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The impact of Leaving the Lights On

I must confess that I do often forget to switch off the lights before I leave my hotel room. It is a bad habit, I know. Well I recently met Greg Page, CEO of Cargill who is a leading light on the subject, and he mentioned some examples, where we could be more responsible towards our environment. Transporting bottled water from Fiji is probably not very environment friendly, when you look at the fuel costs and the tons of CO2 pollution. And the energy consumption by leaving the lights on in the hotel room, even for a few extra hours leads to the emission of more than a pound of carbon-dioxide into the environment!


With the growing importance of Sustainability in business, it is imperative that we reduce our environmental footprint. We have to meet our needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In addition to the reports that we have been publishing for our stakeholders, we now need to publish “Sustainability Reports” that look at the environmental and social dimensions, in addition to the economic dimension. For example, CO2 emissions would now need to be monitored, in these reports.


Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart has committed the company to three goals: To be supplied 100% by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain Wal-Mart’s resources and the environment. These are ambitious goals, however the company appears to have made a lot of progress in the last 18 months. These three goals have led to the creation of 14 “Sustainable Value Networks”. Linda Dillman, the erstwhile CIO at Wal-Mart is now responsible for the Sustainability topic. I asked her how her background was helping her in the new role, and she said that her 20 years in IT were certainly helping her a lot in structuring down this huge topic.


By providing the discipline that an enterprise wide IT approach provides, one can turn expensive and siloed one-off projects into organization-wide, sustainable and repeatable processes. Workflow support can ease the process burden for managers who are now going to be responsible for embedding sustainability in their daily work. The other advantage of an organization-wide approach is that such a solution can have analytics already built-in or embedded, so that one does not need to worry about visibility and measurement later.


Let me share one of the things SAP is doing in this direction, that makes me proud. We are building a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) building in our expansion plans for the US headquarters in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. It is the de facto standard for design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings as set by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Platinum is the highest certification available. SAP’s building will be the only corporate-owned Platinum LEED building in the mid-Atlantic region of the US and only one of 35 in the entire country.


The new building will have a green roof to collect and reuse rainwater that will be used in the cooling towers and as irrigation for the surrounding property.

The work environment would promote better productivity. Then there are the economic benefits of the new building that help the community, by creating new jobs in construction.  Platinum certification ensures SAP employees will enjoy the best possible work environment. Geothermal cells will help cool and heat portions of the building.


The part that I like best about the new building is that sensors will automatically detect the amount of available daylight and dim the lighting levels and raise and lower shades accordingly! That way I do not need to remember to switch off the lights.

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  1. Former Member
    Within the partner network of SAP we as TechniData offer a Netweaver certified solution which helps companies to collect and communicate the sustainability data throughout their company. So that corporations like WalMart get reliable data with low effort.

    The name of the product is EPM – Environmental Perfomance Management.

    Regards, Hans

    1. Thanks Hans. One of the things that would be needed is the ability to drill down from the exceptions in the summary, and get to the operational level.
      Best regards
  2. Former Member
    I think the really good message here is that now even America is turning from denial to action. And possibly it needs to be European or global companies that lead the way by leveraging the experience from other countries. Granted, I would have loved to see such a building rise from the ground in Walldorf, in a country, that statistically speaking is very environmentally-conscious. And yet, I am afraid it may not be enough to turn the lights off and use less energy in our buildings. A first step it definitely is!

    In his highly recommendable book, “The Weather Makers”, Tim Flannery writes about the Aborigines of his country; how they see things like mining, the weather, and biodiversity not in isolation, but they tend to see a whole picture, just like those believing in Gaia, who see everything on Earth as intimately connected to everything else. He quotes the elder Big Bill Neidjie of seeing the mining done in his country as a part of a whole cycle, where coal is shipped and burnt overseas, creating climate change and adverse weather conditions and ultimately killing people in an entirely different part of the world.

    Not digging up the dead [coal] is one way of looking at it, but if we do dig them up, we should bear in mind, that we have consumed in only centuries, decades in the case of oil, what had taken millions of years to form. ‘Gaia’ is out of balance; we are taking much more from earth than we are giving back.

