ESG Q&A with Shamilka Samarasinha, Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at EPAM Systems
At Business Leader, we recently spoke with Shamilka Samarasinha, Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at EPAM Systems, Inc., about the importance of ESG strategies.
What were you doing before joining EPAM Systems and what attracted you to this role?
Prior to joining EPAM, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles in different countries around the world. My career and exposure to CSR started in Sri Lanka, where I designed and implemented a social responsibility program and its framework for the country’s largest clothing company.
Since then, I have held various positions in Thailand, Myanmar and Belarus. I was Country Manager for Tesco International Sourcing in Thailand before joining the British High Commission in Burma, where I managed small grant programs and worked closely with civil society groups to support local programs .
Eventually I moved to Belarus because my husband was working for the UN and my skills matched an opportunity at EPAM, and I was hired to design and oversee the social responsibility program. Having joined EPAM at a time when the company was still relatively young but growing, the opportunity to explore CSR was limitless. I feel lucky to have joined the CSR program at the perfect time – looking back, I am amazed at our journey and where we are now in terms of impact.
What work do you do at EPAM Systems and how do you help companies create sustainable technologies?
At EPAM, my specific role is to oversee the social responsibility program across our global locations. Our areas of intervention are education, the environment and social innovation. All of our initiatives are designed and implemented with these fundamental pillars in mind. However, in recent times, our goal has been to make a smooth transition from our CSR journey to an ESG journey (environment, social and governance).
Most people are unaware of how different the two are, with CSR simply covering the “social” part of ESG. ESG is also the framework most widely recognized by clients and investors, especially our own. While continuing to support our initiatives, we also believe that it is essential to educate and empower our stakeholders, to clarify ESG and how EPAM works within this framework to meet everyone’s expectations. This is timely because we will organize a round table with our corporate partner during the Zed 2021 conference on this same subject.
We have had to re-examine our place in the three components of ESG throughout our gradual transition from CSR by dissecting the various tasks that we carry out for each component. Our carbon footprint calculator was perhaps our most significant achievement to date.
However, we have a number of other successful projects, such as EPAM’s Global Commitment to Sustainable Development, which has resulted in dozens of green initiatives focused on direct energy saving practices. and reduction of the carbon footprint. We have been working with Carbon Footprint UK since 2015 to assess our environmental impact and put in place sustainable offsets to reduce our emissions or carbon in the air.
In addition, EPAM is committed to sustainable reuse, recycling and upcycling our end-of-life electronic devices and computers. We also encourage environmental stewardship in our operations, promising to build all new offices in accordance with the world’s most widely used green building rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Do you think that all companies have a responsibility to integrate ESG strategies into their business plans?
Sustainability is becoming increasingly crucial for all businesses, regardless of industry. Many organizations have already created sustainability plans in response to growing demands for corporate responsibility and transparency. Professionalism and good intentions are no longer enough. Those who refuse to adapt will certainly face pressures internal and external to their organization.
Companies that do not know how to implement a sustainable business plan should understand that such a plan aims to have a positive impact on the environment and society, usually by helping to solve some of the most pressing problems. in the world such as climate change, depletion of natural resources, pollution, human rights issues, gender inequality, etc.
In addition, to promote transparency, companies should proactively provide their own ESG data, as defined by ESG reporting practices, in order to communicate their sustainability initiatives to the general public and investors.
How can companies ensure that sustainability is affordable and achievable?
Many organizations want to explore sustainability, but hesitate because they don’t know if it’s even affordable, let alone achievable. Nonetheless, I am responding to this sentiment by the fact that governments are starting to pressure the business community to make adequacy part of its DNA. In other words, there can no longer be any compromise when it comes to sustainability in business processes. A similar expectation is growing among EPAM clients and investors.
Sustainability must evolve to become a crucial part of the strategy of any successful business. It does not mean giving up income or success. Profitability, expansion and employee retention are all negatively affected by a company’s inability to take sustainability issues into account. Financial success and global goodwill will soon be inseparable and must therefore be integrated into a successful business strategy.
While investing in sustainability projects may seem contrary to increasing profits, a sustainability approach actually contributes to the success of an organization’s overall operations and most likely has long-term social and environmental benefits. Embracing sustainability helps a business benefit both society, the environment and itself.
In light of the recent IPCC report, have you noticed an increase in the number of companies seeking to develop sustainable development strategies?
Absolutely yes. There is a noticeable increase in the number of organizations formulating long-term strategies. However, organizations should not feel compelled to apply these methods today; however, by 2030, they are expected to implement a certain percentage of their goal and then start working towards balance.
Sustainability goals are achievable and organizations will have ample time to incorporate such initiatives into their business strategy and planning with proper planning and allocation of resources. As I mentioned earlier, our investors and clients are also waiting to start achieving our goals. These major decisions will have to be taken by people in high places in companies. In addition, the current IPCC report indicates that we need to be even more aggressive while finding a balance.
Do you think the UK’s goal of reaching net zero by 2050 is achievable?
The idea of net-zero first overwhelmed EPAM because it looked like a huge task. If you had asked me four years ago if we could offset our total emissions, I probably would have said “no”. But, now that we’ve figured out what net zero really means, we’re looking at different ways to offset our total emissions, such as alternate journeys and renewables, in order to meet our goal.
Achieving zero net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 will be a challenge for the UK, but I believe it is achievable. For example, in 2009 the UK’s emissions decreased by 42% but its economy grew by 72%. Most of the progress has come from policies, many of which have minimal impact on the daily lives of most citizens.
Surprisingly, despite the country’s transition to wind power and the phasing out of coal power, the general population has exerted minimal pressure on business and government to stay within the country’s carbon budget. Reducing future GHG emissions will require people’s participation, for example by making low-carbon choices about travel, heating homes, using electricity and a sustainable global lifestyle. A fundamental aspect of achieving net-zero is to understand the attitudes of the general public towards the climate and their willingness to contribute to the greater cause.