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Can Apple Redeem Itself on Supply Chain Sustainability? Taking a Cue on Accountability from Nike’s Playbook

3 Feb

NOTE: Portions of this piece originally appeared as a guest column in Sustainable Business Oregon

Last week, on the way to a business meeting in downtown Portland I tuned into the local sports radio station.  Nationally syndicated sports commentator Dan Patrick (“DP”) was providing his one minute Above the Noise segment.  The focus was on if, how and when sports icons that have fallen from grace (due to an off the field indiscretion) they could ever redeem themselves in the public court of opinion.  And could they ever regain public acceptance to be ‘marketable’ commodities again.  Think player product endorsements.  Think Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest- well the list is WAY to lengthy to cover here, but you get the idea.  Most that have regained endorsement status (like Bryant) have either redeemed themselves through community service and on field performance, but often the public-at-large (er, consumers) just forget.  The past indiscretions have faded from the tabloids.

So I got to thinking that this sounded very familiar when it comes to companies (manufacturers and service industries in particular), and the ways in which they address sustainability matters.  I am thinking of manufacturers who have made environmentally impactful products, and willingly or knowingly conducted socially irresponsible or possibly unethical business practices that have led to public backlash.  And I thought about how some have been able to successfully “redeem” themselves and regain a positive marketplace reputation, while others never quite recovered.

Since this past week Apple was in the news, I thought DP’s radio op-ed was a perfect parallel.  According to a report issued by anti-pollution activists in China, Apple is more secretive about its supply chain than almost every other American company operating in the country. Apple came up among the laggards among 29 major electronics and IT firms in a transparency study drawn up by a coalition of China’s leading environmental groups.  The reports focused on “the openness of IT firms and their responsiveness to reports of environmental violations at suppliers”.  Though Apple is known in the industry for the secrecy it wraps around its newest product offerings, the “mystery of its supply chain is more a matter of covering up than preventing leaks”, the report stated. The report claimed that Apple’s suppliers have been involved in breaches of environmental regulation, including major waste discharge violations in recent years at several Chinese firms that are believed to be  part of Apple’s supply chain.  To be fair, Nokia, LG, SingTel, Sony and Ericsson also fared poorly in the survey, but Apple stood out in how it did not address and respond to the findings.

Apples Supplier Commitment

Of course this revelation was not the first time that Apple’s supply chain management oversight (or lack thereof) has been ‘shaken to its core’. Despite Apples Supplier Code of Conduct, it appears that they are not fully conforming to their own internal commitment and policies.  An insightful post from back in mid 2009 highlighted the series of issues that Apple has had with its supply chain, from human rights violations and pollution to lax supplier oversight and unfortunate subcontractor worker suicides.  Apple itself admitted its complacency in addressing social and environmental sustainability issues in a pragmatic but resolved manner.

Nikes Redemption Story- a Work in Progress

Apples current predicament is not unlike another company that relies on a deep contractor supply chain, whose headquarters in my backyard- Nike.  In the late 1980’s reports were starting to circulate from Indonesia and Asia concerning Nikes alleged “sweatshops”.  Over the course of the 1990’s, continued exposure of unscrupulous labor and human rights practices, combined with intensive public protests and campaigns continued to hound Nike and dragged down its reputation.

By 2001, the issue erupted and Nike was stung by reports of children as young as 10 making shoes, clothing and footballs in Pakistan and Cambodia.  Phil Knight, Nikes CEO admitted the company “blew it”. Nike, like many other companies (like Nestle, PepsiCo, Wal-Mart and other consumer products manufacturers and retailers) learned the hard way that taking liberties with “social license” to operate (especially in foreign countries) has its negative financial and reputational consequences.

That’s not to say of course that all is perfect in Niketown.  But with the corporate and supply chain infrastructure now in place to monitor, validate and continually improve supplier relations and accountability, fewer violations have occurred. Nike has continued to push open innovation and environmentally focused product design with social accountability in mind.  The Ethisphere Institute named Nike as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for 2010. The Institute recognizes organizations annually that “promote ethical business standards and practices by going beyond legal minimums, introducing innovative ideas benefiting the public and forcing their competitors to follow suit.”   Also, last October, Newsweek magazine took 500 of the largest publicly traded U.S. companies and produced a 2010 Green Rankings List.  Nike, was 10th on the list, and was noted for having a strong commitment to evaluating and improving the environmental footprint of its suppliers.  They also scored a 97 in the reputation category. (Apple by the way scored 65th, with a reputation score of 71.  I guess that low score represents that missing piece in Apples iconic logo.

Stepping Up to the Plate on “Social License to Operate” and Accountability

A great research study from 2002 (from the Center for the Study of law and Society at University of California Berkeley)  highlights the steps that companies in the apparel, forest products, consumer goods, oil and energy and other highly capitalized industries have gone through to “redeem” themselves and restore brand trust.  They’ve achieved this through rigid compliance with local environmental rules, product  and environmental stewardship, verification  and proactive social engagement.

