Sustainability Is Inevitable, SAP Official Says

The issue of sustainability in business has graduated from mere tree-hugging, philantrophy, and civil service notions, and has moved into a concern that inevitably needs to be tackled head-on by companies, small and large alike, an official from German software company SAP remarked Tuesday.

Many firms consider going green a fad, or merely a part of their corporate social responsibility programs, but SAP, according to Atul Patel, the firm's vice president for business user and platform, Asia Pacific and Japan, is looking at it as the next mega-trend.

"[Businesses] will have to use sustainability concepts in their business, [and integrate it] as part of their commercial planning, in order to take a holistic view of the problem," he explained.

Industrialization, computing, and the Internet are some of the mega-trends of recent years, Patel noted, adding that sustainability is promptly on its way to becoming the next one. "Our resources today are finite, and if you don't have them taken into account, you can't compete," he pointed out.

Companies, however, are not taking sustainability too seriously, launching mere pet projects that seemingly address the issue "but putting no serious money behind it," the SAP executive chided.

In the Philippines, Patel shared that some companies belong in the upper echelons among top 500 companies in Asia according to the Asian Sustainability Index, but most firms still do not have a solid "green plan" for their businesses.

"Most of these firms have only a couple of people managing their sustainability efforts, and they are not [in any way] connected to the boardroom or other C-level executives," he lamented.

Patel suggested the establishment of a CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer), who will command and direct all sustainability efforts within the company. "One of our biggest learning in our own sustainability efforts is having someone [in our board] to oversee [the projects]," he added.

SAP is one of the first few companies-and probably the only IT company in the world, Patel claimed-to have designated a CSO to govern their internal sustainability efforts. "The CSO drives [sustainability] awareness to our more than 50,000 employees," he related.

Apart from designating a sustainability champion, SAP recently released their sustainability report, an overview of the green efforts the company is putting in order to reduce its own carbon emissions.

Patel shared that for this year's report, they firm discovered that two of their primary carbon emission contributors come from transportation-business flights and corporate cars. They countered this by using new technologies such as Telepresence and videoconferencing to lessen flights abroad, and promoting carpooling in their German office.

"[With our efforts], we reduced carbon emissions by 15% globally in 2009," Patel disclosed. "We were also able to have a total of 90 million in savings."

The sustainability report is published in a Web 2.0-style collaborative Website, where users can provide feedback regarding SAP's own efforts, and contribute their own. It also contains much of the software firm's green offerings in a solution map, where users can learn how they can improve their sustainability efforts.

Through the report, SAP is surely walking the talk when trying to push the green agenda to its users. But the better half of the firm's sustainability efforts is geared towards providing software solutions to help companies push their own green projects.

One of its clients, Pepsi Co., Incorporated, manufacturer of juice drink Tropicana, was able to trace one of the major contributors to its carbon emissions using SAP's Carbon Impact. "According to their research, the largest contributor to their carbon emissions is the fertilizer used when growing the oranges they used for their juices," Patel shared.

By using the software solution, they were able to trace the problem and address it efficiently, by urging the farmers to use other types of fertilizers in growing the produce. In turn, the company was able to reap financial benefits from the change.

"In effect, their carbon emissions data were used as a proxy to improve their business process," Patel said, emphasizing the important of tying the organization's sustainability efforts to the business process in order to attain large and at the same time longer goals.

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