Role of Women in Sustainability and Climate Change

For the next edition of Sustainability For Breakfast (S4B), we decided to focus on the women in sustainability and climate change. The platform, in association with YES Bank, witnessed women leaders from sustainability come together to discuss the current and future roles of women in the sector as well as draw recommendations to improve the gender gap issue across the country. The opening address for the event was by, Namita Vikas, Group President & Global Head, Climate Strategy & Responsible Banking, YES BANK who quoted from the McKinsey Global Institute report:  The power of parity: How advancing gender equality can add $12 trillion to global growth – “The economic potential of India’s women is not achievable without gender gaps in society being addressed”.

For the first time the event brought together women leaders from grassroots to corporates, to deliberate on following key topics:

The Leadership’ Role in Bridging the Gender Gap

This panel deliberated on issues of gender inequality and gender inclusion in enterprises. What emerged was that more than talk, action needs to be taken to resolve gender gap issues. As Shweta Munjal, Head of Corporate Affairs Asia Pacific, at Thompson Reuters, pointed out, her values and beliefs have been shaped by her leaders & managers, which has in turn, allowed her to trickle down the same, from her position. With leadership commitment, the impact will be greater than the status quo of addressing issues in silos. A very key point made by Deodutta Kurane, Group President, Human Capital Management, YES Bank: The leadership contribution to this cause is about sensitizing leaders: What is the gender difference? How do we leverage that gender difference for the benefit of the organization?

Shalaka Joshi Gender Lead from IFC spoke about – IFC’s work with clients and partners in the private sector to ensure that women-focused initiatives and reforms are part of wider employment efforts. This includes women’s entry into management, nomination to corporate boards, and training in financial skills.

Women in Sustainability and Climate Change

Two specific relationships exist between sustainability, climate, and women. First is an example set by women leaders such as Namita Vikas and Deeksha Vats who are at the helm of directing sustainability initiatives across their enterprises, and how they serve as an inspiration for many others to follow suit. The second perspective of this discussion was the effect of climate change on women and their importance in grass root level fight against climate change.

Inspirational leaders who have risen to the top in leading sustainability efforts across their operations clearly emphasize the role women can play in sustainability. Namita Vikas while highlighting the role women empowerment plays in ensuring holistic sustainable development said that “It’s the responsibility of women as well, not to hide under the garb of “being a woman. Sustainability has always faced a problem of acceptability, it ultimately comes to a top-down and bottom-up approach. It comes down to understanding what language to use. But being a woman does not make it difficult or easier”.

In response to the challenges in driving Sustainability & CSR and whether women deliver better results, Deeksha Vats, Joint President- Sustainability, Aditya Birla Group said, “What I believe sets a woman apart is the ability to be adaptable and less intimidating. So that makes conversations much (more) flexible and easier. Also, having empathy is crucial to having faith and working hard. It is all in our heads that we see things work differently. How we see the world is how we see ourselves.”

Climate change adds to women’s daily challenges in developing and less-developed countries in Asia, as in other regions. Naman Gupta from DFID, explained how climate action initiatives in India must involve women in their efforts to address climate change by developing more options for empowering women so that they can play a role during climate risks and building more climate resilient communities.

Women Leading Social Mobilization

 Leaders across sustainability have been leading initiatives aimed at enabling social mobilization and women empowerment. Using the influence and impact they have, leaders in sustainability have been looking at scalable social initiatives to create social change. Women empowerment and social mobilization initiatives like the great work done by CORO India, and Samhita Organization were discussed in this panel. Along with stalwarts like Sugandha Sukrutaraj of AMBA, and YES Foundation’s Prerana Lange, the discussion helped showcase and extract ideas, strategies, and approaches for other industry peers to follow suit. Social Mobilisation is an area where development objective is met through collaboration and dialogue. This area has seen many women leading various areas of social mobilization.

Undoubtedly, a great marker of how the panelists created impact is this quote that we led with, and kept going back to, by Prerana Lange, CEO, YES Foundation “What we are saying is that we teach the person how to love the water, so automatically he or she builds a boat and then learns how to fish.”


