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SRIRAM KUCHIMANCHI

India,

Sriram envisions a world where every consumer has the information and awareness to make socially and environmentally sustainable choices, and has enough sustainable options to choose from, because businesses too are empowered to cater to the growing consumer demand for sustainable products and services.

This profile below was prepared when Sriram Kuchimanchi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.

INTRODUCTION

Sriram envisions a world where every consumer has the information and awareness to make socially and environmentally sustainable choices, and has enough sustainable options to choose from, because businesses too are empowered to cater to the growing consumer demand for sustainable products and services.




THE NEW IDEA

Sriram is reshaping businesses to cater to the growing consumer demand for socially and environmentally sustainable choices. Seeing the gap between the changing citizen consciousness and existing choices, Sriram is empowering businesses to offer sustainable products and services, thus enabling individuals to make sustainable choices. This in turn allows Sriram to continuously influence and accelerate this demand, building an environmentally and social impact driven consumer goods ecosystem.
Sriram started by identifying the fastest growing consumer industries in the country – garments, construction and fast food service. Sriram then, not only collaborates with companies to think through how they can become more environmentally sustainable and social impact driven, but also ensures that the suggested practices become embedded in the culture of the organization by working closely with a change team within the organization who can lead the change from within. The companies are incentivized to become sustainable because of the cost savings, as well as higher productivity and reduction is staff turnover they experience due to improved environmental and social equity practices. Within each sector, Sriram identifies a champion company which is already an influencer in the marketplace. The champion company will role-model sustainability practices within and outside their sectors, and incentivizes the entire industry to adopt socially and environmentally sustainable processes for business gains, like cost savings and lower attrition. In order to position his early adopter companies as champions for spreading these practices throughout the sector, Sriram has now created sustainability and social impact policy guidelines for each sector, that can be used as a template for the industry at large to scale sustainability and social impact practices to all businesses. 
In order to catalyse consumer demand for socially and environmentally sustainable products and services, Sriram is building tools through which consumers can evaluate their own choices on a sustainability scale, and are provided information and suggestions on how they can make more sustainable choices.




THE PROBLEM

Nielson in its Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility says that 55% of global online consumers say that they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. To survive, thrive, and to be distinct in a competitive business environment, industries must be restructured and existing and breakthrough technologies must be more innovatively applied to realize “sustainable growth”. 
In India the industries best positioned to lead the sustainability movement are hospitality manufacturing and construction, as these are the largest growing consumer sectors. Construction is going to quadruple in India in the next 15 years, and there are more than 100,000 outsourced apparel manufacturing units in India. These sectors also employ record numbers of informal labour. More than 70% of those in the informal sector work in manufacturing and construction, and 80% of the remaining work in the hospitality industry. 
Although most influential, these are the industries that have the most environmentally and socially unsustainable practices. Wages are kept low, with most workers being paid less than the minimum wage or Rs.125 a day; and non-payment of overtime and social security benefits are sector norms. Each fast food service unit is responsible for wasting an average 20,000 liters of water per day in urban and peri-urban settings. Construction using non-environmentally non-sustainable materials like marble, granite, lead paint, cutting down trees for construction space, are responsible for 40% of urban India’s carbon footprint, second only to automobiles.
Businesses face critical barriers in aligning their sustainability practice with the environmental needs of the 21st century. Improved environmental sustainability is not valued in internal capital allocation decisions, with companies lacking internal mechanisms to value the benefits of accounting for environmental sustainability. As a result, sustainability decisions are not made in sync with financial decisions, and often come in too late in the day. In addition, India’s current political climate, with the ruling party having built their government on an agenda of industrial growth, sees environmental and social sustainability as opposed to economic growth, and in incentivizing unsustainable industrial growth.




