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The Future of Sustainable Operations

What if sustainability didn’t require special effort? Get ready to roll up your sleeves because we gathered some ways to make green part of your day-to-day operations.

By SAP Insights | 5 min read

Sustainability stops becoming an extra effort, an add-on, when you design it into your business processes. And sustainability doesn’t always have to be the only goal in mind – sometimes you can create sustainable processes just by doing them better. Three overall trends define the future of sustainable operations:

  • Digital doppelgängers to the rescue. Data is the invisible partner that every physical process needs. It improves performance through better analysis, of course, but it also doesn’t cost much or take up much room. That makes it greener, too.
  • The exponential bandwagon gets some new players. Moore’s Law isn’t just for PCs anymore. There are other technologies surfing Gordo’s wave of exponential increases in performance and decreases in cost that boost operations and greenness.
  • There’s a new way to make stuff in town. The essential components in the manufacturing process are getting a makeover. The bill of materials is expanding to improve performance and sustainability.

You can learn more about how to make operations better (and greener) in the SAP Insights articles linked below.


The Future of Business Sustainability

How businesses are considering their impact on the planet at a strategic level.




The ghost of sustainable business operations

The emergence of digital twins. Digital twins – virtual replicas of physical objects – are helping operational leaders track and improve performance. Digital twins can identify ways to improve how a factory process works or when it’s time to fix a machine before it breaks down. Digitally enabling supply chains has the potential to create more efficient, resilient, and sustainable global trade. A digital twin could spot and solve many what-if scenarios to enable better decision-making for highly complex supply chains – if business partners are willing to share intelligence and data.


Learn more in “How Digital Twins Are Driving the Future of Business.”


Charge it, then recharge it. Renewable energy is becoming competitive. To make it transformative, we also need to reinvent a technology that most of us take for granted: the battery. Scientists, industry players, and venture capitalists are approaching battery power with solutions ranging from carbon nanotubes to electric charges harnessed from compost piles. Still, many challenges remain in the quest to produce the cheap, renewable, zero-carbon batteries that the world craves.


See what’s on tap at “How Future Batteries Could Save Civilization.” 




Surf, turf, and shimmer: The new ingredients in sustainable production processes

Alternatives to conventional materials offer promise. Researchers and innovative companies are rethinking the materials that businesses use throughout their operations. Take plastics, for example. Promising experiments in developing durable but biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics involve citrus peels, lobster shells, and soybean oil by-products. Other projects are creating alternative materials that offer superior performance while avoiding harmful environmental side effects. Some experimental materials even help regenerate natural ecosystems.


Check out “The Road to Regenerationfor a quick rundown of emerging plastic alternatives, textiles, construction materials, and other substances that meet industry needs while helping sustain the environment.


Advanced technologies are giving fashion a new look. The fashion industry has a sustainability problem. It’s on pace to generate 17.5 kilograms of waste for every citizen on Earth by 2030. Technology advances in everything, including sensors and fabrics, give the industry an opportunity to make a two-step change: less waste and more function. Among the innovations are clothes that will help us improve our performance and prevent injury on the job and those that change their appearance and function according to our requirements and desires.


Check out what’s on the fashion tech runway at “Fashion: The Future Interface Between Mind, Body, and Planet.”


 The Circular Economy Goes Mainstream

How enterprises are taking sustainability to its ultimate goal: zero waste.




Reaping the harvest of more sustainable management

Tech to preserve the natural world. Climate change, and the pollution and industrial expansion that exacerbate its risks, are leading to habitat loss and species extinction for the plants, animals, and other life forms that make Earth livable. Researchers are responding to the challenge with technologies designed to stem and reverse the damage, including satellite data that analyzes planetary health and sustainability and the planting of fast-growing trees that can remove high levels of metal from contaminated sewage.


Read more in “Technology for Biology: Preserving Biodiversity.”


Table stakes. None of the world’s challenges exist in isolation, but the need to put food on the table – indeed, to feed the hungry – is unique in its impact on the entire global economy. By applying technology innovations, we could shrink the environmental burden of farming, improve crop diversity so that diets are more nutritious and agriculture is more sustainable, help farmers produce more food while increasing their profits, and make food distribution safer and more efficient. If you consider that the globe’s population continues to rise, it’s a big deal.


Explore more in “The Future of Feeding the World.”


Calling out carbon. Researchers are finding intriguing ways to address elements of the climate crisis caused by carbon emissions – and providing signals of where future solutions may lie. Think: Fabric that collects solar energy so that your shirt can charge your phone. Generators that turn one drop of rainwater into energy that lights up 100 small LED bulbs. Electricity generated by the friction of elevator brakes. Using AI to spot model supply chains and find ways to cut carbon emissions.


Read “Emerging Technologies to Tackle Climate Change – By Land, Sea, and Air" for a summary of the innovative approaches being used to pinpoint sources of excessive carbon emissions and mitigate them.

Further reading

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