This version of S4B focused on the role women are playing in the area of sustainability, the platform encourages engagement, inclusiveness, and recognition of women in every sustainability role within the organizations they work in. The platform not only discussed primary issues such as gender inequality and women empowerment but also looked at how women leaders in sustainability have played important roles. The sessions included speakers engaging with the audience on topics such the role of women leaders in bridging the gender gap, women & climate change, and women leading social mobilization.

The Need of Women Leaders in Sustainability

The passion and energy in the room was palpable, the venue was YES BANK’s corporate office in Mumbai and the date very special – 8th of March i.e. International Women’s Day.  The event was Treeni’s Sustainability for Breakfast (S4B 6.0). It was the first time in India that an event focused on women in Sustainability and Climate change.

It’s 2018: Women breaking the mold in a male-dominated world still surprise us!  Gender disparity still exists and a wide variety of complex social and cultural factors are responsible for it. A worrisome statistic that the World Economic Forums Global Gender Gap report 2017 brought out was – Economic gender gap remains and at the current rate of change, closing the gender gap will now take 217 years. This report highlights that “women represent fewer than 50% of leaders in every industry analyzed – and in some fields, such as energy and mining or manufacturing, the representation of women is far lower, with women holding fewer than 20% of leadership positions. The rate of progress for women has been slow: over the past decade, the proportion of female leaders has increased by an average of just over 2% across the 12 industries studied.”

While conceptualizing the event, our research showed that – only a handful of the top companies in India have an organized sustainability function headed by CSOs, out of which very few CSOs are female. And for Indian core manufacturing companies  –- CSO is a position with EHS and sustainability rolled into one with hardly any ladies heading them!! The saving grace most Indian companies have a CSR function led by women.

Interestingly one participant pointed out: “Is it because Sustainability is considered a fringe function by organizations that we see more women in this area?”

This is a party true. Yes, unfortunately, sustainability is a fringe function, and the fact is we do not see many women leaders here but many women especially young consultants are active in this space.  We should keep in mind the difference in CSR and core sustainability. Since traditionally social work has been a women’s area, CSR function is often headed by women, however in sustainability while we see a lot of women the CSOs are still predominantly men. This corroborates with the facts outlined in the World Economic Forum report in Gender Gap 2017.

Women leadership in sustainability (encompassing CSR, Corp Sustainability, and EHS) is the need of the hour, and the power of the feminine perspective is the most formidable weapon that the world can mobilize, to solve the greatest challenges of our generation, and build a sustainable future.

Building Sustainable Value Chains

Learnings from the Fifth Edition of Treeni’s Sustainability for Breakfast (S4B)

Our recent edition of #S4B focused on how to incorporate sustainability in supply chain. This was arranged in association with Institute of Sustainable Communities. Newer standards, investor pressures, climate risks, social risks, and wide spread environmental pollution and social inequity are forcing companies to look at impacts beyond their own operations. Stakeholders are more focused on knowing how your business is sustainable and green. Supply chain forms one such part of any business, which plays an important role in making an organization sustainable.

Responsible Sourcing

Walmart’s contribution to incorporation of sustainability supply chain is legendary. They have been pioneers in this area since 2005 and launched their famous Walmart Supplier Assessment questionnaire and Index in 2009. Being one of the largest retailers in the world, responsible sourcing is an integral part of the Walmart business, and the company shared the processes, systems and technology interventions they are implementing to ensure they are not only a responsible company, employer, but also a responsible buyer. It is a great example of how large companies can be a great role model for the rest of the industry.

Working towards building Sustainable Communities

Institute of Sustainable communities’ presence is India is being felt through their work in establishing EHS+ centers in India. ISC believes in creation of sustainable communities and for this reason their work globally is helping create resilient supply chains. Suresh Kotla, Director (Sustainable Manufacturing), Institute for Sustainable Communities stated, “At ISC, we have been working with various global organizations to help them implement sustainable processes for building great supply chains. Large business houses will have to play a major role going ahead to mitigate the risk and to achieve sustainability in the supply chain.”

