SAP launches local Sustainability Executive Advisory Council

Strong role for CIOs to play in sustainability while chief sustainability officers struggle to find a place and voice

Despite the increasing focus on carbon emission reductions within IT and business, the widespread appointment of chief sustainability officers (CSOs) across Australia is unlikely, according to enterprise software giant, SAP.

Speaking to Computerworld Australiaahead of the company’s launch of its local Sustainability Executive Advisory Council, SAP’s chief sustainability officer and executive vice president of sustainability, Peter Graf, said an eventual carbon emissions trading scheme or tax on carbon emissions was unlikely to result in an increase in chief sustainability officers.

“When you have a tax or legislation it becomes a compliance issue, so [a CSO] is more prone to having the sustainability issue moved into the risk management or financial optimisation/finance department,” he said. “The point is that if you wait for legislation to hit, you’re not going to create any competitive advantage out of sustainability.”

CSOs who had been employed to address sustainability often face a hard time, struggling to be heard within their companies, Graf said.

“The successful sustainability officers I know are the ones who have an intrinsic understanding of how the business creates its value and have a career in where the value is created. That is the predominant model,” he said. “If I weren’t part of the development organisation and didn’t help create solutions for customers, then I would have smaller voice in the organisation.”

It’s a great time to talk about the business case of sustainability; it isn’t about tree hugging and philanthropy.

The net result for CIOs was that there was now a strong opportunity to sit down with the business and discuss sustainability beyond greening the data centre.

“CIOs I see in many organisations are distracted by the share of voice the data centre gets,” he said. “Greening the data centre is important but it is only 0.4 per cent of global emissions, according to McKinsey, so the real opportunity for the IT organisation is to understand the wider impact that sustainability has on every business process in the organisation.”

For its part, SAP’s Sustainability Executive Advisory Council will seek to address the issue of sustainability as it applies to every organisation regardless of market vertical or size, Graf said.

“Sustainability is an overarching concept which touches every industry in parallel,” Graf said. “It’s also a nascent software market, so for us it’s key to work with leading companies, understand their challenges in dealing with sustainability and examine the practices they have put in place. We can then put those practices into software and then help many, many companies based on the lessons these leaders have learned.”

Current Sustainability Executive Advisory Council members include Telstra and Corporate Express.

“It’s a great time to talk about the business case of sustainability; it isn’t about tree hugging and philanthropy,” Graf said. “There is a lot of money at stake in driving down the costs of compliance and improving resource intensity and energy efficiency of companies and have them bring out more sustainable products.”

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