SAP: improving sustainability practices after lockdown

- Leadership - May 15, 2020

Brian Duffy, President of SAP EMEA North & member of the Sustainability Council, sees lockdown as an opportunity for both future-gazing and reflection. 

None of us could have anticipated the huge impact of the COVID-19 crisis back at the start of 2020. In a very short space of time, we’ve all been forced to respond and adapt amidst lockdowns and uncertainty. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we won’t be returning to our pre-lockdown version of reality any time soon – if at all – as this pandemic and the lessons from it continue to have a marked impact on how we live and work.

Amidst this uncertainty is also opportunity. This period of upheaval should be prompting business leaders to reflect on how their organisations are run and to start looking ahead to how they will re-emerge post-lockdown. Whilst the virus is triggering a downturn in the global economy, it has also had the power to bring so much to a halt – resulting in lower CO2 emissions in some countries and cities.

SAP’s Sustainability Council is an internal governance framework that enables every area of the company to contribute to its sustainability priorities and objectives. The council acts as an ethical advisory board for the company and communicates with internal and external audiences on the business relevance of this topic. My role is to deliver the customer’s perspective into the decision-making process and to make sure sustainability becomes a key topic in customer conversations and engagements.

Organisations – including our customers and partners – are having to adapt quickly in order to best protect themselves, the livelihoods of their staff, and the wider economy. Technology has been instrumental in facilitating this, with an estimated 20 million people suddenly needing to work from home.

Never have we been forced to stop like this. Planes are grounded, people are staying in place, and – remarkably – many businesses, including ours, are able to continue to function. The world hasn’t stopped turning and there are important lessons here for us all.

Sustainability has been climbing up the priority list for SAP and our customers for some time. This period is accelerating this further – providing not only the opportunity for reflection about the benefits of remote working and virtual meetings on the economy and family-life but also their impact on the environment. 

At the World Economic Forum in January, SAP announced its aims to achieve a cleaner ocean by providing customers, NGOs, governments, and partners with the tools, insights, and solutions they need to eliminate waste and maximise resource productivity. Using SAP Digital Supply Chain solutions, customers can now track waste throughout their value chain. In Davos, SAP also joined the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge to support global business in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Now more than ever we are realising the awesome capability of technology when harnessed for good. This period is enabling us to get closer to achieving the goals we announced at the WEF and imagine the possibility for even loftier ambitions.

As we start to anticipate our post-lockdown realities across the region, I have two key priorities: one is to ensure my staff feels happy, safe and supported in their eventual return to the office – whatever that may look like. Our needs will be different, as people’s priorities and responsibilities have shifted during the lockdown. Childcare as well as the care of vulnerable and elderly loved ones will not come off the agenda and I want to empower every single one of my employees to do what is right for them as well as for SAP.

The second priority is to evaluate what this period is teaching us in terms of both business and environmental sustainability. At SAP we are no stranger to taking customers on transformational journeys – and this is an amazing opportunity to do that at a larger scale. If businesses like ours and our customers are able to continue under these strange circumstances, we need to question what it is that we need to reinstate once lockdowns lift.

We have long known about the need to reduce emissions but COVID-19 is literally forcing us to stop in our tracks. To look around us, to breathe cleaner air, and to embrace the opportunities in front of us. 

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