During a recent project a client stated that from their clients perspective sustainability was all about cost reduction. This may appear a cynical remark but in reality few commercial organisations will invest where there isn’t a financial return. Of course the return may not be direct in terms of sales or cost savings. It may be enhanced reputation (= increased future sales) or less waste (= future cost saving) but it’s a brave CEO who commits expenditure for purely environmental protection reasons.

The global software and services company SAP recently announced its Quaterly Sustainability Update  headlined “SAP Saves Millions By Becoming More Sustainable”. SAP uses its own software to monitor its environmental performance, so it has an advantage and incentive to do so. The announcement goes on to explain that  ’emissions for the first quarter of 2011 rose by six percent compared with the first quarter of 2010.’ This is not good news. It is explained: ‘This can be attributed to a five percent increase in the number of employees in combination with increased air travel activities.’ Er.. that’s ok then. So as long as we track it and we know why it’s rising we continue as normal. Clearly this wouldn’t happen if the figure was related to sales or profitability!

The announcement finishes by stating that ‘Despite the six percent year-over-year quarterly increase, the company is still on track to meet its year-end emissions target of 465 kilotonnes (not including Sybase) – in line with its long-term strategy to reduce GHG emissions to year-2000 levels by 2020.’ I’m not trying to knock SAP, I am sure this is relatively good corporate practice and am just using it as an example but we’re going to have to be more radical than returning to 2000 if we are to make a real impact in reducing emissions.

And letting ourselves slip in one quarter, for no good reason, is not going to help.