Solar panels against city background

How Mahindra Group is driving sustainability in construction

Understand how science-based targets and digital technology are critical in reaching carbon-neutral targets.

Key Takeaways

  • Construction worker icon

    With the construction industry set to grow rapidly over the next decade, it’s vital for businesses to be ambitious in setting out their sustainability targets.

  • CO₂ emissions reduction icon

    Science-based targets are an effective way to reduce a company’s absolute emissions, making sure its approach is robust and its targets are credible.

  • Digital technology icon

    Digital technology will be essential to decarbonisation, from monitoring emissions throughout the value chain to making sustainable interventions across an organisation’s operations.

  • Green building with solar panels icon

    Educating consumers on the benefits of green buildings and products will be a critical element in shaping the overall sustainability of the construction industry in the years to come.

Dr Sunita Purushottam Bio

Head of Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespaces, Dr Sunita Purushottam has a PhD in Environmental Science & Engineering, alongside more than 20 years of experience in sustainability strategy and environmental consultancy. She has worked with regulatory bodies globally and driven sustainability strategies for companies across construction, real estate, banking, telecoms, automotive, steel, and IT. A member of multiple World Business Council for Sustainable Development working groups, she is also a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society and a certified GHG emissions quantifier and green building accredited professional (IGBC AP).

The Solution

For Dr Sunita Purushottam, Head of Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespaces, the answer is to follow the science as she works to help her company achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. That’s why Mahindra Group, has signed up to the global Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).3 And, according to Dr Purushottam, it’s helped the business be more ambitious in what it can achieve on its decarbonisation journey.

How important is it to explore ambitious routes to sustainability in construction?

Solar panels on the rooftops of skyscrapers

I think ambition is vital. During the pandemic, people have realised the importance of home. Therefore, we’ve seen an increase in demand, and the industry is expected to grow by around 35% over the next ten years.4 This only increases the need to develop more sustainable approaches. We have to be cognisant of the fact that emissions and impact are linked to the construction process and the use phase of the product we’re designing – whether it’s residential, integrated cities, or industrial clusters.

Ambitious routes to sustainability in construction explore electrification of construction processes, and development of high-performance residential buildings integrated with onsite and grid renewable energy.

I would say that signing up to science-based targets has made us even more ambitious in our approach to sustainability.

Dr Sunita Purushottam, Head of Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespaces

It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. Since 2014, our entire portfolio spanning residential and industrial projects across India has been green certified – covering the building products themselves as well as the construction. And in 2018, Mahindra Group committed to achieving carbon neutrality across all its companies by 2040.

This all feeds back into our sustainability framework and our philosophy that we aim to give back more than we take. We have used that as our guide to fulfilling our mission of transforming urban landscapes by creating sustainable communities. As we build financial capital, we can’t do it at the cost of the planet. Therefore, we work to build ecological, social, and human capital.

I think it’s imperative that we rev up our engines and sign up to even more ambitious sustainability goals that push us to create better products for a better world.

How can businesses drive decarbonisation with science-based targets?

When working towards carbon neutrality, you really have to reduce your absolute emissions. And SBTi is the mechanism that tells you, according to the science, how to keep your emissions on track. Using this route means we know that the science behind it is robust, and our targets are credible. It introduces an extra level of rigour that helps to shape your actions.

For us, the SBTi has affirmed our approach to decarbonisation. One example I would give is around building materials and the role they play in helping us to meet our sustainable development goals. We already have a green supply chain management policy in place, which includes a commitment to sourcing materials from within a 400km radius.

Sustainability is no longer one person’s job – it’s the whole organisation’s responsibility to reign in emissions if you plan to translate your targets into action.

Dr Sunita Purushottam, Head of Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespaces

We try to source more than 40% of our building materials from this area wherever possible. We’re also always on the look-out for alternative and recycled materials – and we’ve even been able to innovate with plastic reuse in one of our projects, granulating the plastic and creating a road out of those granules.

All these elements help us to reduce our waste and emissions, from material creation to transportation. And vital to achieving this is how we aim to work only with third parties and contractors who also place sustainability at the heart of their operations. We have also partnered with a leading research institute that specializes in the fields of energy, environment and sustainable development, to develop open-source green building solutions tailored to Indian climate and use conditions.

How are you using digital technology to support your sustainability journey?

Worker checking data on a tablet while at the construction site

To meet our science-based targets, we needed to fully understand how the end-to-end lifecycle of construction affects the environment. That’s why we have reworked our standard operating procedures and, over the last two years, completely redone our GHG emissions inventory. We also carried out a detailed assessment of our Scope 3 emissions, putting in place a process that helps us to understand our impact across the value chain.

From here, we had to establish a monitoring mechanism. So, we have a digital platform that enables us to engage with sites to gather and analyse the data they generate. This process then allows us to work with sites to handle any compliance issues and identify any initiatives or innovations they can pursue to reduce emissions further. And it’s all linked to our science-based targets, not just because it stores all our sustainability information, but because it also reduces the time and resources needed to carry out our operations.

The solutions are already out there. It’s just a matter of opening our eyes to them and looking at how we arrive at them.

Dr Sunita Purushottam, Head of Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespaces

This isn’t the only digital technology we’ve brought into our operations either. We are currently investigating how smart technology and AI can monitor energy and water management behaviour, enabling site teams to better understand consumption demands and make sustainable interventions accordingly.

We’re also carrying out experiments with building materials – such as reflective paints – to reduce energy demand and conducting sky-modelling research to understand the impact of natural light on a building. It’s all part of exploring new routes to decarbonisation through digitalisation. Very recently, we also became the first real estate company in India to adopt ‘stay-in-place formwork’ and holographic computing in a large-scale residential development. These technologies herald a new approach to construction; help reduce embodied carbon by cutting down on consumption of resources like sand and water; and lend themselves to alternative building materials such as plastic waste, glass fibres and electronic waste.

What other challenges do you face on your decarbonisation journey?

There’s still plenty of work to do before we reach our goal of carbon neutrality. For example, we need to keep educating our consumers as they will play a huge role in reducing consumption and demand.

So, one of the things we’re trying to do is really raise consumer awareness of the benefits of green buildings. And we believe the way to do that is to demonstrate the tangible benefits from a user perspective. With each project, we try to communicate the positive effects of our sustainability interventions on maintenance costs or utility bills. We still have some way to go, though. If you ask people what green homes are, many will likely think of a large site with lots of gardens!