SAP: Changing Minds Through an Integrative Approach



At Sustainable Silicon Valley’s annual summit, WEST 2014: Net Positive Call to Action, Senior Vice President of Sustainability Strategies at SAP, Thomas Odenwald, spearheaded a Conversation for Action titled “Data & Metrics”. Thomas used the announcement of SSV’s new initiative, Net Positive Bay Area, with the goal of making the Bay Area a net positive region by 2050, as a launch pad for the discussion.

SAP has long held a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint and energy demands, seen in the company’s goal to lower their carbon footprint to 2000 levels by 2020. However, with the accelerated shift to cloud-based operations running through SAP data centers, which has increased the energy demands, the company decided to set an even more ambitious goal, only a few months ago: 100% renewables for all data centers and global facilities starting in 2014. By purchasing RECs (renewable energy certificates), SAP aims not only to offset their impact, but also have other companies follow suit to increase overall demand for renewable energy. SAP calculated that since the beginning of 2008, energy efficiency initiatives have contributed to a cumulative cost avoidance of €260 million, compared to a business-as-usual extrapolation.

Being a software company, people are sometimes surprised to learn about SAP’s partnership with Sustainable Silicon Valley, however, Thomas explains that IT and the sustainability movement go hand in hand. “As the ‘old’ saying goes, ‘You can only manage what you measure’, in our context you need to know where your hotspots are before starting to mitigate,” remarked Thomas, and sustainability is all about setting and reaching manageable goals. Net Positive Bay Area is an ambitious project to say the least, and as Thomas says, it is “critical to try and understand what kind of metrics you want to reach” before setting targets.

The key, Thomas believes, is an integrated, holistic approach. He explains that we must not just consider the environmental impact for Net Positive, but also the social and economic impacts as well. “What if your city is carbon neutral, but no one can afford to live there?” is just one of the concerns Thomas raises. Fortunately, SAP serves as a role model for such an approach. SAP shifted towards integrated reporting 3 years ago to be able to highlight connections between their financial and non-financial performance. Thomas believes that all these metrics (economic, social and environmental) are interconnected. And the data backs up this belief; for example, the numbers show a strong correlation between greenhouse gas footprint reductions and business health culture index, or between greenhouse gas footprint reduction and customer loyalty.

Thomas admits that people’s first reaction to Net Positive Bay Area “is that this is impossible,” but with SSV’s and SAP’s careful planning and active imagination, he is confident that “we can change minds.” It is all about changing the template of how companies and consumers think and act. Thomas believes there is no better place to begin a net positive movement than the Bay Area: “Silicon Valley is the Holy Grail of Innovation, and Net Positive Bay Area is all about innovation. And we leverage innovation to lead our customers towards economic, environmental and social sustainability.”

To learn more about SAP and their Integrated Report, please visit their company website.


- Rick Thomas, December 9th, 2014