LCA approach to sustainable supply chain

Approach to supply chain from life cycle impact perspective is necessary to identify hotspots from both social and environmental perspective. Dr. Avantika Shastri from SABIC presented how life cycle approach to sustainability at SABIC has helped to define feedstock strategy, marketing of sustainable products, designing of products, assessment of megaprojects from sustainability perspective, technology development, and risk management.

 Inclusion of SMEs

Sustainability is not just a big corporation problem. Here are the top 4 hurdles faced by SMEs in implementing sustainability in their operations.

  • Limited understanding of the strategic importance of sustainability
  • Availability of suitable and affordable technology platforms to manage sustainability initiatives
  • Supporting government policies.
  • Access to sustainable investments.

Suppliers need to be deeply engaged and technology enabled, for innovation and for building resilient value chain, without which SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) cannot be met.

Technology Enablement

Vital to this is technology enablement of sustainability in the supply chain. Some of the key areas of technology enablement are:

Real time data capture

To trace data for multiple tiers of suppliers. Big Data, Mobile Applications, social media, IoT, etc.

 Traceability through data

To trace where the materials were coming from all the way from source of origin. Blockchain, QR codes, ERP, Online surveys.

 Transparency and collaboration in Business models

For reduced costs, delivery times, liability. VMI (vendor managed inventory), PRO (producer responsibility organizations), product design, etc.

Better (remote) connectivity and faster service

To ensure reaching remote areas and faster service. Drones, glocal business models, mobile apps

 Predictive Logistics

To infer effects of climate change, social movements/unrest, distances, etc. GIS, maps with real-time traffic and other data

 Corporate Responsibility

To enable tracking of carbon, water or other footprints and to collaborate with suppliers to reduce their footprint and address fair trade practices and ethical sourcing.


Enterprise players across the globe have been working towards the implementation of sustainability practices in their operations. Collaboration with suppliers can be achieved through the implementation of scientific tracking and reporting methods and enable enterprises to create real impact. Governments and enterprise must enable inclusion of sustainable practices for SMEs.

The Lorax is back!! Speaking on behalf of Biodiversity…

Those who have read Dr. Suess book “The Lorax” to their children know the heartfelt message this book conveys. For those who are not familiar with this book, it chronicles the plight of the environment personified by “the Lorax”, who speaks for the trees against the industry, personified by “Once-Ler”. This fable is relevant even more today as the insatiable appetite for growth and profits tightly coupled to the consumption of natural resources poses a danger to the environment and society at large.

Says the Once-ler to the Lorax who spoke on behalf of the trees and animals who can’t speak:

And then I got mad

I got terribly mad.

I yelled at the Lorax, “Now listen here, Dad!”

All you do is yap-yap and say, “Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!”

Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you

I intend to go on doing just what I do!

And, for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering on biggering




turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds

which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!”

Fourth edition of Treeni’s  ‘Sustainability for Breakfast’ (S4B), co-hosted by Tata Motors at their Worli, Mumbai offices on 4th September, was on “Importance of Biodiversity and the role of Industry” and began with the book reading of “The Lorax”.

Ecosystem and biodiversity loss is linked closely to climate change. The close linkage is symbiotic as Biodiversity loss hastens climate change, and climate change impacts biodiversity loss. Arvind Bodhankar, Corporate Head- Health Safety Environment & Sustainability, Tata Motors, said, “Biodiversity management has become an imperative today, if we have to mitigate the impact of climate change and keep the global temperature rise below 2deg C, large business houses will have to play a major role and support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector. ”

The key learnings from this engaging S4B event was:

Is biodiversity a material issue for my enterprise?

  • If you are a company with large landholdings especially in climate vulnerable areas – biodiversity is a material issue from the sustenance of your operations.
  • If your company with requires resources drawn directly from flora and fauna such as food, cosmetics and pharma sectors biodiversity is core your supply chain vulnerability.
  • If your company’s operations have direct impact on air, noise, soil, water and are operate in the vicinity of sensitive sites such as national parks, protected areas and biodiversity hotspots then it is a material issue for you.

