Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This proverb dating back to the 1600s could not be more appropriate today as enterprises around the world grapple with the biggest business challenge of our lifetimes: creating a sustainable future.

Unsurprisingly, many companies are daunted by the seemingly insurmountable challenges, so SAP and Accenture are taking action to help them.

The Right Time

By now, we all know we must radically change the way businesses run, our impact on the environment, and the inequalities in society. That’s the only way to ensure a lifestyle that allows us to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

The signs are everywhere. Consumers are increasingly aware about the negative environmental impact of products and services, such as fast fashion, single-use plastics, food waste, and excessive packaging. They are demanding accountability and responsible business models from their favorite brands. Governments are increasing regulations around carbon emissions and waste management and are demanding manufacturers to take responsibility for their impact on the environment.

Enterprises are under pressure from investors to include their environmental, societal, and governance (ESG) factors in their financial performance reports. And finally, employees are increasingly vocal about the environmental policies and actions of their employers. Businesses know they need to act, but few are rising to the challenge.

A study by Accenture found while the United Nations (UN) Global Compact’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) program has challenged companies to enhance their commitment to the UN SDGs, only 25% have set goals aligned to societal or environmental needs. Although CEOs acknowledge the universal call-to-action to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, less than 50% have implemented sustainability into their operations.

The Challenge

As a survey of business drivers and actions to improve the environment at planetary scale conducted by SAP Insights revealed there are numerous barriers. Almost 7,500 CEOs and other business leaders from 16 industries around the globe participated in the survey. The top three reasons they cited for not moving ahead were lack of clarity on how to embed sustainability in business processes and IT systems, lack of clarity on how potential actions would align with strategy, and difficulty proving return on investment. Other factors include lack of funding, lack of expertise, or lack of support from senior management.

The challenges are daunting, which is why solving sustainability issues is not something individual corporations or governments can do alone.  The way ahead involves cooperation and collaboration. In this decade of delivery, partnerships are crucial.

A Will and a Way

Accenture and SAP, for example, have just announced they are expanding their long-term engagement to help companies embed sustainability across the full spectrum of their business operations. This will help unlock new value and realize long-term growth.

By combining SAP technology with Accenture’s Sustainability Services, the partners plan to jointly create new solutions that can empower companies to accelerate their progress on decarbonizing their supply chains and capture their share of the projected $4.5 trillion economic growth that the circular economy could bring.

Together, Accenture and SAP will develop the new SAP Responsible Production and Design solution, which will help companies consume fewer resources and build sustainability within the design process. It will also enable companies to apply analytics to the operational, asset, and process data collected across the value chain. Such an integrated view will help them determine clear sustainability goals and metrics across business processes.

As a result, companies will be able to reduce the costs of compliance and extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulation by designing and producing products with more recycled content and less waste.

Accenture also supports SAP’s Climate 21 initiative, which allows companies in any industry to use analytics to measure and minimize carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and lower the carbon footprint across the product life cycle. Adding sustainability metrics across the supply chain provides an integrated view of environmental savings and helps optimize operations.

This type of co-innovation could help solve some of the barriers cited in the SAP Insights survey. Embedding sustainability in business processes and IT systems and measuring return on investment (ROI) gives enterprises a better understanding of how to fund their sustainability efforts. With time and success companies can gain expertise, set aside funds, and engage senior leadership to support their sustainability journey.

Call to Action

The Accenture study identifies three things leaders anywhere in any industry can do to start implementing and scaling plans of action to address climate change, social inequalities, and resource availability.

  • Raise ambition and impact: Leaders must drive change in their own organizations, and through the disruption of market systems.
  • Change collaboration: Key players must connect in new ways because meaningful transformation is not a solo sport.
  • Redefine responsible leadership: Leaders must embrace their role as change agents to champion the sustainability agenda.

To learn more about the SAP and Accenture partnership for a sustainable future, join the virtual SAP Sustainability Summit, taking place April 28-29. The event will focus on how companies are reducing their environmental footprints and managing limited resources productively while steering and reporting their businesses holistically.

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