The Standard-Bearer for Corporate Sustainability

Sanith De Silva Wijeyeratne – Director/CEO of the Carbon Consulting Company

A recipient of the prestigious Global CSR Leadership Award and a member of the Global Climate Leadership Corps, Sanith De Silva Wijeyeratne, the Director/CEO of the Carbon Consulting Company describes his career as a series of significant pivotal moments. 

“The first such moment was when I decided to leave a potentially very lucrative career as a corporate lawyer (I’m a qualified Attorney-at-Law) to take my first steps in the field of Marketing Communications. I spent the next 12 years in this discipline, working and learning in 2 international advertising agency networks before becoming a part of the group that co-founded WORDS, our very own boutique agency.  Within its first year, the agency was recognized as one of the country’s top 5 agencies, winning 2 out of just 16 awards at the 2010 Effie Awards. After that the agency went on to set a new bar by winning the first ever GOLD Effie Award in the country.  The next big such moment was when I was given an opportunity to take charge of and lead a newly formed environmental sustainability focused social enterprise called The Carbon Consulting Company. Not knowing anything about the technical and scientific sides of things, it took a great deal of introspection and faith to leave a well-established career path to begin a completely new journey. It was a challenge, but it was also something that resonated with me personally. My family spends a lot of time enjoying wildlife and nature, and this was an opportunity to do something positive to try to protect and preserve the environment as a whole.  So, with a lot of encouragement and support from my wife, I took this crazy step.  The next big moment came when having spent a few months with the new company, I began to realize that the entire business plan and approach envisioned by the founders had to be changed drastically if the company was to survive. Using my background in strategic planning, marketing communications and branding, I completely re-worked the company strategy and put it to the Board who backed me unreservedly.  And that has brought us to where we are today – to being one of South Asia’s most recognized sustainability consulting bodies.”

With regards to environmental conservation, Sanith is a firm believer in the fact that everyone can make a difference in their own way. “The thing is to have someone who understands such matters to explain what you can do practically and without having a major impact on your life.  I also believe that the burden of these decisions weighs more heavily on people with more resources and more decision-making power, especially within large organizations.” 

As Sri Lanka’s only, and one of South Asia’s leading providers of Integrated Sustainability Solutions, the Carbon Consulting Company offers services such as Sustainability Strategy Development, Carbon and Water Footprinting, Carbon Asset Management, Bio Diversity Assessment and Life Cycle Analysis. Speaking of the company’s mission and its execution, Sanith explained, “We are essentially what is described as a Social Enterprise.  We are not a charity that accepts donations. We are a professional consulting firm, but our mission is not about increasing our shareholder value or company profitability. We identify ourselves as a ‘profit for a purpose’ company. Our mission is to encourage private sector entities to understand and track the environmental impacts of their business operations, to bring metrics on their performance into their decision-making process, and to first mitigate their impacts and then compensate for unavoidable impacts through internationally recognized methodologies. Today, I am proud to say that we have been privileged to work with over 100 clients in diverse sectors in many parts of the globe.” 

When asked about his most significant contribution to the Carbon Consulting Company, Sanith replied, “I think with any CEO, your key role is to provide strategic direction and an overall vision for the company, while then being able to articulate that vision in smaller operation goals and day to day tasks.  In our company there was the added challenge of bringing in business disciplines into a social enterprise environment where instead of “selling” services or products to potential clients we had to create a unique long term engagement with our clients to work hand in hand to reduce their environmental  impact and to leverage their sustainability efforts to create business value to the organization.  I am so proud that many of the major clients we engaged with have been with us for a period spanning several years, and that’s not usually found in the traditional “consulting” space where many clients retain consultants only for individual assignments. The relationships and partnerships I have been able to establish during our early years, have served us well, and I continue to play this front-line role with many of our larger clients.  Also, perhaps being able to utilize the experience I had gained in Strategic Planning, Branding and Client Servicing to create and enhance CCC’s service offering and to help customers realize the business value arising from the services we offer made a big difference to our company’s success.” 

“Many of our clients have achieved internationally significant landmarks in their sustainability journey. We are proud to have enabled the creation of the World’s First CarbonNeutral® Tea Company (Eswaren Brothers Exports), Asia’s First CarbonNeutral® Apparel Factory (The Hirdaramani Group’s Mihila Factory) and the World’s First WaterNeutral® Apparel Factory (Linea Aqua) just to name some of them. We have also worked with clients who have go to extraordinary lengths to manage their impacts. Recently the STAR Garments Group, owned by the US-based KOMAR, became CarbonNeutral® certified for its entire portfolio of 14 factories. The Hirdaramani Group achieved the status of Net Zero Emissions from Energy across their entire group of 19 factories. We have worked with Peoples Bank and the Bank of Ceylon to map their carbon emissions across their networks of 700 plus and 600 plus branches respectively. We are also working with several international companies, primarily from Europe, to measure the carbon emissions of their individual products across their supply chains spanning many countries.  We are also happy to have launched the first certified PlasticNeutral® product recently, and we think that plastic pollution will be something that companies need to seriously address in the short-term future”, said Sanith of the Carbon Consulting Company’s most prominent projects currently underway.

