Innovating with Purpose to Design Plastics out of the Supply Chain

My position at SAP is about creating scalable impact through emerging technologies. Traditionally, this has meant using intelligent technologies to improve business’ supply chain and operations, but now we aim to improve the state of our planet through more efficient supply chain management from end to end.

A mere 9% of all virgin plastic generated since 1950 has been recycled, 12% incinerated. The rest (a staggering 6.3 billion tonnes) shamefully ends up in landfill or polluting our natural environment. In fact, over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our oceans every year, threatening the lives of over 1,200 marine-life species.

SAP’s Ocean Plastics Vision 2030 aims to revert ocean plastic levels to those of the 1990s. As a tech company, SAP realises that we can’t achieve this alone – we need the right partners for creating collaborative improvement across a global network of organisations.

SAP powers over 77% of the world’s movements of goods and services across the end-to-end value chain. This puts us in an incredible position to effect enormous good by harnessing our international reach across numerous industries. Eight out of ten of the world’s largest FMCG businesses are already working with SAP on this initiative to address global plastic use, disposal, and recycling.

SAP Leonardo Plastics Challenge

Developed for the sake of our planet and future generations, the SAP Leonardo Plastics Challenge poses the questions – how do we redesign global supply chains to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) plastic waste?

The purpose of this initiative was to bring together businesses and consumers to share experiences and create fresh ideas that could bring a positive and sustainable impact on the issue of plastic pollution.

Since environmental impact is a global concern that spans across industries, SAP gathered a mix of businesses and organisations from the SAP client base. This included consumer brands, retail brands, supply-chain manufacturers, waste management, technology and media, and influencer industries such as finance and government – all looking at the challenges we face and the intelligent technologies that can address these problems.

Over three days, attendees offered different responses to this poignant issue, so a number of metrics were explored such as feasibility, scalability, legality of data use, and timeframes, which is vital since the need for change is imminent. The overarching concept developed was named The Plastics Cloud, which uses intelligent technologies across different industry sectors to create a more sustainable way of working and living.

The winning idea that emerged from the Plastics Challenge – Reward for Change – was an app designed to incentivise consumers to make better buying decisions around the use of plastics. An API plugs into an existing loyalty card scheme and gives consumers immediate visibility of their shopping by red, yellow, and green labels. Red items contain high levels of plastic or non-recyclable materials, while green items contain little to no plastic and help drive loyalty rewards into consumer accounts.

Consumers can provide feedback to retailers about why they made their purchasing decisions. This is an important feedback loop creating a win-win for consumers and retailers – consumers recognise the importance of reducing their environmental impact, retailers shift to more sustainable packaging, resulting in enhanced customer experience and reduced production costs in the long run.

Another app from the Challenge was Recyclemate, which looks at the points of disposal and equips consumers with the knowledge of where they can recycle or dispose of specific waste materials and packaging. Using image recognition, users can compare waste against a database of products and packaging types to learn the correct disposal method.

The app utilises machine learning, big data, and analytics, all part of the SAP Leonardo platform. This data utilises and contributes to the “plastics cloud,” which contains real-time information of all the plastic that enters the waste system. This in turn allows waste managers to see and predict where waste is generated and understand its wider impact on the system.

SAP is building a global ecosystem of thought leaders that share a passion for creating meaningful change at scale to positively impact our vulnerable environment. One such example is the recent Oceans Plastic Leadership Summit, where SAP served as an advisor alongside WWF, National Geographic, and other industry leaders in sustainability.

To understand more about how we’re working with industry experts and emerging technologies to create sustainable improvement, please join us at at e’ffect at Carriageworks on August 8 where I will be presenting alongside thought leaders such as Taronga Zoo CEO Cameron Kerr, Pyskinetic Founder and CEO Dr Jordan Nguyen, renowned physicist Dr Adriana Marais, and many more.