ESG Q&A with Shamilka Samarasinha, Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at EPAM Systems

Shamilka Samarasinha

Here at Business Leader, we recently spoke to Shamilka Samarasinha, the Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at EPAM Systems, Inc., about the importance of ESG strategies.

What were you doing before joining EPAM Systems and what attracted you to the role?

Prior to joining EPAM, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles in different countries around the world. My career and CSR exposure began in Sri Lanka, where I designed and implemented a social responsibility program and its framework for the largest apparel company in the country.

Since then, I’ve had a variety of roles in Thailand, Myanmar, and Belarus. I was the Country Head for Tesco International Sourcing in Thailand before moving to the British High Commission in Burma, where I have managed small grant programs and worked closely with civil society groups to support grassroots programs.

Eventually, I moved to Belarus because my husband worked with the UN, and my skills matched an opportunity at EPAM, and I was hired to design and oversee the social responsibility program. Having joined EPAM at a time when they were still a relatively young but growing company, the opportunity to explore CSR was limitless. I feel fortunate to have joined at the perfect time for the CSR program – looking back, I’m amazed at our journey and where we are today in terms of impact.

What work do you do at EPAM Systems and how do you help companies create sustainable technologies?

At EPAM, my specific role is to oversee the Social Responsibility program across our global locations. Our focus areas are Education, Environment and Social Innovation. All our initiatives are designed and implemented keeping in mind these core pillars. However, in recent times our goal has been to make a seamless transition from our CSR journey to an ESG (environment, social, and governance) one.

Most people are unaware of how different the two are, with CSR simply covering the ‘social’ portion of ESG. ESG is also the most widely recognized framework among clients and investors, particularly our own. While we continue to support our initiatives, we also believe it is vital to educate and empower our stakeholders, clarify ESG and how EPAM is working within this framework to meet expectations all around. It is timely as we will host a panel discussion with our corporate partner at the Zed Conference 2021 around this very topic.

We had to re-examine how we fit into the three parts of ESG throughout our gradual shift from CSR by dissecting the diverse tasks we conduct for each component. Our Carbon Footprint Calculator was perhaps our most significant accomplishment thus far.

However, we have a number of other successful projects, such as EPAM’s overall commitment to sustainability, which resulted in dozens of green initiatives focusing on direct energy-saving and carbon-footprint-reduction practices. We have been working with Carbon Footprint UK since 2015 to assess our environmental impact and set up sustainable offsets to reduce our emissions or air carbon.

Additionally, EPAM is committed to sustainably reusing, recycling, and upcycling our end-of-life electronics and computers. We also promote environmental stewardship in our operations, promising to build all new offices in compliance with the world’s most widely used green building rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Do you think all businesses have a responsibility to incorporate ESG strategies into their business plans?

Sustainability is becoming increasingly crucial for all businesses, regardless of industry. Many organizations have already created sustainability plans in response to increased demands for corporate responsibility and transparency. Professionalism and good intentions are no longer enough. Those who refuse to adapt will certainly face pressure from both within and beyond their organization.

Companies that are unsure about how to implement a sustainable business plan should understand that such a plan aims to positively impact the environment and society, typically by contributing to the resolution of some of the world’s most pressing issues such as climate change, natural resource depletion, pollution, human rights issues, gender inequality, and so on.

Furthermore, to promote transparency, businesses should proactively provide their own ESG data, as defined through ESG reporting practices, to communicate their sustainability initiatives to the general public and investors.

How can businesses ensure sustainability is affordable and attainable?

Many organizations want to explore sustainability but are hesitant because they are unsure if it is even affordable, let alone achievable. Nonetheless, I respond to this sentiment with the reality that governments are beginning to put pressure on the business community to weave suitability into their DNA. In other words, there can be no more compromises when it comes to sustainability in corporate processes. A similar expectation is increasing among EPAM’s clients and investors.

Sustainability must evolve to become a crucial component of the strategy of any successful firm. It doesn’t mean foregoing income or success. Profitability, expansion and employee retention are all negatively impacted by a company’s failure to consider sustainability issues. Financial success and global goodwill soon be inseparable and so must be integrated into a winning business strategy.

Though investing in sustainability projects can appear contrary to increasing profits, a sustainable approach actually contributes to the success of an organization’s overall operations and most likely have social and environmental benefits in the long run. Adopting sustainability helps a company benefit society, the environment, and itself all at the same time.

In light of the recent IPCC report, have you seen an increase in companies looking to develop sustainability strategies?

Yes, absolutely. There is a noticeable increase in the number of organizations formulating long-term strategies. Nonetheless, organizations should not feel obligated to execute these methods today; however, by 2030, they should implement a certain percentage of their aim and then begin working towards the balance.

Sustainability goals are attainable, and organizations will have ample time to incorporate such initiatives into their business strategy and planning with proper planning and resource allocation. As I previously mentioned, there is also an expectation among our investors and clients to start meeting our targets. These major decisions will have to be taken by high-ranking people in companies. Furthermore, the current IPCC report indicates that we must be even more aggressive while striking a balance.

Do you think the UK’s goal of achieving net-zero by 2050 is achievable?

The idea of net-zero initially overwhelmed EPAM since it felt like such a massive task. If you had asked me four years ago if we could offset our total emissions, I would have probably said “no.” But, now that we’ve unpacked what net-zero really means, we’re looking at various ways to offset our total emissions, such as other journeys and renewables, in order to meet our target.

Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 will be a challenge for the UK, but I believe it is achievable. For example, in 2009, the United Kingdom’s emissions fell by 42% but its economy grew by 72%. Most progress came from policies, many of which have minimal impact on everyday life for most citizens.

Surprisingly, despite the country’s transition to wind power and the phase-out of coal power, the general population put minimal pressure on corporations and the government to meet the country’s carbon budget. Reducing future GHG emissions will require participation from the people, such as making low carbon choices concerning travel, heating homes, electricity consumption, and living an overall sustainable lifestyle. A fundamental aspect of reaching net-zero is understanding the general public’s attitudes towards climate and their willingness to contribute to the greater cause.