Smarter Dharma- Changing the Country's Attitude to Sustainability
How do you change the mindset of a country that wants the government to take the rap for their actions?
Sriram Kuchimanchi has been answering this question for the last five years through Smarter Dharma, a Bangalore-based social enterprise that helps companies consume efficiently. What started with a focus on the construction industry now provides sustainability solutions to sectors panning hospitality, manufacturing, and more.
Central to Smarter Dharma is ‘economic happiness’. Having spent over a decade in the corporate space, Sriram understands how important it is to create value. With economic happiness as the end goal, Smarter Dharma keeps its solutions financially viable.
Economic happiness is also the reason Smarter Dharma is an enterprise. Sriram’s experience in the social sector taught him one thing – when you create something of benefit, you’d rather sustain yourself than chase funds.
The Smarter Dharma Journey
A former Bay Area techie, Sriram was deeply passionate about sustainability and worked at the Association for India’s Development (which inspired the SRK hit, Swades) for five years. But it was after a course in Presidio Business School, San Francisco, that he realized he could turn his passion into a career.
It was natural to return to India at that point. Back at home, Sriram knew that the country’s only hope for a livable future was a change in behaviour. Smarter Dharma was born with a plan to develop simple and structured sustainability solutions for companies – while driving behavioural change as the core focus.
It wasn’t easy. Decades of old lessons had to be unlearnt, and it couldn’t happen overnight.
“We spoke to companies in their language – sustainability would benefit their brand and smoothen operations. We don’t have to do that anymore. They want sustainable solutions because they feel responsible. The process seemed ‘inefficient’ back then, but we’ve driven a consistent message over the years.”
While the path to building a better world seems vague and scary, the Smarter Dharma team isn’t worried. In fact, it’s a myth that sustainability is a long and complicated process, Sriram says. Thanks to his background in technology, he takes a structured approach to any task. The team encourages companies to tackle the low-hanging fruit and take baby steps first.
“We start off simple – making a few roof sheets transparent, using different kinds of paint. We once reduced a client’s paper consumption in half just by redesigning their receipts. These milestones motivate businesses to do more, and their behaviour slowly shifts.”
And it has helped. Smarter Dharma has delighted some of the country’s biggest business, government, and educational entities – including the Aditya Birla Group, Vasudeva Adigas, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), and the Karnataka Department of Tourism.
Indians’ lack of structure gets in the way. In the west, consultancy begins with a vision meeting. Back home, companies don’t even think to make sustainability central to their projects. Approaching Smarter Dharma for an analysis after executing all plans can only do so much.
“Take the Germans for example,” he says. “Sustainability is in their DNA; it dictates everything they do. While they took expensive steps to subsidize solar power, today, even villages use solar panels. This summer, they produced 85% of the electricity consumed from renewable sources! They’ve started a modern-day revolution and are setting trends for the rest of the world to follow. Indians copy America, but it’s a capitalist country and the planet is paying the price of their actions.”
While Americans prioritize high value and low costs, Germans remain conscious of stakeholder impact. They put the survival of their local market veterans first, and keep simplicity at the core of everything they do. In fact, Indians behaved the same way just a few generations ago, which gives Sriram some hope for our future.
The future is fun and games
Smarter Dharma’s next steps lie in gamification. The company took off because it doesn’t preach, and its new app – Dharma Meter – works on positive reinforcement. It creates a ‘Dharma score’ based on the player’s everyday decisions. So if you carpool to work, you’ll score points based on your reduced carbon footprint.
The app will take on behavioural change more aggressively, Sriram says as he signs off. “We’ve already tested Dharma Meter and plan to launch the first version soon. With Indians now living sustainably because it’s right, I think we’re ready for this app.”