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Banner image featuring Arupendra Nath Mullick, Vice-President, TERI Council for Business Sustainability​

Sustainability

Jun 24, 2024

Collaboration between companies is the key to bring new ideas for sustainable action to the table: Arupendra Mullick

Collaboration between companies is the key to bring new ideas for sustainable action to the table: Arupendra Mullick

Collaboration between companies is the key to bring new ideas for sustainable action to the table: Arupendra Mullick

Arupendra Nath Mullick, Vice-President, TERI Council for Business Sustainability​ and a leading voice on corporate sustainability in India, shared his insights with Team Reblue in an extensive, exclusive interview.


Mr. Mullick's expertise spans research, training, and implementation, guiding businesses through the complexities of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations. Currently leading interdisciplinary research teams at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a sustainability pioneer in India, Mr. Mullick boasts an impressive career. He's developed sustainability roadmaps for Fortune 500 companies, trained diverse audiences, and authored research presented at international forums. But Mr. Mullick goes beyond theory. He's designed the first-of-its-kind sustainability dashboard for a leading chemical company, demonstrating his ability to bridge the gap between principles and practical application. A recognized thought leader, Mr. Mullick emphasizes collaboration as the key to achieving real-world sustainability goals. Read excerpts from the exclusive interview below:


Team Reblue: Welcome Arup sir! Thank you for doing this interview with us and we know our readers are as excited to read your thoughts as we are to do this interview with you. So let’s get right into it!
Starting with your work at TERI & in sustainability space on an everyday basis, we understand you encounter many climate-related projects through your work. Can you share an example of a corporate initiative on sustainability that particularly excites you?

Arupendra Mullick: Yes, I believe that the well-founded answers and explanations we provide to skeptics consistently lead to positive actions from those enterprises.

Let me tell you about an example that comes to mind: my work with the Delhi Metro. The Delhi Metro, as your readers may know, has a program of activities (POA) that mandates them to be involved in designing and advising on sustainable practices for all new metro projects across India.

The Delhi Metro's sustainability roadmap has become a global example of how public transportation can achieve sustainability while remaining profitable (meeting both bottom-line and top-line objectives).

Specifically, this includes the Jaipur Metro, the Cochin Metro, the Lucknow Metro, the Bangalore Metro, the Mumbai Metro, and the Chennai Metro.

That's right. The DMRC's POA applies to various metros, including Jaipur, Cochin, Lucknow, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Chennai.

When we began working with DMRC, the chairman presented a unique opportunity. He appointed both the director of operations and the director of finance to lead the development of the Delhi Metro's sustainability roadmap.

Initially, there were some differing viewpoints between the director of operations and the director of finance.

Through collaboration, we were able to develop a world-class sustainability roadmap for the Delhi Metro, even though the initial version had some gaps identified by skeptics.

The Delhi Metro's sustainability roadmap has become a global example of how public transportation can achieve sustainability while remaining profitable (meeting both bottom-line and top-line objectives).

Team Reblue: Wow, that's super interesting. Is this road map public or is it within DMRC itself? Because we would love to see it.

Arupendra Mullick: As part of DMRC's master plan, they have a publicly available document on sustainability. I believe they have a more detailed internal report, but a public sustainability report on the Delhi Metro website would be a great resource to learn more about the specific initiatives they are undertaking to embed sustainability into their daily operations.

Team Reblue: Before moving on, I'm curious about how DMRC, a public utility company, decided to prioritize sustainability. What factors drove this decision? Who were the key people behind this push?

Arupendra Mullick: Absolutely, you've pinpointed a key factor, and thank you for asking this question.

This push for sustainability at DMRC is similar to what many organizations are experiencing. There was a definite need for DMRC to adopt a structured approach to sustainability, particularly as the corporation envisioned raising new investments.

The initial investors for DMRC, including Japan, were primarily focused on the first phase of the Delhi Metro project. However, as the network expanded, there was a need for additional capital. New potential investors, along with their capital, placed a condition on their involvement. They required DMRC to clearly illustrate and document its sustainability practices, both in its current operations and in its future expansion plans.

Team Reblue: Wow. And this must have been like what 10 years to 15 years ago?

Mr. Arup: Yeah, it was precisely 10 years ago. I think 2014 was the period when the first cut was out, but the work began in 2011.

