On 10th March 2014 team Paper Mart began its journey from International Paper APPM Limited’s, head office, located in Hyderabad, toward Rajahmundry to get a glimpse of its CSR activities and the farm forestry efforts.
Wikipedia says that the district of Rajahmundry was created in 1823 and has a rich 191-year history. It was reorganized in 1859 into two – the Godavari and Krishna districts. It is situated 400 km east of the state capital, Hyderabad, on the banks of the river Godavari. It is the birth city of Andhra Pradesh. This is probably due to the fact that the Telugu language originated here.
Established in 1964, International Paper APPM Limited (formerly known as The Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills Ltd) has been involved in community development work since its inception. However, it was in 1995 that the concept of strengthening the company’s relations with its local stakeholders gained momentum. After acquisition of majority shareholding in the company by International Paper, the company outlined its focus areas as education, environment and engagement for these efforts.
In 2013, the IP India Foundation, a wholly owned subsidiary of International Paper APPM Limited (IP APPM), was established to make a positive impact on the communities around its manufacturing facilities and on farm forestry areas. The company has introduced many development initiatives to the communities around its manufacturing facilities and in far-flung areas. On our course Mr.Rampraveen Swaminathan, Managing Director & CEO, IP APPM, shared a comprehensive description of the company’s corporate social responsibility policy.
Here are some excerpts from this information-packed interview.
Developing Local Communities
Speaking about the initiatives that IP APPM has undertaken for the upliftment of the people in the geography in which it operates, Mr. Swaminathan said, “At International Paper, we believe that our long term success is closely linked to the success of all our stakeholders – customers, investors, employees and communities. It is difficult to make a leap forward without caring for the people who work for us and the environment. Our local communities are a source of talent, fiber and services and figure prominently in our CSR efforts.”
“Our focus on the communities is both strategic and tactical. Strategic programs are multi-year efforts which are designed and delivered by us and our partners. They are primarily aligned to Education and Environment, two of our focus areas. Currently, the programs we have launched are focused on nine districts in and around coastal Andhra Pradesh and areas of significant operations. We also undertake several tactical projects based on requests from members of the local communities, NGOs and other organizations. A key criteria for our tactical investments is employee engagement and involvement.”
The Past and the Present
Speaking about the shift in the company’s CSR initiatives, Mr. Swaminathan said, “In the last couple of years, we have tried to increase our investments in strategic programs. Part of the challenge is doing a few things and doing them well, instead of chasing every new idea which comes our way. In the past, most of our investments were in tactical programs. Some of these were one-off events and we did not have a long term perspective. That’s what we have tried to redress over the last couple of years. We used to undertake tactical project-based initiatives in the past; we are now making strategic long-term investments – that’s a big change. Also, our efforts focused on programs and ideas that were important to our leadership. Now we are trying to focus on issues which relate to all our employees and the community. The IP India Foundation is a big step in that direction.”
Another key change is the transition from “Giving” to “Doing”. Earlier we believed in philanthropy – donating money – and that’s all. Today, we focus on employee participation and employee engagement. Our employees now participate in community upliftment. We recently supported an event called ‘Balakalakaar’ in Hyderabad – Asia’s largest painting competition for underprivileged children. Our employees worked on it and helped in organizing it on ground. Our mill managers and employees have participated in the construction of a new check dam. Each of our company leaders has committed to and worked on some kind of community work over the past year. Employee participation, especially leaders, is a huge catalyst for sustaining this change.
We have also driven investments into the school in Rajahmundry called the APPM Model High School. The school is run by APPM Educational and Cultural Society and has a total enrollment of 1,300 students. Over 75% of the students are not children of employees. In the 90s the school had seen a decline in operating conditions and we have ramped our investments in all areas –infrastructure, course content, teaching staff, sanitation, security, etc.
CSR Activities in India
Commenting on the company’s CSR activities abroad and in India, Mr. Swaminathan said, “Outside India as well the company has focused on education and environment. In India, we have placed a lot of importance on employee participation and employee non-financial contributions.
We are currently carrying out CSR programmes in three strategic areas – Education, Environment and Engagement. Our education programmes are aimed at supporting the development of education in less fortunate, rural and tribal regions. We support sustainable education and infrastructure and focus especially on the girl-child. The second area, that is, the environment, also gets a lot of our attention. We support sustainable forestry work, water access and management, sanitation improvement, greening and community & employee engagement. We also invest in improving safety in local communities and at the workplace – especially safety of women.
“Often our education programmes overlap with our environment and community-engagement programmes. For example, our solar light project called ‘Kshitija–’ plays a vital role in protecting the environment, as it helps in saving a fair amount of hydrocarbon fuel by enabling children to use a renewable energy source and to learn about and take part in environment conservation at an early age. At the same time, it improves education for many needy children by enabling them to study during evening hours, especially in forest regions where power shortage has been a huge deterrent in their studies. This programme also gives our employees an opportunity to participate in community work as they visit schools, distribute the lamps, and participate in these activities involving children.
