SAP will cut its employees' contribution to global warming by 60 percent by 2020, co-chief executive Léo Apotheker said at the CeBIT trade show in Hanover.
But, he said, the effect of SAP's internal efforts will be small: No matter how hard the IT industry works to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, they still account for only two percent of world emissions.
A more effective way to limit global warming is to use IT to improve the performance of everything else, he said. "We need to help companies to reduce the other 98 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. ... Sustainable business processes are key to that."
Green IT is one of the themes of the show this year. While there are plenty of power-saving servers on display, it's not all about energy efficiency: Exhibitors are illustrating Apotheker's point by showing how IT can contribute to reducing pollution and waste, eliminating unnecessary travel, and promoting innovation in other industries.
Apotheker highlighted other areas in which IT can contribute to solving environmental and social problems, including food security, a term which can mean guaranteeing the quality and safety of a particular product, or ensuring that a whole country has enough to eat.
Integrating IT systems all along the supply chain can help by increasing traceability, reducing waste and allowing better planning of stocks and deliveries, he suggested, adding that one way to do this is through the increased use of RFID (radio frequency identification) tags.
Other problems he thinks IT can help solve include meeting the needs of the next wave of consumers in developing countries in a sustainable manner, and dealing with the demographic shifts in developed countries with aging populations.
A more pressing problem for most businesses, though, is the current economic crisis. Apotheker sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is still a long way off.
"We will see this market start to move again in ... the first or second quarter of 2010," he predicted. "But I could be wrong."