In the sustainability space, you need to be prepared to deal with both skeptics and enthusiasts. I learned this from Mr. Peter Graf, the world's first designated Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at SAP. During our candid conversations, Mr. Graf would often relay his experience of being literally thrown out of rooms by people who believed sustainability didn't matter to the bottom line and was a distraction. This was back in 2002.

Team Reblue: Your work likely puts you in contact with many senior leaders in corporate sustainability, particularly Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs). We've been hearing a lot more about CSOs recently.

In your view, how has the role of the CSO changed over the past five years, or perhaps even the last decade?

What future trends do you see for the role of CSOs in the next ten years?

What advice would you give to CSOs navigating this evolving landscape?

Arupendra Mullick: This is a very good question.

In the sustainability space, you need to be prepared to deal with both skeptics and enthusiasts. I learned this from Mr. Peter Graf, the world's first designated Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at SAP. During our candid conversations, Mr. Graf would often relay his experience of being literally thrown out of rooms by people who believed sustainability didn't matter to the bottom line and was a distraction. This was back in 2002.

Fast forward to today, the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer has become incredibly important. We continually see organizations looking to embed sustainability into their operations, and one of the first steps they take is hiring a CSO to formalize their ESG strategy.

A chief sustainability officer today has a significant role to transform the core operations, which is more internal or inward-looking. Whereas the Chief Sustainability Officer also has a very important role to drive external values in.

Team Reblue: That's an amazing insight you told us. Is there any advice that you have for CSOs currently that you think would be helpful for them?

Arupendra Mullick: So for every CSO, and what I have seen, this kind of work is to keep two hats on.

A chief sustainability officer today has a significant role to transform the core operations, which is more internal or inward-looking.

Whereas the Chief Sustainability Officer also has a very important role to drive external values in.

In total, there are four things, both internally as well as externally, that we see are important components of work, or the portfolio of work that a sustainability officer manages today.

Now, when I say transforming the core operations, there are two things which become very important in today's context.

The first is, how do I transform the products and value chain to be sustainable, right?

And the second component of work is, you know, on how do I transform the culture and the purpose of the organization, which consistently demonstrate sustainability leadership, right?

On the other hand, when it is more about external relationships, I think the important role that a Chief Sustainability Officer plays today is on reputation and how do I create a positive reputation?

The second aspect for driving external value is definitely capital market access and investor relationship.

So transforming the core operations and driving external value go hand in hand for the portfolio of work that a chief sustainability officer manages today.

Here I must also share with you that within TERI, and this was in 2013, yeah, between 2012 and 2013, we also started a forum called the Chief Sustainability Officers Forum. That forum still runs today in different forms and shapes.

But the single point agenda remains: how do we provide more tools, methodologies, peer comparisons, and the business case for implementing sustainability in strategies as well as in actions.

Looking at successful CSOs in the industry, both domestically and internationally, you'll find a common thread in their career paths. Most have experience in core business functions before transitioning to a CSO role. This experience gives them valuable leverage to connect sustainability with core business needs.

Team Reblue: Got it, super interesting. Following your point about the different considerations for CSOs, a recent Microsoft report titled "Closing the Sustainability Skill Gap" highlighted the critical issue of workforce skills in sustainability.

This report emphasizes the need for a two-pronged approach:

  • A core sustainability team with the essential expertise for sustainability professionals.

  • A broader company-wide understanding of sustainability principles and skill sets within relevant teams.

Given this, we'd love your insights on how aspiring young professionals can enter the corporate sustainability field.

  • Is there a recommended roadmap for building the necessary skills?

  • What specific skills would you advise them to focus on?

Arupendra Mullick: Absolutely. The Microsoft report you mentioned has certainly been eye-opening for many. Here are some key points I'd like to share about the skills and competencies that consistently appear in successful Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs).

There are three main categories of skills and competencies that are always beneficial for CSOs.

First is Technical Skills:

A deep understanding of sustainability issues.

An understanding of the organization's processes, whether it's manufacturing or service-based.

The ability to "overlay" these processes with sustainability imperatives.

Second is Behavioral Skills:

The ability to be an "evangelist" for sustainability, not a preacher.

The ability to work effectively with multiple disciplines, such as HR, finance, operations, and R&D.

Third is Learning and Communication Skills:

The aptitude to learn and internalize new information.

The ability to translate sustainability principles into clear business language.

Looking at successful CSOs in the industry, both domestically and internationally, you'll find a common thread in their career paths. Most have experience in core business functions before transitioning to a CSO role. This experience gives them valuable leverage to connect sustainability with core business needs.

