SAP extends free sustainability lessons to other businesses

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SAP extends free sustainability lessons to other businesses

Image of keyboard with seedling by Evyatar Dayan via Shutterstock

There are countless courses in sustainability, but how many are free? SAP recently developed an "open" course pulling together the lessons learned from SAP's own sustainability program as well as its sustainability software. With 14,500 learners enrolled in the first five weeks, openSAP is a whopping success. I talked with Dr. Will Ritzrau, the man responsible for pulling it all together, to learn more about it.

A level playing field

The openSAP "Sustainability and Business Innovation" course is based on the Massive Open Online Courses offered by many universities today. MOOCs feature an interactive community of learners and accessible online learning platform. They aim to level the playing field in education by providing accessibility, affordability and convenience to the public in a multitude of content areas.

While many openSAP courses are geared to IT professionals, Sustainability and Business Innovation is unique in its focus on CSR and its reach for a wider audience. It is taught by Peter Graf, former chief sustainability officer at SAP, who has played a critical role in developing SAP's sustainability practices.

Ritzrau, head of sustainable strategy in the SAP's office of the CSO, designed content for the sustainability course. He said, "Sustainability and Business Innovation is the first MOOC on openSAP which shares best practices regarding how we run our business. Our audience is anyone interested in sustainability, particularly from a business point of view." Learners range from high school and college students to industry experts, as well as the general public.

Course content

The course aims to cover a range of topics within corporate sustainability: the business case for sustainability, sustainable strategies, sustainable business processes, stakeholder engagement and sustainability reporting.

Said Ritzrau, "Our own company changed for the better and we can see clear benefits of implementing a sustainable strategy that is integrated with our business. We wanted to share our experiences and what we've learned along the way. By sharing the message of an integrated sustainability and business strategy to other companies, big or small, we can help them become more sustainable and affect the world in a positive way."

He added, "We based [the course] on SAP's own journey towards sustainability. This includes crafting our sustainable strategy from the initial business case, getting top management engaged, our operational set up and target setting. We also describe our path to achieve integrated reporting and how it helped drive integrated thinking. … The course basically represents SAP's cookbook towards becoming a sustainable organization."

Six weeks to a better understanding of sustainability

The sustainability course — along with most others on openSAP — is free and open to anyone interested in joining.

The course consists of six weeks of lessons and a final exam. Each lesson has a set of educational videos and self-quizzes, allowing participants to interactively learn and test their understanding of the material covered. Learners also complete a weekly assignment. An online course forum is provided for learners to interact virtually with each other and discuss the lessons on an online course forum. Learners typically spend four to six hours weekly completing lessons. Learners who satisfactorily complete the course assignment and final exam by the course deadlines can receive a Record of Achievement.

Although the course officially ended June 17, all lessons and self-tests will be available online after the course concludes. People can continue discussions on the company's community network, SAP Community Network.

 xtock via ShutterstockThousands have enrolled and actively participate in the course. Many participants are active in the course: more than 2,000 learners have completed a weekly assignment, and there have been over 700 online forum postings. The course also has a global presence, with more than half of learners living in India (27 percent), the United States (15 percent), or Germany (12 percent). And the numbers continue to grow.

Ritzrau attributed the initial success of course enrollment to the effective use of personal networking and social media. He said, "We used multiple channels including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; as well as blogs (written and video) on both SAP and major media sites. Now, viral recommendations from participants spur interest in the course content, and registrations continue increasing."

Many learners have provided positive feedback about the course thus far. Ritzrau said, "We have received encouraging feedback from the learners to date about the comprehensive and holistic view on sustainability and how IT can enable business innovation or industry transformation towards more sustainable practices. This confirms our approach to sustainability, both as exemplar and enabler. Some of the comments suggest that the learners did not expect this holistic and business focused content from SAP. We are glad that the integrated message is resonating and that we successfully presented a 'different' SAP. Obviously we have reached the right audience, the next generation decision makers."

The business of teaching sustainable business

We've certainly heard about the business of teaching sustainable business in the secondary and tertiary education sector, but few companies have taken this approach. Until now, none have opened it to the public. I applaud SAP for coming up with the idea and making it happen. But do note that there is a business case for this.

Over 14,000 learners are spending several hours on the site learning about SAP, its sustainability products and its sustainability projects. What is the cumulative time users have been on your company's sustainability section of your website? It's good business.

Top image of keyboard with seedling by Evyatar Dayan via Shutterstock.