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Author's profile photo Susanne-Kirsten Mueller

Sustainability in Retail: About missions, a guilty conscience, and a breakfast with my son 🥐☕

Being invited to my son’s student condo for a Sunday morning breakfast is a great and joyful weekend activity. Sitting around the table, laughing, drinking coffee, and discussing everything that came up in our minds, suddenly came to a halt by my son’s sudden outburst.  “I blame you and your generation for the world my generation has to cope with and struggle to live in!” It was one of those sincere and moving statements.

I was shocked, touched, and at a loss for words. I found myself starting to explain that I buy yogurt only in glasses, not in plastic, shop vegetables at the farmer’s market and not in plastic packaging in the supermarket, and plan to buy a new bike in order to use my car less… Hearing my list of excuses, I knew this was not enough. I had no actual argument to refute my son’s blame.

From that breakfast on, I had a guilty conscience. Although there was nothing further to discuss regarding the more than unsatisfying social and environmental state of the world we live in. I decided to personally contribute to helping make it a bit better, at least.  I considered shopping only secondhand fashion, even selling my car, but everything I thought about didn’t feel like it was enough. So, I asked myself what’s my mission – to contribute to making the world a better one! Yes, I can’t save the world, but I can add my tiny part to turn back the negative impact of my generation. And suddenly I saw it! I am already right in the middle of this movement. I can contribute through my great company and make a much more significant impact than just yogurt glasses. SAP’s purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives with sustainability at the core. For the future of our planet and especially for the future of my son’s generation, I want to take the opportunity to work on how to best chase the zero – Zero emissions. Zero waste. Zero inequality. Together with the vast SAP family. As solution manager within the global SAP Retail Industry team, I frequently discuss the impact of sustainability and how it shapes and pushes the industry trends and requirements. SAP can enable the Retailers to make sustainability profitable, manage their carbon footprint, support climate change, and especially follow our social responsibility.

Our key Retail sustainability strategies are

Circular Economy – Zero Waste

  • Retailers have the need for increased customer loyalty and continuous connection. The Circular Economy principles help Retailers easily maintain their relationship with consumers in various moments of circularity, moments of buying, moments of sharing, recycling or donating. Producing and distributing goods according to consumer demands and avoiding overstocking and waste of resources and goods is a key sustainability implication, but also contributes significantly to a Retailer’s profit.

Climate Action – Zero Emissions

  • Production, transportation, last mile delivery, omnichannel and returns, in-store operations and assets and buildings contribute to a Retailer’s carbon footprint. All these contributions also give many opportunities and entry points to improve end-to-end processes and thus reduce the carbon footprint and emissions.

Sustainable Brand – Zero Inequality

  • Customers have increasing expectations of the products they buy. From sourcing via production to delivery, they expect everything to be good for the environment and society. Today, the success or failure of a brand is directly linked to its contribution to environmental and social responsibility.

Sustainability in Retail is a crucial lever to increase customer loyalty, raise profit, and effectively improve business processes. While all these improvements also are good for the environment, society and for business.

Please join me in my mission to make the world a better one, for the generation of my son, for Retailers and their consumers, and for our society and the environment.

What is your personal contribution, as a consumer, as a Retailer?  I would love to hear it!

Details on SAP solutions for sustainability.

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      Author's profile photo Bernd Freibott
      Bernd Freibott