    In an effort of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, though, we suddenly run into a situation, where feed for energy-producing machines is competing with food for humans. The raise of corn prices is just one such indicator. Once again, the solving of one problem can not be seen in an isolated manner, but is interlinked in our global society. Will we give preference to feeding our machines because we can afford it, while people in developing countries cannot afford their daily corn to eat? Well, this remains to be seen.

    When visiting Walmart’s website to learn what ‘zero waste’ means to them, it is, mostly the packaging and recycling of it, which they are talking about. In his novel “The Garden of Yesterday”, award-winning Korean author, Hwang Sok-yong writes, that ‘a society of abundance, where riches are wasted for inanities, cannot be the model for the entire world’. Indeed, what about all the products that consumer goods companies are churning out every day at an incredible rate? Don’t we also need energy to produce those? And not just energy, but also heaps of natural resources?

    Most of us are children of the consumer society. We are used to everything being readily there, and in abundance. But producing merchandise before they are needed, means that we never know how much to produce, and, on top of that, we also need to conjure up the desire to purchase and consume what we make. Especially so, if it is goods the consumer had no idea he needed, before they were aggressively advertised. Inevitably, we produce waste. At the moment, the world, no matter whether it’s Europe, America, Asia, Africa or Oceania, are striving for the same model of a consumer society, with China catching up at a staggering pace and with little consideration of nature. Amazingly, there are small remote ‘islands’ that still exist. In a book about Bhutan, an almost hermit country in the Himalaya, I read, that things, such as household utensils, tools, furniture etc. are still only being made for a purpose, and only when they are needed. Not for the sake of making them.                        

    Lately Earth has been striking back. Hurricane Katrina had a devastating force. Last month torrential rains have caused excessive flooding in both hemispheres alike. Areas of England and New Zealand saw flooding not witnessed in decades. In London Friday before last, about 150 flights were cancelled, and I overheard my colleague, who had been stuck there, saying over lunch, ‘well, and this was the end to fun!!!’ Nature had dared to rudely interfere with his Friday evening schedule! Nature is not reliable like a machine, she will not behave as designed or expected, but she is always there, nurturing us. In our consumer world, we tend to forget about that, and just take her for granted.

    We have grown so used to everything being readily available where we need it when we need it. Many produce that were seasonal when we were children have become commodities; natural resources, and even the weather have become a commodity. Strawberries are flown thousands of miles to our local supermarket in the dead of winter, water is delivered to our house in pipes and is available at the turn of a tap. And we get into the car to drive through the pouring rain to get to work with as much as a few drops of rain on our shoulders. Petrol stations are conveniently spaced.

    I do ocean sailing every once in a blue moon, leaving behind me all those amenities and certainties. You do not get pizza delivered to your doorstep, water doesn’t come in pipes, and you don’t get your money back if there is no wind. Instead, we have to become more conscious of the elements, we must tune our senses. We do not control nature, but she controls us. She makes us humble. We may have to alter course, if the wind dies. If the food for a week goes to waste prematurely, we go hungry, if we leave a tap on for more than is absolutely needed, we have no water for the last leg of the journey. If we use up the petrol to generate power, we may not have enough of it in an emergency, so we turn the lights off whenever they are not needed. After setting out to sea, we must be conscious about our precious resources on board.

    Being back on shore after such a journey, I ask myself, why I am so wasteful in a different environment? I have Kiwi friends who live on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean, who have sailed the world, and have equipped their house just like a yacht. They are almost self-sustainable. I have noticed that I am not happier when I consume. On the contrary, many times less is more. My friends’ place is one of the most tranquil places I know on Earth, tranquility now being a very rare commodity; and being conscious about the natural resources does not put an extra strain on me in either place.

    So, I think this is where I beg to differ from your view, Debashish, while they certainly come in handy, I don’t think we should leave it to devices to take the strain of turning the lights off away from us, but Earth is telling us very distinctly at the moment, to be more aware of the world around us. By tuning our senses and practicing daily that we need to consider our natural environment we can stay conscious, and: we don’t forget. Practice makes perfect. Possibly even makes us ready for a shift in paradigm towards a more mindful consumer mentality? 🙂


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