Each year on April 22, Earth Day is celebrated in more than 193 countries to advocate for environmental protection. It may be hard to believe, but the first Earth Day was half a century ago.
During the 1950s and 1960s, industries were emitting vast amounts of pollutants with hardly any consequences from the law, consumers, or the media. People were mostly oblivious to environmental concerns and the threat to human health. This perception changed when a massive oil spill in California inspired an unprecedented movement that united students, politicians, and everyday citizens to demonstrate against the devastating impact of 150 years of industrial development.
The first Earth Day in 1970 signaled the birth of the modern environmental movement.
A Turning Point
As the chief sustainability officer at SAP, I am keenly aware of the fundamental impact business and industry have on society, the economy, and the environment. Despite growing environmental awareness, the Earth has continued to take a massive amount of abuse since the first Earth Day.
The facts are alarming: according to the World Wildlife Organization, wildlife populations have plummeted 69% in 50 years. Human activities have doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, causing climate change that severely impacts weather and natural habitats. Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly, with only nine percent of plastic being recycled. The devastation to life on land and in the oceans is heartbreaking.
But there is good news as well. The modern-day grassroots movement triggered by young people has been highly successful, inspiring older generations with their determination to make the world a better place. At the same time, there has been a strong surge in governmental action and other movements such as the United Nations (UN) Convention on Climate Change and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for Circular Economy.
Importantly, business can be the game changer as companies realize that environmental preservation and social justice must be a prominent element in their holistic strategy to ensure long-term survival.
Enabling Sustainable Impact
At SAP, we are very aware of the challenges our customers face as they strive to meet their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) commitments. Being able to reliably track and manage their progress is one major challenge. Our products and services aim to address this and help our customers record, report, and act on their ESG ambitions while incorporating sustainability in their business end to end.
SAP customers around the world generate 87% of total global commerce, which comes with a social and environmental footprint. We have an opportunity here to influence for the better — and we are taking it, with solutions supporting companies to measure and improve sustainability across entire networks, allowing them to effectively work toward an aspiration of zero emissions, zero waste, and zero inequality.
This journey is impossible without partnerships. SAP is teaming up to drive sustainable change with customers as well as a variety of other stakeholders. For example, we were among the first 50 signatories of the UN Global Compact and we co-founded the Value Balancing Alliance. In collaboration with the WBCSD, we work to enable companies to gain full transparency of their product life cycle and supply chain emissions. And we joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation network to accelerate the adoption of circular economy practices and processes.
Leading by Example
At SAP, we do not have a sustainability strategy, we have a business strategy that is sustainable. We believe economic, social, and environmental factors and performance are interrelated and integrate these in the holistic steering of our business. Consequently, SAP executive short-term incentive compensation includes sustainability targets (key performance indicators for sustainability) such as our carbon impact on top of financial targets.
We have set ourselves ambitious environmental targets in our Global Environmental Policy to foster the continuous enhancement of our environmental impact. This includes our science-based target to achieve net zero along our entire value chain in line with a 1.5° c future in 2030 — 20 years earlier than originally planned.
Executing on these targets is a company-wide effort and I am proud of our collaborative achievements. Our data centers and buildings worldwide have been running on 100% renewable energy since 2014. We use internal carbon pricing to offset business-related carbon emissions. We are phasing out single-use plastics. By 2025, one-third of our fleet will be ecofriendly cars, and all cars procured thereafter will be electric. SAP’s environmental management system is implemented in over 50 sites in 29 countries worldwide and is certified by the renowned ISO 14001:2015 standard.
SAP is also one of the most diverse and inclusive software companies in the world, dedicated to building a business without bias. We have built an inclusive workplace, giving people the skills to thrive in a digital world and a culture that supports their health and well-being.
Besides following ethical business practices that respect and promote human rights and secure human rights due diligence as required, for example, in the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, we are very active when it comes to promoting social and inclusive entrepreneurship, offering programs and partnerships that range from inspiring early-stage innovation to scaling mature social enterprises.
Earth Day 2023 is a day to remember what we can accomplish together and how much more we still need to do. The movement pushed by the first Earth Day in 1970 has become a global force that has changed the way people think and act upon the environment. Regulators, investors, companies, consumers, and everyday citizens increasingly recognize the need to invest in our planet. But time is of the essence: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” the latest IPCC report states.
I feel humbled by the contributions we have achieved as a company. These results were only possible thanks to visionary leaders and SAP’s highly motivated, dedicated employees working in every line of business and every region of the world. As our latest employee engagement surveys showed, 82% of SAP employees actively contribute to the company’s sustainability goals. Many of them are driving specific programs today to inspire even more colleagues to join in.
In celebration of Earth Day 2023, I want to acknowledge our employees’ outstanding efforts, alongside those of like-minded supporters across the globe, and invite all of us to collectively step up in safeguarding our planet.
Daniel Schmid is chief sustainability officer of SAP SE.