Nikhil Hirdaramani is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member and founding board member of EO Sri Lanka, EO's Global Executive Education Committee Chair and the Director of Sustainability for the Hirdaramani Group--a 128-year-old family-run manufacturing business employing 60,000 people in the fashion industry. We asked Nikhil how his company managed to seamlessly integrate ethical and sustainable business practices into everyday operations. Here's what he shared:

What inspired your carbon neutral apparel factory?

As a family business with strong values, sustainability is part of our DNA. Though we didn't call it "going green" when our company originated in 1890, the practice has been integrated into our culture since its origin. As a family business, we regard our associates as extended family members; our environmentally friendly initiatives reiterate the responsibility we have for them.

We always believed in "doing the right thing" for not only our associates but also the wider community. The idea for an eco-friendly factory was sparked by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth:  My uncle read the book in 2006 and then told other family members that we must all read it, too. The message resonated with our company's core values and inspired us to take action.

In 2008, we opened the world's first custom-built, eco-friendly, LEED Gold Certified apparel factory, which we call "Mihila"--a word that translates to "earth." It was designated as Asia's first carbon neutral apparel factory in 2011.

Mihila is the foundation of our strategic sustainability initiative that has evolved to cover both social and environmental aspects of our business. We have set short- and long-term goals with clear milestones for our core businesses related to four pillars: people, planet, product and community. In addition, we have diversified into sustainable business sectors including clean energy and agriculture.

With the increased global awareness of sustainability in the last few years, we feel proud that we were early adopters who have enabled our associates to do what they can to protect the environment for their children and future generations.

How do your efforts align with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals?

As our company's director of sustainability and EO's Global Executive Education Committee Chair, I understand the increasingly important role entrepreneurs play in achieving the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As business owners, we are in a unique position to create lasting social change across multiple industries worldwide by embracing ethical, sustainable business practices. As increasing numbers of entrepreneurs commit to such initiatives, these life-enhancing changes will grow in scale and transform our world.

In our company, we're focusing on six of the 17 SDGs. The first is No. 3: Good Health and Well-Being. We've launched an internal program called the Wonders of Well-Being that focuses on improving the overall health and vitality of employees at work, at home and within their communities. It acknowledges five spheres of well-being: economic, relational, physiological, mental and environmental. We aim to enhance each sphere via a combination of education, environmental change, workplace enhancements and access to resources.

Other SDGs that our company is tackling and the ways we support them include:

  • SDG No. 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, by instituting energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy projects
  • SDG No. 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, through adhering to global compliance standards
  • SDG No. 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, via investment in automation and innovative technology
  • SDG No. 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, by LEAN manufacturing and recycling
  • SDG No. 13: Climate Action, through carbon reduction and investment in projects for reforestation and renewable energy investments

How will this work shape your company's legacy?

One of the key challenges in any long-running business--ours is more than 100 years old--is to stay always at the cutting edge and maintain relevancy. Companies in the future will have to be sustainable just to be in business. I sincerely hope that our company will not only remain in business but also continue to grow, maintaining our core values in all that we do. They say that in a family business each generation acts as custodian for the next. I want to ensure that I hand over a strong and prosperous business to my children. I can only hope that my work has helped to grow our legacy in a positive direction.

Personally, the greatest lesson I've learned about myself has been the level of passion that sustainability has inspired in me. It has definitely made me realize what my "Why" is! It makes me want to do more and more and use the various platforms I am fortunate to have to encourage others to do their part to protect our planet and the environment for future generations to enjoy.

What tips will you share with other leaders considering a path of sustainability?

For my fellow entrepreneurs seeking to integrate more ethical and sustainable practices into their company ethos, I would share that there is no greater reward as an entrepreneur than knowing what you're doing is the right thing for the planet and future generations. To execute such a strategy successfully, they will need to adopt the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit with the same degree of commitment.

It's important to remember that whenever implementing new practices, we must exercise patience, as any change in culture takes time. Show your enthusiasm for these new practices and walk the talk. Identify others within the organization who share your passion and can be your co-champions and change makers in adopting sustainable practices.

Use the UN SDGs as a basis, as they are easy to understand and relate to. Whatever you do, don't give up. Never forget that entrepreneurs have the power to change the world for the better!