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Case study: How ITC protects biodiversity

ITC is one of India’s foremost private sector companies with a market capitalisation of US $ 50 billion and a diversified presence in FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), Hotels, Packaging, Paperboards & Specialty Papers and Agri-Business. Given the essential ecosystem services that nature provides, especially to rural households, ITC recognises that the preservation and nurture of biodiversity is crucial for the long-term sustainability of agriculture and for ensuring a sustainable future for communities residing in ITC’s agri-business areas.

This case study is based on the 2019 Sustainability Report by ITC published on the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database that can be found at this link. Through all case studies we aim to demonstrate what CSR/ ESG/ sustainability reporting done responsibly means. Essentially, it means: a) identifying a company’s most important impacts on the environment, economy and society, and b) measuring, managing and changing.

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ITC has taken up biodiversity conservation as a major intervention in its operational areas  Tweet This! through various initiatives, seeking, among others, to preserve India’s rich biodiversity. In order to protect biodiversity ITC took action to:
  • minimise the adverse impacts of agriculture on biodiversity
  • implement community driven biodiversity conservation
  • develop ‘Sustainable Agriscape for Future’

What are the material issues the company has identified?

In its 2019 Sustainability Report ITC identified a range of material issues, such as financial performance, climate change, employee engagement, product packaging & labelling. Among these, protecting biodiversity stands out as a key material issue for ITC.

Stakeholder engagement in accordance with the GRI Standards              

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) defines the Principle of Stakeholder Inclusiveness when identifying material issues (or a company’s most important impacts) as follows:

“The reporting organization shall identify its stakeholders, and explain how it has responded to their reasonable expectations and interests.”

Stakeholders must be consulted in the process of identifying a company’s most important impacts and their reasonable expectations and interests must be taken into account. This is an important cornerstone for CSR / sustainability reporting done responsibly.

Key stakeholder groups ITC engages with:

To identify and prioritise material topics ITC engaged with its stakeholders through the following channels: 

Stakeholder Group                Method of engagement
Providers of financial capital

 

·      Annual General Meeting

·      Exclusive section in Corporate Website on ‘Shareholder Value’ which serves to inform and service shareholders

·      Exclusive e-mail id: isc@itc.in for direct interaction with shareholders

·      Regular interaction with institutional investors

Government and regulatory authorities ·      Representation on policy issues through industry associations and other bodies

·      Participation in policy advocacy discussions at various forums

Customers ·      Market surveys

·      Direct connect/visits

·      Personalised lifestyle privilege programme

·      Customer satisfaction surveys

·      Key account management

Employees ·      Induction programmes/trainings/workshops

·      Individual performance appraisal

·      Employee engagement survey

·      Grievance handling processes

·      Trade union meetings

Farmers

 

·      Regular formal/informal conversations

·      Farmer training programmes and workshops

·      Agreements for all procurement activities

·      e-Choupal and Choupal Pradarshan Khets (demonstration farms)

·      Participatory rural appraisals to identify needs and challenges

Supply chain partners

 

·      Manufacturers’ meets

·      Vendor meets

·      Pre-agreement negotiations

·      Procurement agreements

Media ·      One-on-one media interaction

·      Press conferences/press releases

·      Advertisements/promotions

·      Interviews with senior management

Civil society

 

·      Partnerships for implementation of CSR programmes under ‘Mission Sunehra Kal’

·      Discussions on community issues with civil society organisations

Local communities ·      Community needs assessment activities undertaken in collaboration with independent parties/civil society organisations

·      Formation of village institutions and regular meetings thereon

·      Public hearings for greenfield/expansion projects

·      Assessment of direct and indirect impacts of ITC’s social investments on communities

What actions were taken by ITC to protect biodiversity?

