Dr Sridhar considers his climate action journey as being unorthodox, having begun his professional working life as a successful tennis player. His greatest ambitions, in his early twenties, were to perfect his sport and retire somewhere sunny. After playing in the United States he moved to Australia to coach, which is when he realised that tennis wasn’t the satisfying career he wanted. Instead, he set his sights on business.
He undertook a Master of Business Administration at the University of Sydney and was offered an internship with an IT company to produce an emissions reduction plan for their sites across the Asia-Pacific. While initially resistant to the idea of beginning his career in a newly emerging area of business practice, he quickly realised that sustainability was his true passion.
I was born in India, grew up in Africa – in Lagos. It is an eclectic environment; physically, naturally and emotionally. I saw things that I didn’t realise were troubling to me, around climate change and waste. I saw these things for what they were, and I thought they were the norm.”
The unsustainable treatment of the natural environment that he witnessed growing up suddenly became contextualised in his new line of work. In his youth, he thought the billowing plumes of smoke from factories and litter strewn about the streets were normal – a product of human activity. Having begun a new chapter of his life in sustainable business practice, he realised that people have the power to change their relationship with the environment. Dr Sridhar’s interest is focused on corporates, because they have the reach and capital to implement sustainable practices in the communities they work within.
This whole space is now fascinating to me. I’ve worked in aged care, for a gold miner, two consultancies, I also teach mainly postgraduate students, I mentor kids and adults on climate. The golden thread that connects all the madness that I put myself through…is that I wake up with a smile. I feel like I am making a difference.”
Dr Sridhar always operates under the principle that he can make incremental changes by influencing the practices and mindsets of those he works with – which is where he finds personal satisfaction. He believes that it only takes one person to kickstart sustainability mentalities in their communities; to be the start of a movement.
This space is very challenging. I don’t surround myself with believers, innovators or people who tell me what I want to hear.”
Convincing adversaries of climate action means that Dr Sridhar can have the greatest impact, as he recognises that sustainable practice begins by disrupting entrenched ways of thinking and acting. He has seen that change does not have to be total and immediate; incremental changes can generate collective impact, which accumulate into movements across society and the economy.
There are a multitude of levers we can pull to create a better future for all Australians. I direct my efforts into two of those levers; business and education. The business community needs to reduce its aspirational talk, and start doing and measuring more – we’ve started but we need to step that up. And so much more can be done in education – I teach across several academic institutions, and we can be doing more to educate our future leaders on sustainability.”
Dr Sridhar has spread his message of sustainable business to his students, so that they can lead change in their own communities. Hearing from his past students about their new jobs in sustainable business keeps him inspired to teach, and feeling hopeful about the change that businesses can catalyse.
Presently, Dr Sridhar consults on matters beyond climate change for business and government, on topics such as human rights, modern slavery, workplace diversity, First Nations engagement, Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures reporting and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).
He is currently developing net-zero decarbonisation pathways for the mining company that he works with. Dr Sridhar believes that net-zero planning is multifaceted and requires engagement across the whole business. The process of developing and implementing this planning, he says, does not have to be complicated and can be streamlined so long as it is site-specific. In this way, he describes that net-zero planning can produce tangible strategies for decarbonisation.
Dr Sridhar also teaches a night class in Corporate Governance, and writes monthly articles for Pro Bono Australia on ESG. As a sustainability practitioner with many hats, he maintains his focus and clarity by setting goals. When he meets these goals, he celebrates them for the successes that they are.
Sometimes as sustainability people, we don’t appreciate what we achieve…Focus on what you can do and find happiness in it.”
Remaining hopeful as a sustainability practitioner requires a glass half full mentality, and he also sees that the profession has come a long way in the last ten years.
Sustainability practitioners have elevated themselves within corporate environments and now have a seat at the table with CEOs, and that’s amazing.”
Community outreach is also a big part of Dr Sridhar’s work, particularly around community investment and First Nations recruitment. He also engages with the NSW Government, helping to bolster capacity and stimulate thinking on ESG.
ESG is nothing new, it’s been around for centuries…Now that it’s become such a topical thing, people get confused about what it means for them.”
He helps resource companies unpack what ESG means in practice and how it is relevant to business, investors and the communities in which they operate. Dr Sridhar described how small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) need to adopt a greater focus on emissions, because they’re the main component of supply chains. As they have less of a public-facing position compared to large listed corporates, there tends to be less scrutiny from external stakeholders. In the absence of this scrutiny, he thinks that SMEs must realise the potential to gain commercial value from sustainable practice.
As a corporate, you’re the tip of the iceberg. Your iceberg - the supply chain - is your bottom 90%.”
Dr Sridhar described how there are nascent services that assist SMEs to develop their own ESG reporting, which can help them save money and improve sustainable practice simultaneously. He articulated that there is no one way to kickstart sustainability for SMEs, but that big corporates have a role to play, as well as start-ups seeking to create new tools tailored to SMEs unique positions in the supply chain.
Many big corporates are familiar with TCFD reporting but are now being confronted by the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures; he described how sustainability practitioners are now being called on to advise on this new framework.
This interview with Dr Sridhar reveals how fast-paced the sustainability space is within corporate environments, and how much energy there is behind elevating the sophistication and efficacy of sustainable practice.
One thing I think we need to do, is to live more in the present. We need to act right now. Looking towards net-zero targets into the future is too late – we can’t create the future from the future, the time to act is now."