The more effectively sustainability is integrated with core business functions, the greater the overall success for the organization.

Team Reblue: Any advice you have for younger people getting into sustainability?

Arupendra Mullick: Well, for the youth, I would break them into two categories.

Those who are still finishing their academics can get involved as interns or volunteers in on-ground programs. This exposure will be very beneficial in understanding how things work in the real world and how real-world users view sustainability issues.

For young professionals who have been with an organization for a year or two, there are several online courses available, including some offered by TERI and beginner-level courses on LinkedIn. These can help hone their sustainability skills. Additionally, reading sustainability reports published by their organization can be insightful.

For your subscribers to better understand the value of real-world exposure, let me share an example. I once worked on a project to replace coal used in roadside dhabas (restaurants) in Madhya Pradesh's Chambal region. From a climate and sustainability perspective, this seemed like a great solution. Replacing coal with biomass briquettes for the dhaba owners would clearly reduce greenhouse gas emissions on paper.

However, the real-world challenge I encountered was the traditional design of the chulas (stoves) in these dhabas. These stoves are designed to work with low-quality coal, and their insulation and heat flow are optimized for that fuel. If the fuel is changed to something with different burning characteristics, the heat flow and cooking time will be significantly affected.

Without understanding this, entrepreneurs running these dhabas wouldn't adopt the new fuel source because it would disrupt their business model. Once we factored in the need for stove modifications, the uptake of the new fuel source increased significantly.

Another example related to cooking is the efficient Chula designed to use less coal and reduce air pollution. This Chula, designed in Bangladesh, was introduced in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. However, the design wasn't adapted for the different cooking styles in these regions. In Bangladesh, the Chula was used for cooking rice, while in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it was used for cooking rotis, which require different heat flow characteristics. This was a valuable lesson learned.

The point is that real-world experience provides valuable exposure to the practical considerations needed for successful implementation of sustainability solutions.

Team Reblue: Arup Sir, this is very inspiring! And particularly the last point also about like when you mentioned it should be beyond regulations and you know, based on actions.

Recently, we just did an interview with an author called Rajeev Peshawaria. His user in a book called Sustainable Sustainability, where he essentially argues that like the leadership within a company or any company should look beyond just meeting the regulations and try to have a vision that goes beyond that.

And you need leadership to run that. So it definitely aligns with the things that we're hearing. What views do you have on this?

Arupendra Mullick: One practical experience that highlights our belief that we won't run out of fuel and that things will continue to grow is the concept of "7 blocks of activities."

These seven blocks of activities are fundamental to the current landscape of sustainability practices and represent areas where digitization can make a significant impact.

The first block focuses on implementing strategies. This includes aspects like preparing Management Information Systems (MIS), using digitization to evaluate performance, and leveraging automated systems for tasks traditionally done manually.

The second block emphasizes benchmarking. Here, digitization solutions can be crucial for scanning use cases within and outside your sector.

The third foundational block centers on stakeholder engagement. Today, you can tag brands on social media, but how can digitization further enable two-way communication with organizations, customers, and employees?

The fourth block deals with the value chain, exploring how digitization can facilitate compliance monitoring.

The fifth block looks at financing, particularly sustainable financing. This explores how digitization solutions can instill confidence in new players entering this space.

The final block, of course, is reporting and disclosures. This goes beyond mere compliance and involves creating audit trails for the data managed by the organization.

Team Reblue: We spoke about digitization with AI coming in. How do you see the sustainability space changing over the next few years in terms of AI? What do you think is the impact of AI going to be?

Arupendra Mullick: So, AI though... I think we'll now need existing employees, particularly young people, to be more intelligent, exhibit their intelligence, and compete with what AI can solve in the real world. We're seeing firsthand how digital transformation enables the switch from manual processes to automation using data insights and business decision-making.

Now, here's a real-world example. You often hear in the news that India is doing fantastic in renewable energy, with a best-in-class trajectory for generating and using it.

That's true, of course. Currently, 40% of the total electricity produced in the country comes from renewable sources. However, this presents a challenge for distribution companies. We're working with one of the largest in the Delhi National Capital Region.

Traditionally, they knew there were a set number of thermal power plants producing a certain amount of electricity that would be transmitted by the grid. They'd procure it from the generator and then distribute it to commercial and residential customers.

With the advent of renewable energy, which wasn't previously integrated into the grid, the discom (distribution company) faces two problems. First, they need to know how much renewable energy is being pumped into the grid. Second, regulations now allow customers to request renewable energy for their homes or offices.

