Estelle Places, Manager, PwC Germany

Estelle Places, originally from France, has been calling Munich home for the past six years. With a background in consulting, she currently holds the position of Manager at PwC Germany, where she focuses on the technological aspect of an ESG transformation. Her journey into sustainability began at a French IT giant, Atos, after its acquisition of EcoAct, a French sustainability consultancy. It was there that she honed her professional expertise in the sustainability arena. Prior to her consulting career, Estelle started her professional journey in the dynamic world of digital agencies in digital project management.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Estelle shared her career trajectory, insights on how CIOs can take the lead on sustainability and ESG goals, her roles and responsibilities as Manager at PwC Germany, her biggest stress relievers, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Estelle, please tell us about your background and areas of interest.

I’m originally from France, and I made Germany (Munich) my permanent home in October 2017, following the completion of my Masters in Scotland. My professional journey swiftly delved into the digital realm. However, my personal passion for sustainability has always been a driving force so I seized the opportunity at my previous employer to become an expert in Green IT topics. Currently, at PwC Germany, I’m focusing on ESG tech as well, where I support clients to select and implement the right ESG vendor IT solution depending on the sustainability need.

Beyond my professional life, I have always been deeply passionate about wines, and in another life, I might have pursued a career as a sommelier. Therefore, I recently achieved the WSET Level 2 certification and am gearing up for WSET Level 3 in 2024.

How can technology help organizations accelerate their climate and sustainability commitments to investors and customers?

Technology serves as a critical driver in reaching organizations’ climate and sustainability objectives. Amid the twin transition, Green IT plays a key role in developing environmentally conscious technologies. Simultaneously, ESG tech offers customized solutions for various sustainability challenges, ensuring impactful outcomes. This combination enables organizations to meet investor and customer expectations by enhancing transparency, quantifying impact, and facilitating data-driven decision-making. Consequently, technology empowers businesses to fulfill their climate and sustainability commitments swiftly and effectively.

How can CIOs take the lead on sustainability and ESG?

All C-level roles have a leadership role to play for that topic. In the context of a CIO, establishing the right ESG IT architecture demands collaboration, particularly with the Chief Sustainability Officer. Hence, CIOs must clearly align with the current firm’s objectives and challenges to champion sustainable tech solutions, align IT strategies with ESG goals, and foster a company-wide commitment to eco-conscious practices. In this collective effort, CIOs play a pivotal role in driving organizations towards a greener, socially responsible future.

Tell us about your roles and responsibilities as Manager at PwC Germany.

As a Manager at PwC Germany, my responsibilities span client engagement, project management, and leadership. I oversee client projects, ensuring their unique needs are met and satisfaction maintained. What sets my role apart is my personal focus on Sustainable IT, which lies at the intersection of Green IT and ESG Tech. I guide clients in adopting eco-friendly and socially responsible IT solutions as well as selecting and building the right ESG IT Architecture to answer their sustainability need. Within the firm, I take an active role in various internal initiatives, including women’s networks, where I strive to promote diversity and inclusion. This dual commitment to sustainability and inclusion forms the core of my role, blending expertise with a dedication to fostering an environmentally responsible and inclusive workplace.

What are some important priorities in front of you for a net zero journey?

Firstly, it’s crucial to conduct a comprehensive assessment of current carbon emissions across all aspects of operations to align with CSRD requirements and especially with the clients’ demands. This baseline data will guide efforts. Secondly, setting clear and ambitious net-zero targets, ideally in line with SBTi, is paramount, along with establishing a roadmap for achieving them, which should be in line with CSRD reporting guidelines. Collaboration with stakeholders, both internal and external of the client will be essential for gaining buy-in and support for sustainable initiatives, as per the CSRD’s emphasis on transparency. Additionally, innovation and technology adoption to reduce emissions and minimize our environmental impact will be ongoing priorities. Lastly, continuous monitoring, reporting, and transparent communication, following CSRD directives, will be key to our success on this journey.

With disruption and transformation being everywhere, what are the challenges you see facing your sector right now? How can we overcome those challenges?

In my sector, the foremost challenge lies in navigating the intricate landscape of regulations, especially given the recent crucial changes. Additionally, shifting the mindset of our clients is pivotal. To overcome these challenges, we need to view the ESG transformation as an opportunity for evolution within the context of the twin transition, where combining digital efforts with sustainability-related actions is a great perspective to support clients remain competitive. This entails proactively adapting to regulatory changes, staying ahead of compliance, and fostering a culture of ESG and IT awareness.

In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

In every role, I actively sought out inspiring individuals to nurture my network. Currently, at PwC Germany, I’m involved in the Women in Tech network, holding an officer role, as gender diversity in technology is a subject close to my heart. The best advice I’ve received is that empowered women must empower women, emphasizing the importance of supporting and uplifting one another on our journeys to success… which motivates me to keep an active role within a women network.

What’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader?

One significant leadership lesson I’ve learned as a female leader is the power of empathy and the value of being unafraid to show emotions. In leadership, there’s often a misconception that emotions should be suppressed, but I’ve found that being empathetic and open about my feelings can build stronger connections with my team – which is an easy thing to as a French person 😊. It fosters a supportive work environment where team members feel heard and understood. Embracing empathy not only enriches our professional relationships but also enhances overall team dynamics and productivity.

What is your biggest stress reliever?

My most significant stress reliever is maintaining a fulfilling private life. Engaging in hobbies like pursuing my WSET Level 3 certification for wine and setting personal objectives brings me immense joy and balance. Moreover, sharing my life with remarkable people, especially my family, provides me with the support, happiness, and positive energy that recharge me after demanding workdays.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

In five years, I envision myself in a higher leadership role where I continue growing professionally and personally, contributing to meaningful projects that align with my passion for sustainability (also involving women networking). I also hope to have further built a beautiful life with my family and I will be aiming for that elusive WSET Level 4 certification, which is notoriously challenging to obtain, but hey, I’ve never shied away from a good challenge!

What would you advise to new sustainable leaders on where to start?

My advice to new sustainable leaders would be to start by nurturing curiosity. The field of sustainability is dynamic and ever-evolving, so stay curious and keep exploring. Dive into a variety of information sources, from research papers to industry reports and diverse news outlets. Actively engage in discussions and network with fellow professionals to exchange ideas. Additionally, seek out mentors who can guide you on your journey. Remember that sustainability is not just a job; it’s a mindset. So, embrace it fully, and let your passion drive you to make a positive impact on the world.

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