      Your on son is very right and I am feeling guilty regarding my kids. 1972 we had the publication of the club of Rome. And I had the impression that there was in the population a great awareness. My father for nothing in the world would have taken a  plastic bag at the grocery.(Besides: Ridiculous to prohibit the plastic straws and go on with the plastic bags. Much more plastic should be a no-go. Anyhow, there a quick reaction when there was the news about the holes in the ozon layer. Quickly FCKWs were prohibited and the quick reaction did show effect by now. But then, even after the signed 'intentions' from Paris, the states did really nothing. Well, begin of the first decade of this century, three was a bit drive. The French passed a law that within some years carbon footprint has to be on all products. SAP had a first project with Danone. But all came to a halt with the financial crisis. Now the banks, not the climate had to be saved. Those billions for back safeguarding would have been a good invest into climate action. But then, everybody was only worried for the economy. The French law was even stopped. And form then on all focus on pampering the economy. And the public voted for those parties, that were telling that we have not to change much. With a bit technology and progress and innovation we'll solve the problem. We will all be better off, consume more, have economic growth (that dogmatic idol) and everything is fine. The talk of sustainable growth is intentional deception. Well, it was easy with a population that did not want to hear bad news or talk about reduction of consume and change of habits. It reminded me of the sentence from Orwell's 1984: 'In a world of universal deceit, it becomes an heroic act to pronounce the truth.' The green party has learnt the lessen. When they spoke about gas price of 5 EUR, airplane gas tax, or meat free days, they were punished by the voters. The population did not want to hear negative truths, but preferred to be told nothing will change. Just as now certain politicians only aim to restore the world of pre-covid, instead to using the momentum for a big change in many aspects. The last 20 years are completely lost. We knew it's only 100 to the end, and it's time to break, but we decided to rush on with full speed for other 70m, now to have to stop on 30m. But maybe we are already even over the target. The max. 1,5 degree cannot be reached. Germany would have to be on zero carbon by 2032. But instead we are burning subsidized brown-coal for the next near to 20 years. We are subsidizing one of the biggest climate killer. As we permit a climate killing meat industry in Germany, that is a reason for burning rain forests, that is polluting our ground water - a key resource - and even having a workforce of unfairly treated, horrendously paid foreign workers. Why we accept this asocial and destructive behavior.
      Anyhow, many many points, but the essential is that action is needed. But instead of giving clear regulation for carbon footprint calculation, the inactivity of politics is leaving the industry at oblivion. It like knowing that now suddenly there will be a harsh cut with a strong impact, but no idea how to prepare. It's a bit like not knowing whether to prepare for an earthquake, a hurricane or a meteor impact. It is perceptible that the industry is nervous, and with good intention to prepare. The more important and urgent is to provide the right tools. To minimize the carbon footprint, be it corporate or product footprint, it is first of all important to have an accurate picture of the sources of the footprint, to optimize the production, the assets, the consumption within the company. And here we have with SAP EHS Environment Management the right tool, as single source for legal reporting (e.g. Bundesemissionsschutzgesetz), for greenhouse gas reporting (GHG key figures in sustainability reporting. Same for the product: Product Footprint Management will provide not only a singe footprint number for a product. It will be the clear picture how the product footprint accumulates, based on which decision can be taken to avoid material or parts that have high footprint and go for more ecological sourcing. Only who knows exactly his footprint can derive the right changes to minimize the environmental impact. Optimization of the operation as of the products with the joint solutions for carbon footprint: SAP EHS Environment Management and Product Footprint Management. And there are between them dependencies. What is aggregated in SAP EHS EM has to be allocated via to be defined methods on the products. On the other side: the inbound (purchasing) footprint information of materials that is a basis of PFM will also be input for the corporate footprint, then scope 3.
      If SAP is able to provide the right tools for companies to optimize carbon emissions, we can have an immense impact. A big part of the world's economy is running through SAP coding. To enable that big part of the economy to be greener is not only a business case for SAP's success in the coming decades. It is crucial to assure our customer's success and survival, and most important: It is having an impact on saving humanities biosphere. And we have only one!


      Author's profile photo Susanne-Kirsten Mueller
      Susanne-Kirsten Mueller
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Bernd, I realy like the way you describe what has happend to our sustainability efforts and how the focus is continiously lost for "more important" and less contoversional topics. Yes, and your message is true: we have to know what'S the source of our carbon footprint before we start optimizing it. Back to my children, when they didn't like to learn for e.g. history test I frequently told them "You have to know where you come from, so you can decide where to go to". And we at SAP can provide the necessary tools to our customers!

      Author's profile photo Bernd Freibott
      Bernd Freibott

      And we should be there quicker and rather be the driver of the evolution. I see we have three types of customers here: The ones who are very far and have a clear picture of how they approach this (especially prime material producers who are at the begin of the value chain). They are somehow observing  what wé will deliver.
      Then there are the once who are a bit in a nervous state. They know they have to prepare, but are not sure yet whether to prepare for an earthquake, a tsunami, or a meteor. They are expecting SAP to draft the vision at the horizon who they will - with our support - cope with the upcoming challenges.
      And there are the many, who are seeing no reason to act. There is no legal obligation. They think they can wait and see, but when they see the tsunami or meteor, it might be too late.
      And I think meteor is the right picture, since some dinosaurs will be extinct after after the impact. Some products will disappear, and some companies with them. There are products and industries that are technically reasonable based on profit-thinking, but under consideration of the negative impact on society, environment and humanity as a whole, the practical reasoning will have to prevail for the commonwealth. And for the other products and companies we can say with Darvin: Not the fittest nor the smartest are going to survive, but those who are most adaptable to change. And the chance has already set off. No time to lose.