So, how can they predict demand in advance to procure enough renewable energy from the grid while fulfilling customer needs? We're helping this utility use a digital twin platform that uses AI to make these predictions.

Importantly, customers who request renewable energy pay a premium, making them valuable to the distribution company. The company wants to attract more of these customers.

This digital twin, powered by AI, is now enabling their processes. It also helps ensure a balance between demand and supply, allowing them to demonstrate and place orders for increased use of variable renewable energy.

This wouldn't have been possible without digital transformation and AI. This is just the beginning of what we'll see AI do in the real world.

However, electrical engineers in this discom now need to upgrade their skills to use these digital platforms and leverage digitization to their advantage. This becomes an important area for action.

These digital twins are just one case study. Every major metropolitan discom is testing or adopting similar platforms. This will make a clear difference in operational efficiency, grid modernization, network planning, customer interface, and all the other utilities that come into play.

Collaboration is a powerful tool. Matchmaking to solve sustainability challenges can be very effective. In the sustainability domain, focusing solely on disclosures and reporting is shortsighted. Action is key to advancing sustainability principles and aligning them with business growth. Collaboration is the key to bring new ideas for action to the table.

Team Reblue: Arup sir, our last question to you is how can this be done at scale where it becomes not a big deal for seemingly competing companies to work together on sustainability? Can you share some examples if you have any. 

Arupendra Mullick: Well, collaboration is very, very important. Enabling collaboration in today's context would be a timely and relevant engagement. Here are a couple of real-world examples that show how collaboration makes sense.

Let's go back to 2003 or maybe even 2002. In that timeframe, the Indian cement sector got together to collaborate. These were competitors who usually bid against each other in the market.

They came together to develop a collaboration plan to implement sustainability practices. What resulted from this? Today, Indian cement manufacturing has the lowest specific energy consumption per ton of cement, which is a global benchmark.

How did it happen? Because all the manufacturers had a similar type of manufacturing process. Everyone agreed to adopt newer technologies that were more clean-cleaning in nature. This provided both business benefits in terms of operational cost and climate and sustainability benefits.

The entire cement industry transitioned from a wet process to a dry process. Today, if you visit any cement plant, your white shirt won't get dirty because the process is completely enclosed and clean.

Of course, unlike a cement plant, an Infosys campus doesn't have mining trucks moving around, but otherwise, the manufacturing process today is very clean.

This is the power of collaboration. 

Here's another example of how 2 organizations can come together and make a difference in terms of supply chain and customer onboarding.

State Bank of India and Bank of Maharashtra, typically competitors in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, decided to collaborate. They identified priority districts where they wanted to onboard new customers.

They created a platform that engaged residents of the district, providing them with access to government and citizen services. This would become part of the process to onboard more customers and enable more financial inclusion.

There was a citizen service center set up, but it had a poor electricity connection. This meant that the e-government services wouldn't reach the customers effectively.

So, they powered the citizen service center with renewable energy. Solar panels were put up, and any excess energy was used for mobile phone charging. This setup led to a significant increase in foot traffic, and both banks were able to onboard more customers through this collaborative platform.

The third example I want to share is Lakme Fashion Week, which enables a platform for the value chain to connect the demand and supply sides. Their competitors are Copenhagen Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and Paris Fashion Week.

The Lakme Fashion Week team realized that none of their competitors had a dedicated focus on sustainability. We at TERI helped them make Lakme Fashion Week, held in Mumbai, a carbon-neutral event.

And after implementing these business-justified interventions, they didn't stop there. They wanted to make it more than just a one-time effort.

One of the three days of Lakme Fashion Week is devoted to sustainable fashion. Traditional artisans, technology providers for sustainable materials, and fashion designers all come together to showcase sustainable practices.

This platform has an annual feature showcasing products that have been procured and manufactured sustainably. Some products even have certifications or labels for being sustainable.

So, collaboration is a powerful tool. Matchmaking to solve sustainability challenges can be very effective. In the sustainability domain, focusing solely on disclosures and reporting is shortsighted. Action is key to advancing sustainability principles and aligning them with business growth. Collaboration is the key to bring new ideas for action to the table.

Team Reblue: Excellent insights Arup sir! This was a super insightful & inspiring session. I’m sure our readers will get a ton of value from your inputs. Thank you for your time!  


Arupendra Nath Mullick, Vice-President, TERI Council for Business Sustainability​ and a leading voice on corporate sustainability in India, shared his insights with Team Reblue in an extensive, exclusive interview.