THE STRATEGY

For Sriram economic growth and sustainability are interdependent, and he is demonstrating this by working with companies to make them environmentally sustainable, with fair treatment of their workers, which, he believes, will result in cost savings and increased profit, and higher productivity and lower attrition for the company.
Sriram, first, identified the fastest growing industry verticals in the country – manufacturing, construction and hospitality. Sriram then proceeds to identify the ‘innovators’ in these verticals, those who are looking to not only transform themselves within, but are also looking to position themselves as sustainability leaders in their industries. With these companies that he identifies as early adopters of sustainable processes, Sriram and his team first do an audit to assess what sustainability practices exist and can be highlighted, and where the gaps are and can be improved. Rather than doing an energy audit traditionally, just by measuring the infrastructure, like most energy consultants do, for example by looking at the kind of light bulbs being used, measuring the energy consumption of other devices like air conditioners, Sriram has redesigned the audit process to include shadowing the employees of the company through their day. He believes that energy consumption has less to do with the present infrastructure and more to do with human behavior, because, not the kind of light bulbs or ACs or water taps, but with what frequency and how people are using them, is what determines the carbon footprint of an company. Therefor, starting right from the audit, Sriram is setting the stage for engineering behavior change amongst people at every level of the company, and not just suggesting infrastructural changes to them.
Sriram only works with companies that agree to work with him in implementing the sustainability measures they jointly agree on, and provide him with a group of employees who will work closely with Sriram to lead the change within the organization. Sriram calls them the “Green Team”, and they are most often volunteer or are voted in by other staff, and often paid extra as an incentive. Along , with the Green Team, Sriram’s team together design sustainability solutions for the company, the Green Team keeping a check on how plausible the solutions in the context of the company, and they implement them through infrastructural changes and behavioural change of the employees through gamification and incentivisation.
This is most compellingly seen in the work that Sriram is doing with Vasudev Adigas, one of Bangalore’s largest Quick Service Retail (QSR) chains, with 33 locations in the city. Sriram started in its largest location, by first identifying quick and easy-to-implement strategies to reduce the amount of waste generated, segregate, recycle and compost the food waste, reducing energy consumption by letting in more natural light, reducing water wastage by only refilling water glasses when customers asked. He then identified champions on the shop floor, employees who were brought into and then incentivized for designing and maintaining the new processes suggested by Sriram. These included behaviours like maintaining the air conditioning at a certain temperature, turning on only those lights that are necessary, waste segregation, and water refilling at the tables.
Employees demonstrating these behaviors are rewarded, recognized as “Staff of the Month”, and those that demonstrate these behaviours on a sustained basis and encourage others to do so are even certified as “Green Staff.” At the same time, monthly updates were given to the store supervisor as well as the executive management, on the amount of waste reduced, energy and water saved, and the cost savings it translated to. This gave them further incentives to follow and maintain the new processes and behaviours. Meanwhile, Sriram’s team also conducted a range of awareness trainings and sensitization programs with the employees, showing them documentaries of the effects of nearby landfills on resident communities, as well as engaging them in conversation about sustainable behaviours. In this way, each employee could see the impact of changing their behaviour on a larger social problem, further motivating them. 
For Sriram, environmental and social sustainability go hand in hand. He believes than organization cannot be called sustainable if they have a low carbon footprint but are exploiting their workers. Therefor, during the audit and while proposing solutions, Sriram and his team, also work on creating an equitable environment within the company for all employees. For example, during construction projects, the masons are forced to live in makeshift tents, with no access to bathrooms, often cooking on open fires. With Mittal Constructions, Sriram’s champion company in that vertical, he instituted a housing system, with clean energy cook stoves, safety gear, bank accounts, health and accidental insurance for the workers. 
Companies see the impact of become sustainable both in terms of cost savings through reduced energy needs, and higher productivity and lower attrition in staff. Over the course of a year, Adigas started seeing significant gains, with 9000 kilos of waste being saved monthly, and daily saving of 6000 litres of water. The monthly gas bill has reduced by an estimated Rs.12,000 and energy usage has been reduced to half its previous consumption. While the fast-food service industry sees as high as a 50% monthly staff turn-over rate, in Adigas, it is now less than 20%.
Now, Sriram is templatising his work with his early adopter companies into sustainability policy guidelines for the entire industry, and lobbying with government bodies to demand industry-wide sustainabililty measures. For example, Sriram is using the environmental and socially sustainable building construction that he has worked on with Mittal Constructions, to lobby with the city municipality to mandate that all new building constructions must have waste management systems, solar panels, rain water harvesting systems, and provide social security to the construction workers. Once mandated, the industry-wide demand generated in companies for support in becoming sustainable, can be met by Sriram and his team, his champion early adopter companies who can work with their peers to spread the practices from their company to others, the templates and policies prepared for the industry by Sriram and his team, and the cadre of sustainability professionals Sriram is training.
While there is a growing base of young people who understand the importance and need for sustainability due to the successful scaling of environmental studies in high school, they are still seen as alternative. Sriram is working with two universities, developing and teaching sustainability courses to students of social development and engineering graduates. At PESIT, Bangalore’s prestigious engineering school, he has also set up the Centre for Research and Excellence in Sustainable Technologies, Sriram is preparing the next generation of sustainability professionals who can cater to the growing needs of companies that Sriram is creating for support in adopting sustainability practices.
While empowering companies to produce sustainable products and services, Sriram is simultaneously building and catalyzing consumer demand for them. The Dharmameter is an mobile phone application tool that allows a consumer to look at their living environments to not only measure how ‘green’ they are, but to also give them solutions on how to transform these environments as well. The Karmameter, allows consumers to understand their social impact on a real-time basis, thereby incentivizing sustainable living behaviour. Both the meters also show how other users are performing and publicise the most sustainable users are champions, thereby gamifying their behavior change. Through these tools, Sriram aims to complete the feedback loop between companies and consumers, multiplying behavior change at an individual and institutional level. 




THE PERSON

Sriram first began to see this lifestyle as a possibility for others when volunteering at the Association for India’s Development, while working for a technology firm in California. As the Head of Fundraising, Sriram was exposed to the unique challenges of the non-profit world, which helped him build a nuanced understanding of sustainability – both environmental, and organizational. It was at AID that Sriram began understanding his own power as a changemaker – ensuring that all AID events were zero-waste and plastic free, as well as leading awareness sessions with all AID volunteers on the importance of sustainable living. Came to understand that the work had to pay for itself. 
This gave him an early indication of his own passion for marrying social and environmental impact, leading him to pursue a course on Sustainability Leadership and Management at the Presidio School of Business. Here he built his own theoretical grounding in the space, which he then practiced by working with restaurants in the US to help them become sustainable in their use of energy, water, waste and products. What started with one restaurant and one idea – replacing Styrofoam plates with real plates, mushroomed into energy audits, water audits, waste management, work practices and the use of recyclable materials. Sriram also developed software to aid and guide restaurant owners through this process.
This led Sriram move back to India in October, 2011 and start Smarter Dharma to assist communities, companies, and government agencies understand, embrace and practice sustainability. Smarter Dharma continues to influence key players in building environmental, social and institutional sustainability. 




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