The Defenders

Corporate houses such as Tatas, Reliance, Aditya Birla Group, Adani, L&T and others are investing in green and carbon-free technologies to cut emissions drastically

Illustration by Siddhant Jumde Illustration by Siddhant Jumde

In January 2020, Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft announced that the $143-billion IT giant targets to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits by 2030, and by 2050 it hopes to have taken out enough to account for all the direct emissions the company has ever made since it was founded in 1975. Anand Mahindra tweeted "bravo @satyanadella... You have raised the bar for us all." It is all the more relevant since the Mahindra group had already announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2040, a decade ahead of the deadline set by the UN's Climate Ambition Alliance.

Aligning India's commitment to the Paris Agreement, corporate houses, including Tatas, Reliance Industries (RIL), Aditya Birla Group, Mahindras, ITC, Larsen and Toubro, Adani, JSW, Essar, Vedanta, ACC, Dalmia and Ambuja, have mapped their future course of action to achieve 'net-zero emission' by cutting down on greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases from factories and end-products. That's important since India is the world's third-largest emitter of GHG and accounts for 2.46 billion metric tonnes, or 6.8 per cent, of global emissions. Since the country relies on coal-based power plants to generate electricity, it was the highest contributor to household carbon footprints - from 26 per cent in low-expenditure households to 36 per cent among the rich.

"Against the backdrop of multiple competing interests is the one unifying truth which is that, we all share this planet and will collectively drive it to its rescue or doom," Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group, wrote in a personal LinkedIn blogpost in February last year.

The Roadmap

Companies are targeting to reduce GHG emission by shifting to renewable power, becoming more energy-efficient and reusing heat to help India achieve goals under the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015. It targets to limit global warming to well below 2 degree celsius while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5.

At RIL's first-ever virtual annual shareholders' meet in July last year, Chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani declared his company's aim to turn net carbon zero by 2035 by embracing new technologies to convert its CO2 emissions into useful products. Sajjan Jindal, Chairman, JSW group, said in the annual report that the steel company is in the process of implementing plans to replace coal with renewable energy.

At the Climate Ambition Summit in December 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "India is not only on track to achieve its Paris Agreement targets, but will exceed them beyond expectations." He noted that the country had reduced emission intensity by 21 per cent over 2005 levels.

But though corporates are pledging to cut emissions in line with the governments campaign, it is not legally binding on them to come up with an action plan, prescribing a time frame.

Mining and Metals: Technology Drives

Anil Agarwal's Vedanta group has been in the crosshairs of activists for over a decade because of alleged environmental issues at its plants and mines, be it in Niyamgiri (Odisha), Goa or Konkola (Zambia). Sunil Duggal, who took charge as group CEO of Vedanta a year back, plans to reduce GHG emissions by 20 per cent before 2024/25, over 2011/12 levels. "We will be announcing our medium-term targets for 2029/30 in the next 12-18 months," he says.

The company plans to revamp turbines at captive power plants. "We are also focussed on switching to lower-carbon fuels, low-energy lighting solutions and raise share of renewable energy," says Duggal. Vedanta expects a major chunk of the reduction to happen through a renewable energy mix. "As large users of thermal coal, we will also have to examine carbon capture and carbon offsets. In the short-term, we will be focussed on gains in process efficiencies and switching to low-carbon fuels," adds Duggal.

Turning Vedanta's aluminium business to net-zero emission will be expensive as the smelters need high amounts of energy. The company currently depends on thermal coal to fuel its captive power plants. The cost to turn net-zero will be less for its oil and gas business, where the primary source of energy is natural gas. "However, as a rule, using today's technology, getting to net-zero will have a significant impact on our bottomline. That is why, we are developing a meticulous net-zero roadmap over 30 years," he says. The company anticipates emission reduction programmes will cut down on fuel-related operating costs and financial liabilities, and also have a positive impact on its reputation.

Naveen Jindal's Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL), on the other hand, sold its independent coal-based power plants to a holding company to reduce emission. It helped the company lower its emission intensity by half, says MD Vidya Rattan Sharma.

Hindalco, the Aditya Birla Group aluminium producer, meanwhile, is committed to be net-zero by 2050 and has set a target of 25 per cent reduction by 2024/25 from 2011/12 levels, with assumptions of recycling aluminium and availability of renewable energy with storage being key levers. The focus is on being energy efficient while gradually increasing alternative energy production. Hindalco's Atlanta-based subsidiary, Novelis, has already reduced GHG emissions by 31 per cent, compared to 2007/09 period. It has cut down on water intensity by 26 per cent; non-dross waste to landfill by 40 per cent; and energy intensity by 25 per cent. It is targeting a 30 per cent decrease in carbon footprint by 2026 vis-a-vis 2015/16 via recycling, sustainable sourcing and renewable energy projects.

