India’s largest tech firm has proved that work from home has significant green gains

Sustaining sustainability.
Sustaining sustainability.
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash
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The work-from-home trend during the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up unexpected gains for India’s largest IT services firm.

With nearly all its employees working remotely since April 2020, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has reduced its absolute carbon footprint by 49% over the last year. Now, the company is all set to cut its absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2025 (taking 2016 as the base year). By 2030, the company hopes to be a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases.

TCS had earlier said that by 2025, only 25% of its employees will need to come to the office at any given time.

“The good thing is there is enough tech out there to work remotely. More importantly, clients are able to trust us with it,” Girish Ramachandran, Asia Pacific president of TCS, told Quartz. “As a result, there’s rationalisation of office spaces, energy saving, and cut down on commutes.” 

The reduction in man-made greenhouse gases is crucial in the fight against climate change, scientists have argued time and again. Net-zero emissions mean that even though emissions continuing, they’ll be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Today, nearly 16% of TCS’s total energy consumption comes from renewable energies.

The behemoth’s focus on sustainability is key given its size and scale. TCS has a presence across 46 countries and its employee headcount is touching half a million.

TCS’ sustainability efforts

The motivation for TCS to focus on the environment comes from its own “young and very diverse” workforce. “If you look at the millennials who are coming in—45% of the world’s population today are millennials—they choose a company or a product based on how sustainable it is,” Ramachandran said.

The IT firm’s strategy to reduce its carbon footprint includes steps like higher reliance on renewable energy sources, optimisation of business-related air travel and employee commutes, and focus on energy optimisation across operations.

TCS has been on the journey to step up resource utilisation and curb wastage over the last decade and a half. In the past, the company has added several green buildings to its real estate portfolio and upgraded its legacy equipment. The company’s Seruseri campus in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu—the largest IT facility in Asia spread across 70 acres of land and built over 5 million square feet—is a “Gold” rated Green Building (certified by the LEED) which has water bodies, landscaped garden, a lot of greenery and a solar panel to generate electricity.

TCS Seruseri in Chennai
TCS Seruseri in Chennai.
Image: TCS

Additionally, TCS has already identified two key markets and two delivery centres where it will be carbon neutral within this year.

“We’ve been doing a whole lot of things moving towards a more sustainable future,” said Ramachandran, referring to campuses where there is rainwater harvesting, 100% treatment and recycling of sewage, and paper recycling already. Even food waste is used to feed biodiversity at the campuses.

The business of sustainability

TCS’s endeavour to become environmentally responsible has allowed it to try and test new technology solutions that can be offered to clients and help expand its business.

TCS Remote Energy Monitoring
Control center in Kochi, India.
Image: TCS

Take for instance the company’s in-house solution to monitor energy usage across all its campuses, which CEO Rajesh Gopinath spearheaded back when he was the company’s chief financial officer. A team at a control centre in Kochi, India, monitors more than 100 TCS offices round the clock, and machine learning-based algorithms detect anomalies and aberrations in energy consumption and trigger quick corrective action.

Among other things, the solutions allows the company to adjust air conditioning temperatures in offices using data from heat maps. These small efforts add up, saving the company crores of rupees each year while reducing wasteful energy consumption.

TCS now sells this hack to customers across various industries. And this is just one of many examples. The company offers over a hundred solutions to help clients navigate their sustainability journies.

Last year, TCS hosted a “Sustainathon” in Singapore, which was a hackathon focused on sustainability. It is in the process of rolling the event out globally. The idea is to equip talent with the ability to think sustainably throughout their career.

What is stopping India Inc from being sustainable?

In India, green energy procurement is a big challenge still, Ramachandran said. Policy and regulations in the sector are far from robust, and workforce and infrastructure are both lacking. The country is mainly dependent on international suppliers for equipment and technology.

India is an ideal country for solar energy, and there has been a concerted shift to this renewable source. But it still accounts for just 4% of the country’s power generation. The technology “still has to develop,” said Ramachandran. “The output of solar is not so great. There is a lot of work to be done in the semi-conductor space.”

Moreover, leveraging renewable energy to meet its net-zero emissions target is only the start for TCS. In the future, the company will even look at carbon positivity. Then, there is work to be done towards each of the 17 UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). And 10 years down the line, the SDGs will morph into something else, said Ramachandran.

“I don’t want to call net-zero emissions a goal. It’s a journey, and we need to continuously evolve,” he capped off. “And with being the largest employer in India, we need to be leading this particular journey.”