Mr. Mullick's expertise spans research, training, and implementation, guiding businesses through the complexities of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations. Currently leading interdisciplinary research teams at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a sustainability pioneer in India, Mr. Mullick boasts an impressive career. He's developed sustainability roadmaps for Fortune 500 companies, trained diverse audiences, and authored research presented at international forums. But Mr. Mullick goes beyond theory. He's designed the first-of-its-kind sustainability dashboard for a leading chemical company, demonstrating his ability to bridge the gap between principles and practical application. A recognized thought leader, Mr. Mullick emphasizes collaboration as the key to achieving real-world sustainability goals. Read excerpts from the exclusive interview below:


Team Reblue: Welcome Arup sir! Thank you for doing this interview with us and we know our readers are as excited to read your thoughts as we are to do this interview with you. So let’s get right into it!
Starting with your work at TERI & in sustainability space on an everyday basis, we understand you encounter many climate-related projects through your work. Can you share an example of a corporate initiative on sustainability that particularly excites you?

Arupendra Mullick: Yes, I believe that the well-founded answers and explanations we provide to skeptics consistently lead to positive actions from those enterprises.

Let me tell you about an example that comes to mind: my work with the Delhi Metro. The Delhi Metro, as your readers may know, has a program of activities (POA) that mandates them to be involved in designing and advising on sustainable practices for all new metro projects across India.

The Delhi Metro's sustainability roadmap has become a global example of how public transportation can achieve sustainability while remaining profitable (meeting both bottom-line and top-line objectives).

Specifically, this includes the Jaipur Metro, the Cochin Metro, the Lucknow Metro, the Bangalore Metro, the Mumbai Metro, and the Chennai Metro.

That's right. The DMRC's POA applies to various metros, including Jaipur, Cochin, Lucknow, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Chennai.

When we began working with DMRC, the chairman presented a unique opportunity. He appointed both the director of operations and the director of finance to lead the development of the Delhi Metro's sustainability roadmap.

Initially, there were some differing viewpoints between the director of operations and the director of finance.

Through collaboration, we were able to develop a world-class sustainability roadmap for the Delhi Metro, even though the initial version had some gaps identified by skeptics.

The Delhi Metro's sustainability roadmap has become a global example of how public transportation can achieve sustainability while remaining profitable (meeting both bottom-line and top-line objectives).

Team Reblue: Wow, that's super interesting. Is this road map public or is it within DMRC itself? Because we would love to see it.

Arupendra Mullick: As part of DMRC's master plan, they have a publicly available document on sustainability. I believe they have a more detailed internal report, but a public sustainability report on the Delhi Metro website would be a great resource to learn more about the specific initiatives they are undertaking to embed sustainability into their daily operations.

Team Reblue: Before moving on, I'm curious about how DMRC, a public utility company, decided to prioritize sustainability. What factors drove this decision? Who were the key people behind this push?

Arupendra Mullick: Absolutely, you've pinpointed a key factor, and thank you for asking this question.

This push for sustainability at DMRC is similar to what many organizations are experiencing. There was a definite need for DMRC to adopt a structured approach to sustainability, particularly as the corporation envisioned raising new investments.

The initial investors for DMRC, including Japan, were primarily focused on the first phase of the Delhi Metro project. However, as the network expanded, there was a need for additional capital. New potential investors, along with their capital, placed a condition on their involvement. They required DMRC to clearly illustrate and document its sustainability practices, both in its current operations and in its future expansion plans.

Team Reblue: Wow. And this must have been like what 10 years to 15 years ago?

Mr. Arup: Yeah, it was precisely 10 years ago. I think 2014 was the period when the first cut was out, but the work began in 2011.

In the sustainability space, you need to be prepared to deal with both skeptics and enthusiasts. I learned this from Mr. Peter Graf, the world's first designated Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at SAP. During our candid conversations, Mr. Graf would often relay his experience of being literally thrown out of rooms by people who believed sustainability didn't matter to the bottom line and was a distraction. This was back in 2002.

Team Reblue: Your work likely puts you in contact with many senior leaders in corporate sustainability, particularly Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs). We've been hearing a lot more about CSOs recently.

In your view, how has the role of the CSO changed over the past five years, or perhaps even the last decade?

What future trends do you see for the role of CSOs in the next ten years?

What advice would you give to CSOs navigating this evolving landscape?

Arupendra Mullick: This is a very good question.

