A Roadmap to Perform Supply Chain-Focused Materiality Assessments

2 Feb

Note:  this is the final part of three-part series exploring “materiality” and  the intersection of supply chain management, sustainability and  corporate social responsibility.

Part One of this three-part series explored materiality as the “nexus” point that linked sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and supply chain management.  Conflict minerals were explored in detail and highlighted the key role that developing nations and commodity goods are playing in driving supply chain management and CSR.   The second post in this series highlighted the roots of materiality analysis in the sustainability space, case studies and highlights of interviews conducted with two key sustainability and corporate responsibility thought leaders, @Jefferyhogue and @ElaineCohen.

From a corporate social responsibility reporting point of view, a materiality analysis is an ordered, rigorous evaluation of the sustainability (environmental, social, financial) issues significant to the company and its stakeholders.  This type of analysis can provide an organization with critical, informed insight that can drive strategic direction as well as tactical change management.

Typical elements of the materiality analysis process include:

  1. Identification of a universe of relevant economic, social, environmental, and policy/governance issues for consideration,
  2. Evaluation and ranking of the level of internal and external stakeholder concerns regarding each issue,
  3. Evaluation and ranking of the potential impact on the company of each issue
  4. Development of a matrix-based prioritization of the issues, and
  5. Execution of a structured, collaborative strategy planning, implementation and reporting process.

Materiality Assessment Templates

The CERES 21st Century Roadmap for Sustainability 2010 provides a high level overview of materiality analysis.  The first step is to identify which stakeholders there are that interact with an organization. In this first phase, CERES recommends that organizations “engage with stakeholders to obtain feedback on the relevance of existing and proposed policies and to identify gaps. These policies should guide the company’s activities across its operations, the supply chain, logistics, the design and delivery of products and the management of its employees.

When engaging stakeholders, organizations should identify key business and operational issues of concern to the company and share this analysis with external stakeholders. CERES recommends that “stakeholder dialogue can be to identify additional issues, prioritize efforts, and recognize emerging risks that could become increasingly important to the business over the long-term. The company should then explore the links between identified material issues [that are considered significant to stakeholders] and the leadership team’s vision and strategy…and provide an explicit response to that feedback”.

AA1100 Assurance standard creator and international institute AccountAbility has established what they refer to as a “Five-Part Materiality Test” .  Like the CERES approach, this robust test is designed to help organizations 1) identify what issues are most material, or relevant, to their business and its stakeholders and 2) what information should be disclosed or reported in corporate social responsibility reports. The five different materiality tests (shown in the graphic below) are:

Test 1: Direct short-term financial impacts: Evaluate short-term financial impacts resulting from aspects of social and environmental performance

Test 2: Policy-based performance: Consider policies that are core to a business rather than add-ons

Test 3: Business peer-based norms: Issues that company peers deem to be important

Test 4: Stakeholder behavior and concerns: Identify issues relevance to stakeholders in terms of reasonable evidence of likely impact on their own decisions and behavior; and

Test 5: Societal norms:  Considerations taken from both a regulatory and non-regulatory point of view.

The issues of most significant concern would be vetted with stakeholders and validated by an external party and set the framework for ongoing action and demonstrated continual improvement.

8-Phase Supply Chain Focused Materiality Assessment

Taking a cue from CERES, AccountAbility, the ISO 14001 based environmental aspects and impacts process, and basic principles of risk management, I offer my eight point plan to effectively engage internal and external stakeholders in querying, assessing and prioritizing supply chain materiality.

  1. ID Key Supply Chain Products re: Environmental Loading Characteristics and Operational Practices
  2. Identify Governance, Operational and Regulatory Constraints versus Supply Chain Practices/Policies
  3. Risk Management Evaluation-Screen internal  & external supply chain issues against current  business objectives & strategy, policies, current processes  & programs
  4. Materiality Risk Ranking Matrix and Determination of Threshold Action Levels (Internal and External Stakeholder Specific & Aggregated)
  5. Development of Materiality Mitigation Action Plans- Prioritize, Assign Resources, Timeframes & Measurement Metrics
  6. Stakeholder Engagement and Issues Identification (against major supply chain variables)
  7. Management Review including Strategy Performance and Reporting, and
  8. Internal/ External Stakeholder Alignment; CSR Reporting

As a general rule when evaluating the ‘materiality’ of any issue (supply chain driven or not) , significance must consider a company’s short and long-term business objectives and strategy, policies, risks, and current processes and programs. Also, in order to factor into account resource management variables, it’s advised that companies consider the levels of control or influence they have over an existing or future issue to determine its significance, and ultimately management strategies and tactics.

Likely outcomes of using a structured continual improvement approach in addressing and documenting supply chain materiality are:

  • Targeting and prioritizing the most significant supply chain issues to manage in the short-term, at a scale that matches existing labor, financial and capital resources
  • Proactive planning to budget future resource allocations to address capital or resource intensive activities for long-term management
  • Acknowledging and integrating a wide variety of interested party concerns and perspectives into strategic business planning at an early stage
  • Providing a foundation for continual improvement through structure risk assessment, action planning, communication and reporting.

Materiality Assessments- The Sustainable Value Proposition

Materiality analysis can help organizations to clarify issues driving long-term business value; identify, prioritize and address risks; and capture new market opportunities.  Through structured efforts to align sustainability and business strategies with supply chain management, materiality assessments that account for financial and non-financial issues will not only strengthen business relationships with suppliers but forge collaborative bonds with external stakeholders.  This targeted focus on collaborative innovation, adaptive management, performance measurement and reporting has the potential to drive stronger brand reputation and competitive advantage over time.

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