Environmentalists are quick to blame businesses and industries for the growing carbon footprint and global warming. But to give credit where it is due, several organizations are leading the way in Corporate Sustainability. 

Our next pathbreaker, Ashwini Mavinkurve, Sustainability Manager at Tata Motors, talks about her role in promoting and tracking a sustainable value chain by educating stakeholders in the business about green technologies, thus ensuring sustainability goals are being measured and met.

 Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal talks to Ashwini about her specialization in Environmental Engineering that paved the way for a career in Corporate Sustainability, inspiring her to be an Environmental gatekeeper for business !

A great career for students who want to make a direct impact on the environment…

Ashwini, tell us about your background?

I grew up in Mumbai and even before I learnt how to spell, I started learning Bharatnatyam. Throughout schooling years, I continued learning and performing Bharatnatyam and also developed a flair for writing. It was actually through an essay writing competition that I developed an interest in the subject of environment. I was quite fascinated by the topic on environment (not just about protecting it but also about how brilliant our natural surroundings really are). However, I never really expected to find a formal education in this field. It was only after 12th Grade (HSE) that I discovered the possibility of pursuing a technical degree in environment. 

My father is a mechanical engineer and works at a leading organization as a VP Safety, while my mother, also an engineer is a professor at an engineering college in Mumbai. She has completed her PhD in Education Technology from IIT Bombay.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

After 12th, I took up Environmental Engineering at Kolhapur Institute of Technology (KIT) and absolutely enjoyed the 4 years I spent there, learning and growing. I further went on to pursue a post-graduation in Civil Engineering with Specialization in Environmental Engineering from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI).

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?

My parents have been my inspiration for everything that I have done and aim to pursue in the future. While my mother laid the foundation in terms of good primary and intermediate education, my father has been instrumental in shaping my career by constantly guiding, encouraging and pushing me to be my best. It was him who did extensive research before enrolling me into my graduate program and I am eternally grateful to him.

Over the years, some senior colleagues and professors have also mentored me and helped me grow professionally. My stint with a Big4 consulting firm that catered to clients across different sectors was a turning point in my career as it opened up a whole new world of opportunities and possibilities. Today, social media, especially the ones like LinkedIn is one of the best mediums to actually connect with anyone whose journey inspires you. It in fact helped me connect with so many people who guided me and helped me get better. 

Tell us about your career path and how that led to what you do now. 

This is a very interesting question. During the final year of my graduation I casually appeared for the  GATE entrance exams meant for students intending to take up M.E. or M.Tech. I, personally wanted to take up a job immediately after graduation but my parents insisted on completing a post graduation. I cleared the exam and got admitted into one of the best colleges in the Mumbai University (VJTI). 

After the 2 year long course, I worked with a startup for 3 months that was primarily into performing Traffic Impact Analysis for construction sites. It basically meant, we were calculating the increase in traffic load on the roads due to a new building that was coming up in that area. While I was working at the startup, I was also simultaneously exploring other relevant areas where my education and skillset would make a difference. That is when one of my mentors introduced me to the concept and area of ‘Sustainability’. To simply break it down, ‘Sustainable Development’ is meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising on the needs of the future generation. In the context of a business, it entails managing the Economic, Environmental and Social risks and impacts that the business faces. I found this area extremely interesting and since then there was no looking back. I studied about this topic online (through courses on Coursera) and my background in Environmental Engineering is what came handy. 

During this time, I received an interview call from a Big 4 consulting firm and I joined their Climate Change & Sustainability Services team as an Associate Consultant. I learnt a great deal during my tenure with this firm and also won a few accolades for performing well. we basically help in improving the sustainability performance. To simplify it a little, what we do is we ensure that our businesses do not have a negative impact on the environment and the society. Not only that, we also try to improve these areas if we can, we also try to ensure business continuity that the external risks may pose, (say that of a disaster, environmental non-compliances or labour unrest)

As a consultant at KPMG, I was majorly involved in helping clients develop their sustainability reports. The most interesting aspect of this work was interacting and actually working with some major industry players to implement sustainability decisions at management level. When big companies take sustainability seriously, it actually helps change the dialogue for smaller companies too.

How did you get your first break?

Towards the end of my post-graduation, I was appearing for interviews off campus and that’s when I came across the startup. 

What were the challenges? How did u address them?

One of the main challenge was the lack of awareness of this stream.I did a lot of research, connected with people from this area, asked questions, read up several papers and articles online.

Tell us about your current role

After completing about 2 years at KPMG, I joined the largest automobile Company in India, TATA Motors, as a Senior Manager, Corporate Sustainability.

At Tata Motors, the culture of sustainability is actually ingrained in the DNA of the Company. We undertake several initiatives such as installing renewable energy, developing new eco friendly automotive technologies. As a Tata Group company we are also actively involved in CSR. But if I have to name one initiative that I have been actively working on and that’s close to my heart is the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative. In the automotive sector, supply chains are complex and we depend on them greatly. So as a part of this initiative, we train our suppliers, assess them and hand hold them to become greener.

The skills that are needed for job include:

1. Communication skills

2. Writing skills

3. Analytical skills

4. Background and technical knowledge about this field

5. MS office – word, excel, powerpoint

Most of these skills were covered through my formal education but the last one is something I picked up on the job.

Currently, we are running initiatives that involve travelling and on-site assessment of our supply chain. Most of the days of the year are on site. On other days, we have different sustainability projects running. We also publish a Sustainability report which is written by our team and drafting the report, data analysis and audits take up most of our time.

What is it you love about this job? 

The best thing about this job is that it allows me to fully utilize my skill sets while also making difference to the environment and society.

How does your work benefit the society? 

Honestly, societal and environmental benefits are the foundation of my job. When we create awareness about sustainability among our stakeholders, when we drive initiatives across our supply chain, we immensely focus on mitigating the negative impacts and enhancing the positive impacts on environment and society.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

When you are in a job that truly satisfies you, every day is exciting but if I have to name one, it’s when we train our teams and suppliers on this topic and they come back to tell us that they will stop performing environmentally or socially harmful practices. I clearly remember someone telling us that they are going to quit using plastic straws after one of our capacity building sessions.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Here are a few things I want to tell you:

1. Do not stop exploring. I always say this, a human brain is capable of achieving phenomenal things. So don’t put yourself inside a box. Try that interesting activity out.

2. Always have a life beyond your study table. It could be anything, a sport, an art, anything. Believe me, during the tough times, your alternate interests will lift you up.

3. Read, Read and Read. In a world that we live in today, almost everything can be found online. If you want to know more about your area of interest, read about it to build a solid case for yourself

4. Form or join a community of like-minded people. This community will help you, navigate with you and guide you

5. Take your parents into confidence, especially if you are convinced about taking up an unconventional career. Point 3 and 4 will help you get to 5 easily.

All the best.

Future Plans?

I plan to deep dive more into this field and look forward to contributing significantly to this field. I am keen on discovering the best practices and helping my organization align with the global goals set out in my field.

I also plan to alternatively develop my writing career. I recently self-published a book on amazon (titled Hard Hitting). I regularly write on LinkedIn on topics of self-improvement and productivity. I also have my own blog www.fitnessbeyondabs.com where I write mostly about sustainable fitness practices.