In the sustainability space, you need to be prepared to deal with both skeptics and enthusiasts. I learned this from Mr. Peter Graf, the world's first designated Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at SAP. During our candid conversations, Mr. Graf would often relay his experience of being literally thrown out of rooms by people who believed sustainability didn't matter to the bottom line and was a distraction. This was back in 2002.

Fast forward to today, the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer has become incredibly important. We continually see organizations looking to embed sustainability into their operations, and one of the first steps they take is hiring a CSO to formalize their ESG strategy.

A chief sustainability officer today has a significant role to transform the core operations, which is more internal or inward-looking. Whereas the Chief Sustainability Officer also has a very important role to drive external values in.

Team Reblue: That's an amazing insight you told us. Is there any advice that you have for CSOs currently that you think would be helpful for them?

Arupendra Mullick: So for every CSO, and what I have seen, this kind of work is to keep two hats on.

A chief sustainability officer today has a significant role to transform the core operations, which is more internal or inward-looking.

Whereas the Chief Sustainability Officer also has a very important role to drive external values in.

In total, there are four things, both internally as well as externally, that we see are important components of work, or the portfolio of work that a sustainability officer manages today.

Now, when I say transforming the core operations, there are two things which become very important in today's context.

The first is, how do I transform the products and value chain to be sustainable, right?

And the second component of work is, you know, on how do I transform the culture and the purpose of the organization, which consistently demonstrate sustainability leadership, right?

On the other hand, when it is more about external relationships, I think the important role that a Chief Sustainability Officer plays today is on reputation and how do I create a positive reputation?

The second aspect for driving external value is definitely capital market access and investor relationship.

So transforming the core operations and driving external value go hand in hand for the portfolio of work that a chief sustainability officer manages today.

Here I must also share with you that within TERI, and this was in 2013, yeah, between 2012 and 2013, we also started a forum called the Chief Sustainability Officers Forum. That forum still runs today in different forms and shapes.

But the single point agenda remains: how do we provide more tools, methodologies, peer comparisons, and the business case for implementing sustainability in strategies as well as in actions.

Looking at successful CSOs in the industry, both domestically and internationally, you'll find a common thread in their career paths. Most have experience in core business functions before transitioning to a CSO role. This experience gives them valuable leverage to connect sustainability with core business needs.

Team Reblue: Got it, super interesting. Following your point about the different considerations for CSOs, a recent Microsoft report titled "Closing the Sustainability Skill Gap" highlighted the critical issue of workforce skills in sustainability.

This report emphasizes the need for a two-pronged approach:

  • A core sustainability team with the essential expertise for sustainability professionals.

  • A broader company-wide understanding of sustainability principles and skill sets within relevant teams.

Given this, we'd love your insights on how aspiring young professionals can enter the corporate sustainability field.

  • Is there a recommended roadmap for building the necessary skills?

  • What specific skills would you advise them to focus on?

Arupendra Mullick: Absolutely. The Microsoft report you mentioned has certainly been eye-opening for many. Here are some key points I'd like to share about the skills and competencies that consistently appear in successful Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs).

There are three main categories of skills and competencies that are always beneficial for CSOs.

First is Technical Skills:

A deep understanding of sustainability issues.

An understanding of the organization's processes, whether it's manufacturing or service-based.

The ability to "overlay" these processes with sustainability imperatives.

Second is Behavioral Skills:

The ability to be an "evangelist" for sustainability, not a preacher.

The ability to work effectively with multiple disciplines, such as HR, finance, operations, and R&D.

Third is Learning and Communication Skills:

The aptitude to learn and internalize new information.

The ability to translate sustainability principles into clear business language.

Looking at successful CSOs in the industry, both domestically and internationally, you'll find a common thread in their career paths. Most have experience in core business functions before transitioning to a CSO role. This experience gives them valuable leverage to connect sustainability with core business needs.

The more effectively sustainability is integrated with core business functions, the greater the overall success for the organization.

Team Reblue: Any advice you have for younger people getting into sustainability?

Arupendra Mullick: Well, for the youth, I would break them into two categories.

Those who are still finishing their academics can get involved as interns or volunteers in on-ground programs. This exposure will be very beneficial in understanding how things work in the real world and how real-world users view sustainability issues.

For young professionals who have been with an organization for a year or two, there are several online courses available, including some offered by TERI and beginner-level courses on LinkedIn. These can help hone their sustainability skills. Additionally, reading sustainability reports published by their organization can be insightful.

