SAP: Eco goals for UK businesses clouded by lack of data

By John Pinching
SAP research finds UK businesses must overcome sustainability hurdles to capitalise on green opportunity

Computer software company SAP has unveiled research showing that UK organisations are overwhelmingly motivated to take environmental action. These are, however, suffering a sustainability headache as the path to a green future is clouded by organisational accountability, measurement and a lack of understanding.

The global study* of 7000+ business leaders, including over 400 from the UK, explores the motivations and barriers facing organisations as they look to improve the environment at a planetary scale. 

As climate change has become a permanent fixture on the global business agenda, it comes as little surprise that customer demand is the single biggest motivational factor (52%) for businesses to take environmental action, closely followed by the revenue and growth opportunity (48%). Despite the growing public awareness of sustainability issues, however, a variety of barriers are leading to inaction amongst UK businesses, and therefore damaging progress.

Spotlighting the UK’s knowledge gap

For instance, more than a third of UK leaders (35%) today struggle to align their eco-commitments with their overall business strategy, while the same number (35%) are uncertain on how to effectively embed sustainability into business processes and IT systems.

What’s more, these difficulties extend to the collection and analysis of data which UK leaders attribute to unsatisfactory data quality. The survey shows that 28% feel it is not collected frequently enough, 23% believe it is incomplete or does not cover the correct scope, 22% want it to be accessible sooner, while 21% believe there’s little transparency in how calculations are used to generate results. When comparing these results to the UK’s EU counterparts, the research suggests some differences. For example, just 7% lack confidence in the source of the data, compared to the UK’s 12%.

Putting the right foot forward

As UK businesses prepare to capitalise on the green opportunity, said to be worth $36.6bn globally by 2025, employees must feel a sense of shared responsibility if businesses are to realise these considerable benefits.

Yet, when asked which individuals in the company have been assigned accountability for actions to improve the environment, the UK overwhelmingly pointed towards senior management. Over one third (34%) identified this individual as the CEO, 23% said it’s the Chief Operating Officer and 22% said it’s the Chief Sustainability Officer.

Without a blueprint for success, both in terms of organisational ownership and environmental best practice, UK businesses are falling victim to indecision over measurement. For example, 26% prefer to use their own metrics developed in-house, while 12% follow the Global Reporting Initiative, 11% use the International Organisation for Standardisation and 10% use Science Based Targets-Initiative.

Michiel Verhoeven, Managing Director, SAP UKI, said: “While it’s encouraging to see that UK business leaders are committed to taking environmental action, they cannot allow barriers in actionable data, policies or guidance to stand in the way of the regenerative growth opportunity before them."

"At SAP, we pioneer purpose-led business partnerships to help our customers meet their goals and realise the commercial potential of building back greener. We showcase best practice in driving positive sustainable outcomes, and illuminate the way forward for meaningful change in areas such as supply chain traceability, footprint measurement and the circular economy,” he enthused.

Commenting on the research, Professor Peter Hopkinson at the University of Exeter said: “As we build up to significant moments in the sustainability calendar, like COP26, these findings reveal that UK businesses are needing more support to implement action on environment, carbon and resources.

"Key to this is building strategic programmes and pathways that demonstrate how innovative business models, product and service design, technology and whole system transformation built on circular economy principles can deliver new and higher levels of value creation. This will ultimately help accelerate the transition to net-zero sustainability.”

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