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Author's profile photo Christine Susanne Mueller

Towards more sustainable events

This week, leaders from around the world are coming together in New York for the United Nations General Assembly Week. This annual gathering features not only five key summits hosted by the UN, but also hundreds of additional events where leaders from public organizations, business, non-profits and civil society will gather to discuss how to accelerate progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs also called UN Global Goals). SAP too will actively engage in a broad range of activities as part of its commitment to the SDGs.

Not just what, but also how

The outcomes of the week will be critical in joining forces to end poverty, protect the planet, fight diseases, and reach prosperity for all by 2030. In addition to focusing on the “What” – the content and agenda -, event organizers are also paying more and more attention to the “How” – the logistics and event practices – to ensure that the latter equally align with the SDGs. One example is the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, that provides a leaflet to all registered participants summarizing measures taken to safeguard a climate neutral summit, sustainable food offerings, responsible sourcing and zero waste to landfill, among others.

The impact can be significant as the website of the ISO 20121 Sustainable events points out: “Events take a heavy toll on our resources, society and the environment. They can generate significant waste, put a strain on local resources like water or energy, or even ignite tensions in local communities.”

Accordingly, SAP is also taking steps to make its events more sustainable in line with its vision and purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. That is key to achieve the environmental goals as defined in the company’s global environmental policy. The policy has just been updated three months ago in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of SAP’s sustainability journey and now includes a new target to phase out single-use plastics by the end of 2020.

No time to waste

Realizing the goals will not happen overnight. But the urgency to act for our planet is high, so the sooner we start step by step, the better. At the recent 10th anniversary sustainability dialogue event, it’s been a point of honor to plan and execute the event in a sustainable manner.

SAP welcomed more than 100 customers, investors, partners and other stakeholders to review lessons learned of the past decade and jointly discuss focus areas for SAP’s roadmap for a sustainable future. The event team encouraged the participants to indicate their travel information achieving 100% coverage so SAP can compensate for the emissions caused. Employees could follow via live stream or view the replay to avoid unnecessary travel. The electricity for the event was 100% renewable as in all SAP buildings and data centers. Food was sourced locally as much as possible and excess food was donated to the non-profit Plastic wrappings as well as printouts were avoided as much as possible, the sleeves for name tags collected for re-use, and pens provided upon demand manufactured from 100% biodegradable material.

Fill it forward

At a much larger scale, similar sustainable event practices have been embedded into the planning of the upcoming SAP TechEd events where thousands of participants are expected. The first in the series taking place September 24-27 in Las Vegas makes the applied measures transparent on the event website. Next to carbon offsetting for participant travel, compostable food packaging that will be sorted and recycled, and other features, a very special initiative will be incorporated: “Fill it forward”. Upon signing in, each attendee will receive a special reusable conference water bottle along with a bottle tag and a Fill it Forward app download card. All that is then needed is to stick the tag to your bottle, download the Fill it Forward app, then scan the tag each time you refill to track your footprint and add to the count of cups of water to those in need. This initiative will also be part of  SAP TechEd in Barcelona in October where food waste will furthermore be donated to a local non-profit partner. The catering department is proud to collaborate with the local NGO Nutrició sense fronteres (Nutrition Without Borders) in its project “BCN comparteix el menjar” (BCN shares its food) managing a network of food resources to help reducing poverty in Barcelona. Through this project, NutritionWithoutBorders (NSF) supplies surplus food from hotels or other catering outlets to the nearest social kitchens. Renewable energy certificates will also be purchased to power all three SAP TechEd events with clean energy.

Will everything at these events be perfect from a sustainability perspective? Probably not yet. It’s a learning curve the SAP teams will have to run through together with all involved partners, suppliers and service providers. But the ambition seems to be there to continuously improve the impact and help protect our precious planet earth. As Alicia Tillman, Chief Marketing Officer at SAP called out in a message to employees: “We should be immensely proud of SAP’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and our work to create a sustainable future for our company, our customers, and society. I’m counting on you to continue to make conscious choices to benefit our planet and demonstrate our values.”

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