IT a huge enabler of sustainability: Girish Ramachandran

Regardless of whether a global deal on climate change is achieved by year end, climate change is happening and it’s time for businesses to be the driving force, says the newly-minted Asia Pacific president of IT giant Tata Consultancy Services.

The written word can go a long way in empowering the less privileged. But it typically takes 200 hours of learning to make a person literate and this can lead to high dropout rates. To tackle this issue, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) launched an initiative called Computer Based Functional Literacy a decade ago to help make people literate and teach them new languages through a free computer pogramme using animated graphics.

This method ensures reading can be learnt in 40 to 45 hours, and its relative ease has helped 260 million people in India improve their lives. The initiative has since grown in popularity and expanded to Africa, while picking up many accolades along the way. This example exemplifies how IT can be used to improve lives and sustainability - a firm belief held by Girish Ramachandran, the newly-minted Asia Pacific president of the IT giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

In his previous role as corporate vice president, Ramachandran was part of the CEO’s office and responsible for the organization’s strategic business initiatives. The Indian national, who joined TCS in 1994 and held various portfolios including head of TCS’s Europe operations, predicts that in the coming years, the role of IT in delivering efficient systems and information exchange will only grow.

This will help “green” supply chains the world over. Internally, TCS has applied its own systems to make it as operationally efficient” as possible - a move that has helped TCS win recognition as a leader in sustainability in Asia. Ramachandran adds that regardless of whether a global climate deal is achieved by governments by year end, it is time for businesses to be the driving force. Corporates have a responsibility to employees, consumers and investors to be a sustainable organisation, he says. 

Trained in computer technology, Ramachandran holds executive board positions at the Europe-India Institute and International Business Foundation Amsterdam. He is also the Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industries’ Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) chapter.

As we look back on the year, what do you think were the biggest headlines that had a significant impact on business and sustainability?

This year we have seen how IT can be a huge transformation enabler in the area of sustainability. Whether it’s advocacy, e-governance or urban consumption, governments and companies around the world are talking about green supply chain and procurement, sustainability programmes and carbon trading. In all of this, IT can help in building a sustainable future for all organisations. 

At Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), our CSR is focused in three areas - education, health and environment. We are using IT as an enabler for some of these initiatives. For example, we have a programme called Computer Based Functional Literacy that uses IT to help people become literate and to learn new languages. This project has been regarded very well around the world, in India and in Africa. 

At the same time, the industry needs also to look inwards and work on its processes. At TCS, we are constantly looking at our energy consumption and put in place internal programmes to reduce this as much as possible. And it’s not just energy we’re worried about, but also our water, waste and carbon footprint. We are investing in cleaner technology and processes and measuring its benefits. 

In 2014, TCS received some great recognition for sustainability, including being named number one in the Channel NewsAsia Sustainability Ranking of the top 100 most sustainable companies in 10 key Asian economies. We are immensely proud that our sustainability practices are recognized as amongst the best in the world.

What do you think are the key themes that will dominate the corporate agenda as we go into 2015?

Organisations looking at sustainability will need to look at three things – economy, value and ecology. Companies need to increase its operational efficiency and that’s where IT can play a big part. The second part is about benefits. Consumers are demanding where the products are being sourced from as well as produced in the right way. Supply chains are increasingly becoming very important and IT can help give it visibility.

Connectivity among supply chain actors is necessary to enable collaboration and information exchange. In the 21st century model, supply chain participants will be linked through information hubs. Innovative IT systems will provide support for companies to make smart decisions and build new capabilities while ensuring the full supply chain cycle delivers on agility and sustainability.

Sustainability will be a big theme going forward. In India, for example, CSR spending has become the law. But if you look at the Tata group, it has been spending on CSR for many years. It’s the way the company was set up. It has 96 operating companies and each one stands on its own feet, there is no cross subsidy between companies. When the company was formed in 1868, the group’s philosophy is what comes from people has to go to people. At the same time, we are all very profit-minded. And when we make money, we give it to the parent company in dividends. The parent entity, as a philanthropic trust, invests in communities across the world. That’s CSR in a sustainable way.

What is your outlook on the progress of sustainable development specifically in Asia?

The outlook for Asia is marked by four trends. Firstly, it is resource scarce even as its population is rapidly growing. The second is regulation – governments and regulators can go a long way in implementing disclosure policies to increase transparency.

Thirdly, there is a new competitive landscape in Asia where consumers are looking for products which are produced in a sustainable way. This will make companies re-think themselves and their whole value chains. Lastly, Asia is a huge market and has potential for socially responsible investment; we will see more focus on the sustainability performance of companies in the coming years.

 It’s time for business to be the driving force – whether governments ink an agreement or not. As corporates, we have a responsibility to our employees, consumers and investors to be a sustainable organisation.

What are your hopes for the coming year as we approach the December deadline for a global agreement on climate change in Paris? 

I don’t want to comment on what will or will not happen in Paris, but I believe that corporates have a large role to play. It’s time for business to be the driving force – whether governments ink an agreement or not. As corporates, we have a responsibility to our employees, consumers and investors to be a sustainable organisation.

Large companies are affected on multiple levels by climate change, from the extreme weather that can disrupt production and distribution, to the new market opportunities presented by the changing climate. TCS realizes the potential of our IT services and solutions to drive efficiencies through optimization and reduction of wastage, which directly or indirectly reduces environmental impact for our customers. 

What will you and your organisation be working on this year? 

We are looking at impact measurement, in health, environment or education. We are helping organisations look at the impact of their CSR programmes on their business. This will help them decide which areas to invest in, and how to measure the impact.

We are also looking at our own ecosystem of partners and customers – how to add value across the whole value chain by addressing profitability and innovation. 

This interview is part of the “15 on 15” series by Eco-Business where we interview 15 global and Asian leaders on their thoughts on the year ahead. Read all the interviews in the latest issue of the Eco-Business magazine here.

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