The story of leading steelmakers is quite similar. JSW Steel and Tata Steel are relying on advanced steelmaking technologies to reduce emissions.

Prabodha Acharya, Chief Sustainability Officer, JSW group, says the company depends on advanced technologies such as Coke Dry Quenching (a heat recovery system to cool hot coke from coke ovens), top pressure recovery turbine for blast furnaces, hot stove waste recovery systems, MEROS (Maximised Emission Reduction of Sintering) and sinter cooler waste recovery boilers.

The company has operationalised the largest pipe conveyors to transport iron ore from mines. It plans to have 300 km of slurry pipelines in Odisha. It plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 41 per cent to below 2 tonnes of Co2 per tonne of crude steel by 2030 from 2005 levels of 3.39 tonnes. In the second phase, it will explore possibilities of using hydrogen to refine iron ore instead of coal. The steel mill would need to be powered by hydrogen produced from renewable electricity in order to hit zero emissions. JSW Steel has invested around Rs 1,000 crore in the last two fiscals for embedding environmental sustainability in capacity additions.

Tata Steel is switching to a low-carbon structure and is working on carbon capture, hydrogen-based steelmaking and smelting technologies, according to its 2020 annual report.

ArcelorMittal has announced the launch of its first three XCarb initiatives, as part of the company's journey to turn net-zero by 2050. XCarb will bring all of ArcelorMittal's reduced, low and zero-carbon products and steelmaking activities, wider initiatives and green innovation projects, into a single effort focused on carbon neutral steel. According to CEO Aditya Mittal, climate change is an overwhelming societal priority. "We have the scale, resources and technological prowess to make a significant impact, and have identified the routes to carbon neutral steelmaking."

Cement and Construction: Core Optimisation

Neeraj Akhoury, CEO, India, LafargeHolcim and MD and CEO, Ambuja Cements, believes in details. His experience in the cement industry reflects in detail on the emission reduction roadmap of Ambuja. "We aim to reduce CO2 emission to 463 kg of carbon dioxide per tonne of cement in 2030 from 531 kg in 2020. We are constructing a waste heat recovery system in three locations by 2022 to generate 54-MW electricity for our plants," he says.

To achieve targets, Ambuja reduced the clinker factor (clinker is the material produced during the production of cement and is used as the binder in cement products) through greater use of alternative materials like fly ash, slag, and waste gypsum. It also improved energy efficiency and process technology. Waste heat recovery and use of renewable energy, and optimisation of fuel composition, along with the use of waste as alternative fuel have also helped its operations to cut around 6.5 million tonne of Co2 in 2020. The company invested Rs 31 crore last year towards climate change resilience, including environmental protection.

ACC, meanwhile, reduced specific CO2 emissions to 493 kg/tonne of cementitious material in 2020 from 512 kg/tonne in 2019 and aims to touch 400 kg/tonne by 2030, reusing 30 million tonne of waste and becoming five times water-positive. It also introduced global green concrete brand "ECOPact" in India to accelerate sustainable construction. ECOPact generates 30-100 per cent less carbon emissions compared to standard concrete.

The Aditya Birla Group's flagship firm, UltraTech Cement, has set 'science-based targets' to reduce its GHG emissions in July 2020. It aims to reduce direct emission (Scope 1) of GHG intensity by 27 per cent by 2032 from the 2017 base. It also commits to reduce indirect emission from purchased fuel or electricity (Scope 2) by 69 per cent within the same time frame. UltraTech Cement has a four-pronged strategy of transition to low-carbon growth trajectory, including product diversification to low-clinker based cement; more investments in waste heat recovery, renewable energy and alternate fuels to move toward long-term low carbon scenario. It currently has 118 MW of waste heat recovery capacity and 99 MW contracted capacity of renewable energy.

JSW Cement has one of the lowest net-direct emissions at 298kg/tonne of cement. It uses slag (waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore) produced by steel companies to manufacture cement, thereby reducing GHG emissions. It plans to raise use of electric vehicles for transportation and waste-derived resources as fuels.

Construction giant L&T has a different approach to achieving its emission targets. Anup Sahay, Head, Corporate Strategy and Special Initiatives, L&T, says the company is on track to reduce energy intensity and GHG emissions intensity by 5 per cent. It is sourcing more renewable energy, has procured green building status for 17 of its sites, and is digitally connecting over 11,000 construction equipment for achieving energy efficiency.

"We have developed over 25 million sq. ft. of certified green buildings. We are now seriously looking at green hydrogen and it could be a potential new business for us," says Sahay.

