One of the biggest Indian—and some would argue global—names in IT is Wipro Limited, or Western India Products Limited. In 2013, it demerged the non-IT diversified businesses, such as consumer care, lighting and infrastructure engineering, into a separate company named Wipro Enterprises Ltd. Aside from IT, Wipro Limited focuses on consulting and business process services and serves clients in 175+ cities across 6 continents.

Wipro’s work on CSR and sustainability seems to be quite extensive. Its CSR policy document lists out two main focus areas: education and community care. Sustainability and diversity are the other two key engagement domains for the company. The bedrock of its CSR policy is ethical business with three core principles: integrity, treating people with respect, and ecological sensitivity.

The company’s approach has three pillars:

a) Strategic: Choosing domains and issues that are force multipliers for social change, some of which will have synergies with both business goals and social purpose

b) Systemic: Engaging on systemic issues that require commitment over the long term

c) Deliberative: Avoiding unnecessary expansion of social programmes or engaging in ‘chequebook philanthropy’

CSR implementation is through separate trusts (e.g. Wipro Cares) and partners, or directly through functions and groups within the company. Within the company, a small team of dedicated sustainability and CSR staff oversee and monitor the execution of the projects, the majority of which are long-term multi-year programmes. Wipro being an MNC has CSR programmes across the globe but this article will focus on the work being done in India.

CSR programmes

1. Education: Wipro’s work on education can be sub-divided into school- and college-focused programmes. The main themes are organisational capability building, good-quality educational material, advocacy, and sustainability in education.

  • School: On systemic reforms, Wipro Applying Thought in Schools (WATIS) is the main initiative that works on building capacity in school-education reform in India, mostly through partner organisations. This includes improving quality of education in government schools, strengthening social science and ecology education, and supporting students from marginalised communities. Until last year, the company worked with 70 organisations through 132 educational projects, reaching out to over 19,000 schools. Started in 2002, it provides support to partners through grants, fellowships and publications to pilot innovative ideas and build capacity.

Wipro Cares, the not-for-profit trust run by Wipro, supports schools for underprivileged children. For example, its partner in Pune, Door Steps Schools, runs mobile units that provide schooling to children of migrant labourers working in construction sites. The aim is to enable retention and better learning outcomes, provide counselling services for children and parents, support nutrition and healthcare needs, develop vocational skills, and facilitate holistic development. More than 64,000 children in 8 cities have benefited from these interventions, while nearly 70,000 children of migrant labourers working in construction sites have been impacted through 20 such projects in 8 states.

Sustainability Education (earthian) is the sustainability programme that seeks to promote sustainability thinking and action in school and colleges across the country. It does this through Wipro earthian Awards and the Continuous Engagement Program (CEP). The awards programme provides exposure to multiple perspectives on biodiversity and water, while CEP focuses on integrated sustainability education and co-creates educational practices (through workshops, internships, etc.) to drive action. Till FY 2017, the programme had reached out to 2,000 schools, 1,500 colleges, and 2,200 teachers in 45 districts across 21 states. Eleven Wipro earthian ‘Sustainability Learning corners’ have been set up in 11 schools.

The project on education of children with disability is headed by Wipro Cares, which supports the educational and rehabilitative needs of 4,200 children through 12 projects in 6 states.

Wipro also runs a seeding programme for educational civil society organisations (CSO), supporting the creation and development of new organisations that can contribute to improving Indian school education. This is done through a three-year Founders’ Fellowship to help them set up NGOs in locations of their choice. Each year, 20 to 25 fellows are selected and through them about 10 CSOs are seeded, based on the selection criteria

  • College: Mission10X, a not-for-profit trust started in 2007, is geared towards building employability skills of engineering students by training engineering-college teachers. The first phase focused on training teachers on pedagogy, while the second phase’s philosophy is ‘smaller and deeper engagement’ where selected engineering colleges have been chosen for educational interventions. The goal is to inculcate 21st-century skills, both hard and soft, among the students who are predominantly hired by the IT industry. The programme has engaged with 1,300 institutes from 30 states and trained nearly 29,000 teachers using the power of technology.

The earthian programme has been implemented in 1,500 colleges. It has hosted sustainability symposiums for educators. Wipro has also funded the Wipro Sustainability Fellowship at IIM Bangalore. By expanding the programme’s outreach, it has been able to reach out to the northeast as well.

