NEW DELHI: Some of India's biggest companies are heightening their investment in CSR schemes, with the intention both of helping the environment and enhancing their credentials with consumers.

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant, is considered to be setting new standards in terms of its ethical and eco-friendly activity worldwide, and its Indian arm is thus placing a heavy emphasis on this area.

This has included ensuring its brands clearly demonstrate their green attributes, as well as cutting emissions, and encouraging staff to volunteer for socially-beneficial projects.

Dhaval Buch, executive director of Hindustan Unilever, suggested "our challenge is continuing to drive this agenda while ensuring that our cost structures stay competitive."

However, he added this process can have profitable results, as "if you make a positive impact with your business you connect with the consumer better."

Tata Industries houses some of India's most valuable brands, according to a study produced for the Economic Times by Brand Finance, and it is taking a holistic approach to matters related to corporate social responsibility.

Kishor Chaukar, the firm's managing director, said "a sustainable organisation runs a profitable operation while continually contributing towards the betterment of all stakeholders."

"If any stakeholder – whether the environment or your employees – shows deterioration, you're no longer sustainable."

HSBC, the financial services specialist, has also tailored its approach to the specific needs of the Asian market, such as by launching "microfinance" programmes to suit small operators who may otherwise struggle to secure funding.

Naina Lal Kidwai, the bank's country head, said these clients have "actually been better customers than our credit card customers."

More broadly, he posited that "CSR used to work in silos and issue cheques to the CEO's favourite charity. Sustainability today is deeply integrated with business operations."

ITC, the cigarettes-to-grocery conglomerate, has been equally present in this field, building more than 6,500 kiosks in rural communities to help farmers more easily buy agricultural products, as well as providing simplified access to water in many areas.

YC Deveshwar, its chairman, said "for a country like India with millions below the poverty line, this new paradigm of competitiveness will not only require the creation of 'green businesses', but also the generation of 'green livelihoods'."

While these organisations are making impressive progress, Arvind Sharma, associate director of KPMG, the consultancy, warned that "most companies are still grappling with the enormity of the sustainability challenge."

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff