Zomato is arguably India’s leading food delivery and dining and restaurant discovery service. While pushing the envelope in its space, the company also has sustainability at its core. Zomato head of branding Chandan Mendiratta, chief sustainability officer Anjalli Kumar, and chief people officer and co-founder Akriti Chopra speak to WARC about how sustainable and responsible marketing found a key place in its initiatives.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on sustainability marketing in India. Read more

Key insights

  • Zomato prioritises both social and environmental sustainability to do right by its stakeholders.
  • It believes that becoming a sustainable company is a necessity if a business has to thrive in the long run.
  • Viewing sustainability as a “campaign” undermines the intent, impact and future of the causes Zomato champions.
How would you say sustainability has become a vital part of Zomato’s strategy?

Sustainability for Zomato is a business strategy and sits at the heart of all we do. It is instrumental in how we define functions and new initiatives. At Zomato, we have always prioritised both social and environmental sustainability. We believe the only way to sustain a business is to do right by our stakeholders, i.e. consumers, delivery partners, restaurant partners and, of course, the planet.

Tell us more about your sustainability initiatives. Besides doing good, how much of a positive impact has it had on the business?

Sustainability at Zomato is bucketed under various commitments and initiatives that hold us accountable and also allow us to do right by our stakeholders. Some initiatives worth mentioning are:

  • Environmental

    • We made “no cutlery required” the default option on the Zomato app for all orders to reduce plastic waste.
    • At the beginning of last year, we announced our commitment to fund local environmental projects to offset the carbon footprint of all our deliveries and packaging in India.
    • In June last year, we announced our support for the climate group’s global electric mobility initiative – EV100 and our commitment to convert 100% of the delivery fleet into electric by 2030.
    • From April this year, we introduced 100% plastic-neutral deliveries. This means that each meal ordered through Zomato will be 100% plastic-neutral, ie the company will voluntarily recycle more than 100% of all plastic used in your order’s packaging. Meals will also be delivered in sustainable packaging.

To exemplify this, Zomato was able to offset about 500,000 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2021.

  • Social

    • Feeding India by Zomato abides by the mission statement “Make India hunger free”. The purpose-driven organisation has been delivering meals under the Daily Feeding Program to those in need since 2021 and within a year has doubled its impact and is now serving 200,000 meals a day, across 39 cities in India. While it seeks to eradicate hunger, it is now also going to focus on tackling the problem of malnutrition in India, in partnership with other NGOs.
    • All Zomans are offered up to 26 weeks of paid leave under the company’s maternity and paternity leave policy. This policy also applies to same-sex parents and non-birthing parents opting for surrogacy and/or adoption.
    • All Zomans who experience menstruation can take the necessary time off needed to recuperate and take care of their health each month. A total of 10 days’ period leave can be availed in a year or as indicated by local laws.
    • Period leave also applies to all menstruating delivery partners.
    • Recently, we internally announced the launch of Zomato Future Foundation, an organisation that will extend educational and livelihood support to all delivery partners through various initiatives. Our founder and CEO, Deepinder Goyal, has committed part of his allocated employee stock options, equalling US$90 million, towards this foundation. The foundation will be open to donations from all Zomans as well.
It was announced last year that Zomato will convert 100% of its delivery fleet to EVs by 2030. What does your current fleet look like and how achievable is this goal?

We currently have around 5,000 EVs in our fleet and are set to increase five-fold by the end of next year. We're confident that by 2030, we will fulfill our commitments to transition to 100% EVs.

Consumers are increasingly becoming more conscious about the environment and other social causes. They are calling out greenwashing. They want their preferred brands to be more responsible. How are you engaging with this community? How is this helping Zomato?

Becoming a sustainable company is a necessity if a business has to thrive in the long run. We take this responsibility very seriously. We have stringent internal and external mechanisms in place to check for any gaps in compliance or shortfall in fulfilling our sustainability commitments.

Zomato’s culture is one of transparency. All Zomans share a trust that the other will work with the highest degree of ownership and towards the greater good – this is called the Sunshine test. It keeps in check, not only our people, but also the business strategy to do right by the planet and the environment.

Further, all our customers use various channels to communicate with us in real time, such as on-site surveys, email, social media and a call centre. We factor in any feedback in real time too. We also routinely organise focus group discussions with consumers to understand their expectations and how we are performing against those expectations.

That said, the idea is perhaps still not “mass”. How do you make it so?

Categorising initiatives as mass or niche frames sustainability from a marketing lens. As cultures evolve and the environment further degrades, sustainability becomes a universal cause.

Yet, societal mindset shifts may occur over many decades. Looking at sustainability from a “campaign” perspective might undermine the very intent, impact and future of the cause(s) we seek to champion.

Being sustainable will become a baseline expectation for corporations in the future. At Zomato, we're fortunate to be able to touch millions of lives through the work we do and hence, we feel it is our responsibility to act today, even if others may take longer to start rallying around sustainability

The only way to make sustainability “mass” is to keep pushing towards building a sustainable organisation from within and shape the societal mindset over time.

Do you think Indian marketers are paying enough attention to green marketing? What according to you are some of the major challenges before them?

As a large, consumer-facing organisation, we know sustainability or green marketing may not sell right now. But our intention isn’t to market a greener Zomato but to become a greener organisation down to the core.

It is tempting to view any sustainability initiatives from the perspective of marketing/communications opportunities which might not yield returns in the short term. However, it is imperative for organisations to continue planting seeds that may bear fruit in terms of societal change (on matters of sustainability) in time to come and hence have a positive impact on the business.

Sustainability is deeply intertwined in Zomato’s DNA. We will see a trickle-down effect on consumer communications that are more representative of the greener, more sustainable realities of tomorrow. That’s the Zomato we are building.

Is sustainability still seen as “nice to have” instead of something that is non-negotiable in this country?

We want to build a Zomato that outlives the current generation, an organisation that continues to contribute to society long after we’ve left. From this vantage point, sustainability becomes non-negotiable.

Today, very few in our country can afford the privilege of adopting sustainable lifestyles, while a disproportionate part of our population still awaits the fruits of the digital age. Therefore, it is convenient to think of sustainability as “nice to have”.

However, overlooking greener and more sustainable choices will cause harm to someone, somewhere. We believe that building sustainable businesses is a necessity in these times.

Are there fears that green initiatives could sometimes hamper customer experience? A resultant rise in price perhaps, for instance. Is it something that worries Zomato or even a concern for brands that want to ride the green wave but are worried about the cost that might follow?

Any change requires us to first get a little uncomfortable before getting comfortable with it. We believe in building our business sustainably for a better future, which means we are prepared for any short-term discomfort.

Our core business is food delivery, so let us explain this with an example.

Sometimes customer experience is hampered by a cycle-delivery (taking longer) or a sustainable material-based container not keeping food as hot as a plastic container would have. However, we believe that consumers are open to adjusting their expectations and actually exhibiting a preference for green options.

When your food is delivered in a bagasse container, how does it make you feel? Usually, you feel good knowing that your meal is not going to result in plastic pollution. We believe that cost is a relatively short-term concern – as more consumers opt for sustainable options, the cost of these options will go down and become more accessible for everyone.

What is your message to the marketing community? How should one keep sustainability at the core of marketing strategy and ensure profitability at the same time?

Marketing can't work independent of core business strategy and sustainability needs to be core to the business. If it doesn't make business sense, it won't make marketing sense.