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Quest for Net Zero: The Roca Way

Setting out on the quest for net zero is one thing, staying on track is another. Roca Group’s director for sustainability Carlos Velazquez shares a litmus test for checking if you are on track. He also offers insights into Roca’s approach to sustainability.

THE 105-YEAR OLD Spain-based Roca Group has set itself on the path to achieving water neutrality before 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050. As a part of its quest for net zero, the company has launched a water efficiency plan in consultation with its advisors Veolia Water Technologies Ibérica.

Under the plan, pilots have been initiated at Roca’s vitreous china and faucet manufacturing facilities in Morocco and Turkey. The objectives are to reduce water stress in the areas where Roca operates; and preserve this resource by optimising its circular use. Once the pilots are complete, by end of 2022, the recommendations will be implemented at its 84 plants across the world over five years.

While speaking exclusively to Sourcing Hardware over a video call, Roca’s global director of sustainability Carlos Velazquez provided insights into the company’s approach to sustainability. More significantly, he laid out the steps for ensuring that the quest for net zero remains sustainable.

During this call, Velazquez was accompanied by Carlos Garriga, director of We Are Water Foundation, a not-for-profit enterprise set up by Roca Group; and K E Ranganathan, managing director of Roca Bathroom Products Pvt Ltd (RBPPL).

According to Velazquez the first test of sustainable action is to check if sustainability is part of the organisation’s mission. “Our mission at Roca Group is to leave a better world for the next generations of stakeholders. This simple statement, wherein we commit to the wellbeing of future generations, sums up our approach towards business and sustainability.”

Next is to see if sustainability is a part of the strategy. “At Roca sustainability is one of the six strategic pillars that shape the way ahead, and for that reason our approach is intrinsically sustainable. The six pillars are growth, operational excellence, innovation, digital transformation, sustainability, and people.”

The next step is to ask if the commitment is coming from the top. Velazquez ticks this box as well, as “at Roca the sustainability department reports directly to the CEO.”

Finally, and probably most importantly, is sustainability a matter of concern of one person or department, or is it decentralised?

“We have in place a sustainability committee that is transversal, taking 360-degree care of the mission. This team has eight work streams – decarbonisation, materials, products, people, society, sustainable supply chain, sustainable logistics, and communication of facts as against greenwashing. As you can see, the approach is top-down and across-the-board. In fact, it is a capillary movement of ideas, commitments, and actions.”

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Revealing the company’s strategic posture, Velazquez said that responsible corporates like Roca Group will have to take the lead in driving the change, rather than being mere followers, even as politicians and society leaders provide the framework. “We need to accelerate the change and lead the transformation of our organisation as well as of the societies in which we are present.”

Roca has drawn a roadmap of targets to be achieved to remain in line with the Paris protocols. These targets are science-based and specify the tons of carbon dioxide and litres of water that must be reduced each year, with the achievements to be audited by consulting firm KPMG.

Velazquez goes by the credo that sustainability is a business case. “There is no approval from the board if investments for decarbonisaiton and water neutrality don’t give us payback. I need to prove that there’s a payback. If not, forget it, it’ll not work!” he said. So, the investments he seeks are the ones that go primarily into equipment for energy efficiency, heat recovery from kilns, electrification of hitherto gas-consuming or unelectrified areas, and a shift to clean energy.

Roca Group has set as its goals the achievement of water neutrality and reduction by 46% of carbon emissions of 2019 levels by 2030, and complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

OF THE 84 FACTORIES that Roca has across the globe, eight are located in India. Roca India’s managing director K E Ranganathan, whom Velazquez refers to as ‘the best example of implementation of sustainability’, informed that the Indian subsidiary was on its way to achieving the globally accepted interim goal of water neutrality and 46% decarbonisation by 2030. 

Net Zero: The Roca Way

“We have transformed six of our plants into solar-powered facilities, and we consume only clean energy. Further, our plants are run by Kaizen philosophy. We continue to make incremental gains in reduction of emissions, water consumption and wastage, and increase in use of natural energy.”

