I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to India (provided by SAP) to investigate how IT is helping address issues of sustainability – from energy use to economic development to everything in between. Over the next week or two I’ll be publishing some of my experiences. You can follow along on this page.
Our trip to India began at SAP Labs Indian office in Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) with plenty of strong tea and a full day’s discussion about CSR, entrepreneurship and the many challenges of working in India. A good place to start our story is with the campus itself, a pleasant LEED-qualified oasis amid the hustle of Bengaluru’s manic traffic.
From 150 employees in 1998, SAP Labs India has grown to about 4,500 employees today, plus thousands of support staff, most of whom work in the main Bengaluru office. Office parks are a dime a dozen in Bengaluru and tech campuses offer a lot of the same amenities you might find in Silicon Valley such as leafy grounds, modern architecture, free cafeterias for employees and so on.
SAP Labs has all of that, but has taken a few extra measures that go well beyond the architectural to make certain environmental goals are met and that employees are both happy and productive – including comprehensive day care, a startup style “Apphaus,” and 100 percent composting of organic waste and paper.
Take a scroll through the photo essay below to get your bearings:
Among the most interesting features on campus is the composting center, known as the “organic waste treatment plant” (see photo essay above). The brainchild of employees, the composting building takes in all garden waste, paper and food scraps from the cafeteria and turns it into soil in about 14 days. A small staff is employed to keep the process running. The majority of the rich soil is used on the various garden projects on the campus, but extra is often given to employees.
Recognizing the drawbacks of an “engineering only” way of thinking, SAP has made strides to introduce a “design thinking” discipline among employees. The ultimate manifestation of this is the so-called “Apphaus,” perched atop a neighboring building removed from the main campus. The “Apphaus” is like a special projects center where teams of employees who have been trained in design thinking can sequester themselves away to develop a new product or feature. They have 90 days to take their concept from inception to viability or the project generally gets scrapped.
Inside the Apphaus are all the comforts of a San Francisco startup, from the cubicle-free open space to the writable walls to the ping pong table. Rana Chakrabarti, who runs a team called “DNA” (Design and New Applications) credits the environment with accelerating the development process. “Basically, when someone has an idea or a response to a problem, we can just converse immediately in this room rather than waiting for email or a phone call.” He acknowledged, however, that the environment was still a somewhat new concept to many at SAP Labs and took some getting used to.
Finally, the lower floors of the Apphaus building are occupied by a day care center. It may seem like something commonplace today, but prior to 2007, SAP suffered an attrition rate of more than 60 percent when female employees became pregnant. The problem (obvious in hindsight) was the lack of any sort of day care facility at the company. VR Ferose, the young managing director of SAP Labs India, shared an impressive statistic: since the construction of the day care facility, attrition for new mothers has fallen to only 2 percent.
It’s a classic employee engagement lesson and also a cornerstone of SAP’s CSR accomplishments. (I’ll have more on Ferose and SAP Labs CSR later on..)
Room for improvement?
Although the campus is impressive, energy remains the elephant in the room in India. The country’s overtaxed power grid is now something of legend, and is mostly powered by coal. SAP Labs India and the city of Bengaluru manages to get about 50 percent of their energy from nearby hydro projects, but the company relies on diesel generators for the rest of their power. There isn’t any clear plan to change this in the near future, although efficient building design has made a dent in the volume of power consumed.