We understand the value of prioritising Sustainability & CR in business

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Sustainability & CR is not an obligation, but a need and responsibility of all. And embedding it with­in the business is a must for corporates. Elaine Weidman, VP – Sustainability & CR, Ericsson tells Bachan Singh why there is a real need for transformative and not incremental solutions for climate and sustainable development by the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and how the sector will evolve in the coming times. Excerpts:

What is Sustainability for you and what drives CSR at Ericsson?

According to me, it is about having a holistic approach and embedding it within the business. Further, it is not a static topic, it changes with the constantly changing world. In the 90s, Sustainability was more about compliance to legislation, these days it is about understanding global so­cietal challenges and finding solu­tions in the Post 2015 development process.

At Ericsson, our focus is our tech­nology. We try to understand the negative aspects that we need to address and how can we positively impact the society. The pace of tech­nological change has never been greater, and there are so many op­portunities for business to play a role. At Ericsson, we are embracing this opportunity to create positive change. And our CEO, Hans Vestberg drives that change. He understands the value of prioritising Sustainabil­ity & CR in the business.

How do you rate the corporate initiatives in terms of CSR around the globe? How has Ericsson posi­tioned itself to take this forward?

Different parts of the world are in different stages. Europe and North America are more advanced with legislation and policies. China is making a big push and India is inno­vative with focus on green passport guidelines by DoT e-waste and the legislation for mandatory CSR spend as per the Companies Act, 2013.

But globally, we focus on our own business, ensuring concrete tar­gets to measure our progress. We also use our industry leadership to be progressive on advocacy, in areas like Broadband’s role in the post 2015 sustainable development agenda. This is not new to Ericsson, as we have over 20 years of sustain­ability reporting to our stakehold­ers.

The domains of Sustainability and CR overlap in many areas. How the two are connected and is there any need to de-link the two?

We see it in two ways. On one hand, minimise your risks and conduct business responsibly. On the other hand, maximise your positive im­pacts. These areas might be of var­ied interest to different stakehold­ers, but they are interconnected. To share your credible, positive story, you need to run a sound and ethical business.

In totality, what responsibility does communication technology sector carry in order to make our ecosystem sustainable?

First, Information and Communica­tion Technology (ICT) is transform­ing industries, people and society. There is a real need for transforma­tive and not incremental solutions for climate, and sustainable devel­opment more broadly, and we have a responsibility to make the potential of our sector known to policy-mak­ers and government leaders.

Secondly, as networks become an infrastructure for everything we do, trust in the network is imperative, so our sector also needs to work much more actively with issues like privacy, security and human rights more broadly.

From your experience, can you give us some examples of how business­es can become more sustainable?

Companies can rethink over the value chain with a sustainability lens. There can be many opportuni­ties to reduce resource and energy consumption, and even waste while also saving money. One big effort we undertook was to consolidate our data centers. This reduced energy consumption by some 40%. Com­mit to targets. Measure and track performance, according to global standards, for instance, GRI. Em­brace the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights. Compa­nies have a duty to respect human rights throughout their value chain, and in an increasingly transparent networked society, this will become even more important.

Can you enlist the top 3 achieve­ments at Ericsson (in terms of Sus­tainability and CR practices) that you are most happy about?

a). Embedding CR in overall gover­nance of the company, Code of Busi­ness Ethics, UN Guiding Principles, etc. We have targets at the highest level of the company that are mea­sured and performance is followed up by our Executive Management Team.

b). Establishment of Technology for Good programme which con­nects to our core business – tech­nology and the expertise of our employees to help meet global challenges. This makes our work much more relevant to the busi­ness, our stakeholders, and en­sures a more lasting effect.

c). Scaling up of Connect to Learn, our initiative in India. We are now in more than 16 countries and posi­tively impacting more than 40, 000 students. In 2014, we formalised a partnership with the UK develop­ment agency, DFID. Public-private partnerships such as this are key to the success of various initiatives.

Kindly share which all CR initia­tives Ericsson is carrying out glob­ally and what plans do you have for India in 2015-16?

For 2015-16 in India, we will have a big focus on education and skill building for employability and de­ployment of Connect To Learn with partners here. We will also focus on energy, e-waste and disaster man­agement.

As per your understanding, what kind of organisational leadership or communication systems have to be in place to ensure that the Corporate Responsibility effort will last beyond the current lead­ership?

Sustainability and CR must be em­bedded in the governance of the company – in the policies, culture and ways of working. For any CSR programme, it is vital to ensure employees awareness and their engagement with the programme. Employees must also live in sync with the programme. Also, it is im­perative to think about helping your consumers before you become more sustainable. Once consumers are en­gaged, the rest of the organisation comes on board much more readily.

What is the biggest hurdle you have been able to cross as VP – Sus­tainability & CR at Ericsson?

ICT can do so much when it comes to Sustainable Development. Pri­oritisation is always a challenge, but we have set a good strategy for that. Joining the Global Leadership Team of the company was an important milestone, marking the growing im­portance of the area.

How do you see the evolution and future of corporate social respon­sibility?

In my view, the future will increas­ingly be about partnerships, public private partnerships in particular. This year at the World Economic Fo­rum, there is a lot of discussion about the world actually being worse off, in terms of natural disasters, conflicts, etc. The challenges are great, and no single entity – company, govern­ment, civil society can tackle them on its own. Much more cooperation is needed going forward, and finding models that have impact and scale.