As part of its endeavour to improve higher education in technology, programmes like the Wipro Academy of Software Excellence (WASE), in partnership with BITS Pilani, and WISTA, in collaboration with Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), have been taken up since the ‘90s. Wipro has enabled more than 28,000 students to graduate with an MS degree in software engineering. During 2016–17, the total number of new entrants into these programmes was 3,274, while the cumulative strength across four years was 13,636.

2. Community care: This is part of Wipro’s endeavour to engage with proximate communities (its primary stakeholders) where the company has significant presence. Through Wipro Cares, it works with such communities through its many partners in the core areas of healthcare, environment and disaster rehabilitation, aside from education (already covered in the previous section).

Primary healthcare projects provide quality preventive and curative healthcare services to underserved communities through capacity building of communities and leveraging existing government infrastructure and schemes. Through 7 such projects, covering 75 villages across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand, 75,000 people get access to primary healthcare. Some of its projects are in remote, inaccessible villages in Nagaland and the tribal district of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.

Other community interventions include urban biodiversity conservation, disaster rehabilitation work that benefits 60,000 people through livelihood projects (like farmers’ cooperative, organic agriculture) in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, and Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, and water-conservation projects. On environment, in urban areas the focus is on welfare of waste pickers engaged in waste management. In FY 2017, more than 2,700 workers received access to increased health and social benefits through the Hasirudala project that works to organise waste workers.

Since 2014, the company has been running the ‘participative groundwater program’. It is part of a larger initiative, the Karnataka State Water Network (KSWN), which seeks to involve multiple stakeholders in systemically understanding and addressing water-related problems in the periphery area of Sarjapur in Bengaluru which is completely dependent on groundwater. In rural areas, the focus is on social forestry through which livelihood opportunities are generated for poor farmers.

CSR planning and spend

To assess the efficacy of its programmes, reviews are done at multiple levels. Every three to four years, the programme strategy is reviewed with the chief sustainability officer (CSO) and revised as needed. Every year an annual review and goal setting is done with the CSO, and every quarter the progress is reviewed by the CSO, and both are presented to the chairman and Group Executives Council (GEC). Wipro’s work with various partner organisations spans three years and may be extended further. It works closely with its partners, reviews progress, and participates in important decisions.

Wipro’s key advocacy issues are water, energy and climate change, e-waste, education and diversity. It works through industry platforms like CII and NASSCOM as well as with research partners like Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Cstep, BIOME, and IUCN.

For 2016–17, the company spent Rs 1,863 million on CSR which is more than 2 per cent of the average net profit for the last three financial years (Rs 64,154 million). Most of it was spent on education initiatives (majority of this was on its efforts on higher education in engineering and technology) and energy sustainability projects.

The Wipro Cares funding model consists of employee contributions which are matched by Wipro. Nearly one in three employees, or more than 50,000 Wipro employees, are contributors, making this possibly one of the biggest such programmes in India. During 2015–16, nearly 8,000 employees from 25 chapters collectively spent more than 14,400 hours in volunteering activities.

Sustainability

Wipro places huge importance on its sustainability initiatives, the goal being to reduce consumption of resources across its value chain. The four pillars of its sustainability programme are:

  1. Carbon mitigation and energy
  2. Water efficiency and responsible sourcing
  3. Waste and pollution management
  4. Campus biodiversity

In terms of target setting, in FY 2016, the company took up the exercise to propose specific targets for the period 2015–16 to 2019–20, using the framework from WRI (World Resource Institute) that tries to align itself within the threshold of 2 degree rise in average surface temperature. Accordingly, Wipro has adopted targets for 2025 and 2030 and these will be revisited at the next review exercise in 2020.

The goals for 2015–16 to 2019–20 are:

  • Scope 1 and 2 GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions – absolute emissions reduction of 35,000 tonnes
  • Energy intensity in terms of EPI (Energy Performance Index) – cumulative reduction of 11 per cent in EPI over 5 years
  • GHG emission intensity (Scope 1 and Scope 2) on floor area (FAR) basis – cumulative reduction of 33 per cent in GHG intensity from 140 kg/sq.mt. (kpsm) to 94 kpsm of CO2-equivalent
  • Renewable energy (RE) – doubling renewable energy procurement of 65 million units in 2015 to a target of 135 million units in 2019–20

There are separate goals for pollution, waste and water management, and biodiversity as well.

