Building Momentum towards a Circular Economy

#ABG #Sustainability #Circulareconomy

Deeksha Vats

As a part of Sustainable Circular Economy Series – Doing Well by Doing Good, powered by BiofuelCircle; Pro MFG Media conducted an exclusive Interview with Deeksha Vats, Chief Sustainability Officer, Aditya Birla Group; to understand key initiatives of Aditya Birla Group on Sustainability. The article gives a brief overview of her insights towards the group’s aspirations.

Spelling out the Aditya Birla Group’s Sustainability vision; Deeksha Vats, Chief Sustainability Officer, Aditya Birla Group; asserted: “Aditya Birla Group’s endeavour is to become the leading Indian conglomerate for sustainable business practices across its global operations, balancing its economic growth with environmental and societal interests.”

Aditya Birla Group’s sustainability framework in its business and the Group works with the holistic pursuit of a three-step agenda. Firstly, managing business operations responsibly, this includes but is not limited to the creation of a safe working environment at all sites and workplaces, conserving energy and water, managing waste and emissions and the protection of human rights. Secondly, the understanding of material issues of all stakeholders from their perspective and finally the usage of this knowledge to actively seek ways to create and share value with each of these stakeholder groups. This has always been the Group’s philosophy and all businesses have demonstrated a commitment to the environment and to society that goes beyond mere compliance with laws and regulations.

The mandate of the Group Sustainability Cell is to help formalise and integrate the principles and standards required to develop and enhance sustainable businesses throughout the Aditya Birla Group. The cell supports the development of good governance structures, a sustainability framework and practical roadmaps to help businesses survive and thrive in a changing world and in doing so help achieve the Group’s Sustainability Vision.

Group Sustainability Vision and Carbon Neutrality Goals

Sustainability is a conglomerate’s ability to recognize the latest trends in balancing the act within the sectors of operations and execute it across our geographical spread, thus impacting across the value chain. The Group has taken cognizance of environmental, social issues and governance perspectives to set long term targets and ESG commitments accordingly.

Many times it becomes difficult to link businesses’ ways of visioning the whole aspect of biodiversity as a group. Ms Vats explained, “We have worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a recognized global authority; and we did a pilot before the main execution at one of our cement locations. We collected the data and used the findings to set our policy, and also developed a standard protocol for everyone to follow, so that we can achieve the biodiversity target. Here, the Aditya Birla Group’s approach was to contextualize the learnings into our ways of businesses.”

“Focusing on biodiversity and land use, we are worried about waste because we need more and more land to store it. Therefore, many of our businesses have set goals, like for example – Hindalco’s objective for 2030 is that it would not set out any waste on land, rather recycle, reuse and process it. Speaking on the global front, and about greater challenges like climate change which involves segments like cement, metals and mining. For example, HINDALCO aims at being net zero by 2050. Likewise, UltraTech Cement has adopted science-based targets which have been approved by Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi), a globally recognized initiative in climate science. With key learnings by our side, we have partnered with experts to find solutions and implemented the same in our business operations.”

This vividly showcases the group's commitment towards a science-based approach to meet carbon neutrality goals.

Evolving Energy Mix, Energy Conservation & Energy Efficiency

“The focus on using our energy well is inbuilt in the way we run our businesses, especially the manufacturing sector. In manufacturing, energy cost is a very large part of our overall cost formulating structure. We understand our energy usage right from the fuel type, demand and supply patterns, etc. Our focus has increased in finding a proxy to the carbon emissions, and we are looking at opportunities to become more and more efficient in our ways of energy usage. For example- UltraTech is extensively looking at waste heat recovery.” A large part of energy is fossil fuel-based, coal based and is likely to stay fossil fuel based for some time to come.

The group is looking for more and more opportunities which are techno commercially viable. Therefore, through R&D and through tech-expert colleagues, the organization is exploring options to decarbonize and then set goals.

Initiatives Taken Towards Circular Economy

“We have also set some global benchmarks, for example, Hindalco subsidiary Novelis uses almost 62% aluminum that is recycled. Hindalco Industries in agreement with UltraTech Cement to supply tonnes of bauxite residue every year to be used as a raw material for cement, as part of its push for alternative methods of disposing of the toxic waste. Hindalco, India's top aluminium and copper producer, would supply tonnes of bauxite residue, also known as red mud, to cement companies, to help cement makers replace their existing raw materials such as laterite, a mineral. This has set a benchmark and has been talked amongst the aluminum peers.

Similarly, Birla Cellulose has introduced LIVA REVIVA, a fibre that is 80% wood pulp & 20% is pre-consumer fabric waste, thus laying emphasis on responsible manufacturing; setting an example of circular economy. These are serving as key levers to decarbonize.” said Ms. Vats.

Digital Tools Implementation towards Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement

An ability to sustain in times to come, is Sustainability. We define it as: a dash between sustainability, Sustain-Ability to make it simple. So that people don't confuse it with whether it's about environment, whether it's about CSR, it's as simple as Will you be around in times to come? And a lot is completely dependent on how you're understanding what your stakeholders are expecting from you - which are your primary customers, secondary consumers, employees, vendors, regulators. Taking these into consideration we have framed our commitments, that's how we are framing our roadmaps.

And last but not the least, for all of this to operate well, we need regulations and whether it's the Ministry of Mines or the Ministry of Environment, or SEBI, or other stock exchanges, etc. And that's how we framed our commitments, that's how we are framing our roadmaps.

Across ABG businesses, we are engaging with stakeholders - investors, regulators, customers, suppliers, employees, and community. We use digital tools, in order to understand its implementation and assessment of risks across the supply chain. Over a period of time, we have to work towards reducing those risks; first by identifying them and then mitigating them because ultimately, it is more important to efficiently co-exist and grow together.”

About Deeksha Vats

Deeksha is a sustainability professional with over 27 years of work experience in consulting and corporate set-ups. She is currently the Chief Sustainability Officer for the Aditya Birla Group (ABG), where she drives the sustainable business transformation agenda across all its locations on strategic, operational, communication and advocacy aspects of sustainability. Prior to this role at ABG, she led the sustainability agenda at the group's flagship metals and mining business, Hindalco Industries Limited. At Hindalco, she worked across geographies, functions and aspects towards mainstreaming sustainability in the business. This was a follow-up to her role where she led the environmental sustainability agenda at Aditya Birla Group on topics of climate change, energy transition, water, waste, emissions and biodiversity.

Prior to joining ABG, Deeksha led the Sustainability & Climate Change practice at PwC at their Mumbai office for over 8 years. Over years, through her work at prestigious firms like EY, Engineers India Limited and Chemtex Engineering Limited, Deeksha has worked across diverse industry sectors. A regular speaker, panelist at sustainability events, she has been at the forefront of the sustainability agenda in India through participation in working groups, industry bodies and expert networks.