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In a world where there are constant shifts in geopolitics and global events like the Coronavirus pandemic cause sudden dramatic changes to society, taking action on climate change can be difficult for companies, but the fallout from climate change is ultimately even more dramatic than the events of the last year and a half, so we cannot afford to lose focus.

The window of opportunity for making the societal changes to avoid irreversible change in the climate is shrinking and so this means we have to adapt our behaviour starting now.

While politicians are legislating for sustainable practices at a national level, global adaption to mitigate climate change has to occur at all levels of society, especially in the way we run our businesses: particularly in manufacturing and supply chains.

As the collective consciousness of climate change is propagated by the media, consumer demand for sustainable business models that reduce carbon emissions, single use plastics, excessive packaging and food waste is increasing, as well as the demand for clean energy supply.

To add to the pressure on companies to reform their business practices, investors want companies to include societal, environmental and governance factors in reports, and employees are more concerned as well about the reputation of the companies that employ them.

The United Nations (UN) Global Compact’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) program has challenged companies to enhance their commitment to the UN SDGs, and to accelerate their adaption to the new situation and has specifically enlisted the expertise of SAP and Accenture.

IgniteSAP has covered many of SAP’s initiatives for the promotion of sustainability, including the Waste Insights Project: a collaboration with Topolytics to create a prototype solution for cross-party integrated waste management.

We have also discussed how they have implemented their own sustainability practices and reduced their own carbon footprint as an example to other large corporations of what can be achieved: such as maintaining high internal environmental management standards that comply with the International Standards Organisation’s ISO 14001 standard. This ensures all SAP locations limit landfill waste, source sustainable materials and reduce potential for water pollution. SAP Headquarters is also certified as compliant with ISO 50001 which shows that the SAP HQ is monitored for emissions and energy usage and that all energy comes from renewable sources.

Added to this is a policy of constantly striving for reduced energy usage and waste at all SAP locations and renewing vehicles with electric vehicles wherever possible in the corporate car fleet, among many other methods.

There are also many existing solutions that SAP have made available for other companies to adopt.

SAP Sustainability Performance Management helps companies to track their sustainability performance using KPIs enabling the ability to set goals and manage risks in this area. SAP Carbon Footprint Analytics applies the same concept to a company’s total carbon footprint. SAP Plastics Cloud collects data across the plastics supply and recycling chain, and allows users to buy recycled plastics using the Ariba network in order, eventually, to eliminate the use of single-use plastics in business processes. SAP Concur now has the ability to track carbon footprints associated with business travel, and SAP solutions for renewable energy schemes are helping to increase the efficiency and profitability for renewable energy companies worldwide.

As part of their contribution to the work of the UN, SAP and Accenture have put in place a series of initiatives to drive forward changes in sustainable operations and changes in the attitude among the business community toward achieving these goals, and also more generally promoting a greater understanding of the need to overhaul the existing economy so that it conforms with a sustainable future.

In January 2020 the UN Global compact launched SDG Ambition with the support of SAP and Accenture and published the SDG Ambition and Integration Guides in September of that year, and the two companies went further than just advising companies on how to achieve these targets, and began to ask what is holding companies back from making these changes that are equally in their long-term best interests, and also in the interests of the greater good.

Accenture and SAP Insights carried out studies into the current status and attitude toward sustainability commitments among companies and CEOs. Accenture found only 25% of companies have set goals aligned with environmental or societal needs, and only half of CEOs have implemented sustainable practices in their operations. SAP Insights conducted a global survey of 7500 CEOs and other business leaders from 16 industries into specifically what is stopping businesses from making the changes required for sustainable operations.

The main reasons cited for not embedding sustainable practices in business operations were all due to a lack of clarity: on how to embed sustainability in business processes and IT systems, on how to align sustainability practices with overall business strategies, and on the return of investment in sustainability. Contributing to the inertia which results from lack of clarity was a lack of allocated funding, specific sustainable practise expertise, and drive from the senior management level.

The conclusions of the Accenture study call on industry leaders to start implementing and scaling plans to address climate change: for leaders and CEOs to raise their ambitions to drive change in their own organisations, seek collaborators for achieving meaningful transformations in organisations they work with, and to redefine the role of leadership as one of an agent who champions the sustainability agenda. Without these aspirations in the executive level of organisations it will be hard to meet the goals of sustainability. 

In response to the findings of these studies SAP and Accenture have announced that they are expanding their collaboration on helping companies through the process of making these changes, which are exemplified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The partnership aims to help companies embed sustainable practice across all business operations and unlock the added value and long-term growth that results from an emphasis on increased efficiencies as part of a sustainable development strategy.

