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Sustainability Must Come From The Heart”: Uday Mahajan, Indus Towers

Headquartered in the National Capital Region, Indus Towers is one of the world’s largest telecom tower companies, with a network of approximately 198 thousand towers. Its leading customers include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone+Idea, and Reliance Jio. The company is committed to its credo of “Putting India First” and “Connecting Lives Across the Nation”.

Indus Towers, built on the premise of shared infrastructure, “is sustainable from the day of creation”, says Uday Mahajan, the Vice President and Head of Business Excellence and Sustainability, and believes that, “Unless it is felt from the heart, sustainability will remain a tick-in-the-box paper exercise”. 

Total Quality Management for Sustainability: The Deming Prize Journey

Indus Towers received the Deming Prize for its practice of Total Quality Management (TQM). The Deming Prize is an internationally renowned award given to organizations that demonstrate exceptional commitment to TQM principles, emphasizing continuous improvement, customer-centricity, and sustainable business practices. 

“Practising total quality management means practising sustainability”, says Mahajan. Indus Towers’ TQM approach involves the integration of customer and community needs into their business operations while ensuring environmental responsibility and ethical governance. By adopting a shared infrastructure model, and merging assets from three operating companies (then Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea Cellular), the company significantly reduced resource consumption, material usage, and carbon emissions. The TQM approach of Indus Towers has made it a business case study at Harvard Business School and the Indian Institute of Management.

Greening Operations at the Core

As a company with diverse assets, its journey has been marked by managing challenges: geographical diversity and uninterrupted power demands. The company adopted alternative solutions, such as adopting new technology, seeking government assistance, and alternative cooling solutions, to ensure the continuity of its operations in all regions thereby committing to uninterrupted communication for the nation. Indus Towers recognises collaboration as a key to achieving sustainability and strives at each step in the process to reduce its diesel footprint in its business operations.

The telecom tower company has taken a step towards sustainability by transitioning its indoor sites into outdoor setups through the implementation of the “Shut AC” initiative. This approach involves replacing energy-intensive air conditioners, reliant on diesel generators, with Natural Cooling Units that exhibit lower energy consumption. Moreover, Indus has tackled diesel generator usage by introducing enhanced-capacity battery banks. These installations enable the operation of sites using exclusively renewable-generated electricity, further supplemented by storage backups.

The company’s commitment to sustainability is further exemplified by the introduction of “Green Sites,” where the reliance on diesel is reduced to less than 100 litres per quarter. Presently, Indus has a network of 78,667 such sites, constituting approximately 42 per cent of the total tower portfolio. These sites have cumulatively contributed to a reduction of 31,363 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

As part of its green mission, Indus has fostered collaboration with operators via the ECO Site Initiative. The result is the creation of generator-free sites from their inception, exclusively powered by electricity sourced from distribution companies, and fortified by reliable battery backup systems. For this, Indus launched the ECO Lite product, comprising 6,416 sites, during the fiscal year 2021-22. This initiative has demonstrated the company’s steadfast commitment to environmental responsibility while simultaneously advancing its technological and operational prowess.

Empowering Employees for a Sustainable Future

To achieve sustainability, Mahajan strongly believes that the buy-in of the whole organisation is imperative and says, “Anything that we do must be at the heart and soul of everyone in the company”.  Indus Towers has recently launched a campaign, “Zero Goal Hai” which translates into “Zero is the Target” for ensuring zero harm to anybody, zero emissions, zero waste, zero non-compliances, etc. It is a mantra that the company seeks to build in its DNA.

To foster a culture of sustainability within the organisation, he believes the key lies in spreading awareness. “ESG is a new concept – an unknown blackhole for some, a marginally known blackhole for some, and a fully developed concept for only a handful.”, says Mahajan. To fill this gap in the organisation, the company has been carrying out training modules to educate its employees towards ESG principles, followed by “ESG Fest” which encourages employees to share their ESG practices from their day-to-day life and rewards them through an established framework. Through this, they seek to identify Champions who can replicate those practices at the organisation level, leading to a propelling growth towards sustainability at the workplace. 

Another approach to spreading awareness that Indus has adopted is the “ESG Moment” where Mahajan sends an awareness video to the all-user community every week. To ensure viewership, this byte-sized video is played at the beginning of meetings and discussions.

Another initiative that has been in place for nearly 12 years now is the “Indus Idea Incubator” which allows employees to share their ideas for process improvements and new initiatives. These ideas give the employees recognition and visibility as they are approved directly by the functional heads of the company. “Every year we receive close to 1500 ideas, of which 50% get approved, and about 400 ideas are closed effectively.”, states Mahajan.

One idea currently being executed to mitigate diesel consumption involves the deployment of sensors integrated with a mobile application designed to oversee the precise quantity of diesel being dispensed into the generator sets. Consequently, this real-time monitoring capability has empowered Indus to forecast refuelling needs, leveraging existing stock levels and effectively preventing fuel pilferage. This initiative has been successfully deployed across approximately 3000 sites and has contributed to an overall reduction of 19 million litres of diesel consumption during the financial year 2023.

Sustainability Mantra for Today and Tomorrow

“It must come from the heart for which there is a need for awareness. Upcoming entrepreneurs need to understand the subject and understand the damage that has been caused because of the actions not taken. This will be “food for thought” and may translate into actions.” and “If they come from the heart, things will fall into place.”, says Mahajan.


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