Beyond boundary for biodiversity conservation 

TCS has demonstrated that though their operations do not have a direct negative impact on biodiversity, they can contribute positively to biodiversity through creation of oasis in amidst urban chaos. The incredible work of TCS in protecting the olive ridley turtles showcases how biodiversity project can lead to deeper employee engagement and societal job creation. The value of such work goes much beyond the boundary of the organisation and stands out like a beacon in an ocean.

Natural ecosystem service

The foresight of Sumant Moolgaonkar created an oasis at Tata Motors Pune, which was a scrubby baren land and is now a haven of greenery, a natural wetland habitat of 245 acres amidst rapidly expanding Pune. It attracts 150 species of birds and 60 types of butterflies.  The habitat was planned at the same time as the manufacturing facility. A dam was constructed to conserve rainwater ensuring year-round water availability for Tata Motors and sustains the green cover. This oasis also acts as a natural oxygen generator and safe haven for migratory birds. This provides two vital ecosystem services of clean air and sustained water availability. Conservation efforts by the Tata’s are exemplary and here is a link to a list of initiatives by various Tata companies.

Godrej owns the mangrove forest spread across several hundred acres in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. The three vital ecosystem services provided by the mangroves are carbon sequestration, clean air, and protecting the coastline from inundation.

How can biodiversity preservation become a part of our culture again?

Indian customs have traditionally worshipped nature, and living in harmony has been a part of Indian tradition. However lately widespread disregard for nature by young and old alike due to use of disposable plastics, use of POP idols in festivals, noise pollution, thoughtless killing of snakes in townships & farms, fertilizers & human sewage in water bodies and garbage burning etc., have led to air, noise, and water pollution. The role of the citizen and how we can rally for our green spaces, rivers and water bodies, has the potential for transforming our lives and urban and rural spaces. The need of the hour is cultural transformation where we are back in touch with nature.  Lately corporate landholdings and green spaces have been opened up for nature walks, like Godrej has with the Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Marine Ecology Centre. Active citizenry also means establishment of a new breed of citizen scientists who can contribute to efforts of ecologists in terms of bird/animal spotting in various localities. Understanding how human affluence and greed impacts biodiversity and inculcating a culture of protecting our natural habitat is crucial. One great example of how such a culture of protecting biodiversity in saving the whale sharks along the coast of Gujrat is documented in this wonderful movie called the Shores of Silence.

How can Technology be leveraged to enable biodiversity efforts?

Technology is all pervasive, increasingly Geographical Information Systems(GIS) and drones are being used in context of biodiversity. GIS applications allow mapped data collection, scenario creation and predictions, understanding impact in geospatial context affecting landcover, forests, and human habitats.

Businesses today have several free GIS repositories at their disposal.

  • One such free resource is the Atlas of Global Conservation by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). It is an excellent resource for understanding biological diversity, scientists have divided up the world into more than 1,000 ecoregions and analysed how they compare across dozens of measures. TNC’s atlas offers dozens and dozens of layers of geographic information by terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecoregion.  Dozens of biodiversity metrics can be viewed in this atlas
  • Another free resource is Global Forest Watch. This WRI initiative uses the most advanced satellite data and crowd-sourced information to track deforestation throughout the world in near-real-time. Global Forest Watch offers the latest data, technology and tools that empower people everywhere to better protect forests.
  • The India Biodiversity portal has a unique repository of information on India’s biodiversity. The portal aims to provide open and free access to biodiversity information, and enables widespread participation by all citizens in contributing to and accessing information on Indian biodiversity.