Bengaluru-based construction major, Brigade Group, is deepening focus on sustainability with new practices. "We are adopting technologies to reduce water and energy consumption, raise renewable energy portion, develop green-certified buildings, and create urban forests in large offices and residential projects," says Executive Director Pavitra Shankar.

Mobility: Fossil Fuel To Electric

Globally, the automobile industry was considered to be polluting, but things have begun to change. At the Global Climate Action Summit in California in September 2018, Anand Mahindra wowed to make the Mahindra group carbon neutral by 2040. Says Anish Shah, CEO and MD, Mahindra group, "Our sustainability programmes - clean-energy adoption, energy efficient solutions, water efficiency, zero landfill waste and afforestation - are bearing strong results. We consume 25 per cent less energy to produce a vehicle now versus five years ago." The group is investing heavily in clean mobility (EV, hydrogen, bio-fuel etc.). It's Igatpuri plant in Maharashtra was recognised as India's first certified carbon neutral facility. Around 100 MW comes from renewable sources.

"We have adopted science-based targets in 21 of our group companies and have been using internal carbon price of $10 per tonne since 2016," says Shah.

The Hinduja family is bullish on the scope of the upcoming electric vehicle market. Ashok Leyland and its UK-based subsidiary Switch mobility are investing heavily in electric mobility. Switch aims to become the global leader in electric bus and LCV technology, says Raman Gopal, President, Business Development, The Hinduja Group. Its manufacturing units are working towards procuring or producing green energy. Ashok Leyland has reduced its carbon footprint by 60 per cent in recent years. Now 75 per cent of its energy consumption in Tamil Nadu and 60 per cent across India is procured through the solar rooftop, solar ground mount, and wind-based renewable energy.

Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) plans to become a net-zero carbon business by 2039 for which Jaguar will become an all-electric luxury vehicle marque beginning 2025. Announcing the 'Reimagine' global strategy, JLR CEO Thierry Bollore said in February all JLR nameplates will be available in pure electric form by the end of the decade, and the first all-electric Land Rover SUV model will be launched in 2024 and the brand will have six pure electric variants in the next five years.

India's largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India, will develop electrification technologies and implement them in products from 2025, and make full-scale quantitative increase from 2030. It targets net-zero CO2 emissions from production by 2050. From shifting transportation of its vehicles to railways, the firm claimed that it offset nearly 3,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the last six years.

Power: Shift To Renewable Resources

In 30 years, Tata Power wants to embrace net-zero emission by phasing out the around 9,000-MW coal-fired power generation capacities and replacing it with renewable power. CEO and MD Praveer Sinha says the company aims for a 100 per cent renewable portfolio by 2050. Tata Power has a 3D approach-decarbonisation, decentralisation (microgrids, rooftop solar generation, solar pumps) and digitalisation (app-based control to customers for energy efficiency). Rival Adani group, which has faced strong criticism from activists because of its operations in Queensland mine, Australia, aims to make the port operations in India carbon neutral by 2025.

JSW Energy, meanwhile, has a 10-year Cleaner Power Roadmap up to 2030, focusing on enhancing the renewable power to two-third of its installed capacity and by reducing energy intensity and auxiliary power consumption by over 50 per cent, says CSO Acharya.

E-commerce To Hospitality: Innovation Leads

E-commerce giant Amazon targets to achieve net-zero emission by 2040 across businesses globally. It announced that it will introduce 10,000 EVs into its delivery fleet by 2022 and 100,000 by 2030. Amazon India is separately pursuing a target of building an environmentally sustainable supply chain by reducing packaging waste. In December 2019, the company replaced plastic packaging material with 'paper cushion'. It also introduced plastic-free and biodegradable paper tape, which is used to seal and secure customer shipments. The company is getting solar panels installed on rooftops of 10 large fulfilment centres in India.

In hospitality, large-scale emission reduction is in progress. Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL), which owns the Taj group of hotels, have taken an operational control approach for accounting GHG emissions and aims to reduce 10 per cent of total specific emissions by 2025. It has joined hands with Tata Power to provide solar energy for Mumbai hotels for 25 years, which will get 60 per cent energy from green sources, thereby reducing nearly 23 million kg of CO2 emissions on an annual basis. Some of its hotels such as Blue Diamond, Pune; Pratap Mahal, Ajmer; and Taj Ganges, Varanasi have their own solar plant within the premises, while others are maximising power purchase agreements for renewable energy.

Another high energy-consuming business is data center operation. With an intention to reduce emission, hyperscale datacenter provider CtrlS has set up a solar cell-covered datacenter in Mumbai. It has the country's largest solar plant in facade with 1.3-MW installed capacity generating 1.8 million units of power per year.

It is just the beginning. Corporates have a long road to travel.