“In the same way, our ‘Project 100’ focuses on Zilla parishad schools, infrastructure and the environment. The project aims to support every child’s need for basic infrastructure to motivate them to study better. It was initiated in 22 schools under our farm forestry areas of Visakhapatnam East & West Godavari, Krishna Guntur and Prakasham regions to provide facilities like drinking water, lights and fans, benches, desks, chairs, books, stationery and school bags that help create a student-centric environment. Our efforts have resulted in a regular increase in the attendance of children with low dropouts. Comprehensive teaching-learning kits are also made available to supplement the teaching effort, making it more effective and enhancing the learning abilities of students. This is a great project as it brings together education and community engagement. We work with local communities, with local schools, and try to identify what they need.
“It’s all about our making an impact on the community and to do that we do what matters to them, not what matters to us. Our solar lamp project and Project 100 are multi-year investments; we have three-to-four-year plans for these projects. We work with local communities when it comes to finalising plan schedules – all the specific details. A lot of inputs come from local communities in terms of community-work opportunities. The Foundation reviews these inputs and investments are made accordingly. We tell local communities what we intend to do for them and they tell us whether our tentative plans suit them or not. We try our best to understand what’s happening in the communities; we try to know what their problems are and only then make investments in community improvement.”
Benefits of CSR Programmes
Speaking about the impact of the company’s CSR initiatives on local communities, Mr. Swaminathan said, “Our education programmes have had a positive impact on local communities. The pass-rate at APPM Model High School has been going up. We now have 1,300 students at the school, and nearly 100-150 students come out with flying colours every year. In fact, the alumni of the school are working in India as well as abroad in the private, social and government sectors. At the other schools we support, we have witnessed some early results. Over the next 12 months, improving our measurement systems is a key focus area for the Foundation.
On the environment side, it is a lot harder to measure our successes. It’s rather difficult to find a perfect return on investment in an area like water management. But local communities have benefited from our water-related and other solutions. We have been able to give employment opportunities to 170-180 families. And we provide water for some of the villages around our mills. We have seen higher wellness and better health among the people associated with us. Better health for our workers translates into higher productivity.
We have seen direct and measurable results in several parts of the sustainable forestry program. Our efforts to ensure decentralized production and delivery have created employment in many areas for local nursery operators and the population in those areas. Today, women represent over 70% of the workforce at our nurseries and clonal propagation centers. Most importantly, the sustainable farm forestry program has created economic benefits to over 45,000 farmers and concurrently, it increases forest cover across Andhra Pradesh.”
Sustainable Farm Forestry
In the late 1970s, IP APPM realised that pulp and paper industry would face challenges in the sourcing of fibrous raw materials due to land availability for captive plantations. As a result, the company embarked on an ambitious plan to generate the raw material by coordinating with farmers to utilise their barren marginal and degraded lands. One of the key principles of the program is that we help farmers plant more trees than we harvest. This is what makes it “sustainable” – improving forest cover while creating economic value for farmers.
This pioneering step marked the beginning of farm forestry plantation activities and was a turning point in the history of the company. Over the years, the sustainable forestry initiative has spread to Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore districts of Andhra Pradesh. The programme provides a means of survival for the small farmers in the region and improves the socio-economic status of their communities. In return, the company has achieved total self-sufficiency in the sourcing of raw materials.
Speaking about the company’s farm forestry initiative, Mr. Swaminathan said, “We launched our farm forestry programme in 1979. Over the years, we managed to expand this programme. Our company is the first company to actively propagate casuarina as a wood source. We have invested significantly in developing multiple clonal varieties of casuarina. We have developed new versions of clones and have now the third version of clones. I consider this development a big milestone. Today the program covers over 1.58 lac hectares with the cooperation of over 50,000 farmers.”
“In 2012, we distributed our billionth sapling; and I regard this as a milestone as well. But I think our biggest milestone is the kind of work we have done with the farmers themselves. It’s not kind of ‘fill it, shut it and forget it.’ We currently have a large network of people in the field, and we are actively developing farmer extension programmes – like working with farmers to look at the productivity of their fields. These additional services have helped us a lot in improving the productivity both in terms of seedlings, which are naturally developed trees, and clone propagation. All this means more money for the farmers with additional carbon sequestered thus protecting the environment. We have also continued to expand a strategy of decentralization where we have nurseries and clonal centers across the fiber basin and not just in a central location. This allows farmers to get seedlings and clones at much lower costs, while creating employment opportunities in those communities.
“This year we plan to distribute about 2500 million saplings and clones and looking at expanding the area of clones. We will continue focusing on casuarinas, but we will also concentrate on developing new variants, new clones and new hybrids.”
IP APPM and Sustainability
The company puts a high premium on sustainability. Speaking about the sustainability-related activities the company has been engaged in, Mr. Swaminathan said, “In brief, sustainability for us means running our business successfully and taking care of local communities. We have adopted International Paper’s 20/20 voluntary goals which include 12 principles of sustainability. A majority of these principles focus on a series of ‘efficiencies’, such as energy efficiency, water efficiency and so on. Two of these principles focus on safety and community engagement. In the last two years, our safety record has improved significantly, though much work is yet to be done. We have plans for reducing water usage in the mills, reducing effluent discharge, reducing our carbon footprint both in the mills and our supply chain, reducing greenhouse gas emission across our facilities and so on.
“Our goal is to reach the world-class level of sustainability. Sustainability matters to each one of us at IP APPM. We don’t have a special task force to face the issue of sustainability. We face this challenge collectively; it’s part of our culture and is a part of every employee’s job.