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Friday Anecdote: How SAP Labs' Sustainability Culture Made Buses More Efficient

Words by Nick Aster
Data & Technology

One of the "hard to prove" principals we write about here at TriplePundit is the idea that if a company's culture can simply be made aware of sustainability then inspiration will follow.  New ideas around sustainability will start to evolve, and some will take root to not only reduce a company's negative externalities, but bring forth new and profitable business ideas.

SAP Labs is the research and development arm of SAP with about a dozen global locations.  I had a chance to talk to SAP Labs' Latin America director Stefan Wagner this week in São Paulo about some of the innovation taking place at his organization, and sustainability was very much at the core of what he had to talk about.

SAP Labs Latin America is located in São Leopoldo, near Porto Alegre, Brazil.  Stefan was particularly excited by the imminent opening of a huge expansion to the facility that will roughly double the number of employees to about 1,000 this December.  The new building is LEED Gold certified, and the organization partners with 3 different local universities providing jobs and other opportunities for students who make up about 30 percent of the workforce at any given time (PDF link).  The strongly sustainable attributes of the campus and new building are a constant theme of discussion in both external and internal communication.  So when new projects are suggested by teams it's not surprising that a theme of sustainability enters the equation.

More than 200 SAP Labs employees commute to the office on an employee shuttle bus from Porto Alegre every day.  Much like the Google busses that seem to back up in my neighborhood every morning in San Francisco, the SAP busses are an appreciated perk with obvious environmental benefits.  However anything that can make them run more efficiently would have triple bottom line benefits - faster commutes for people, less emissions for the environment and financial savings for the company.

So an SAP team set about creating a product called Time2Go (Link in Portuguese).  The concept is really quite clever: Give each bus driver a tablet which runs an app that can receive messages from employees who might be out sick or for whatever reason not riding the bus that day.  Given a few absences, the app can re-route the bus to reduce the journey time for everyone else resulting in savings across the board.  As an added bonus it makes keeping track of who's on the bus a bit easier.  It's still a very experimental project, but results have been good enough that the nearby partner university will be adopting the technology on a trial basis for their own bus system.

What's next?  It's hardly mature technology, but  the commercial implications are potentially great. Any private transit system that is set to pick up people on a specific schedule (like many of the companies in Silicon Valley) stands to benefit from a more intelligent routing system.  We'll see where this concept ends up!

Ed Note: Travel to Brazil for the Author was covered by SAP