%. The aim is to double the use of scrap,” says Acharya.

The KRAs were put in place in 2021 and 30% of the variable pay is linked to sustainability performance (KPIs such as targets on energy, water consumption and safety performance among others) for senior management and 15% for junior management.

Acharya says, “we have given our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 42% by 2030 from the baseline in 2005. Today, we have reduced by 30%.”

JSW Cement even today, he says, has the lowest emission intensity among all cement operators in the world at less than 200 kg per tonne of cement as against a global average of 600 kg.

Acharya says: “We are currently heavily investing in renewable energy. Our board has already approved 1 gigawatt of renewable energy for our steel plant and about 225 megawatt of solar energy is already commissioned.” JSW Energy aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 and has adopted SBTi.

Dr Reddy’s

One of the early ones to sense the need to stay watchful on sustainability, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, a Hyderabad-based NYSE listed company, released its first Sustainability Report in 2004.

Being a pharmaceutical company, focus is on “green chemistry.” This has meant working to develop efficient and sustainable processes that require fewer reagents, less solvents and less energy and are safer and generate lesser waste. Solvents and water apparently contribute to 80% of process mass intensity (PMI) and through green chemistry, the aim is to reduce or replace hazardous solvents with greener solvents. This, according to the officials in the company, will greatly reduce our downstream impact—compressing the cycle of water use, waste generation and low residue in the environment. It is mapping the product portfolio to understand which products contribute to more than 80% of the PMI. Several existing processes have been evaluated, with significant improvements in the manufacturing of APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients).

The company’s largest manufacturing facility in Bachupally, Hyderabad, has joined the Global Lighthouse Network of the World Economic Forum – a community of over 100 manufacturers that are showing leadership in applying Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) technologies to drive impact in productivity, workforce engagement, sustainability and supply chain resilience. Dr Reddy’s has set GHG emission reduction targets for 2030 and has adopted SBTi.


Indian IT giant Infosys has remained committed to green goals. It takes pride in saying that since its inception, the company has recognised integration of ESG factors in corporate and business decision-making as an ongoing commitment. It began to take action to combat climate change in 2008 and turned carbon neutral in 2020 and quotes Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy saying: “longevity and success for a company comes from living in harmony with the context in which it operates. Infosys has taken on responsibilities like reducing carbon emission, improving air quality, optimally using water and solar power. Today, four decades after embracing these values, Infosys continues to strive hard for these values to make our context better.”

Aruna C Newton, vice president, head – diversity and inclusion, ESG Governance & Reporting, Infosys, points to the company’s ESG vision 2030 that provides a 10-year roadmap on its ESG ambitions, also talks of the efforts to crack the talent challenge in this space. For instance, she refers to investments in continuously strengthening learning around ESG and this includes a dedicated ESG learning portal on Lex. A scalable digital learning ecosystem provides a showcase for Infosys’ sustainability practice. Infosys aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and has adopted SBTi.

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