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Sustainability meets Digitalization

To achieve positive change for the environment and society, Beiersdorf has set itself ambitious targets with its CARE BEYOND SKIN Sustainability Agenda: first of all, to reduce the CO2 emissions along the entire value chain (across Scope 1-3) by 30% in absolute terms by 2025 (vs. 2018). So far, so good, but how do you keep track of all the action going on in different areas of the company? And how can you ensure that those levers are set in motion that will deliver the greatest impact? Last, but not least: how does each measure taken affect the CO2-balance in the long term?

Questions upon questions – very typical for the topic of sustainability. And this is exactly, where the “Sustainability Digitalization Program” of Beiersdorf comes in. The goals: firstly, precise, and automated data collection to create transparency about all contributing factors, and secondly, the possibility of creating simulations. A simulation that can show, for example, how changes in the formulation or packaging of a skincare product affect the company’s carbon footprint in the medium and long term.  

This sounds super interesting, so we talked to the cross-functional team, which consists of the job tandem Birte Paustian-Blömer and Dorothee Kässner, both Business Program Lead Sustainability Digitalization, as well as the IT Program Leads Paco Nuguid and Sebastian Pinzke.   

What is so complex about the topic?

Dorothee Kässner: “In order to implement change and assess the influence of different factors, you are dependent on data transparency. That sounds logical right, but it’s a tricky thing, because the topic of sustainability is super complex. We have hundreds of different formulas at NIVEA and Eucerin alone. Let’s take the formulation of one product: the mere fact that an ingredient can consist of different starting materials and can also be processed in different ways can have a significant impact on its footprint. So, we are looking at very high volumes of data sets that need to be recorded in the system solidly. Only then, in a second step, we can take informed decisions. In the past, this work was done manually – not only a very time-consuming job, also quite prone to errors.”

What exactly is different now than before?

Birte Paustian-Blömer: “Our company-wide CO2 reporting, which used to be done once a year – traditionally in the form of a sustainability report – is now created automatically on a monthly basis. We are able to add comparisons with previous years and forecasts for the future with the click on a button. As Beiersdorf has set the target to massively reduce Scope 3 emissions, our system also contains data from our suppliers – in addition to our own data. These arise, for example, from the production of raw materials or packaging materials that we purchase. A few years ago, we had no transparency in this area, let alone the possibility of using the data to run simulations. Now, we can see how our carbon footprint changes based on the running projects and where we stand in terms of target achievement. We can identify trends at an early stage and discuss, manage and drive the topic based on data.”

How did you find the right IT solution?

Paco Nuguid: “The digitalization of sustainability is only possible with great teamwork – we work in an interdisciplinary project team together with Dorothee and Birte, as well as other experts from Corporate Sustainability, R&D, Supply Chain, Finance and IT. In my opinion, our co-creation approach is the key to success. Together, we have found a digital solution that improves data quality tremendously and provides an overall picture of our sustainability activities and their impact on our footprint at the click of a button. Of course, it was also important to us that the solution integrates perfectly into our existing IT infrastructure.

We are collecting the data from various internal sources on our One Data Platform, where they are consolidated and linked together in data models. Technically, we chose a data analysis platform based on various Microsoft Azure and Power Platform products. These enable us to analyze and work with all single factors that influence our emissions down to the product and production line level.

With Power BI, it is then possible for us to access all elements that influence the carbon footprint through customized dashboards for different user groups and their application needs. Monthly reports can cover and illustrate different types of emissions.”

Now you’ve made us curious. What exactly does the tool look like?

Dorothee Kässner: “We have set up the tool as a dashboard. First of all, you can see the factors at Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions level. This allows you to see the status of our CO2 reduction. The data from the different company divisions is collected in the background, consolidated, and interlinked in data models. All factors that affect our Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions are displayed and hence, are usable. The tool is a very valuable resource not only for us in the Corporate Sustainability team, but also for our colleagues in Research & Development. In many cases, the way a formula is put together provides a relevant lever for reducing the carbon footprint of the product. For these purposes, we have integrated a formula simulator into the tool. This allows us to compare the existing formula with a CO2-optimized formula. With this, we can see how the product’s footprint changes and what impact this has on the product range and Beiersdorf’s overall footprint. This supports sustainable decision-making.”

Is the project finished now or are you pushing it even further?

Sebastian Pinzke: “No, we are not yet at the end of our sustainability digitalization. But we have made a massive step till now. This was recognized just recently at the SustainableIT European Impact Summit, where we received an Impact Award for our digitalization programme.   

In future, our operational systems will communicate even more closely with the dashboards we have built. For example, the formula simulator is currently updated once a day. If our product developers want to weigh something for a new formula or swap ingredients, this should be visible in the operative system in real time in future. Then our colleagues will no longer have to go through the reporting process but will be able to query the operational systems directly at a central point. This would give Beiersdorf maximum transparency of sustainability data across all systems.” 

Thank you, Birte, Dorothee, Paco and Sebastian, for these exciting insights!

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Katrin Selzer

About the editor: Katrin Selzer

Katrin has been working at Beiersdorf since 2003. After various positions in marketing, strategy, digital and PR, she is since September 2018 Senior Communication Manager and responsible for the topic of sustainability. For Katrin, sustainability has a high personal relevance, since it changes the world for the better – and she contributes by communicating about it. Her communication is very passionate and she tries to also push the topic forward. In her private life, she is constantly seeking new ways and means to live a more sustainable lifestyle and inspire others with it.