SAP's sustainability business: What's left after the measurements are done?

SAP sustainability chief Peter Graf has big plans for the company's sustainability report. The question is whether SAP can go beyond measurement to move the sustainability needle.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

SAP chief sustainability officer Peter Graf has big plans for his company's sustainability report.

In fact, it's likely to become a product on many fronts, but the larger issue is whether the company needs to move beyond mere measurement of carbon footprint to providing advice and services to move the sustainability needle.

At the SAP Sapphire conference in Orlando, Graf did a walkthrough of the company's sustainability report. It was a talk similar to what Graf has given before. The SAP sustainability report is worth a read by all interested parties. The data drilldowns are helpful and it's a living document that is quite educational. SAP wants to be an exemplar and enabler to sustainability.

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One side effect for SAP today is that it can show customers how it ate its own dog food and developed a set of baseline metrics via Business Objects. By measuring all the factors that go into a carbon footprint, SAP claims that it can deliver the first step of sustainability: measurement.

SAP has a sustainability suite that ties into its enterprise applications. Via a partnership, SAP's sustainability data is ported to Apple's iPad. It's all quite impressive, but you wonder what the next step is. Today, SAP may be a leader in measurement of sustainability, but what happens in five years when the metrics are a common part of an enterprise system? If sustainability is like the Internet in 1996, SAP should be thinking bigger.

Simply put, SAP's sustainability software could go from bubble to feature quickly. I asked Graf about what's next and he acknowledged that SAP's sustainability report can become a product.

Graf envisioned a sustainability report generator for customers. In this model, SAP would host sustainability reports and be a warehouse for content and industry benchmarking.

"Content is big, and I don't think it's critical for companies to host their own reports," Graf said.

Actually, I was thinking bigger. SAP can focus on sustainability measurement today, but 10 years from now the company should be focusing on services. In the big picture, measuring carbon is the easy part. Managing carbon capture and recycling is another thing entirely. With SAP's operational know-how it would make sense to dip into sustainability services. After all, SAP's acquisition of TechniData gives it some business process outsourcing capabilities.

In a quick chat after Graf's presentation, he noted that TechniData does give SAP some options going forward it's just a question of how far the enterprise software giant wants to go. Getting into services would be a bit sticky since SAP's historical partners could be competitors, but it's a shot worth taking.

Benchmarks can only take you so far and sustainability should be about more than using it to sell more ERP systems.

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