As every year, millions across the globe celebrated World Environment Day on June 5. It is the United Nations’ flagship day for promoting worldwide awareness and action for the environment.
While it certainly is not enough to focus on the environment just one day a year (or maybe three days if you add Earth Day and Earth Overshoot Day), it is a good opportunity to rally governments, cities, businesses, other organizations, and citizens alike to remember that this planet is our joint home that we need to take care of – for our own sake as well as that of future generations.
All of us have a role to play in this. Businesses like SAP, however, have a unique part due to their reach and power to make a positive impact. We have the responsibility to stand for a higher purpose that goes beyond economic success. For SAP, this is to “help the world run better and improve people’s lives.” Together with our customers and numerous other organizations, we are working to bring this vision and purpose to life year-round and to jointly address the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One of these Global Goals seems particularly relevant this World Environment Day: Goal #12, Sustainable Consumption & Production. This goal is critical to #BeatPlasticPollution, the theme of this year’s World Environment Day. If we want to solve the underlying root causes for plastic pollution in the mid- and long-term, we need to fundamentally change the way we produce and consume. It is not just about responsible sourcing or recycling – it’s about thinking through the full product lifecycle, from design to end of life (as I explained in my Earth Day blog a few weeks ago). With a shift towards a true circular economy, we could move towards products that keep plastic within the cycle – planning from the start for recycling and reuse as well as gradually reducing single-use plastic – and develop new, alternative/complementary, and more sustainable materials.
SAP has been exploring potential opportunities with its customers, including the recent SAP Plastics Challenge, to drive such purpose-driven innovation – a journey started but with a long way to go. The aim is not only to mitigate plastic pollution and extract the biggest value from a material mainly made from a finite virgin resource but also to meet increasingly strict regulatory environments, such as banning single-use plastics in the EU.
For many companies, like SAP, it starts with leading by example through our own business practices. For example, we have established a sustainable, end-to-end lifecycle management program for our IT equipment, which encompasses sustainable procurement practices, energy efficient operations, and IT reuse and recycling. However, the scale comes from enabling a base of 378,000 customers through our technology and solutions.
On an individual level, it might not always seem simple to find the strongest lever to make a difference. I encourage every leader to take the time and have this conversation with employees to help them understand what their contribution can be and where they should focus to have the biggest impact. This increases employee engagement. However, one size does not fit all.
During a recent coffee-corner dialogue I had with employees, I again recognized the value most people place on doing more at work than just earning profits. From our last employee survey, I know 93% say it is important that our company pursues sustainability, but in the face-to-face interaction, I could directly sense how strongly our colleagues want their employer and themselves to be sustainable and responsible.
At the beginning of the session, the ideas and questions that participants raised all grouped around generic actions each could take in the context of their daily work – such as how to commute, how to reduce and segregate waste in the office, how to print less, etc. They further voiced their expectation that single-use plastic would be eliminated, not only at our headquarters and other major locations but across all our sites, a goal our facilities teams are working toward.
After a while, the discussion evolved towards how individual employees could also play a part in the content of their work, such as by embedding sustainability features into our software solutions and services or engaging with customers around the adoption of sustainable business practices. It was highly rewarding to see it clicking with one colleague who works in industry development with retail customers. She got really excited when we explored together how the retail market is transforming and the way ever-higher consumer expectations are pushing retail companies to adapt and differentiate themselves by increasingly prioritizing sustainability and sustainable assortments.
The examples of Walmart, Lidl, and others finally made it tangible for this employee and laid out an entirely new space for her to make a contribution – something that would scale far beyond her comparatively low footprint. She never had thought about it that way, but she took away new inspiration to “help the world run better and improve people’s lives.” I was also reminded of how important it is to never cease engaging with people inside and outside SAP about what it takes to safeguard our environment and make every day a little World Environment Day.
SAP’s sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) focus is an outgrowth of our purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. We believe social, environmental, and economic activities and performance are interrelated – each creating tangible impacts on the others.