Sustainability is good business, and, in the future, it'll be a path to operational and process excellence and better performance. The big question: How do you make sustainability part of your operations?

6 steps to operationalize sustainability

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Sustainability is good business, and, in the future, it'll be a path to operational and process excellence and better performance. The big question: How do you make sustainability part of your operations?

Today, sustainability efforts are often siloed and set apart from business processes. In the future, sustainability will be integrated with process excellence and good business practices. If you needed a blueprint for sustainability, think about how digital transformation progressed as all businesses became digital.

I caught up with Janina Nakladal, Director of Sustainability, to talk about the steps required to make sustainability part of your everyday operations.

Step 1: Think holistically about your data and sustainability. Nakladal said the first phase of operationalizing sustainability is to leverage the data in your systems to create intelligence and action. "You have the data in your systems already but are not using it for sustainability," said Nakladal. Customers are starting to use the Celonis Execution Management System (EMS) to connect systems to track sustainability metrics such as carbon emissions.

This holistic view means that you'll be connecting data sources from the likes of SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and Snowflake and combining them with data from carbon accounting platforms like .Planetly or rating data like Ecovadis (see EMS app) and a bevy of homegrown systems.

Note that many companies have stopped at this point because they can now write their sustainability reports.

Today, sustainability efforts are often siloed and set apart from business processes. In the future, sustainability will be integrated with process excellence and good business practices. If you needed a blueprint for sustainability, think about how digital transformation progressed as all business became digital.

Step 2: Understand the data gaps. Companies need to know where the data hygiene and quality gaps are. For instance, Nakladal said companies often have gaps in sustainability reporting for procurement activities. Why? Procurement has the highest emissions, but most companies can’t tackle it due to the difficulties in tracking supplier carbon footprints, said Nakladal.

For instance, many companies know the details about their travel activities, energy usage and office activities but don't ask suppliers about their mode of transport in the supply chain, she added. And do you know the carbon emissions of your cloud providers?

Step 3: Add context. Nakladal said the next phase of the sustainability journey revolves around context. Knowing your emissions are beyond your threshold is one thing. Knowing why emissions are high requires context, deep dives into processes and finding the hidden inefficiencies and their root causes.

Step 4: Performance and sustainability coalesce. There's a link between improving performance and sustainability, said Nakladal. "We have a few customers that have linked process performance and sustainability and can take action on the insights," she added. "Sustainability is not a one off. It's good business - and even adds performance"

However, Nakladal acknowledged that it's still early days for connecting sustainability and the business case. "Sustainability isn't much different to how you do business transformation, risk management and value generation in a company," she said. Returns would include meeting compliance and stakeholder requirements, employee and customer satisfaction and potential revenue growth.

Ultimately, sustainability will also drive profits in an interplay with efficiency, said Nakladal. "Process mining is a step to get there. Today, sustainability is a siloed initiative that is often not connected to the core business," said Nakladal. 

Step 5: Prioritize the big bang, but sustainability is an ongoing and urgent effort. I asked Nakladal how companies should prioritize sustainability in terms of big bang projects like switching an entire trucking fleet to electric vs. incremental improvement. "The big things help you get attention and take people along. Big things also show employees you're serious," she said. "Incremental things can be easier after you demonstrate sustainability is worth it."

Step 6: Sustainability becomes the business. Nakladal likened sustainability to the evolution of digital transformation. Chief Digital Officer titles waned because every business became digital. Sustainability titles will follow a similar path. "If sustainability is done well, business thinks about it without it being new," she said. "There are parallels between digital transformation and sustainability where they become the new normal."

See more on sustainability:

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Larry Dignan
Editor in Chief

Larry Dignan is Celonis Media’s Editor-in-Chief. He is the former Editor in Chief of ZDNet and has covered the technology industry and transformation trends for more than two decades, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine.

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