Sustainability is a business imperative now: Arun Seth, Chairman of Alcatel-Lucent India

Sustainability should not be mistaken with corporate social responsibility. It has to be ingrained within businesses, says Arun Seth, Chairman of Alcatel-Lucent India and Non-executive Chairman of BT India in an interview with OneWorld South Asia, a network of people and groups working for human rights and sustainable development from across the globe. Excerpts:

You have been attending  Delhi Sustainable Development Summit ( DSDS) for years. How would you sum up the summit’s contribution to the sustainability movement in India?
DSDS brings the best minds in sustainability together from across the globe. The sustainability movement is not just about academia or business or civil society or the government. It`s about an integrated approach to all of them. DSDS puts the players on a common platform so that issues of sustainability are in sync with businesses for all players. Only then would sustainable development happen. This is where the value of DSDS lies.

The participation of business leaders in sustainability events keeps on increasing with each year. How much of this commitment is translating into action in business operations?
The movement is slow because of business imperatives. TERI Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) is affiliated to World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Global business leaders don`t just attend the DSDS just to share best practices. The ideas taken back do result in business action. Many companies are now reporting to the triple bottom line to measure their business standards.

Sometimes people confuse sustainability with corporate social responsibility. They are wrong! The concept of sustainability has to be ingrained within the very framework of the businesses.

Today’s consumers are energy conscious. The demand for energy efficient products is more than those without efficiency standards. Businesses are now realising that unless they adopt sustainable practices, they are going to lose business opportunities. A positive circle has developed with awareness among consumers and businesses on sustainability.

However the process has been slow. We have to find out ways to make it faster.

How do you rate Indian businesses vs global businesses on sustainability?
That’s a tough one to answer. But what I do hope is that through DSDS, BCSD and WBCSD, we can turn good businesses into better ones. I think the West is far more ahead because they were the ones who industrialised much ahead of us. Also the customers there are far more demanding – whether it is human rights or sustainability.

However, India and China are quickly catching up. The National Solar Mission of India is way ahead of any other country.

Alcatel is aggressive on sustainability globally. Why is not this global commitment getting sufficiently reflected in India?
Let me tell you, Alcatel does have its green targets. The products we sell to the telecom operators have least energy consumption in the world. We came up with a new product last year which is called Light Radio. It has the lowest power consumption globally. We are doing that because we believe in green.

Our other programme, called Green Touch is a global alliance of manufacturers, customers, partners and academia where we work to drive green behaviour. These products are for sustainable development!

What do you think of Indian government’s emphasis on CSR?
I personally feel that the proposed provision for earmarking 2% of the companies’ profits for CSR should be voluntary. It’s a good proposal and most of the good companies invest more than 2% of their profits into social sector. But I feel making it mandatory will create a big debate.

How is your other company, British Telecom, pursuing sustainability post-recession?
The recession is a blessing in disguise because it has forced us to cut costs. In telecom sector, energy contributes to the largest operating costs. BT as a company consumes nearly 1% of UK’s electricity. In the past couple of years, BT has started giving huge weightage to energy consumption while buying equipment. This drives our suppliers to make equipments which optimise energy consumption.

(Sourced from OneWorld South Asia)



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