Drones are emerging as a valuable tool for biodiversity conservation. These unmanned vehicles can help monitor protected areas, collect data in inaccessible regions, and even deter poachers and plant trees. In a unique initiative in Burma drones were used for planting mangrove, first drones flying 100 metres (328 ft) above the ground take highly detailed, 3D images of the land while sensors record information such as soil type, soil quality and moisture. The data is then used to create a planting pattern, pinpointing the best spots and species to plant in each location. Then a drone uploaded with the mapping information flies 2 metres above the ground, shooting biodegradable seed pods designed to enhance germination success. A drone carrying 300 seed pods can cover 1 hectare in 18 minutes

Ankush Patel, the Co-founder & CEO of Treeni said “The use of technology to track and monitor industry’s impact on bio diversity has enabled a process for the industry to ensure that a focus on biodiversity is a part of their business operations.”

Sustainability performance management and collaboration platforms which enable enterprises to track their biodiversity indicators, and share best practices within and outside the enterprise, are increasingly used by companies. In context of sharing platforms, it’s worth mentioning about India Business Biodiversity Initiative, which is a business-led initiative that serves as a national platform for business, to promote sharing and learning, and will ultimately lead to mainstreaming sustainable management of biological diversity by business. IBBI was initiated by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India, and is supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

The key message from this edition of the S4B on biodiversity is same as the message from the book, The Lorax, that “Unless someone like YOU cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” In this book “You’ signifies the new generation, but it is clear the going forward industries are the ones that will have a care a whole awful lot…and I was glad to see the exemplary work done by Tata Motors, Godrej, Mahindra Susten, Tata Power and TCS.



4 Activities that will become ‘De-Facto’ for running profitable ventures by 2020 in the Circular Economy

At 10PM Friday evening, over a mug of hot Irish coffee, I was reflecting on the day’s Treeni’s ‘Sustainability for Breakfast’ series catch-up with sustainability practitioners and leaders. I have been through many events and talks around sustainability till date, but today was different. The audience engaged actively and without holding back, what followed was an hour long intense action oriented discussion. Much has been said about circular economy and all the sustainability/ marketing leaders, CEOs/ MDs, know that circularity is the future.

Will answering the following 2 questions help these leaders initiate action in Circular Economy?

  1. Will it be commercially profitable to start running my operations in a circular manner?
  2. How can we make it commercially profitable and sustainable on growth metrics?

“We are now part of the Circular Economy” might be an overwhelming thought for the leaders in any industry.

We neither have to get circularity right in the first attempt, nor do we have to do everything in circularity at one go. Circularity is a thought process and it’s about starting the journey without having to necessarily disrupt everything that we do right now. Achieving excellence in being circular in operation is a continuous process, it’s a matter of habit after we start.

Following are result oriented actions that can be taken by progressive leaders, without a lot of change immediately, and be leaders in enacting Circularity:

  1. Save at least 20% cost on material acquisition: Lookout for 2 companies that produce the best quality by-products of input value to your business (such as information, materials, water, energy, infrastructure, and natural resources).  tart exploring alternatives to material acquisition through their by-products and tie-up with them for sourcing.
  2. Identify 2 end of life revenue opportunities for your products: Identify 2 potential uses of your products after its end of life, first without changing the underlying design of the product. These could be recycling or refurbishing them for further use in similar or different usage area or circled back into your business.
  3. Use innovation for improved branding and remarketing: Above 2 actions are fertile grounds for innovation. Large enterprises are creating patents through the work in the above 2 areas. Patents have potential to create amazing brand value. This is useful to drive value of refurbished/ recycled products in buyer community by highlighting how they will contribute to sustainability and Circular Economy by buying these products.
  4. Insights based actions: Ability to measure sustainability impact of each action on either side (positive and negative) and using those insights is the key to success for all of the above. Look at technologies that can potentially offer real time visibility to this impact and are able to create a simulated result dashboard for actions in Circularity.

One of the most interesting takeaways for me personally from this breakfast catch-up has been the ‘Hyper Collaboration of Patented technologies’ in the Circular Economy. Sharing of patents by Elon Musk in 2014 changed the way companies look at patents to create a larger social value. Circularity demands collaboration.

Treeni ‘Sustainability for Breakfast’ discussions need to lead to tangible actions for all participants. Reflecting back, it was indeed a nourishing day in terms of inputs from all participants! The coffee was over and so was the day for me.