“Doing the right thing”

April 5, 2012 by Jennifer Lankheim

From the annual SAP Sustainability Report to motivating employees, Rami Branitzky is the expert. (Source: Fotolia)

SAP.info: Please describe your role, for those readers who may not be familiar with the work of a sustainability executive.

Rami Branitzky (RB): I’m senior vice president of sustainability. My responsibilities include setting the company’s sustainability strategy, finding new market opportunities around sustainability, supporting employee engagement in sustainability, and telling SAP’s sustainability story, which includes the SAP Sustainability Report.

It’s very important to emphasize that SAP’s objective is not to have a standalone sustainability strategy, but to have a corporate strategy that is sustainable.  That means embedding into everything we do considerations like the longevity of the business, doing the right thing for our stakeholders and the environment, and making socially and economically responsible decisions.

SAP.info: How close is SAP to realizing that aim?

RB: It’s a journey, but we’re getting closer and closer. The “Run Better” campaign, for example, conveys these ideas. SAP has a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) in place; many software companies do not.  We have a line of business around sustainability. Throughout the company, we have assets and people embedded in the core corporate-operations functions – for example, an operations team that works closely with HR on recruiting sustainability-savvy candidates.

SAP.info: Companies are increasingly adopting a strategic view of sustainability. Can you explain sustainability as a growth strategy – both at SAP and how other businesses can use SAP sustainability solutions tactically?

RB: The three primary business cases for sustainability are compliance, safeguarding the brand, and gaining operational efficiencies. Compliance, of course, is a company’s need to adhere to the latest regulations, industry standards, and practices to avoid penalties. This is the traditional, most basic business case for sustainability; it’s also the least compelling.

Safeguarding brand equity is a very persuasive business case. Let’s say your company builds appliances. You need to make sure that the components you use in manufacturing adhere to the latest standards and that the labor practices in your supply chain are reputable. These are things that could potentially come back to haunt you and we’ve all seen examples of that happening.

Then there’s gaining operational efficiencies. SAP’s claim to fame has been ERP, or resource planning. One of things that we’re doing now in our solutions is factoring energy as one of the key resources that can be optimized. If you consider energy as one of the key contributors to cost in both process and discrete manufacturing, helping companies keep track of their energy consumption during manufacturing, shipping, and delivery results in concrete, demonstrable cost savings.

SAP.info: In the last decade, we’ve seen sustainability emerge as a strategic imperative. How do you see sustainability in business evolving in the next several years?

RB: It’s difficult to answer this question generically, because every industry is going to have its own set of dynamics. But I think it’s fairly safe to speculate that, across the board, the bar is going to get higher and higher in terms of sustainability. As a result, companies will have to become much more aggressive in their efforts to embed sustainability into their operations.

SAP.info: What are the greatest challenges you face as a sustainability executive over the next 12-18 months?

RB: First off – new market opportunities. We need to demonstrate that sustainability benefits the company not only in terms of the line of business, sustainability, but as a capability and as an attribute that spans the whole portfolio.

The number two thing is employee engagement: getting more and more employees excited about this topic. How do you get people to sense and feel their connection to sustainability? It’s not just logical, it’s also visceral and emotional. You have to appeal to all three and create links between the people and the topic.

We rolled out our first major sustainability initiatives to employees in Palo Alto in 2008, when I was managing director of SAP Labs North America. The campaign was very, very successful in getting people’s attention and imbuing a sense of belonging in the employees by giving everyone the opportunity to rally around a common cause.

When you walk around the Palo Alto campus today, it’s a beautiful, green campus. You feel happy. You feel like this is a place you want to work. You feel like this is a company you want to work for. This is exactly the kind of feeling you want to create in your employees.

Last but not least is, how do we tell the ‘Run Better’ SAP story in the context of sustainability? This is a fantastic opportunity for us as a company.

SAP.info: What recent sustainability initiatives or projects are you most proud of?

RB: The SAP Sustainability Report is definitely something I want to highlight, because it’s beautiful, it’s different, and it tells a compelling story. We tell our sustainability story through a variety of lenses, that of employees, customers, and the end-beneficiaries of SAP software and solutions. One thing all these perspectives have in common is that they are human perspectives. The report differs from what you see from other companies in that it’s not necessarily about us, it’s about the people who make up the SAP ecosystem and value-creation of our customers.

Another thing my team is doing is market development. We’re looking for new ideas in the market that are currently not represented in our portfolio of products, such as electric vehicles and product lifecycle analysis, or ‘Green IT.’

Our work now is completely market driven. We’re working with key partners and customers to tell a much more compelling story and potentially pursue new revenue opportunities. And of course we’re proud of that!

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