Sustainability by co-innovation: Lessons from SAP

Sustainability by co-innovation: Lessons from SAP

As both a supplier and a customer of its own sustainability technology, 40-year-old software giant SAP has learned some valuable lessons in the last few years. Its award-winning sustainability reports are a testament to its innovation: They incorporate social media; a webpage asking visitors to weigh in on "what matters to you?" by ranking the importance of topics such as energy, climate, biodiversity and water; and a gallery of stories with videos and blog clips of SAP's employees and customers.

Most corporate blogs suffer from the “tree falls in a forest” syndrome of never being read, but more than 1,166 people have logged in to read SAP’s materiality blog (only 194 have viewed the company’s co-CEO video). It’s a positive sign that a focus on materiality ranks highest in the company’s communication of its efforts. And by helping its more than 190,000 customers understand the importance of sustainability as a business imperative, SAP can help move the needle on sustainability far more than it could on its own.

The learning goes both ways. SAP also has tapped its customers for knowledge, and has used that information to figure out where to add functions to help customers operate more sustainably. At the recent Sapphire user conference, SAP unveiled new application features that underline how it's partnering with customers to create new sustainability solutions.

Leadership by “following"

The results of SAP’s co-innovation can be found in recent customer stories on (see How Danone is pushing carbon further down its ingredients list, for one example).  In a strategic move, SAP is partnering with its customers to create new applications that are subsequently made available to multiple industries.

At Sapphire, SAP announced a new environmental health and safety (EHS) mobile app that allows workers to log issues from their cell phones – along with a photo, video or audio recording – and send it directly to a safety manager for corrective action. Workers will then be able to see what actions result from their reporting. For managers, this provides immediately actionable information that can be tracked through an auditable operational risk management application. And for the company, the result is real-time situational awareness and the ability to head off problems quickly before they have a greater impact.

In another co-innovation or collaborative offering, SAP introduced its on-demand sustainable product network. This solution lets companies collaborate in the cloud to make sure that the materials they source for manufacturing are compliant with environmental regulations like RoHS and REACH. The product is particularly important for discrete manufacturers such as life sciences and ICT providers. The community helps manufacturers, customers and suppliers collaborate to reduce the costs and time associated with the material declaration process. It is currently in testing with customers and will be generally available later this year.

These are just a few examples of how SAP is helping its customers incorporate sustainability into the core operations of their businesses – while also making its own business more sustainable in the process. And it makes SAP a case study on how co-innovation can work.

In a VERGE-related item, we also got to play around with a 3-D demo which shows how energy consumption per household could be tracked by smart meters and SAP HANA, the company’s in-memory database and application platform. This simulation lets you see energy use for each household as it rises and falls – and also how electricity moves over the grid in real time. Big applications for big data represent a trend we expect to see increasingly from SAP and other software providers.

Photo of digital key by mkabakov via Shutterstock.