February 2010

Tata and sustainability

Malcolm Lane, head of the Tata Europe Corporate Sustainability Group, talks about Tata’s commitment to society and the highlights of the UK corporate sustainability programme

The notion of sustainability has been ingrained in the Tata group's ethos from the very beginning. The tenets of corporate sustainability, although undefined and little exemplified at the time, were incorporated in its foundations when the Tata group came into being in the 1800s. Since then it has remained at the heart of the group’s evolution. Jamsetji Tata and those who followed him sought to contribute to the industrialisation of India and support the development of the country’s society. Through this mission, they set the corporate sustainability (CS) agenda of the Tata group for all time to come.

Tata companies have continued to build on this model, both in India and in their overseas markets. In 2009, Malcolm Lane, director, corporate affairs, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), was selected to lead the Corporate Sustainability Group (CSG), which includes representatives from across Tata companies in the UK and mainland Europe. As Tata is now a global brand, and believes in supporting the communities in the countries it is operating in, it became necessary to extend the council into this region, particularly with a third of the Tata revenue now coming from here.
The CSG serves as a branch of the Tata Council for Community Initiatives, which is based in India and has guided Tata companies in their CS efforts for decades. In the UK and Europe, this group nurtures a programme that addresses all aspects of corporate sustainability in the marketplace, workplace, community and the environment. It helps Tata companies to assess the impact of their sustainability projects on society, and provides advice and leadership in terms of strategy and action. Mr Lane describes the CSG as “a collaborative organisation that encourages and mutually supports corporate sustainability strategy and action across the Tata companies in the geography.” It draws on the strengths of each Tata company to help others that are not as far along the corporate sustainability journey.
Explaining the Tata approach to corporate sustainability, Mr Lane notes: “We are in business to support society. Tata companies have an obligation to support society and encourage employee engagement by aligning sustainable initiatives with the company’s core offering.”
In Tata, commitment to society has moved sustainability beyond the traditional notions of CSR through a commitment to personal social responsibility. Explaining what this concept means, Mr Lane says: “PSR is the notion that each of us can work for the greater good of the corporate and ultimately, society. It’s about individuals looking for the small efforts that can have a big impact. It is the personal golden nuggets which, when accumulated, will give back to the community in a large and often more impacting way – that’s what PSR is all about. If a company can institute personal social responsibility, corporate sustainability will naturally follow.”
With social responsibilities falling under a holistic canopy, no single element is more important than another. Mr Lane recognises this as the reason why individual actions can work at the root of a company’s responsibility offering: “All personal initiatives count. There is no hierarchy when considering proposals which enable numerous employee initiatives to come together and impact more sectors of society. Our employees can each continue to build on and live the ambition that Jamsetji Tata had – we’re here to transform and build nations.”
While personal effort embraces an individual’s interest in society, Mr Lane points out that sustainability guidelines and projects have to align with a company’s core product offering. “There has to be a rationale for why individuals who are part of a business choose the responsible themes they align themselves with. Taking JLR or Corus as an example, the companies have an industry obligation to protect the environment and, naturally, PSR initiatives will aim to support and coordinate with this.”
Among the countless company-specific CS programmes undertaken by Tata companies in recent times, some of the noteworthy ones are:
  • Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicle donation to the Red Cross Society.
  • TCS’s engagement with the Prime Minister’s Global Fellowship programme, addressing the global talent agenda.
  • Tetley’s work with the Ethical Tea Partnership.
On a smaller level, Tata companies also wholly embrace any small-scale schemes such as charity fun runs and cake sales. There are endless opportunities for employees and their communities alike, and there is no doubt that all these initiatives contribute holistically to Tata’s reputation for responsible participation in the community.
Building on current company and individual employee programmes, partnerships and sponsorships, Tata’s 2010 programme aims to strengthen all of Tata companies’ educational and health schemes. “We do a fantastic amount of work which suits each company’s contribution to UK business,” says Mr Lane, elaborating on future plans, “and we will certainly maintain these achievements and strive for even greater levels of commitment. However, the Tata CSG recognises an opportunity to take our current programme a step further, and I am delighted to announce that we are combining company ideas to create a Tata-wide programme which we will launch later this year.”
For more information on the corporate sustainability initiatives mentioned in this article, please click here.