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Becoming sustainable by design

How leaders can make better decisions and a bigger impact by embedding sustainability across the enterprise

Among many large global organisations that rely on SAP solutions, sustainability is dominating conversations at each level of the enterprise. Corporate decision-makers realise that their stakeholders increasingly want them to take action when it comes to their impact on the planet. These leaders also realise that the sustainability of their very businesses depend on the sustainability of Earth’s natural resources and our environment.

At the same time, combatting the challenge of climate change can feel overwhelming, bringing big questions such as: Where should we begin? What role can SAP solutions play? Are we making a difference? And how do we really know that what we are doing matters? Throw in economic uncertainty, geopolitical conflict, supply chain disruptions and talent shortages and the challenge can feel even more insurmountable. But doing nothing is not an option.

A reason to be optimistic

The good news? You have many options for making a positive impact when it comes to sustainability and there is a growing sense of optimism among enterprise leaders. The Deloitte 2023 CxO Sustainability Report reveals that, while concern over climate change continues to be a top business priority, the vast majority of CxOs surveyed share the view that the world can achieve global economic growth while also reaching climate change goals.1

Still, there continues to be a gap between actions and impact as organisations tend to be slower to implement the “needle-moving” actions that embed sustainability into the core of their strategies, operations and cultures. So how can you do that? Here are some key ideas for beginning or continuing that journey.

Understand what is possible. Recognise the role your business can play. You can make a positive impact. You cannot solve climate change by yourself. It will take the combined efforts of many companies. And within each of those companies, it will take a collection of actions, big and small, each helping to nudge your business in a more sustainable direction.

Design to decide. Across your SAP-enabled business processes, each of those nudges can effectively be decision points for action and they each add up. A nudge might represent a choice of suppliers, materials or production methods that can help you to get to a smaller carbon footprint, for example. But you should design your data, processes and systems in a way that can enable those nudges to help capture the right data and provide meaningful insights and action at those decision points. In other words, you should become an enterprise that is “sustainable by design”.

Today’s intelligent technologies, cloud solutions and integration services allow you to take a “sustainable by design” approach without upending your entire IT and business process landscape. And for many, a transformation or migration to a new SAP platform provides a rare opportunity to get things “right” from the start—and to help make the inevitable changes required for operating more sustainably and efficiently. Such a “right from the start” approach can also help avoid costly process changes in the future and minimise the impact on business users.

Make the connections. To design effectively for sustainability, you should think and engage across silos, functions and Region—to help create a truly end-to-end environment, culture and process landscape for improving decision-making. Thinking about sustainable changes in only one part of the business, for example, might mean you miss out on opportunities to make an even bigger impact across the entire business. Conduct a current state assessment now, to assess how well your organisation is actually connected and to determine the potential for new value—helping you to avoid regrets later on. A key part of creating your connected vision will likely require dedicated sustainability-focused professionals and those may become increasingly difficult to find as adoption of sustainability practices and tools increases.

Working toward answers and actions

As you begin to bring these ideas together, it is important to know what questions to ask and where to ask them. When executed well, a “sustainable by design” enterprise can help you answer questions such as:

  • Can we reduce carbon impact by making a Products in one location versus another, knowing that there may be a marginal increase in cost?
  • Can we give customers a choice in how and when they receive deliveries, showing them what the different options mean when it comes to carbon impact?
  • Can we use hydrogen or alternative fuels at some point in the value chain to help reduce carbon impact—and if so, where, how and to what degree?
  • Can we see what it means for the planet when you change the percentage of a particular material (steel, for example) that goes into a Products?
  • Can we also get a clear view of the regulations and taxes that come into play as you explore such questions and potential decisions? For example, do plastic taxes in a particular region help build an even stronger business case for sustainable practices?

What’s next?

At Deloitte, we have been working with clients for more than 25 years to help answer questions like these. Solutions sets like SAP Cloud for Sustainable Enterprises and SAP S/4HANA have made real-time insights a reality. For example, with SAP solutions and related Deloitte tools, we have been able to help one transportation industry client model scenarios using 150% more data points, requiring 50% fewer people and ultimately making better sustainability decisions. That’s impact.

And though Deloitte has been working at the intersection of digital business and sustainability for many years, building a global sustainability team of nearly 1,000 practitioners in addition to more than 26,000 SAP-focused practitioners, we realise that we have much further to go. That’s why Deloitte continues to develop offerings and assets that are aligned with SAP solutions for sustainability, ESG and circular economy—including SAP Sustainability Control Tower, SAP Products Footprint Management, SAP Responsible Design and Production and SAP ESG reporting solutions.

Sustainability as an enterprise priority will likely only grow in importance and Deloitte is optimistic that today’s SAP solutions, as well as future innovations, can give leaders a way to keep up with their sustainability ambitions, stakeholder expectations and business realities. The key? Anchoring your vision in a “sustainable by design” approach that can allow you to embed sustainability throughout the enterprise.

Want to see what a “sustainable by design” approach looks like in action? Just contact us at to get more insights on sustainable transformation, schedule a demo of SAP solutions or discuss a specific challenge your organisation may be facing.