Aligning Business Purpose to the Sustainable Development Goals: Why Companies Should Put Social and Environmental Impact First

Aligning Business Purpose to the Sustainable Development Goals: Why Companies Should Put Social and Environmental Impact First

By Wilma Rodrigues, Saahas Zero Waste Founder and CEO

Monday, September 30, 2019 - 2:00pm


These days I am often introduced as a social entrepreneur. I am not sure this tag enthuses me:  I believe that the original purpose for setting up an industry or business is public good and by that measure all businesses should be social businesses.  

Unfortunately in the last century, shareholder value became the dominant narrative for a successful business. Consequently today the management and employees in companies are driven by profitability above everything else.

And now in the 21st century we have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which thankfully brings the focus back to public good being the primary purpose and objective of a business. This is our opportunity to erase the dividing line between social businesses and otherwise.  

My own organisation Saahas Zero Waste is structured so as to align with the objectives of the SDGs, and meeting these goals has become the driving force of the company. We evolved from a not-for-profit NGO which was founded in 2001 to a for-profit Pvt Ltd Company which was registered in 2013. The objective of the transition was to demonstrate a business model which would provide a solution for waste management in India while keeping its focus on environment and social impact. 

India’s waste problem persists even though numerous regulations which have been introduced. Our experience shows that this problem could be solved through business models like ours, that are aligned with the SDGs.               

We are a service provider that offers decentralised waste management services in line with circular economy principles. Our business is structured around three verticals:

  • Our zero waste vertical has a customer base which includes corporate campuses, educational institutions and apartment blocks. Waste reduction, segregation and processing of wet and dry waste is results in a recovery of 95 percent of all resources embedded in the waste. This process converts our customers to zero waste entities; 

  • Our second vertical offers Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) services to large brands and corporations so that they are accountable to their branded litter and ensure that post- consumer waste is collected, aggregated and recycled or sent for co-processing; and

  • Our third vertical closes the loop through our sale of recycled products, including compost.    

Our business model is based on revenues from waste and service fees.  In FY18-19 we had a turnover of Rs 15.1 Crores (US$ 2.1 Million). This year our target is to double the revenues achieved last year, and with this big jump we should also hit profitability. Likewise the tonnes of waste managed per day should move up from 50 tonnes of waste per day in 18-19 to 100 tonnes per day towards the end of 2019. Based on this, I believe our business model is a testament to the fact that you can succeed when you put social and environmental impact above – or at least equal to – profit goals. 

We work closely with nature, people and technology. Not only to we measure our success by the impact that we’re having in the communities where we’re present by reducing waste, but we also look at how we’re improving the lives of our own staff. Our total team strength is 300 and like any other business this includes a highly qualified team of professionals. But importantly, of this, 250 of our employees are from the Base of the Pyramid. Additionally, 60 percent of our team are women who previously had no educational background, who are now trained to understand the different waste streams so they can play the important role of sorting waste and enabling resource recovery. We make sure to provide our workforce with fair minimum wages and social security, which gives them access to healthcare and savings through public schemes.    

Looking both externally and within, we can clearly see the environmental and social impact  of our business. In terms of the Sustainable Develoment Goals (SDGs), we contribute towards addressing SDG 1: No Poverty , SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 12: Responsible Consumption, SDG 13: Climate Action,  and SDG 15: Life on Land.