In its 2019 Sustainability Report ITC reports that it took the following actions for protecting biodiversity:

  • Minimising the adverse impacts of agriculture on biodiversity
  • ITC’s Biodiversity Risk and Opportunity Assessment (BROA) tool was deployed by its Agri Business Division in its core crop growing regions to identify impacts and dependencies of business operations on biodiversity of a given agricultural landscape. This was followed by an assessment of the various risks and opportunities that emerge, based on which plans were made and actions undertaken to address them. Based on the risk assessment, ITC has specifically promoted initiatives such as micro-irrigation promotion, farmer education cum awareness programmes on pesticide waste disposal, soil protection and conservation, and Integrated Pest Management in crops, covering around 65,000 farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In 2018, ITC’s Agri Business Division had additionally covered crops such as Chilli, Cumin, Turmeric, Celery and Coffee under Rain Forest Alliance (RFA) certification. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms are audited regularly to verify that farmers are compliant to the standard’s comprehensive requirements, which require continual improvement on the journey to sustainable agriculture. The farmers strictly follow the standard principles of sustainable farming, which include biodiversity conservation, improved livelihoods and human well-being, and natural resource conservation. With support from ITC, the farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Punjab undertook an effective planning and farm management system which benefits communities, forests, native vegetation, ecosystem services and wildlife. ITC’s Paper business has committed to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) principles and has got its pulpwood plantations and supply chain certified under FSC. Till 2018, 37,089 hectares belonging to 32,313 farmers were certified under FSC by Rain Forest Alliance as per which no rare, threatened and endangered species were in the land considered under the scope of certification, also providing assurance that methods for enhancing biodiversity potential of the planted areas like retention of old growth/snag trees, retention of large woody debris, creation of water bodies, etc., were being practised.
  • Implementing community driven biodiversity conservation
  • ITC implements community driven biodiversity conservation with focus on livelihood generation, to make sure that communities understand and value the importance of biodiversity conservation. As part of the programme, studies are undertaken to understand the current status of floral and faunal species richness in the watersheds, plans prepared for landscape level restoration to improve green cover and native floral species population and mosaic restoration to rehabilitate degraded common lands as biodiversity hotspots. Studies to assess species diversity and dominance have been carried out in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra states in the watersheds where ITC is implementing its water stewardship programme. The studies showed that ITC had successfully rehabilitated degraded areas as biodiversity conservation plots to enhance floral and faunal biodiversity and ensure adequate livelihood and employment generation for local communities through creation of fodder, fuel and other wood sources. Under this programme, ITC has cumulatively developed 793 biodiversity plots involving famers and community members covering a total area of 22,031 acres in 18 districts of 7 states. The initiative has also helped in conserving myriad species of floral and faunal diversity, including birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians. Regular biodiversity indexing is also being carried out in biodiversity conservation plots, to measure the success of the programme in terms of enhancing the species diversity and dominance.
  • Developing ‘Sustainable Agriscape for Future’
  • ITC collaborated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Munger (Bihar) to develop ‘Sustainable Agriscape for Future’. IUCN had taken up studies and surveys to identify key issues that are affecting, and will in future affect the ecosystem service potential of the agriscape and farm profitability. Pressures on forest for fodder and fuelwood from the communities residing in adjoining area thus leading to increased top soil erosion and reduction of flows in water streams, encroachment and invasion of exotic species in community water bodies, excess usage of external input in agriculture located along the river Ganges, reduction of native trees and shrubs in agriculture fields that sustain birds and insect population, were identified as some of the critical factors that will impact the agriscape ecosystem service potential. Based on the challenges identified, IUCN suggested three varied landscape profiles for demonstrating the revival of ecosystem services: forest and lakes, lacustrine (pond), and riverine (Ganga riverbed) landscapes. Plans for all three types of landscapes have been developed and based on the action plans developed by IUCN, work is being implemented in all three landscapes at pilot scale. Interventions include creating fuelwood and fodder source within villages to bring down dependence on forests through suitable native tree species plantation, hyacinth based composting to reduce the growth of this invasive species growing in lakes, native species plantation along Ahar & Pyne banks to ensure a long life of the system through bank stabilisation, and multi-tiered native species plantation on fields adjacent to the Ganga river to minimise damage by floods.

Which GRI Standards and corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been addressed?

The GRI Standard addressed in this case is: Disclosure 304-1 Operational sites owned, leased, managed in, or adjacent to, protected areas and areas of high biodiversity value outside protected areas

Disclosure 304-1 Operational sites owned, leased, managed in, or adjacent to, protected areas and areas of high biodiversity value outside protected areas corresponds to:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Business theme: Water-related ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Business theme: Marine biodiversity
  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Business theme: Mountain ecosystems, Natural habitat degradation, Terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems

 

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References:

1) This case study is based on published information by ITC, located at the link below. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the report’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original, please revert to the original on the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Disclosure Database at the link:

http://database.globalreporting.org/

2) https://www.globalreporting.org/standards/gri-standards-download-center/

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