SAP Watch

Jan 13 2010   4:37AM GMT

Wal-Mart, SAP and sustainability

CourtneyBjorlin Courtney Bjorlin Profile: CourtneyBjorlin

If you’re one Wal-Mart’s 100,000 suppliers, you know that the retail giant has become somewhat synonymous with sustainability. Wal-Mart’s taking measures to be supplied 100% by renewable energy, create zero waste and sell products that sustain people and the environment over the next five years.

And if you’re even marginally tuned into SAP, you know the vendor’s big push over the last year or so has been to sell software that will help companies with sustainability initiatives like Wal-Mart’s.

The two took the stage to highlight their respective sustainability stories at the National Retail Federation annual trade show yesterday in front of a standing-room only crowd of attendees. SAP also shared details on its leading sustainability practices, and its product roadmap.

SAP says it has some 2,000 customers using its sustainability software.

Too bad Wal-Mart isn’t one of those customers.

“Not yet,” was the answer SAP Chief Sustainability Officer Peter Graf gave when asked whether Wal-Mart was using any of SAP’s sustainability software.

To be fair, a deal could be in the works. But it made me question who’s actually buying this sustainability software. It would seem that Wal-Mart is a natural fit for SAP’s software. It’s a big SAP customer, and a total of 85% of Wal-Mart’s suppliers are SAP customers.

If Wal-Mart isn’t running it, who is? And if Wal-Mart isn’t running it, why? Have they found something better out there? Or have they found they can manage and track these programs with software they already have?

It would make sense. We’ve heard over and over again that companies are trying to get more value from the very expensive applications they already have in place.

And by extension, the mood at yesterday’s NRF show was one of cautious optimism. Most of the folks I spoke with said they weren’t planning any big application purchases this year. In fact, a few told me they weren’t at NRF to look for applications at all.

Graf said sustainability is no longer “all tree-hugging and luxury.” I think that’s true. There are few businesses out there that haven’t figured out that switching to more efficient light bulbs or idling computers will save them money in the long run, or that consumers are starting to care more about sustainable business practices in the creation of the products they buy.

But is sustainability software still a luxury?

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