SAP: Don't release sustainability reports, spur sustainability dialogue

Enterprise software company sets new standard for sustainability reporting and pledges to offer reporting framework to its customers
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

SAP hopes to make a big statement with its 2009 sustainability report, slated to go live sometime during the week of May 10: not only is it an "enabler" of improved corporate sustainability, it hopes to stand out as "exemplar" of the concept.

Indeed, between 2008 and 2009, the company moved up to an 'A+' rating under the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) index, according to company's top sustainability executives. Pretty nice GPA, if you ask me.

During a sneak preview of its report on May 10, SAP's chief sustainability officer Peter Graf said SAP cannot survive as a leading enterprise software company 5 to 10 years from now if it doesn't support sustainability end-to-end. That underlying threat is the impetus for a major overhaul in HOW SAP reports on its various sustainability efforts -- from carbon management to specific community initiatives.

There are two big differences between how SAP publishes its data versus other companies that invest in sustainability report, according to Scott Bolick, SAP's vice president of sustainability strategy.

  1. SAP is moving away from simply being transparent about its reporting to being accountable for its performance. So, the NEW information will be highlighted obviously and boldly so people can see what has changed. What's more, updates won't be an annual exercise. Moving forward, SAP plans to provide quarterly measures on a variety of metrics, including carbon footprint progress. The company's overall goal there, by the way is to reduce the company's footprint to 2000 levels by 2020. (That means annual reductions of 5 percent.)
  2. SAP won't simply publish a report, it will publish a truly interactive web site. You can drill into infographics and explore various data points at a very detailed level. Plus it will be hooked into feedback mechanisms. When the 2009 sustainability report goes live, as an example, it will be directly linked into six different social networks where readers can offer feedback. Bolick says it is SAP's goal to source at least 10 significant ideas from the comments that these people offer. (For perspective, approximately 30,000 people downloaded SAP's online PDF from last year.)

What makes SAP's initiative all the more intriguing is the fact that it is considering how to take the work that it has done on creating its new approach to sustainability reporting and offer it up as a service that other companies might want to use (provided by the likes of global integrators such as CSC or Deloitte).

Not surprisingly, many of the information feeds that the SAP report will display as part of its new sustainability dashboard, if you will, are fed by information from its various enterprise software modules for both large corporations and for smaller and midsize businesses. So it makes sense for SAP customers to seek ways to use this information in their own sustainability initiatives. Bolick says sustainability means environmental management must be linked to asset management must be linked to risk management. The SAP move this week really underscores the importance of holistic approaches that include all aspects of a company's operations not just some siloed enviro-info.

Fundamentally speaking, every business should consider several different audiences when producing its own sustainability message, says Graf.

  1. Those in the business of compliance who are keeping official tabs
  2. Employees or future employees who want to work for companies that "do the right thing"
  3. B2B partners and customers looking for ways to advance their own sustainability initiatives
  4. Consumers who care about your brand
  5. Those with a long-term interest in your company over time (aka shareholders and investors)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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