For your subscribers to better understand the value of real-world exposure, let me share an example. I once worked on a project to replace coal used in roadside dhabas (restaurants) in Madhya Pradesh's Chambal region. From a climate and sustainability perspective, this seemed like a great solution. Replacing coal with biomass briquettes for the dhaba owners would clearly reduce greenhouse gas emissions on paper.

However, the real-world challenge I encountered was the traditional design of the chulas (stoves) in these dhabas. These stoves are designed to work with low-quality coal, and their insulation and heat flow are optimized for that fuel. If the fuel is changed to something with different burning characteristics, the heat flow and cooking time will be significantly affected.

Without understanding this, entrepreneurs running these dhabas wouldn't adopt the new fuel source because it would disrupt their business model. Once we factored in the need for stove modifications, the uptake of the new fuel source increased significantly.

Another example related to cooking is the efficient Chula designed to use less coal and reduce air pollution. This Chula, designed in Bangladesh, was introduced in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. However, the design wasn't adapted for the different cooking styles in these regions. In Bangladesh, the Chula was used for cooking rice, while in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it was used for cooking rotis, which require different heat flow characteristics. This was a valuable lesson learned.

The point is that real-world experience provides valuable exposure to the practical considerations needed for successful implementation of sustainability solutions.

Team Reblue: Arup Sir, this is very inspiring! And particularly the last point also about like when you mentioned it should be beyond regulations and you know, based on actions.

Recently, we just did an interview with an author called Rajeev Peshawaria. His user in a book called Sustainable Sustainability, where he essentially argues that like the leadership within a company or any company should look beyond just meeting the regulations and try to have a vision that goes beyond that.

And you need leadership to run that. So it definitely aligns with the things that we're hearing. What views do you have on this?

Arupendra Mullick: One practical experience that highlights our belief that we won't run out of fuel and that things will continue to grow is the concept of "7 blocks of activities."

These seven blocks of activities are fundamental to the current landscape of sustainability practices and represent areas where digitization can make a significant impact.

The first block focuses on implementing strategies. This includes aspects like preparing Management Information Systems (MIS), using digitization to evaluate performance, and leveraging automated systems for tasks traditionally done manually.

The second block emphasizes benchmarking. Here, digitization solutions can be crucial for scanning use cases within and outside your sector.

The third foundational block centers on stakeholder engagement. Today, you can tag brands on social media, but how can digitization further enable two-way communication with organizations, customers, and employees?

The fourth block deals with the value chain, exploring how digitization can facilitate compliance monitoring.

The fifth block looks at financing, particularly sustainable financing. This explores how digitization solutions can instill confidence in new players entering this space.

The final block, of course, is reporting and disclosures. This goes beyond mere compliance and involves creating audit trails for the data managed by the organization.

Team Reblue: We spoke about digitization with AI coming in. How do you see the sustainability space changing over the next few years in terms of AI? What do you think is the impact of AI going to be?

Arupendra Mullick: So, AI though... I think we'll now need existing employees, particularly young people, to be more intelligent, exhibit their intelligence, and compete with what AI can solve in the real world. We're seeing firsthand how digital transformation enables the switch from manual processes to automation using data insights and business decision-making.

Now, here's a real-world example. You often hear in the news that India is doing fantastic in renewable energy, with a best-in-class trajectory for generating and using it.

That's true, of course. Currently, 40% of the total electricity produced in the country comes from renewable sources. However, this presents a challenge for distribution companies. We're working with one of the largest in the Delhi National Capital Region.

Traditionally, they knew there were a set number of thermal power plants producing a certain amount of electricity that would be transmitted by the grid. They'd procure it from the generator and then distribute it to commercial and residential customers.

With the advent of renewable energy, which wasn't previously integrated into the grid, the discom (distribution company) faces two problems. First, they need to know how much renewable energy is being pumped into the grid. Second, regulations now allow customers to request renewable energy for their homes or offices.

So, how can they predict demand in advance to procure enough renewable energy from the grid while fulfilling customer needs? We're helping this utility use a digital twin platform that uses AI to make these predictions.

Importantly, customers who request renewable energy pay a premium, making them valuable to the distribution company. The company wants to attract more of these customers.

This digital twin, powered by AI, is now enabling their processes. It also helps ensure a balance between demand and supply, allowing them to demonstrate and place orders for increased use of variable renewable energy.

This wouldn't have been possible without digital transformation and AI. This is just the beginning of what we'll see AI do in the real world.

