Business News from Sri Lanka: Steeped in the tradition of harmonious coexistence with nature, Elpitiya Plantations is no stranger to the concept of sustainability. As one of the leading plantation companies in Sri Lanka, with a diversified portfolio of crops, Elpitiya is the custodian of decades of agro-economic knowledge that generates a continuous stream of wealth for the national economy, while also conserving and adding value to priceless natural resources under its stewardship for future generations of Sri Lankans.
Having outlasted decades of post colonial transformations, Elpitiya Plantation, managed by the blue-chip conglomerate Aitken Spence Group, since 1997, has put in place a structured sustainability strategy, directly aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) to withstand possibly the most complex and far reaching challenge facing the modern world – climate change.
Its natural assets encompass 13 estates spread across the high, mid and low elevations, extending over 8,800 hectares. While the company’s core business is the cultivation and manufacturing of tea, rubber, oil palm, coconut and cinnamon, it has diversified into sustainable forestry development, eco-tourism, hydro power generation, and specialty-tea manufacturing, to improve financial sustainability by spreading the financial risk across multiple economic sectors.
The company’s doubling down on sustainability comes in the wake of strong improvements in Year-on-Year bottom-line growth, culminating last year in the highest profits on record for EPP since 1997.
However, according to EPP’s Chief Executive, Bathiya Bulumulla, what has been most impressive about the company is not only the magnitude of its profits, but its ambitious vision to set a global benchmark for holistic sustainability, focused into three main areas: Leadership & Culture, Philosophy & Purpose and Economic Value Creation.
“We took a strategic decision to re-evaluate the feasibility of our business model” Bulumulla explained. “Even then, we had grown to understand that the same incremental approach to problem solving in the plantation sector was fast approaching its limits”.
“As a result, we began to map out a strategy that would lead to Elpitiya Plantations taking a leadership role in sustainability – not just locally, but also globally. Profitability would of course be essential, but we also had to ensure that proactive investments could also be channeled into the betterment of communities in and around our estates while paying equal attention to the enhancement of our environmental standards. We believe the best way to drive action along these lines is to set ambitious goals, and that is why we decided to make a firm commitment to becoming the World’s undisputed leader in sustainable plantations by 2025,” he stated.
In furtherance of this ambitious target, EPP launched its flagship sustainability initiative; Haritha Shakthi, which won them the prestigious ‘Best Corporate Citizen’ award in 2018 at the annual event hosted by Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
The project encompasses a series of initiatives aimed at enhancing EPP’s economic, social and environmental sustainability in alignment with 6 of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG), namely those related to Clean Water and Sanitation, Renewable Energy, Good Jobs and Economic Growth, Innovation and Infrastructure, Life on Land and Partnerships.
Under the umbrella of the Haritha Shakthi initiative, EPP commenced a structured series of interventions designed to totally revamp the company’s approach to sustainability and with a special emphasis on enhancing well-being for communities residing on the highly diversified company’s 13 tea, rubber, and oil palm estates.
Building diversity to enhance economic sustainability
EPP has been among Sri Lanka’s most pioneering plantations, having successfully diversified its crop mix to primarily include tea, oil palm and rubber. This in turn has provided EPP with the capital necessary to drive further innovation.
Over the past year, the company embarked upon aggressive promotion campaigns for its tea sector in order to expand its presence in traditional markets in European and Middle-Eastern regions, as well as new and potentially game-changing markets for Sri Lankan tea like China.
Parallel to export diversification initiatives, the company invested continuously in enhancement of factory capacity, quality, and productivity, while further investments were also channeled towards the growth of its value-added tea business.
Similarly, EPP has also embarked on diversifications into commercial forestry and as well as small but promising extents of fruit, spices, and herb cultivation, all of which hold the great potential to augment its revenue generating capacity and reducing its reliance on traditional perennial crops.
Sustainable consumption for a healthy environment
Responsible consumption is considered a way of life at EPP, with substantial investments being directed towards the installation of renewable energy capacity at the company’s factories. Over the long-term, EPP aims to make its factories totally self-sustaining, through a concerted solar power generation drive, complemented with stringent energy conservation measures.
“EPP has long understood the importance of being self-reliant while reducing its impact on the natural resources of the country. Having this in mind, EPP has embarked on a Solar Power Generation drive on the following factories. While these factories will be able to sustain themselves in the long terms, the excess power will be sold back to the national grid, creating an additional form of revenue or the Company,” explained Bulumulla.
Waste disposal is another major concern for EPP, which over the recent past has established a structured waste disposal system in its plantations. As a result, the preparation of compost on all 13 estates, provision of waste segregation bins, conducting of awareness and educational programmes for the estate community, introduction of waste water tanks for estate employee’s housings, display of sign boards in public places with the view of creating more awareness, construction of factory waste water treatment units with solid waste traps, introduction of polythene free zones inside the estate, provision of bio degradable shopping bags for the estate communities’ daily use, were initiated across the plantations.
Enabling sustainable agriculture through innovation
EPP has also implemented an ambitious plan to convert its estates to bio-fertilizer and biological control of weeds in order to promote agricultural and environmental best practices while simultaneously lowering the company’s fertilizer and weedicide costs. Fertilizer application is further enhanced through the utilization of Geographic Information System (GIS) based Land use mapping tools.
Leveraging drone technology, the company is conducting soil mapping of its estates in order to determine specific nutritional requirements of each block of land under its management, while its sustainable fertilizer strategies enable EPP to thereafter configure the nutrient content in its fertilizer for targeted site-specific application.
Over the recent past, EPP has also channeled extensive resources towards the bolstering of its technological capabilities through the introduction of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), cloud based e-Archiving, e-Marketing, effective use of Business Intelligence Tools, CCTV operated critical business operation areas. This continuous development in technology helps to significantly improve business operations in a competitive environment.
Maintaining a vibrant community engagement
Positive, open, and transparent community dialogue is another key facet of EPP’s holistic approach to sustainability. In addition to extending a comprehensive package of benefits to employees aimed at improving their standard of living, welfare and healthcare, the company also engages with estate and surrounding communities through the hosting of regular village forums, common events and one-to-one meetings with Estate Managers and General Managers whenever requested.
The company also uses these platforms as an opportunity to engage with smallholder farmers in the region in order to pass on knowledge and techniques on best practices in sustainable agriculture. Similarly the company also works in collaboration with the MJF Charitable Foundation which provides educational scholarship to the children of estate employees.
The total cost of this project is borne by MJF Charitable Foundation. This includes scholarships to students who have been accepted to the University and students who have performed well at their GCE Ordinary Level examination i.e. students who have obtained minimum 5As in their (O/L) examination.
Total of 39 A/L students have been benefitted from this programme, out of which 32 have completed their education during the year while 7 others are pursuing their academic career. Another 70 students were enrolled to this scheme to pursue the undergraduate study at Universities, of which 50 of them have completed their university education during the year.
To date, Elpitiya remains a large scale employer, supporting a workforce of 6,000. In addition, Elpitiya estates support an estate population of 35,000, making Elpitiya a significant provider of social welfare for a large population not engaged in estate employments.