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Sunday June 23rd, 2024

Hemas: Where Business and Biodiversity Conservation Converge

Ishani Ranasinghe, Head – Group Sustainability and Corporate Communications at Hemas Holdings PLC

Ishani Ranasinghe, Head – Group Sustainability and Corporate Communications at Hemas Holdings PLC, a Rs121.6 billion revenue group, explains why biodiversity conservation is important to the group and how it aligns with its core values of promoting health and well-being and protecting Sri Lanka’s ecosystem for future generations. Ishani shares insights into how Hemas’ Environmental Agenda, focusing on protecting natural resources, safeguarding our ecosystem, and promoting responsible plastic manufacture and disposal practices, integrates conservation efforts with its business objectives. 

Since 1948, Hemas has aimed at empowering families to aspire for a better tomorrow. With over 5,500 workforce, the group has business interests across the consumer brands, healthcare, and mobility sectors, with operations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. 

Why is biodiversity conservation important to Hemas? How does it fit in with the group’s overall business objectives?

Hemas, as a Sri Lankan corporate citizen, recognizes the critical role biodiversity plays and views its conservation as both a responsibility and a strategic benefit. We believe protecting Sri Lanka’s unique ecosystem is vital for future generations and aligns with our core values of promoting health and well-being, part of our purpose to empower families to aspire for a better tomorrow.

This commitment extends to minimizing our environmental footprint. With this focus, we launched our Environmental Agenda, a programme dedicated to safeguarding Sri Lankan endemism. The agenda focuses on three pillars: protecting natural resources, safeguarding our ecosystems, and promoting responsible consumption and disposal of plastic.

Can you give us examples of how the group is helping to preserve biodiversity?

As part of our Environmental Agenda at Hemas, we actively tackle biodiversity loss through several key initiatives. Partnering with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), we focus on conserving 52 critically endangered endemic species over the next six years, aiming to reverse the tide and ensure their long-term survival.

Our commitment extends to restoring critical habitats. We played a vital role in the restoration of the Anawilundawa Ramsar Wetlands, which recently received the prestigious UN Decade of Restoration flagship award for 2024. Recognizing the vital role of mangroves in biodiversity conservation, coastal protection, and climate change mitigation, we have dedicated our resources, expertise, and manpower to restoring 9.8 acres of these wetlands.

We also address plastic pollution through island-wide initiatives, having collected over 500,000 kg of plastic waste to date, our long-term plan is to facilitate the collection and offsetting of 100% of plastic sent to the market and we have made steady progress in this regard. This effort is part of our commitment to combating marine pollution and protecting marine life. While long-term results take time, we believe our efforts are making a tangible difference. Through these initiatives, we are demonstrating our dedication to environmental sustainability and the protection of Sri Lanka’s unique ecosystems for future generations. 

How do you maintain an effective balance between the business interests of the group and the need to be a responsible organization?

Ultimately, as a company, we recognize our environmental footprint and view initiatives in sustainability as long-term investments. Consider our efforts through this lens: they boil down to mitigating the impact we have on the environment. This isn’t just altruism; it’s pragmatism. Our business relies on a healthy environment. Take, for instance, our production processes—they necessitate water usage. While we strive to minimize our footprint, the environment remains integral to our operations.

Similarly, our involvement in projects like preserving endemic species isn’t just about altruism; it’s about preserving the delicate balance of ecosystems we depend on. If these species disappear, our ecosystem suffers—affecting not just our business but the well-being of our communities as well. This interdependence underscores our commitment to responsible stewardship.

Furthermore, our plastic pollution initiatives underscore our dedication to sustainable practices. By addressing marine pollution, we not only fulfil our corporate responsibility but also safeguard our long-term interests. While the immediate benefits may not always be apparent, the long-term benefits—both for our business and our planet—are undeniable.

How are your pursuits in biodiversity conservation helping the business? Is there a strong case for Sri Lankan businesses to focus on those big issues that matter?

The case for addressing sustainability extends well beyond biodiversity, encompassing a range of significant issues within the ESG landscape that demand attention from businesses. At Hemas, our pursuit of environmental initiatives has yielded tangible benefits. By reevaluating our resource utilization, we’ve aimed for greater efficiency and sustainability. This strategic shift not only aligns with our long-term financial objectives but also influences our approach to product design, notably in reducing plastic usage across our supply chain. For example, our endeavours with Kumarika have resulted in a 20% reduction in plastic usage in packaging, reflecting our commitment to incremental progress in addressing challenges like plastic pollution.

Crucially, sustainability initiatives enhance employee pride and engagement, leading to increased productivity. These efforts also future-proof Hemas by preparing us for stricter regulations and meeting rising consumer demands for sustainability. Overall, our holistic approach to sustainability not only benefits our business but also contributes to a more environmentally conscious and resilient future.