Apple needs to do the same thing and implement a proactive supplier sustainability and verification program.  As I have laid out in prior posts, companies like Nestle, Corporate Express, Danisco, Starbucks, Unilever and the apparel industry stepped up in a big way to address human rights, fair labor and sustainable development in areas in which they operate throughout the world.  So too have major electronics companies like Hewlett Packard and IBM in leveraging their supply chains in assuring that corporate sustainability performance objectives are met.   Further, in 2010 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) unveiled its ISO 26000 Corporate Social Responsibility guidance document.  In addition, two prominent organizations, UL Environment and Green Seal unveiled and vetted two sustainability focused product (GS-C1) and organization (ULE 880) standards this past year, both of which may markedly affect supply chain environmental and social behaviors in the future.  That’s not to mention the issue of conflict minerals, which strikes deep at the cell phone manufacturing sector.  Finally, the age of openness and collaboration has arrived on the heels of Wikileaks and numerous high profile reputational back breakers.

Engaging and Leveraging the Supply Chain

The most successful greening efforts in supply chains are based on value creation through the sharing of intelligence and know-how about environmental and emerging regulatory issues and emerging technologies.  Leading edge, sustainability –minded and innovative companies have found “reciprocal value” through enhanced product differentiation, reputation management and customer loyalty.  Suppliers and customers must collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance and share cost of ownership and social license to operate.  But supply chain sustainability and corporate governance must be driven by the originating manufacturers that rely on deep tiers of suppliers and vendors for their products.

So Apple should take a cue from Nikes playbook- “Just Do It!”  This issue will not go away on a wing and a prayer.  Here’s how to get it done- right:

1)  As the 2009 post that I mentioned said, get your company on the ground and enforce your Supplier Code of Conduct – now.

2)  Open Up and reach out to external stakeholders, not just your suppliers.  Engage non-governmental organizations early and often.   Find a respected international organization or other third-party to facilitate the engagement process.   Treat communities, NGO’s and suppliers with respect.

3) Work with your supply chain and with industry peers to standardize requirements. Create or revisit the resources allocated in internal procurement networks to collaborate on environmental and social sustainability issues.

4) Construct environmental and social accountability requirements at the purchasing phase. Build environmental and social conformance criteria into supplier contract specs and incorporate sustainability and environmental staff on sourcing teams

5) Inform suppliers of corporate environmental concerns. Standardize supplier questionnaires and make sure that the Supplier Code of Conduct lands in the right hands.  Promote exchange of information and ideas by sponsoring charettes to facilitate discussions between customers and suppliers on environmental and social license issues.  Develop a supplier/vendor peer or mentoring program that promotes co-innovation on sustainability issues

6) Build environmental considerations into product design w/ suppliers. Apple already considers Design for environment (DFE) product innovation and life cycle analyses in its product design.  You’d be well served to coordinate minimization of environmental impact in the extended supply chain and work with suppliers to manage end-of-pipe environmental issues.  Give your suppliers an incentive to reduce their environmental loading associated with their products and improved worker conditions.

7) Follow up! Without adequate on-the-ground follow-through, on-going supplier engagement and long-term commitment of human and financial capital, your sustainability problems will persist.

So like sports stars, business stars can redeem themselves and their reputations.  But it first takes admitting that you have a problem before you can start down that path.  Apple has had a pretty rough year, what with CEO Steve Jobs taking medical leave, its products having persistent quality problems and its connection with negative environmental and human rights issues.  I’m hopeful that Apple and others will get the message that ol’ Ben Franklin stated so long ago but holds true today:

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” -Benjamin Franklin

Until then, “I’m a PC”.

Solving the Sustainable Sourcing & Green Supply Chain Management Puzzle: A 2010 Rewind

22 Dec

2010 is nearly ‘in the books’, and I vowed that I would not fall prey to the endless lists and recounting of annual accomplishments.  However, never in my 30 years in the sustainability and environmental business has there been so much attention paid to the influence of supply chain management and its role in the greening of business.  2010 has been truly remarkable in a number of key areas of green supply chain management from a number of perspectives, including: policy and governance, operations and optimization, guidance and standardization and metrics.  The green pieces of the supply chain and sustainability puzzle appear to be nicely falling into place.  Key themes that I can glean from this most incredible year are:

Big Industry Movers and Government Green up the Supply Chain- over the past year, observers and practitioners read nearly weekly announcements of yet another major manufacturer or retailer setting the bar for greener supply chain management.  With a much greater focus on monitoring, measurement and verification, Wal-Mart, IBM, Proctor and Gamble, Kaiser Permanente, Puma, Ford, Intel, Pepsi, Kimberly-Clark, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Herman Miller among many others made a big splash by announcing serious efforts to engage, collaborate and track supplier/vendor sustainability efforts.  Central to each of these organizations is how vendors impact the large companies carbon footprint, in addition to other major value chain concerns such as material and water resource use, and waste management.  Even government agencies here in the U.S. (General Services Administration) and abroad (DEFRA in Britain) have set green standards and guidelines for federal procurement.  More and more companies are jumping on the green train and the recognition is flowing wide and deep.

