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Are you, like me, trying to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle?

If yes, you probably are struggling with challenges similar to the ones I am experiencing. I have to admit, that my family and I are not vegans, although we are trying to become more vegetarian, maybe as an intermediate step. As a consequence, we still consume quite a bit of milk, particularly my kids. Until recently, we bought our milk in milk cartons. However, when I took a closer look at our personal waste composition at home, I realized that the waste related to our milk consumption was a key driver.

I then researched which kind of milk packaging and which milk supply chain is the most sustainable for us. Unfortunately, I had to realize that answering this supposedly simple question is not that easy. As products like milk do not have something like a standardized "sustainability score" printed on the packaging, I have to make a best guess based on my own research and my own gut feeling.

From what I read, milk cartons can be better than returnable glass bottles from a CO2 footprint point of view as cartons are lighter than glass bottles and thus produce less transportion-related CO2. Milk cartons represent a complex type of packaging consisting of multiple materials which are not that trivial to recycle. Returnable bottles in contrast need to be cleaned with significant amounts of water and chemicals before reuse. The optimal option seemed to be driving to a farmer and to pick up the milk in my own reusable containers. However, through another article I was reminded that such an approach might also have a bad CO2 footprint if everybody drove by car to a farmer outside of the city instead of walking to the grocery store next door.

Returnable Milk Bottles

In the end, I decided to give returnable milk bottles with milk from a close-by region a try. From what I learned, this choice seems to optimize waste and CO2 emissions, if the milk does not get transported too far. Whether this is true or not is probably debatable and at least I cannot prove myself true or wrong. Nevertheless, I wanted to use this personal example to illustrate something that I realized over the last couple of weeks and which is true both for individual consumers as well as larger organizations.

Sustainability is a balancing act. Trying to reduce waste can come at the expense of CO2 emissions or the personal water footprint, and without good data from the supply chain or whole value chain, it continues to be guess work.

Therefore, as a consumer, I am very happy to see that more and more companies are becoming more active and more outspoken about their sustainability efforts, including the usage of labels and certificates like Fairtrade, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, etc. However, ideally, I would like to see something like a standardized "sustainability score" which takes all sustainability aspects into consideration (e.g. all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals) on all products I consider buying.

As my simple milk supply problem illustrates, this comes down to a data availability and insights problem. Therefore, considering the pervasiveness of SAP software in the business world, I am personally excited to see that the sustainability-related solution portfolio from SAP is constantly growing!

SAP Product Footprint Management became generally available in August, and sustainability is getting embedded as a "green line" into various solutions like SAP Integrated Business Planning. SAP Responsible Design and Production is the latest addition. If you want to learn more about all these sustainability solutions, you should make yourself a follower of the SAP Sustainability Community.

With respect to learning more about SAP Responsible Design and Production in particular, I suggest joining the upcoming SAP Community Call dedicated to this topic. The call will start at 3:30pm CET on upcoming Monday, November 15th, and features gunther.rothermel, SVP & Head of SAP S/4HANA Sustainability, as well as james.sullivan, Head of Product Management SAP S/4HANA Sustainability.
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