With Clariant's new purpose “Greater chemistry – between people and planet” in place, it is more important than ever that innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. For this reason, Clariant’s CEO Conrad Keijzer announced the new global operating model for Group Innovation & Sustainability at the end of February. With the implementation of this new organizational structure, Yvonne Zhang has been appointed as Head of Sustainability Transformation.
Yvonne Zhang, who holds a PhD in Chemistry as well as an MBA, started her professional career at Süd-Chemie in 2006 and had held several marketing roles before becoming the Head of Strategy for Business Unit Catalysts. In 2017 she joined the Corporate Planning & Strategy team as a Senior Project Manager. Most recently, she joined the Group Innovation & Sustainability Team in 2020, heading Sustainability Innovation Excellence, a key corporate initiative to strengthen Clariant's innovation capabilities to achieve sustained profitable growth.
In our interview, she shares insights on the way forward for sustainability transformation.
With you as the new Head of Sustainability Transformation, there will certainly be some changes within the department. Can you give us a little sneak peek?
Under the leadership of my predecessor, Richard Haldimann, the sustainability transformation team focused heavily on setting new sustainability goals and systems. For example, in 2020, Clariant defined new climate targets in line with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). These set out ambitious absolute reductions for scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions between 2019 to 2030. Emissions reduction is now also linked to remuneration. Furthermore, we have set up cross-functional teams from procurement and operations to innovation to develop the pipeline of projects to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
Now it’s all about execution and the team will focus more on working with the business units to ensure the successful implementation of roadmaps and initiatives.
What kind of roadmaps and initiatives?
Our focus is primarily on fighting climate change, fostering a sustainable bio-economy, increasing circularity, ensuring zero waste and pollution, creating social value, and ensuring safety and sustainability in everything we do. Our efforts extend to our own operations and a sustainability-focused transformation of our product portfolio, as well as providing sustainability benefits to our customers.
For 2022, a key focus is to ensure that employees, customers, and the financial community understand Clariant’s sustainability strategy, commitments, and progress.
Since you mentioned the sustainability-focused transformation of the portfolio, how does Sustainability Transformation plan to maximize the impact of portfolio level change?
We, the Sustainability Transformation team, are working on quite a few projects. Let me just highlight a couple of them: One area of focus is supporting the business units to accelerate sustainability-driven innovation through innovation garage projects. The Innovation Garage utilizes customer-centric approaches, such as design thinking and agile working, to uncover the desirability, feasibility, and viability of complex sustainability and innovation challenges. Another function is to develop Clariant’s sustainability standards and guidelines to reflect policy and sustainability trends. In addition, the team has been instrumental in establishing the methodology and tools to quantify the sustainability benefits of our products, such as their carbon footprints and the positive sustainability impact our products can have for customers.
These and many other efforts by our team aim to support the business units to accelerate a transformation of the portfolio to meet society’s sustainability challenges.
Diversity fosters innovation. You are a very good example of diversity within Clariant: a citizen of the world and a woman with vast professional and cultural experience in a leadership role. Would you mind sharing your management values and view on diversity?
On the way to my current role, I have lived on three different continents and traveled to more than 60 countries. I have had the fortune to interact with colleagues and customers from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds, which was critical in forming my core value systems. Over the years, I benefited from working with highly inspirational managers and received great advice which was instrumental in my growth. I believe that everyone has a unique profile. Therefore, with my culture and gender background, I have developed my personal management style. But I believe that the most important thing is to act authentically as that is ultimately why diversity is an added value.
 Source: bcg.com: The Mix That Matters - Innovation Through Diversity, 26 April 2017.