A new interdisciplinary project at SAP, “Beyond Single-Use Plastics,” is launching aligned with Plastic Free July.

Plastic Free July is a global campaign involving millions of people annually to become part of the solution to plastic pollution. Started in Western Australia in 2011, it has evolved from a small initiative to a worldwide movement led by the Plastic Free Foundation, a not-for-profit-organization with the vision of a world without plastic waste.

Participation is growing with increased public awareness. In light of the appalling numbers — ranging from 4 to 12 million metric tons of plastic that enter the ocean each year — more and more people see the need to act and join forces.

The challenge at hand is significant and no single person or organization can solve this alone.

Scale Through Technology and Tools

How can SAP live up to its responsibility and play a part both as an enabler and exemplar? Innovative digital technology and tools, such as the Plastics Cloud, support the transformation toward a more circular, zero-waste economy and help achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) 12: Responsible Consumption & Production.

The opportunities to make an impact seem endless; that’s also what Jim Sullivan, Stephen Jamieson, Padmini Ranganathan, and Damien Johnson believe. The four SAP employees recently teamed up with 158 leaders from different walks of life during the Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit to better understand the scope of plastic pollution and to develop cross-industry solutions and partnerships in response.

Walk the Talk

To start with itself and lead by example, SAP has updated its Global Environmental Policy as part of the 10th anniversary of the company’s sustainability journey and has enhanced its environmental targets with a new goal to phase out single-use plastics by 2020.

To achieve this, a new interdisciplinary project called “Beyond Single-Use Plastics” launched this month in conjunction with the start of Plastic Free July. The two-part focus includes:

  • Identifying, eliminating, and finding alternatives to single-use plastics at SAP
  • Driving awareness for the global plastic problem both internally and externally

Involve Employees

Employee engagement is essential to making the change happen. A global network of nearly 200 employee sustainability champions and representatives of the environmental management system (EMS) across more than 55 SAP locations act as change agents. Together with other engaged employees, they drive multiple local grassroots initiatives with admirable passion and creativity.

Take Cherry Xu as one example. Together with a team of colleagues from the SAP Labs Shanghai, she has partnered with the Tongji Design and Innovation school and a group of students to conduct a zero-waste research project. It is part of the preparation phase of a broader zero-waste program and the long-term vision to turn SAP China into a zero-waste workplace. Short-term, the team is getting SAP Labs Shanghai ready to comply with a new government regulation introducing waste segregation in China, with Shanghai as prototype testing place starting July 1.

“It is a big change for us here. During all our lives, we have never learned to separate waste. Educating and supporting employees is therefore very important,” Xu points out of the challenge. With videos, posters, a zero-waste WeChat group, and other communication measures, she and the team are hoping to master it.

SAP sustainability initiatives aligned with Plastic Free JulyOther examples of taking action include the Vancouver green team’s zero-waste contest, one of the first zero-waste initiatives at SAP dating back to 2014, as well as the “Power of One” campaign through which sustainability champions in Ireland spread toolkits and tips for reducing single-use waste. As a result of the campaign, the catering partner of SAP Ireland started removing single-use plastics from the canteens and replacing disposables, such as yogurt cups, bin bags, and sandwich wrappers, with biodegradable and compostable alternatives.

Inspired by these efforts, Shane Finlay and members of a green team in the UK set out for a dumpster dive in 2018, during which they found 1,019 plastic cups and 481 coffee cup lids in one day only. This helped to raise awareness in the office, where then they replaced single-use coffee cups with reusable bamboo coffee cups. This month, the unstoppable team will re-run the dumpster dive to do a comparison with the 2018 results. They expect to see great progress.

Encouraging employees to change behavior and reduce plastic waste by handing out SAP branded reusable mugs, cups, bottles, or lunch boxes has been the focus of U.S.-based sustainability champions in Tempe, Palo Alto, and Philadelphia, as well as among the SAP Ariba team in Prague, with its “Reduce-Reuse” initiative.

In most cases, a strong collaboration of local facilities managers and sustainability champions is the key to success. At the SAP office in Barcelona, this resulted in tangible results: There is no plastic cutlery for internal events anymore, coffee and tea are now stirred with spoons instead of plastic sticks, and the large plastic bottles are to be replaced by osmosis machines.

SAP sustainability initiatives aligned with Plastic Free JulySAP employees are going beyond the SAP premises and contributing through beach clean-ups along the coast of Ireland, Normandie, and Southern France. Florian Simeon from the SAP Labs Mougins reported after World Oceans Day: “Even though there already was a beach clean-up at Fort Carré one week before, our team still collected 1,050 liters of waste, with a total weight of 80 kilograms in two hours and filled the SAP truck completely! At the end of the day, everybody was proud of the job accomplished and of having joined the waves initiatives to protect the oceans.”

It is always the people that matter and make a difference. United by a shared purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives, SAP employees all over the world are teaming up to take action.

The an internal online group shows that you don’t have to be in one location to become active, but can also virtually participate in sharing ideas for reducing single-use plastic at work and at home.

There is still a lot of work ahead, but this Plastic Free July (and beyond), there is hope that we can save the planet from drowning in plastic — if we all pull together.