Jan-Niklas Möller is Sustainability Manager at WEPA, a hygiene paper manufacturer specializing in the production and distribution of sustainable and innovative products, particularly from recycled fibers. In his role, Jan-Niklas is focused on Data Management and Controlling, dealing with many different quantitative and qualitative data points from across the organization. Read on if you would like to learn why he thinks that adding context to data is essential to assess a company's sustainability progress.
What is your motivation to work on sustainability-related topics at WEPA?
Daily-use products like hygiene paper are often not the focus of people's supermarket purchasing decisions towards sustainable living, but they are a big lever in terms of circular economy principles. So if my work can help people make more sustainable choices in their daily lives without them even realizing it, that's all the motivation I need.
How would you describe the reality of a sustainability manager or a sustainability team?
It’s like looking at the world through many different windows and then trying to paint one single picture bringing all the different perspectives into one frame. But the world out there is very complex and constantly changing. So you never stop learning about it.
Luckily, our team is made up of members with different strengths and expertise, which I think is very important. A successful sustainability team is only possible with a variety of people, as we try to paint a picture that includes everyone.
Can you describe the work of the sustainability team in your company?
We built our team around our 4+1 Sustainability Strategy, which helps us make the best use of our individual strengths. The strategy represents our four fields of action: Future Fibres, Operational Efficiency, Sustainable Hygiene Paper Portfolio and Portfolio Extension Through Innovation – plus our foundational topics.
This means that we have many interfaces with the experts in other departments and the existing processes within the company.
What are the biggest challenges that you and the team are facing?
By establishing our sustainability strategy and reporting in the last few years we needed to adapt or create new processes for our data management.
We had to understand what data we already have, what additional data we need and what we want to use the data for. At the same time, we are receiving more and more external requests, which means that the amount of data we require is constantly increasing.
That's why we have to work on streamlined processes that reduce workload and increase insights.
How do you navigate these challenges?
The most important aspect in navigating challenges is always good communication. As we are a central function within the company, everyone has to be on board.
That doesn't mean you always have to be of one mind - rather, you have to create space for discussions. These establish a more comprehensive perspective, which is necessary to find the best solution together.
Could you give us some more insights on managing sustainability data?
When we are talking about sustainability we mostly talk about context. Quantitative data is the basis to understand the company’s progress, but qualitative data can help you understand the company’s environment and assess the measures and actions taken within it.
Let me give you an example: If Scope 2 CO2 emissions decrease overall due to the additional use of renewable energy, that is not sufficient information for an assessment. Is the renewable energy self-generated or is it based on the share of renewable electricity in the supplier’s electricity mix? The context determines how we should interpret the numbers.
The interfaces with other departments and experts are therefore very important for us to connect the data with the right contexts. I would say that a sustainability team can only be as good as the experts in the individual areas of the company.
What is your perspective on the rising information demands on the sustainability performance of companies from stakeholders?
First of all, I believe that transparency is one of the most important factors for true progress. And the increased pressure makes sure that trying to avoid it will become less and less successful.
However, I would like to point out two things: We need comparability, and we need standardized approaches. Fulfilling both can be difficult. That’s why I think it’s always necessary to look at data and context combined.
In the last few years, we have received many questionnaires or rating requests from our stakeholders. This results in a lot of work time spent on answering very similar questions over and over again (luckily, Sunhat now helps us out here 😉).
That's why a standardized approach with room for context is so important to massively reduce the workload, and I see a real opportunity for improvement through the CSRD standards. So let's be as transparent as possible, while giving sustainability managers more time to work on actual improvements instead of questionnaires.
What goes along with the commitment to be transparent as a company?
Don’t try to be perfect. Admit your mistakes and shortcomings, but also present a clear path of improvements. And don’t underestimate people’s intelligence – greenwashing won’t benefit anybody in the end.
What makes you optimistic about the future?
Since we need to act fast, progress can sometimes seem very slow. But if you look back just 5 years, the change that has happened within our company, but also in society in general, is actually quite impressive.
We still need to do a lot and it can be exhausting to remain optimistic while populism is on a rise – but we have to prove that change is always an opportunity to do things better. When I think about a more sustainable future, I see an improvement in life for everyone.
Sustainability is also re-imagination, and I think this is the message we have to keep. Yes, we will need to change the way we currently live, and yes, that is a massive task ahead of us. But it is also the biggest opportunity to create a more just and more liveable world for all of us.