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Let's create platforms, converge and create bigger impact: Venkatesh Valluri, Ingersoll Rand

Feb 05, 2013

Talking at the DSDS 2013, Ingersoll Rand's Chairman & President, Venkatesh Valluri talks to Bushra Ahmed and Rajiv Tikoo of OneWorld South Asia about the sustainability challenges that industries face and how organisations must get together to make a bigger impact while giving back to society.


OneWorld South Asia: Ingersoll Rand was named in the 2012 Dow Jones Sustainability Index second year running. How does it help you and what does it mean to you?

Venkatesh Valluri: The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), comprises three things: economic metric, social and environment metric. And that’s what the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report takes into consideration.But the important thing is, about what is the DNA of the organisation in terms of its performance, in terms of whether it is working only for the shareholders and value maximisation or something beyond that. In that sense, it becomes very critical whether Ingersoll Rand is really looking at work which is not only providing economic value, but that we play more at social and environment engagement. So, it is important for us to be in the Dow Jones Index, but more important is the question that are we really firing on all three cylinders; economic, social and environment index.

OWSA: Does it give you any competitive advantage in the Indian market?

VV: It’s not really about competitive advantage. I don’t think the customer in India has matured enough to discern that you are on the DJSI and we’ll be inclined towards you hence. But what it does, is that our ability to go and tell our customer that this is the way we produce our goods and this is the way we behave in the market, and hence this has multiple effects on the customer as well as the employee. The employee sees it as a responsible company and as someone who is ethical. And somewhere deep down, once the customer gets to know of how we conduct business, it is no longer a financial negotiation as much as an overall holistic way of looking at the company. And that is where it makes a difference.

OWSA: What do you think of the Companies Bill in terms of making CSR mandatory?

VV: I have been talking about this for a long time. I don’t think it is CSR per se. CSR in the old jargon is Corporate Social Responsibility. I do think enterprises and companies need to move beyond. Just giving a little money for charity and earning brownie points is not the way.The way we have to look at this 2 per cent, and I have been an advocate of pushing back profits into society, is that this money which is being ploughed back delivers two things. It prevents social unrest; in the sense that if you don’t have water systems, education etc you will have a very volatile society. This is what can happen to an aspiring society, when the government is unable to provide these facilities. We have seen that, there are water wars in Gurgaon, people are coming out on the roads everywhere. So, there is public good that can be done and so this 2 per cent must go back into society. But it has to go back in a sustainable way. Whatever programme you pick up, it's got to create sustainability, that is important. A lot of people might haul this up and talk about not making CSR mandatory etc. But I am of the opinion, in an emerging economy like India or other South Asian nations, the maximum wealth that is created is not in the hands of the government, but it's in the hands of the private enterprises. And if they don’t share their wealth, then it’s a shame on us.

OWSA: How much does Ingersoll Rand spend on CSR?

VV: I differ in this aspect about the amount of money spent on CSR. The question is more; are we building practices which are minimising water usage, electricity usage and are we building technology through which society is benefitting. The second aspect is; in terms of our contribution, our employees contribute, we contribute, and the company as a whole makes contributions too. We are also making a sustainable campus which has nothing to do with business. We are planning to make small dwellings of 200 square feet, which serve as examples to our society. This is our way of telling the society, that by implanting technology and practices globally we can create conditions for a country like India. So, it is not about the value of money, but a holistic way.

OWSA: You have worked across the realm of sustainability in many roles and across many organisations. What are the major challenges as you see it?

VV: The toughest challenges are, which I am now trying to communicate across enterprises, when one company wants to do good and you are unable to scale it up as an individual enterprise. What happens is that, when every enterprise wants to do an activity which is not aligning to the bigger purpose of the society, then you are sub-optimising and not scaling up. This is where the biggest challenge comes in India, as there are a few areas that are critical for society to progress. These can be water, environmental pollution, healthcare, security, or food. Ideally, there should be platforms created on these initiatives where all corporates agree, bring in their technologies and practices, finances and make a much bigger impact. These would re-define and be a convergence strategy, where we are able to converge financials, technologies etc. One single enterprise cannot do much work, they need to get together and if they do, we’ll go a much longer way. I have been trying to bring this about through multiple platforms like CII, TERI and with the government, saying let’s create platforms, let’s converge and let’s make a bigger impact.

OWSA: You have been attending the DSDS, how do you assess this as a platform in spreading the word on sustainability?

VV: This is my third year of attending the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. The awareness is getting far bigger, and more companies are coming forward. The challenge really is execution and scale. To take an idea further is the challenge. Most of the times these platforms provide you with an ability to understand the best practices and understand what is happening globally. The challenge is to implement these ideas and scale it up. More and more corporate are learning how to drive sustainability, and how can everyone learn from each other; in these ways this is a very good platform to get this going.

OWSA: You have raised this point across many platforms. Is there any other platform that is coming up which will really mobilise and help people get going, which is missing right now?

VV: I represent the CII Technology Council, and we are trying to work with the Gujarat State government. If we are able to do the model properly in one state, we can replicate it across. In this model, the state government, industry, the academic institutes come together; which is what we've been talking about. If we’re able to come to a common platform and actually build application research which is relevant for India at the right price points and value, then we would have created platforms where the state, enterprise and the academia come together. And if we can then apply that in a region or a city, it multiplies itself across the state. My hope is  if we’re able to take this to six or seven states across India, then there will also be a healthy peer competitive spirit, and as a result multiple technologies coming out. No government can say they don’t want to solve the health issue , or water, or education. With such a model, we would have hopefully solved some of the greater issues that our nation faces.

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