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ITC: Leveraging sustainability to shape a global business leader

As one of India's largest agri-businesses, ITC is largely dependent on agriculture for its raw materials. Consequently, its long term sustainability is inextricably linked to the economic prosperity of agricultural communities that constitute a major part of its value chains. ITC's business models have therefore evolved as strategic response to ensure the long-term sustainability of the value chains linked to its businesses.

A conscious strategy to drive the competitiveness of value chains linked to its businesses enables ITC to make a more enduring contribution to national economic development. This larger vision has enabled ITC to synergise business and social goals through mutually reinforcing social investment initiatives that are focussed on replenishing ecological resources and sustainable livelihoods through capacity building at the grassroots to promote the growth of rural economies.

Indeed, ITC's approach is such that environmental and social sustainability is an integral part of its business, and is not divergent from economic and financial goals. This strategy to sub serve larger goals has also led ITC to remain Carbon Positive, Water Positive and Solid Waste Recycling Positive for several years in a row. ITC's has created worldclass brands that anchor sustainable value chains extending to rural and backward regions.

These value chains have led to large-scale farmer empowerment and support over 5 million sustainable livelihoods in some of the poorest sections of rural India. ITC e-Choupal for instance, which is linked to ITC's foods businesses and its brands like such as Aashirvaad, Sunfeast, Yippee!, Bingo!, Kitchens of India, have today empowered over 4 million farmers across 40,000 villages in India. Similarly, ITC's Social and Farm Forestry Initiative provides a sustainable source of raw material for ITC's Paper and Paperboards Business. The initiative has also greened over 145,000 hectares including wastelands, and has provided over 65 million person-days of employment benefitting over 40,000 rural households. Renewable plantations cultivated under this initiative have today enabled ITC to offer the greenest paper and paperboards products manifest in stationery brands such as Classmate and Paperkraft.

An intensive R&D programme in ITC led to the development of high yielding, disease resistant clonal saplings which are today grown by farmers and has led to ITC's carbon positive status over 8 years in a row. In addition, these wasteland owners and farmers were also trained on sustainable agronomy practices which have contributed to natural resource management.

Water availability is yet another area that assumes critical importance for communities whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. ITC has accordingly evolved strategies aimed at water conservation, treatment and recycling of all effluents and wastewater, and supply of treated wastewater during the non-monsoon period to farmer communities within the catchment areas of its units. The bedrock of this strategy is the Integrated Watershed Development Programme that promotes rainwater harvesting in ITC's premises and in catchment areas of its agri-businesses. The initiative supports the development and local management of water resources by facilitating community-based participation in planning and executing watershed projects. The focus is on implementing soil and moisture conservation measures and building, reviving and maintaining water-harvesting structures to reverse land degradation, extend irrigation and raise agricultural productivity. Initiated in 2001, the programme today covers 6 states across the country, and provides soil & moisture conservation to over 121,000 hectares, benefiting over 113,000 households. The programme has also helped ITC maintain its water positive status for 11 consecutive years.

The combined affect has led to the diversification of farming systems thereby addressing the challenges of climate change. ITC's commitment towards larger societal and environmental value creation is also manifest in its endeavour to enlarge its positive carbon footprint through the use of renewable energy. Today, more than 41% of energy consumed for ITC's operations is from renewable sources. Further, all ITC hotels today have the unique distinction of being LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified at the highest 'Platinum' level, making it the greenest luxury hotel chain in the world. Further, all ITC units are required to maximise recycling of waste generated from their operations and it is a matter of immense satisfaction that most units have been able to recycle 99.9% of the waste generated.

In 2007, ITC initiated 'Wealth out of Waste' (WOW), a dedicated initiative to promote waste segregation and recycling and to address the challenge of post-consumer waste disposal. These initiatives have enable ITC to remain Solid Waste Recycling Positive for 6 years in a row. These business strategies are powered by ITC's Life Sciences and Technology Centre. The long term strategic research programs are aimed at ensuring competitive advantage for our businesses and contribute meaningfully to the creation of large scale livelihoods as well as natural resources.



By T V Ramaswamy

T V Ramaswamy leads Research & Development for ITC and supervises Environment, Health and Safety functions in the company. Prior to this, Mr. Ramaswamy was the Chief Operating Officer of the Cigarette Brands and Supply Chain of the Tobacco Division.

This article was a contributed by T V Ramaswamy for the October 2013 print edition of Sustainability Outlook. 

Image credits: Wikipedia Commons, CIAT

Author: Sustainability Outlook