The importance and benefits of corporate social responsibility
Global mining firm Vedanta has taken a new approach to corporate responsibility: it now claims to embed sustainable values across all of its activities; working with local communities, organisations and NGOs to design programmes that improve their quality of life.
Here, the group's CSR president Roma Balwani explains how this is impacting Vedanta's ongoing work in India...
India is the world’s largest democracy and one of its most exciting development stories, because it is home to some of the largest reserves of natural resources on earth. The scale of the resources that Vedanta brings to the market in India makes it a critical contributor to the country’s growth. Our focus now is on ensuring that the value created by both business and country is sustainable, for generations to come.
To ensure the longevity of any business’ operations, it must be run sustainably. For Vedanta, this is all the more essential because of the need to maintain our ‘social licence to operate’ and to ensure that our host communities also benefit.
Our role is to create value for all stakeholders; not only creating financial value for our investors, but also sharing value with society. By running our business cost-effectively and efficiently, we maximise profitability and make valuable contributions to our communities, driving long-term value for all of our stakeholders.
We have developed a Sustainability Framework that provides guidance and measures performance across our businesses, supported by our four pillars: Responsible Stewardship, Building Strong Relationships, Adding and Sharing value, and Strategic Communications. By adhering to these guiding principles, we create a safe environment for our workforce and garner support from the communities that host our operations.
To communicate our commitment to complete transparency and to emphasise our principles of community dialogue and mutual respect, we are guided by our Strategic Communications. The perception of the brand is positively reinforced through strategic messaging on our group-wide community activities and is aligned with multiple stakeholders, such as NGOs and local government bodies, to gain our ‘licence to operate’. Building a socially responsible image also boosts employee morale and retention, and makes local communities and the talent pools they represent more open to working with us.
Being seen as a responsible steward is the bedrock of the strong relationships we build with our host communities. Building trust in these relationships is crucial and we maintain a constant community dialogue, working collaboratively with these communities over the life of our projects. A socially responsible image is achieved by conducting our business ethically and in accordance with our principle of Responsible Stewardship. At our Black Mountain zinc operation in the Northern Cape of South Africa, we have worked with over 45 small and medium-sized businesses to improve their business skills and enable them to better service the needs of the mine. To date, the programme has seen growth of over 30% in the participating companies’ revenue. Adopting sustainable practices helped these businesses to flourish and helped Vedanta to receive a higher standard of service for our operations.
Responsible Stewardship not only encapsulates our approach to conducting socially responsible business, it also reflects the way in which we ensure the health and safety of our workforce and minimise our environmental footprint. The nature of our operations has various implications for the environment, such as water consumption and land use. We are committed to minimising our environmental footprint from the start of operations, to closure and beyond. This is not only an ethical issue; commercial sense dictates that we use conventional energy sources more efficiently and explore the viability of alternative energy sources.
In Odisha, where Vedanta has aluminium and power operations, we have invested over Rs. 175 crore on CSR initiatives in the last decade. We have developed plans to engage with the local community and to ensure that we work together, as partners, towards their development. Funded by Vedanta’s micro financing programme, ‘Veggie Kart’ is one such initiative which felicitates socio-economic growth in a remote, host community. ‘Veggie Kart’ provides a platform for sustainable agricultural practices for rural farmers and women in Odisha, and creates a market for their products. The programme has enabled the local community to engage in alternative income-generating activities and has brought significant financial benefits since its launch in 2014. Introducing sustainability in agricultural processes is key to increasing production, conserving resources and improving the livelihoods of farming communities.
We use technology to maximise efficiencies and take steps to diversify our energy portfolio. There are direct economic benefits to be gained by running our business in this way, as well as opportunities for revenue generation. For example, at our Lanjigarh facility in Odisha we have found an innovative way of reducing our carbon footprint by developing a cement-free concrete using fly ash. This is a significant environmental advancement because the production of cement is high in CO2 emissions and highly energy-intensive. The new cement-free concrete uses much less water, costs less to produce, reduces the land required for ‘ash ponds’ and is more durable than cement-based concrete. Another such initiative at the Lanjigarh refinery is our Red Mud Powder Plant. Red mud is a by-product of the bauxite refining process and cannot be disposed of easily. It tends to be pumped into holding ponds, taking up land area that cannot be built or farmed on, even when dry. We have devised a solution to this problem by creating a new red mud disposal system that converts the liquid mud into solid cakes. These can then be converted into products used for cement and pig iron production, as well as converted into lightweight aggregates.
Embedding sustainable values across all our activities helps us to maximise the efficiency, profitability and useful life of our operations. In unlocking and protecting value, our sustainability efforts concern all of our stakeholders, from local communities and governments to our investors and shareholders worldwide. The imperative to commit to sustainable business practices is not only strategic; it enables us to make a substantial contribution to the economies in which we operate, and is central to our values.
The resources that we mine are the building blocks of society and essential sources of socio-economic growth, both within and beyond the regions that we operate. Our operations are often in remote areas where communities are in a perpetual state of poverty and have very little access to infrastructure and basic amenities. We constantly seek out opportunities with partnerships for community-initiated programmes, in the belief that locally-owned programmes are stronger and more sustainable.
Roma Balwani is president of group communications, sustainability and CSR at global metals and mining company Vedanta Resources.