The outcomes that Roca India is enjoying, Ranganathan explained, are savings through increased energy efficiency in operations (green energy, heat recovery, circular water strategy); increased market acceptance of innovations that facilitate water savings (waterless urinals, electronic flush systems, double click lever faucets); and the growing preference of marquee customers to work with suppliers who demonstrate a commitment to climate change mitigation.

Ranganathan echoed Velazquez’s emphasis on payback. “Impact on company performance and new market opportunities, both need to be favourable, if our initiatives have to sustain for the next ten years and thereafter. Even though Roca Group, being a family-owned enterprise, does not have to respond to capital market expectations, we are still driven by prudence and responsibility. Our leadership approach towards caring for the environment is helping us to achieve a better financial performance and enhanced reputation.”

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EQUALLY SIGNIFICANT is the work that Roca Group is doing through We Are Water Foundation, which it established in 2010 with the purpose of bringing water and sanitation to people who do not have access, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In India the Foundation has undertaken several WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) projects in alliance with organisations such as Rural Development Trust, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision and UNICEF, and local entities that are conversant with water-related challenges at the grassroots.

Carlos Garigga, who heads the Foundation’s ops, explained how they are executing the ‘people’ and ‘society’ level tasks of Roca Group’s sustainability committee.

Net Zero: The Roca Way

“In the past 12 years the Foundation has undertaken more than 20 projects that help to achieve the #6 SDG (Sustainable Development Goals), which is ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. However, every time we accomplish #6 SDG, I believe, we also address the SDGs regarding education, gender equality, health and wellbeing, and hunger. Roca Group through the Foundation has indeed had a significant impact on society.”

Garigga cited three projects to showcase the Foundation’s contribution in executing Roca’s sustainability roadmap in India and advancing the overall quest for net zero:

  • Development of an 80,000 cbm reservoir to irrigate 22.26 hectares of agricultural land in Ganjikunta, Andhra Pradesh. This project made it possible to store water and recover aquifers in one of the poorest regions of India experiencing most extreme weather conditions. The immediate impact was an increase in crop productivity and diversification, improved quality of life and incomes, and a reduction in migration to cities.
  • Construction of toilet facilities for 75 families in the Bathalapalli and Kadiri regions of Andhra Pradesh, in order to stop the practice of open defecation. The most difficult aspect of this project was to change the mindset of residents, who preferred to use the toilets as warehouses and continued to defecate in the open. The project was eventually successful in ingraining the link between sanitation, hygiene and health.
  • Setting up of a women-managed sanitary napkin production unit in Haiderpur, Haryana. This project was an important step towards fostering women entrepreneurship, while breaking social taboos and enhancing the health of girls and women. The outcome was that women started talking about menstrual hygiene openly, and getting access to information to understand the menstrual cycle and managing menstruation hygienically. The project also promoted awareness amongst men and boys (fathers, husbands, brothers, teachers and peers) to help overcome the embarrassment, cultural practices and taboos around menstruation. Most significantly, it provided an access to affordable disposable sanitary pads. 

Each of these projects, according to Garriga, is having a sustained impact on the wellbeing of inhabitants of the respective communities.

Recalling the days when the Foundation was launched in 2010, Garigga said, “At that time it was not often that one got to read news about water and sanitation in the media. Nowadays it’s the opposite. It is pretty much impossible not to find such news from India, Spain or any other country about these issues.”

Garigga admitted that the Foundation was enthused by the Swachh Bharat Mission of the Indian government. “When in 2014 prime minister Narendra Modi spoke about his mission of building millions of toilets to put an end to open defecation in the country, it was for the first time that government had put this issue on the table. Till then everyone knew about the problem, but no one wanted to speak about it. I think this is what encouraged us to launch the Foundation in India in 2017 as an independent entity. I’m happy to say that since then we’ve touched the lives of more than 200,000 people in India through our initiatives.”

ROCA’s QUEST FOR NET ZERO is driven by a textbook strategy, but more so by passion. And Velazquez’s words are reflective of that: “If we have to leave for the next generation a better world, it is imperative that we control global warming. It is going to impact us and our kids. We have seen countries go to war over energy, and future wars may be fought over water. That’s why we need to innovate so that the people can do with less water. That’s why we need to educate them about the importance of being water conscious.”


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