During the 2021 SAPPHIRE NOW keynote, SAP CEO Christian Klein laid out how the software company is making sustainability a main focus. This includes providing solutions to customer to help them track their carbon footprint and minimizing the carbon footprint of SAP’s own operations.

ASUG sat down with Gunther Rothermel, senior vice president and head of SAP S/HANA Sustainability at SAP. He talked about the importance of sustainability at SAP and how the software company is working to make this topic a key part of its portfolio. Read his thoughts.

ASUG: Let’s talk specifically about what Chasing Zero is and what it is setting up to accomplish.

Gunther: Chasing Zero, in general, that’s the motto that we apply to this sustainability management by SAP. We summarize the activities we do towards sustainability on the product side, under this term of “sustainability management” and that means a couple of things. First, we believe that sustainability has to be embedded in all relevant business process moving forward, so we typically refer to this as introducing a new ‘green line’ in addition to the top and the bottom line, which traditionally are of course used in in business systems.

That's an important principle, and that is why the overall offerings and activities in SAP span quite a number of areas. We wanted to make sure things like carbon footprint and more circularity and reuse apply to the business processes where needed, so that's a general principle. To enable that, we also introduced a product offering which is in the core of this sustainability management. Let me say that sustainability isn’t new to SAP. We actually have had products in the market for more than 10 years, but more in the traditional classical sense of environment health and safety, product compliance, more operational kind of sustainability. Those products will continue to play an important role and they are used by thousands of customers.

On top of that existing portfolio, we are actually now introducing three new products that are major milestones towards this overall approach of Chasing Zero and embedding sustainability in all relevant business processes.

First, there is one new offering for the topic of climate action, or decarbonization, if you will, and that product we call SAP Product Footprint Management. What it does is it helps our customers to calculate and manage their product carbon footprint in the beginning and at scale, meaning for hundreds of thousands of products and using a lot of data out of SAP systems but also non-SAP systems as primary, data again to calculate footprint and make use of that data in various forms.

The second one is in the space of circular economy. When you look at the sustainability activities of our customers, it's typically both of these topics that most of the organizations want to address: Climate action and circular economy, or waste reduction. It’s no wonder that these two areas are also front and center to our strategy.

In that space of circular economy, we have also introduced a new product, which we call SAP Responsible Design and Production. What that product does is two things: First, it helps customers to address extended producer responsibility obligations. You might be familiar with the fact that in many countries and for many businesses, there is more and more regulation coming up that actually pushes organizations to take more responsibility for their waste and, in particular, packaging waste. So we will focus on packaging waste in the beginning and also enabling customers to handle these EPR declarations, which are so important in many countries.

On top of these capabilities, over time, what we also wanted to help customers design out waste from the beginning, to design products such that packaging can be minimized and the degree of re-use can be optimized.

ASUG: That’s fantastic.

Gunther: That’s the circular economy part. The third one is in the space of ESG reporting and steering. We introduced a new product: SAP Sustainability Control Tower. What that does is it gives you all relevant KPIs and metrics for your sustainability activities, so be it your own goals and KPIs that you want to report and steer based on SAP data, but also mapping know KPIs and data to prominent standards like the World Economic Forum or some other kind of frameworks so that you can also externally report and represent your activities.

ASUG: The third one is fantastic because of the lack of data, reliable data, standardized data that can be compared against other yardsticks or milestones that organizations have set as indicating progress. What do you find, in particular, the most rewarding with doing this work right now? It seems like a huge step forward for SAP into the sustainability world.

Gunther: It is really rewarding. I've been with SAP for long time, and I've been leading development teams mainly in the platform space for many years, and that’s a great job as well, of course. But for sustainability, it's this combination of, you know, we are really onto new ground. Standards are just emerging. There's so much definition we can do together with our partners, with our customers, with influencers, with, in particular, also our development partners.

ASUG: You said you wanted to circle back to data, so I wanted to give you a chance to do that.

Gunther: When I look at this topic of sustainability, there is, in general, a major data quality and data- integration challenge under the water line that we all need to address together. For some of the sustainability-related activities we want to report on, data is not available. Then, of course, we have to tap into secondary data sources. We have to enable that but, more importantly, I think in many cases this data is somewhere in the landscape. It exists, but it does not exist in the shape and form that we need and second it’s not in the right quality and granularity.

ASUG: Do you think it’s really possible to get to Zero and, if so, what will it take to get there?

Gunther: That question was the one that we discussed when we jointly created this term of “Chasing Zero.” We will not get to Zero. Certainly, we can reduce a lot, there’s a lot of potential to reduce, both on the carbon side, but also with waste. That’s the potential that we are after. We are chasing it. There’s a huge potential together, with our customers, to lower the numbers significantly, absolutely. But zero is probably a very audacious goal.

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