Voicing his expert opinion on the 3 greatest threats to Corporate Sustainability in Sri Lanka and how these threats may be mitigated, the CEO stated, “The first and foremost is Corporate Greed and the profit motive. As long as companies are run with a purely profit motive, they will continue to use “creating shareholder value” as an excuse for not committing any significant resources towards sustainability. Combine this with very short term thinking on the part of the company management and you have an institutional lack of action of any sort.  Many companies like to talk about People, Planet and Profit, but they do not give each the same level of importance. So, it’s only Profit that really matters and the other 2 become minor mentions in their reporting frameworks. 

The second is “Green Washing”. This is a concept is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact. We continually see companies who do some very minimal activity, but then try to project themselves as being global benchmarks of sustainability. A lot of very significant companies do this, but since nobody holds them accountable, they are able to just continue doing it. 

The third would be the lack of legislative or any other punishment or enforcement for companies that do not adhere to the principles of environmental sustainability.  If a company cheats on its taxation both Financial Directors and CEOs will face penalties. But blatantly misrepresenting your company’s carbon emissions carries no negative implications on anybody. Hence, nobody takes it seriously enough; something we at CCC are working hard to change.” 

On the topic of technology’s role in aiding the advancement of Environmental Sustainability, Sanith commented, “In many aspects the improvement in technology is creating a new normal for us all. Improvements in renewable energy technology have reduced its cost drastically, so that in many countries it is the cheapest form of new energy. Couple that with the increasing development in battery storage systems and suddenly the prospect of powering the globe completely with clean energy is no longer a pipe dream.  So, the technology is either currently available or is in development in many instances, but the real threat is that human selfishness and shortsightedness will prevent these technologies from being implemented.” 

“We are also seeing technology come to the aid of the environment in some unusual ways such as using drones to drop seeds in hard to reach areas, and to map forests. Our company is currently partnering an effort in the Omani dessert to plant trees using a technology called a Waterboxx, where you plant a sapling in the middle of a reusable plastic box, which has enough water to sustain the tree for several months, giving it a fantastic opportunity for survival. The initial tests are hugely encouraging and we are looking forward to expanding the project soon”, he added.  

Expressing his views on the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on environmental preservation and the resulting changes, Sanith opined that – “In today’s post COVID world digitalization is the new norm. One of the few positives that have come out of the virus is that it has forced companies (and countries) to do things that environmentalists have been advocating for many years.  From the inception of CCC we have been encouraging our clients to move from physical meetings and reduce corporate travel in favor of online/virtual meetings. While some tried to implement some of this advice, many Senior Managers were simply not willing to take these steps, arguing stubbornly that such virtual meetings would not take the place of physical meetings.  But today, after 2 months of complete lockdown, people have come to adopt virtual meetings and gatherings without too much effort.  Companies have now realized that spending on travel in many instances was unwarranted. Added to that, the companies are now being compelled to allow employees to work from home, the technology for which has been available for many years now. The impact of these examples alone is resulting in a significant reduction in global carbon emissions. Technology is fueling a more flexible and dynamic working environment, and large office spaces, frequent travel and long commutes are going to be reduced significantly enabling the reduction in global emissions resulting from those activities. Tomorrow’s consumer will spend more time online shopping than going to supermarkets, will be used to streaming the latest movies without going to a cinema and will be more discerning consumers.”  

“Unfortunately, the COVID virus has resulted in many companies completely discarding their sustainability efforts altogether. Existing projects have been scrapped, budgets re-allocated and in some cases, personnel are being laid off. Some companies have even stopped payment for projects underway or even completed, on the grounds that the virus has impacted their business performance. But once the world comes to grip with this “new normal” I think COVID can be a catalyst for a whole new way of thinking and operating for companies.  Flexible work hours and work from home will now be a given, and not just fancy concepts adopted only by tech companies. This will result in smaller offices, lower overheads and reduced commuting, which will help the environment.  The virus has also caused a complete disruption in the global tourism industry, which used to account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This disruption now allows for the industry to start from scratch, but in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way. In Sri Lanka for example, we should ask the question – do we really need 2 million low cost tourists and backpackers coming to our country at cut rate prices or now with the constraints of COVID, should we only target a fewer number of middle and higher income tourists who will spend more, and also have more sustainable holidays in our country?  Under normal circumstances such a discussion would not be tolerated. But with COVID it is now forced onto the table. If countries and companies use this forced opportunity to re-tool and re-position themselves to be more sustainable, the planet will benefit as a whole”, responded Sanith, when questioned about the new Corporate Sustainability tactics that will come into play post-COVID. 

Being no stranger to the stage and spotlight, Sanith is a distinguished international speaker having spoken at renowned events such as the Future of Water & Humanity Conference in Muscat, Oman in 2019, the Pitch Hub of Asia Pacific Climate Week in Singapore in 2018, the World Conference on Environment – 2017 in New Delhi, and the Export Forum on Climate Change Response in Seoul in 2016.  “At a recent discussion, someone told me – “The difference between a TED Speaker and a TEDx Speaker is that one spends 10 years of their life perfecting and crafting an idea or technology while the other spends a few hours putting together a PowerPoint presentation”. While this may not be exactly accurate, it does serve as a good analogy.  Some of the younger generation get caught up in the glamour and the social media opportunities arising out of making a public speech that they forget that the fundamental reason behind making such a speech is to share some unique knowledge and a perspective that others may not have.  My advice is to really spend the time and effort that it takes to become someone worth listening to before aspiring to make the big speeches”, imparted Sanith to aspiring public speakers. 

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