For jump-starting sustainability at a legacy manufacturer
Harshavardhana Gourineni has little patience when it comes to companies delivering on sustainability. “A lot of people are making net-zero promises for 2060 or 2070,” he says. “I don’t want to set targets that are going to outdate my retirement.”
So while eco-friendly initiatives weren’t a core focus when his grandfather started Amara Raja Batteries in 1985, Gourineni sees no choice but to forge a new path. His plan? Green the battery maker’s processes—and transform the environmental impact of a legacy industry.
“I tell our internal stakeholders, as a responsible corporate citizen, this is an action we have to do, and it’s not for naught—we’re getting a benefit,” he says. “We just have to track it with a different metric than your typical internal rate of return. There’s another metric you need to track, which is securing your business’s future.”
Born in India and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Gourineni spent the early years of his career at Johnson Controls, working in the operations and planning functions. Then in 2015, he returned to Hyderabad to join the family business.
“I thought that I might move back to India at a later stage, after getting a decade or two of experience,” Gourineni says. “But during one of my visits, I saw that there was a lot of room to connect and grow more immediately.”
A future-focused mindset has helped Gourineni swiftly ascend the ranks at Amara Raja Group, of which Amara Raja Batteries is part of. And in 2022, he signed on to the United Nations Global Compact, a powerful signal of his goals for the company.
“We have a pretty ambitious plan to get to 100% renewables in the next 11 or 12 years,” he explains.
As part of that jump-start, the company’s plant harnesses solar energy from rooftop panels and a recently installed ground-mounted solar farm—with 22% of the company’s direct energy consumption coming from the sun. Water conservation is another priority: Even before Gourineni arrived, the company had built check dams around the area and harvested rainwater. Now the company is water-positive across all of its locations, in addition to having zero-liquid discharge.
“Everything that we’re collecting in our process, we’re either using it or we end up evaporating and separating and disposing of sediment and then taking that distilled water back into our process,” he says.
Gourineni is also innovating on recycling. In India, the process of repurposing a battery’s components is unregulated, with many “backyard smelters” handling hazardous materials like lead by hand and melting them down using giant kettles. “We’re doing great in terms of using recycled materials—80% of our lead is from recycled origin—but there’s an extended responsibility we take in terms of how that lead is being processed and recycled,” Gourineni says.
In addition to working with and educating suppliers on material procurement and disposal, he realized there could be positive ROI for the environment and the business if the company took the process in-house. So now Amara Raja is setting up its own recycling operation, with Gourineni estimating it should ultimately cover 40% of the company’s material requirements.
He’s looking forward in other ways, too: Amara Raja announced in September 2022 that it would invest INR7,000 in the lithium ion battery manufacturing segment as it sets its sights on the growing electric vehicle space.
Yet that expansive view doesn’t mean letting up on the nitty-gritty details. Gourineni has made it clear to senior executives that they must lead by example on sustainability—and that ethos extends across the company’s supply chain. “It affects us all in some way or another,” he says, “and we all have a role to play.”
Q&A: Harshavardhana Gourineni on squeezing the most out of mangos and young people’s commitment to change
What project that you’ve worked on has influenced you the most?
A project we’ve taken up in Galla Foods, one of the companies I’m responsible for. We set out to solve the hardships of our local mango farmers, who were suffering due to crop wastage and unfair procurement practices in the trade. To do this, we established a processing unit to convert the mango fruit to pulp and then sell it in both domestic and international markets. Though we had no experience in fruit processing, we were able to put together a business model to achieve all the requirements while turning a significant profit. We can now take all the mango fruit our local farmers can offer, pay them well and get a premium price from our end customers around the world.
How are young people changing the world of projects?
Young people are increasingly becoming digital natives and integrating new technology seamlessly into their daily requirements, including project management. They’re also far more aware of environmental, social and governance criteria and bringing new practices to project management to minimize consumption, reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact of their work.