By creating a combination of SAP technology with Accenture’s sustainable services, these partners will co-innovate solutions to facilitate companies in achieving the goals of de-carbonisation of their supply chains and the establishment of business practices that promote a circular economy.

Accenture also supports SAP’s Climate 21 initiative which helps companies to measure and minimise their carbon footprint through the whole product lifecycle.

The partnership extends to the co-development of SAP’s new solutions for environmentally responsible production and design: giving companies the power to embed sustainability metrics in their value and supply chains. Through the integration of this data, product design and manufacture will result in less waste and a greater degree of recycling of materials: reducing the cost of compliance with new regulations on packaging, and other extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations.

In March this year SAP and Accenture began a sustainability accelerator program at SAP.iO Foundries, which adds to the Sustainable Future program that helps new B2B companies drive digital transformation in carbon tracking and trading, resource efficiency, climate risk tracking and mitigation and the circular economy. To date, thirteen startups have begun working with SAP.iO and Accenture experts, along with leaders in a variety of industries.

At the SAP Sustainability Summit held virtually on the 28th and 29th of April, a variety of speakers including members of the SAP executive board discussed the available strategies for companies to take action on climate change and promote the circular economy.

During the summit SAP announced it has joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) as an innovation partner in the WBCSD’s Value Chain Transparency Pathfinder. That is a new initiative for enabling a global exchange of primary carbon emissions data with a primary goal of decarbonising industry through carbon data transparency, which includes signatories from Nestlé, Chevron, and Unilever.

“The Pathfinder methodology will build on and improve existing emissions reporting standards to increase consistency, granularity and integration of emissions data, which is key to scaling carbon transparency at the scale we need to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Building a unique, technical infrastructure, the Pathfinder will set standards for inoperability between company and industry-level solutions, enabling all businesses to advance wide-scale, consistent and safe exchange of emissions data towards achieving net zero.” [-WBCSD]

Commenting on SAP’s decision to join the WBCSD, Christian Klein, SAP CEO said: “We are supporting businesses of all sizes and industries in determining the carbon footprint across their operations and supply chains down to the individual product level by embedding the corresponding capabilities into our core enterprise software systems. By partnering with WBCSD and other forward-thinking companies, we will jointly find new ways to collect and share product carbon footprint data with their customers and consumers, which will give them a real competitive advantage while accelerating global decarbonisation efforts.”

The EU has led international efforts to fight climate change, and in December of 2020 the EU submitted its updated and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions toward the goals of the Paris agreement, undertaking a binding agreement to reduce European emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030.

European companies like SAP of Germany and Accenture of Ireland are getting on the right side of history by ensuring they are not only compliant with national legislation, but in their capacity as global industry leaders, are leading the way and helping others along toward our common goal of a sustainable future. Any lingering cynicism in the public sphere about the motives of these large corporations adopting sustainable practices has by now been largely wiped out by the absolutely comprehensive way in which they gone about this process.

The inherently systematic strategy of SAP toward changing their own and others’ business practices for the benefit of everybody is contributing by providing the tools and the roadmap for the ultimate goal of worldwide carbon neutrality. Carbon neutrality is not the only goal. The other areas of environmental sustainability defined by the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action are land use, oceans and coastal zones, water, human settlements, transport, energy and industry. In fact industry and business activity effect all areas of environmental sustainability and so a company like SAP, with it’s wide-ranging portfolio of business solutions with an emphasis on data integration and improving the efficiency of the use of resources, could be considered along with their competitors, best placed to put into action the changes demanded of us all.

Mitigation of climate change in all its forms requires individuals and organisations in the public and private sector to be constantly aware of the need to monitor our own behaviour and take the requisite steps to ensure we are not contributing to the problem but improving the situation.

This would be inconceivable without the knowledge and the tools that modern technology provides and while it is a little overwhelming sometimes, it is reassuring that we are not alone in our concerns and business and industry is, in the end, on our side.

As part of our own effort to instigate conversations around how we can help each other to improve the collective response to the challenge of climate change, IgniteSAP is always keen to hear from members of our community about their own experiences, particularly about your experiences of SAP solutions for sustainable development: whether you have been part of a team tasked with implementation of these solutions, or seen other examples of innovative applications of SAP solutions which contribute to the fight against climate change. We believe that the more we discuss these issues in the SAP community, the greater the wealth of experience we all have to draw on.

What is your own experience of organisations implementing sustainable technology? Have you found that there is any pushback against sustainable practice in the executive level of companies in favour of the short-term bottom line? How does the environmental credentials of an organisation affect your choice of placement?

Please share your stories in the comments below.