Wipro’s five-year GHG-mitigation strategy has three main contributors: energy efficiency, RE purchase, and travel substitution. RE procurement is set to contribute 80 per cent share to this strategy.

In 2016–17, absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions decreased by 4.4 per cent, while globally it was 3.4 per cent. GHG emissions reduction of 11,000 tons CO2-equivalent (in India) was achieved, driven by RE footprint and investments in energy efficiency. RE constitutes 25 per cent of the company’s overall electricity consumption (33 per cent of total India energy consumption).

The India office space emissions intensity (Scope 1 and Scope 2) was at 128 kg CO2 eq. per sq. mt. per annum, an increase of 4.7 per cent from the previous year, but global people-based emissions intensity was down by more than 10 per cent to 1.58 tons per person per annum. Air travel footprint reduction (distance and emissions) was over 19 per cent compared to 2015–16. Per-employee water consumption showed 13.5 per cent reduction from 1.295 in 2015–16; 38 per cent of water was recycled in 2016–17 (32 per cent in the previous year).

The total environmental cost from Wipro’s operations and supply chain was equal to Rs 11,433 million for 2015–16. The largest contributions came from GHG emissions (50 per cent), air pollution (19 per cent) and water consumption (20 per cent). These figures are net of the positive valuation attributable to its environmental initiatives which, between 2014–15 and 2015–16, reduced overall environmental costs by Rs 1,086 million. Details on its sustainability work can be found in its GRI-compliant (comprehensive guidelines) annual sustainability reports, the latest being for the 2015–16 period. These are probably among the most detailed sustainability reports issued by Indian companies. For instance, Wipro has quantified the natural capital impacts (emissions, water usage, etc.) of its operations and supply chain, has carbon intensity and emissions targets till 2050, and provides Scope 3 (indirect sources) emissions data.

Wipro is a member of different investor-led disclosures like Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), Vigeo, and Carbon Disclosure Project. The company was selected as a member of DJSI 2016 for the seventh year in succession.

With regards to its suppliers, there’s some ambiguity as to how the company enforces green standards on them. While all Wipro suppliers have to mandatorily sign the code of conduct (SCOC), it is not clear what concrete steps are taken to ensure they adhere to the minimum criteria for an ecofriendly organisation. As of the FY 2016 report, all empanelled vendors are independently verified as per Wipro e-waste guidelines. Besides, the green procurement programme for ICT hardware and electronic end of life engages with 10 strategic suppliers based on green procurement guidelines.

CB view

Undoubtedly, Wipro’s CSR and sustainability initiatives are some of the most well-planned and well-designed in the Indian CSR space. Its education programmes must be lauded for being aligned with the company’s expertise and ethos and engaging in issues that are not the standard, milquetoast ones. The company is also aware of the fact that meaningful interventions take time, which is quite a refreshing take, especially when it’s not obvious to many. Its reports are easily one of the most detailed in corporate India. The sustainability report is on par with some of the best-in-class companies globally. Wipro’s sustainability efforts come across as earnest and sincere, with clear targets and measures. One cannot say the same for most corporates in this country.

While there are definite positives, it would have been better to receive responses on our specific questions related to suppliers and details on the education programmes, including whether students from poor backgrounds are given opportunities (for that matter, why not start a STEM programme exclusively for underprivileged students?). Wipro’s response was that it was busy with ‘annual disclosures’.

Now, while its annual reports are quite comprehensive, critical pieces of information are missing. For instance, the long-term impacts on the students and communities that it has served, whether it is on track to achieve its 2025 targets, what kind of external benchmarking is done, and improvement areas. Concrete CSR targets and long-term goals will also help in clarifying its vision and intentions. And though the company has stated that issues of healthcare, education, access to energy, water and sanitation, and livelihoods are closely interlinked, it is not clear how much of this awareness is actually being translated into programme implementation.

Wipro has been active in the CSR space for several years and while it’s showing the way to corporate India on sustainability, it now needs to start emulating global best-in-class companies and come up with innovative ideas and projects. With its years of experience and a proven commitment to all things green and sustainable, it should leave the well-trodden path behind and take some risks that can result in transformative payoffs for the good of marginalised people. It has certainly earned the credibility to do so.