However, electrical engineers in this discom now need to upgrade their skills to use these digital platforms and leverage digitization to their advantage. This becomes an important area for action.

These digital twins are just one case study. Every major metropolitan discom is testing or adopting similar platforms. This will make a clear difference in operational efficiency, grid modernization, network planning, customer interface, and all the other utilities that come into play.

Collaboration is a powerful tool. Matchmaking to solve sustainability challenges can be very effective. In the sustainability domain, focusing solely on disclosures and reporting is shortsighted. Action is key to advancing sustainability principles and aligning them with business growth. Collaboration is the key to bring new ideas for action to the table.

Team Reblue: Arup sir, our last question to you is how can this be done at scale where it becomes not a big deal for seemingly competing companies to work together on sustainability? Can you share some examples if you have any. 

Arupendra Mullick: Well, collaboration is very, very important. Enabling collaboration in today's context would be a timely and relevant engagement. Here are a couple of real-world examples that show how collaboration makes sense.

Let's go back to 2003 or maybe even 2002. In that timeframe, the Indian cement sector got together to collaborate. These were competitors who usually bid against each other in the market.

They came together to develop a collaboration plan to implement sustainability practices. What resulted from this? Today, Indian cement manufacturing has the lowest specific energy consumption per ton of cement, which is a global benchmark.

How did it happen? Because all the manufacturers had a similar type of manufacturing process. Everyone agreed to adopt newer technologies that were more clean-cleaning in nature. This provided both business benefits in terms of operational cost and climate and sustainability benefits.

The entire cement industry transitioned from a wet process to a dry process. Today, if you visit any cement plant, your white shirt won't get dirty because the process is completely enclosed and clean.

Of course, unlike a cement plant, an Infosys campus doesn't have mining trucks moving around, but otherwise, the manufacturing process today is very clean.

This is the power of collaboration. 

Here's another example of how 2 organizations can come together and make a difference in terms of supply chain and customer onboarding.

State Bank of India and Bank of Maharashtra, typically competitors in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, decided to collaborate. They identified priority districts where they wanted to onboard new customers.

They created a platform that engaged residents of the district, providing them with access to government and citizen services. This would become part of the process to onboard more customers and enable more financial inclusion.

There was a citizen service center set up, but it had a poor electricity connection. This meant that the e-government services wouldn't reach the customers effectively.

So, they powered the citizen service center with renewable energy. Solar panels were put up, and any excess energy was used for mobile phone charging. This setup led to a significant increase in foot traffic, and both banks were able to onboard more customers through this collaborative platform.

The third example I want to share is Lakme Fashion Week, which enables a platform for the value chain to connect the demand and supply sides. Their competitors are Copenhagen Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and Paris Fashion Week.

The Lakme Fashion Week team realized that none of their competitors had a dedicated focus on sustainability. We at TERI helped them make Lakme Fashion Week, held in Mumbai, a carbon-neutral event.

And after implementing these business-justified interventions, they didn't stop there. They wanted to make it more than just a one-time effort.

One of the three days of Lakme Fashion Week is devoted to sustainable fashion. Traditional artisans, technology providers for sustainable materials, and fashion designers all come together to showcase sustainable practices.

This platform has an annual feature showcasing products that have been procured and manufactured sustainably. Some products even have certifications or labels for being sustainable.

So, collaboration is a powerful tool. Matchmaking to solve sustainability challenges can be very effective. In the sustainability domain, focusing solely on disclosures and reporting is shortsighted. Action is key to advancing sustainability principles and aligning them with business growth. Collaboration is the key to bring new ideas for action to the table.

Team Reblue: Excellent insights Arup sir! This was a super insightful & inspiring session. I’m sure our readers will get a ton of value from your inputs. Thank you for your time!  


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Reblue Ventures

We aim to make sustainability simply smart business. Through research and partnerships, we develop pragmatic solutions that reveal the immense uncaptured value in sustainable operations.

© 2024 ✣ All rights reserved.

Reblue Ventures

Reblue Ventures

We aim to make sustainability simply smart business. Through research and partnerships, we develop pragmatic solutions that reveal the immense uncaptured value in sustainable operations.

© 2024 ✣ All rights reserved.

Reblue Ventures

Reblue Ventures

We aim to make sustainability simply smart business. Through research and partnerships, we develop pragmatic solutions that reveal the immense uncaptured value in sustainable operations.

© 2024 ✣ All rights reserved.

Reblue Ventures

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