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by Vault Consulting Editors | April 21, 2011


In honor of Earth Day, Consult THIS is highlighting efforts in environmental sustainability made by 5 consulting firms that we feel deserve special recognition. Whether these efforts resulted in historic achievements in the field of sustainability (some did) or were just plain interesting (like here), each of these big players spurned the bottom line to make a difference to our planet Earth.

Day 4: Cognizant

The world's forests of the future?

On December 1, 2010, New Jersey-based tech consultancy Cognizant announced that it had reached a significant milestone in the history of any large corporation. Just 16 years after its conception in 1994—when the fledgling company employed just 175 people—the firm announced that it had officially entered the ranks of the mega corporations. Cognizant "has crossed the 100,000 employee mark," a press release proclaimed.

That figure puts Cognizant in rarified air among consultancies. Only some of its direct competitors, like Accenture (215,000) and Capgemini (110,000) have also broken that threshold; conversely, some of the biggest names in the industry like McKinsey, BCG and Bain employ but a few thousand consultants.

But Cognizant would tell you that big growth isn't only about the numbers. Each of those 100,000—now closer to 104,000, as the firm continues to hire aggressively—is a unique, sensitive organism that can flourish in the right conditions. So, to most appropriately honor the individual contributions of each of its employees, Cognizant issued a remarkable pledge: starting this spring, 100,000 other unique, sensitive organisms will be given a chance to flourish under Cognizant's vigilant care—trees!

"We can think of no better way to honor our 100,000-plus employees than by making this contribution to a greener environment," said Mark Greenlaw, Cognizant's aptly-named corporate sustainability VP.

Back in December, Cognizant's 100,000-tree pledge was no more than an ambitious promise. Since then, its employees have toiled to help the firm fulfill its vow. "In India," the firm said in a statement to Vault, "Cognizant employees have volunteered time over their weekends to set up nurseries, prepare saplings, and plant them in the suburbs of Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata." They've been equally active in the US and Europe, too, with more than 1,000 trees planted in the UK and Holland and a handful more in New Jersey.  And all that's just preparation for the main event.

The main event

"Just in time for Earth Day, April 22, 2011," the firm said, "Cognizant signed an agreement with TIST Tree Planting India to plant 100,000 trees in three districts near Chennai, India, where Cognizant has a major presence."

India's selection as the site of Cognizant's fledgling forest addresses two concerns. For starters, India's rapidly-industrializing economy makes it a prime candidate for hands-on environmental work (it also doesn't hurt to have a major player in the Indian economy set a positive example for others to follow). It also confirms Cognizant's interest in the market as a major business arena of the present and future. In that sense, it could be considered an investment in India's future.

An investment it certainly is. "By planting 100,000 saplings for Cognizant in the districts of Thiruvallur, Vellore and Thiruvannamalai near Chennai," a statement reads, "TIST will pay about 150 subsistence farmers for greening 200 acres of dry waste land. TIST will monitor these saplings for 10 years for Cognizant to earn 10,000 tons of emission credits from these trees."

Readers of Consult THIS will remember the importance of emission credits in lowering a company's carbon footprint, as exhibited by A.T. Kearney's path to carbon neutrality.

100,000 trees is a lot, but it isn't going to save the world. What might, though, is the notion that a company would mark a major corporate milestone by giving back to the Earth, the ultimate source of all things economic. Instead of clinking champagne and rolling in the well-earned dough, this company decided to leave a lasting impression on the ground where it does business—a living, breathing testament to each pillar of Cognizant's success.

See how TIST works:

For more information:
Cognizant: A Green Way of Life
Cognizant Reaches 100,000 Employee Milestone
TIST: Planting Trees and Improving Agriculture for Better Lives

Photo: Jerome Delay, AP


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