SAP Industries, the world’s largest provider of enterprise application software, is helping companies achieve this using digital technologies.
A circular economy, according to a report published by the World Economic Forum, is an industrial system that is conceived and designed to embrace restoration, renewable energy and waste elimination, and eradicate the use of toxic chemicals.
To do this, organizations must move away from an archaic “make, use, dispose” mode of operating to a “take, make, use, recycle” business model, says SAP co-president Peter Maier.
“We need to acknowledge resource scarcity and conserve the planet for generations to come while providing for a growing population,” he adds.
The company encourages customers to align corporate goals with the United Nations Sustainable Development Plan, to help identify their purpose and move towards a circular economy with zero waste.
SAP itself strives to make a significant contribution to climate protection, aiming, for instance, to be completely carbon neutral by 2025 – one of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.
Intelligent technologies such as machine learning – Internet of Things (IoT) – and blockchain are “key drivers” in this process, explains Maier, helping companies operate more efficiently and profitably.
To transform a linear economy into a circular economy, the whole lifecycle of a product needs to be reconceived, “from design, manufacturing and delivery to usage and maintenance”, says Maier.
An example is their Plastics Challenge, using a ‘Plastics Cloud’ to unite consumers and companies and remove plastic from the supply chain.
“The challenge educates consumers on how we typically interact with plastic, the proper ways and locations to dispose of plastic,” Maier explains.
After seeking public input and brainstorming ideas with major companies and the U.K. Design Thinkers Academy, a protype app was developed. It will educate consumers and reward them for recycling and choosing eco-friendly packaging while giving direct feedback to suppliers about product choices.
The next step is to apply the technologies in machine learning, big data and cloud to generate real world solutions via large-scale collaboration.
“We can’t do it on our own,” says Jane Skelton, head of packaging at Sainsbury’s, in a video-taped interview. “Anything that’s shared and common is incredibly important.”
The possibilities for creating a circular economy and streamlining workflows and processes extend to countless different industries.
For example, successful initiatives arising from working with organizations include reducing water waste, monitoring earthquake risk and protecting elephants and rhinoceroses.
In India, SAP teamed up with leading pipe and water storage solution company Vectus to help address their water crisis. They implemented IoT and mobile technologies to pinpoint leaking water pipes and avoid water wastage.
The app gives plumbers information about faulty pipes and the quickest way to replace them. As a result, Vectus has achieved a 15% drop in operating costs. SAP hopes this technology can help overhaul irrigation systems globally by constructing improved irrigation systems.
In Japan, earthquakes are an almost daily reality. Manufacturing company Hakusan partnered with SAP to create an app that analyses seismic data through in-memory computing services placed on buildings.
This enables information about the buildings’ structural integrity to be sent rapidly to contractors, so the company can give residents peace of mind.
In Africa, wild elephants and rhinos are facing extinction through poachers, trophy hunters and wildlife traffickers. SAP helped non-profit organization Elephants, Rhinos and People (ERP) to address this problem.
To do this, they created “an air force in the sky” using drone technology. The IoT technology, Maier explains, analyses drone data in the cloud – taken from a GPS on the animals’ collars – and sends it to rangers on the ground within 24 hours. This tracking information helps workers anticipate if the animals are moving into a poaching area and thus keep them safe.
Solving global issues such as pollution, waste, biodiversity, climate change, water and food security need multi-level solutions, tackled at all levels. And businesses can play a major role while simultaneously spring-cleaning their own processes.
“As our global consumption of resources increases with every passing year,” Maier says, “it’s up to the biggest and most influential brands in the world to drive the discussion of becoming a circular economy and continue to reduce our negative impact on the environment.”