Earth Day 2017: Sustainability as an Obligation and Opportunity for Global Leaders
We are nearly half a century removed from the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, yet the sentiment behind April 22nd has only grown since the Seventies. What began as a proposal by then-US Senator Gaylord Nelson for a day of nationwide teach-ins aimed at raising awareness for environmental issues would soon become a global movement honored by celebrating the livelihood of our planet’s complex ecosystems and, more importantly, by challenging the destructive forces that endanger their survival.
As a 21st century leader, I believe businesses can be a key agent for positive change in both of these respects. By expanding our traditional measures of success beyond mere zeroes and ROIs to encapsulate non-financials such as social as well as environmental impact and awareness, businesses can become an essential part of what Earth Day was created to accomplish.
As a technology company operating in an extremely competitive industry, we understand as well as anyone the urgency of short-term business results, but sustained market leadership requires linking short term success to a longer term strategy. At SAP, we will soon be celebrating our 50th anniversary, so we understand the importance of thinking long-term when it comes to our customer relationships, the impact of our solutions, and the need to constantly innovate. After all, it is crucial for today’s enterprises to deliver innovation while providing a holistic view of not only the economic, but also the social and environmental impact of our strategy. Practically speaking, concern about the sustainability of the world we live in just makes good business sense.
In my time at SAP, I have found endless points of inspiration by belonging to an organization that includes sustainability as a core requirement to drive innovation and make the world run better. SAP’s sustainability focus is no more apparent than in its embrace of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that SAP is contributing against through its own operations (efforts which are tracked in our annual integrated report) but more importantly is helping customers to address (examples are highlighted in the web book “SAP & UN Global Goals”).
Case in point, SAP leads the field in driving the global push for smarter, more connected cities out of a need to improve livability in urban environments, a core part of the UN’s SDGs. From designing sewer sensor systems for waste management in Buenos Aires to implementing traffic movement monitoring in dense urban networks like Nanjing, these efforts are solving real-world problems in ways that are environment-friendly, which ultimately boosts SAP’s standing on the global stage. The potential is huge – e.g. SAP estimates that in six major industries like utilities, agriculture and food production and transportation and logistics, digital technologies can help save 7.6 Gt carbon emissions by 2030.
These are just some of the examples of the power that businesses can have in helping solve the world’s greatest problems and ensure a clean environmental future. Nonetheless, this process requires hard work and thoughtful planning, not just developing one-off “green” products that ease consumer guilt upon purchase. Products and services should be tailored in such a way that optimizes the use of our limited resources and helps customers understand the environmental impact that their decisions have on the world around them.
We as business leaders are essential in leading the charge, reimagining financial and non-financial KPIs and how we come to think about success. As the new GCO sustainability lead for SAP, I plan to focus my efforts on making sure that SAP’s short- and long-term goals align with the well-being of our ecosystems (without which we would have nothing). Keeping this in mind, I encourage my peers to celebrate this Earth Day by thoughtfully considering what they can do to help ensure a safer, more equitable future for everyone.