Many sustainability strategies struggle to scale. Why? Because for-profit organisations need to retain that aspect as a primary consideration. Process mining technology is able to find optimisation opportunities which can be a win-win both for the environment and a company’s shareholders. Sustainable Future News speaks to Janina Bauer at Celonis to find out more.
Janina Bauer, global head of sustainability at process mining software provider Celonis, talks about her journey into the space. It is not one crammed full of experience – though her previous employers include Siemens Healthineers and the United Nations – but it is certainly full of curiosity.
“I was usually drawn by just understanding those systemic challenges we face when we look at societal problems, or planet problems,” Bauer tells Sustainable Future News. “Ultimately, I think I ended up understanding that we needed scalable solutions for it.”
Hence Celonis, of whom more shortly. Yet there is an interesting discussion to be had around routes into the role. Indeed, Bauer has just returned from a sustainability conference where this topic came up. Unlike other executive posts where experience is often the watchword, there are many different backgrounds and journeys to becoming a head of sustainability. Enthusiasm can trump expertise. Case in point: Bauer admits that when she joined the company there was no substantive sustainability strategy or department in place. The role has – to a degree – grown around her initiative.
Yet there is another important point. Whether your background is environmental, economic, creative, or something else, forward-thinking sustainability heads need to have aptitude in all of these areas as the role – and organisations’ strategies – evolve.
“When I studied [sustainability], we talked a lot about corporate citizenship – and then there was a CSR movement, there was this idea of doing ethical and compliance pieces in the company,” says Bauer. “At that time, a sustainability manager was mostly focused on environmental issues as a company, more on the compliance piece, which wasn’t to be honest always the most attractive role.
“What we see now is that the role requires a couple of really new skills and things we haven’t seen in the last years,” Bauer adds. “It does require that you have an economic mindset so you can link sustainability to the business operations, to the strategic goals of a company. It requires that you be innovative and creative; it requires a lot of communication skills that you usually get from corporate communication departments. It can require that you are super data-driven and even come from a financial background and understand the accounting aspect of what you have to do. You can even get into the role coming from a product perspective if you have worked at solutions.
“So what we see now is that more and more people with very different backgrounds get into those roles because they do bring components that we will need to solve the challenges.”
Celonis’ platform utilises patented process mining technology, which extracts knowledge from event logs available in organisations’ information systems to enable business processes – and their variations – to be visualised. If you have ever used a process mapping tool or attended a seminar on the topic, Celonis promises that process mining is quicker, cheaper, and more accurate.
With efficiency the name of the game, sustainability is therefore a clear transformation opportunity for such technology. “Process mining is a technology that helps you bring the data sources together that you will need for being compliant, and doing the reporting, and fulfilling the requirements that you get externally,” explains Bauer. “But it does it in a way that it is really happening simultaneously to how your business runs.
“I think that is very crucial, because it also enables teams to come together and collaborate,” Bauer adds. “What we see still and, unfortunately, way too often in the sustainability space, is we create siloed solutions.”
Case studies range from carbon reduction, to more efficient spend based on suppliers’ ESG performance. The sweet spot is a win-win for shareholders and the environment; ABInBev saw a 17% reduction in distance travelled by delivery trucks, which equated to millions in cost savings.
ALDI SÜD is another example where CO2 emissions and transport costs could be reduced at the same time. The supermarket retailer attended a Celonis sustainability hackathon – and took home first prize for its freight consolidation solution, focusing on its outbound transportation process from central warehouses to stores.
“What I think that example also interestingly shows is that it’s not always the sustainability team that drives a change,” notes Bauer. “In this case, it was also their Centre of Excellence (CoE) and their IT team that was actually realising that [they] have a tool at hand that could help them for other company goals that they might not have considered beforehand.”
The CoE being an active participant is something Celonis has increasingly noted with its customers. Yet Bauer observes that the trend of IT becoming the primary stakeholder will only solidify – and it is her big prediction for the coming year.
“Companies understand there’s certain trends out there, and I think the rise of AI has really also accelerated that piece,” says Bauer. “Companies understand that they have to have their technology infrastructure, or landscape, under control, and they have to understand all the different tools that they need. As soon as sustainability teams required better tools to help them with the complexity of regulations, they will always end up going to IT and working with them to implement those tools, and to procure them even in the first place.”
So what does Bauer recommend for those who want to optimise? She stresses that, as hard as it may be, complexity is not something one can be afraid of. After all, it is hardly going to get less complex. Yet it is equally important to not suffer from inertia. “It’s important that you start somewhere, and that you start with the things that are really important for your company,” says Bauer. “Start with a strategic exercise that highlights material topics and therefore limits a bit of the scope of things that you have to do, but also gives you a focus point.”
For sustainability, it all goes back to being passionate about what you do. It can not only give you a head start, but you might also have a secret superpower. “I would always encourage everyone to really follow their passion,” says Bauer. “There’s a lot of knowledge and expertise required in the market, but it’s not always just the experience [needed].
“And as a reminder, we haven’t solved this yet as a global society,” Bauer adds. “This is a challenge that we’re all working on for the first time, and so we need everyone; the ones that have 20 years of experience and the ones that can come in with a fresh mindset and new experiences from totally different aspects, and can bring that to the table too.”
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