Supply Chain Meets Corporate Social Responsibility- Adding to many companies existing concerns over environmental protection, large products manufacturers such as Nestle, Corporate Express, Danisco, Starbucks, Unilever and the apparel industry stepped up in a big way to address human rights, fair labor and sustainable development in areas in which they operate throughout the world. Each of these companies and others like WalMart have embraced the “whole systems” approach that I’ve previously written about in this space and that underscore transparency and collaboration the “value” in the supply chain.  Each company recognizes that to be a truly sustainable organization, it must reach deep beyond its four walls to its suppliers and customers.

Emerging Sustainability Standards Embrace Supply Chain Management- This year, the international Organization for Standardization (ISO) unveiled its ISO 26000 Corporate Social Responsibility guidance document.  In addition, two prominent organizations, UL Environment and Green Seal unveiled and vetted two sustainability focused product (GS-C1) and organization (ULE 880) standards, both of which may markedly affect supply chain behaviors in the future.  Central to all these standards and guidelines is how important supply networks are in supporting the entire product ‘value chain”, not only from an environmental perspective, but from a social and community focused perspective.

Transparency and Collaboration Take on a Green Hue- in April, I had the honor of addressing C-suite supply chain managers and practitioners at the Aberdeen Supply Chain Summit in San Francisco.  A central theme of this conference involved the critical importance of collaboration throughout supply networks to enhance efficiencies and optimize value.   My talk (linked here) focused on how the most successful greening efforts in supply chains (like those used by Unilever, Herman Miller and Hewlett Packard) were based on value creation through the sharing of intelligence and know-how about environmental and emerging regulatory issues and emerging technologies.  Suppliers and customers can collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance and distributing cost of ownership.  Practitioners have found “reciprocal value” through enhanced product differentiation, reputation management and customer loyalty. And the continuing Wikileaks controversy is boldly reminding the business world that accountability and transparency and corporate social responsibility is vital and may even be a game changer in how products and services are made and delivered to the global marketplace.

Logistics Turning to Greener Solutions- numerous studies and surveys conducted by peer organizations this year underscored how sustainability among carriers and shippers was central in the minds of most logistics CEO’s.  Whether it was by land, air or sea, shipping and logistics embraced sustainability as a key element of business planning and strategy in 2010.  I also had the pleasure of visiting briefly with FedEx’s Vice President, Environmental Affairs & Sustainability (@Mitch_Jackson) this fall and learned of the myriad of operational innovations and sustainability focused metrics that the company is tracking throughout its operations and maintenance activities. And UPS even mentioned its efforts to manage its carbon footprint in its catchy new brand campaign “I Love Logistics”.  Finally logistics companies are partnering with manufacturing to support reverse logistics efforts designed to manage end of life or post consumer uses of products or resources.

Lean Manufacturing Meets Green Supply Chain- as manufacturing continues its slow rebound from the Great Recession, companies are recommitting themselves to implementing less wasteful production as a way to leverage cost and enhance savings.  Parallel efforts are in play also to incorporate more environmentally sustainable work practices and processes.  Enhancing this effort to lean the product value chain is recognition of upstream suppliers and vendors work practices and possible impacts they may have on manufacturing outputs. Lean efforts have been demonstrated to yield substantial environmental benefits (pollution prevention, waste reduction and reuse opportunities) as well as leverage compliance issues.  More and more, companies are exploring the overlaps and synergies between quality-based lean  and environmentally based ‘green’ initiatives.

Supply Chain and Climate Action- Rounding out the year, the climate summit in Cancun (COP16) produced modest results (given the low expectations all around, what was accomplished looked huge by comparison to Copenhagen).  Activities at COP16, especially by the private sector were geared toward identifying key linkages between supply chain sustainability and climate change.   Perhaps the biggest news to emerge from the two-week conference was an effort by apparel manufacturers to enhance supply chain social responsibility and an internet database that will list the energy efficiency of most ocean-going vessels, in a scheme designed to reduce shipping emissions by nearly 25%.  As I noted, this effort is important not only because it recognizes shipping and transport as a backbone” of commerce (as other industry sponsored programs have recognized already), but because of the value of transparency in enhancing supply chain efficiencies.

Looking Forward to 2011

Yes indeed, it’s been a big year for supply chain management and its intersection with sustainability.  I see little for 2011 that will slow down this upward green trajectory, and naturally I am glad.  I am glad that more businesses “get it” and don’t want to be viewed as laggards in leaning towards a business ethic that values sustainability and socially influenced governance. I am glad that more companies are seeking out green innovation through new technologies and being ‘first movers’ in their respective business spaces.

And I am glad that you (my readers) and I am here to be part of the change.

ISO 26000 Social Responsibility Guidance May Offer Supply Chain Opportunities to Small-Mid Sized Manufacturing

4 Nov

Amid the pre- and post-election haze here in the U.S and the taking of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants (first since 1954), comes ISO 26000, Guidance on Social Responsibility. This guidance document from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) integrates international expertise on social responsibility (SR), detailing what it means, what issues organizations need to address to operate in a socially responsible manner, and what the best practices are for implementing SR effectively and efficiently. ISO 26000 is designed to assist public and private organizations, and Small to Mid-sized Enterprises (SME) in particular by establishing common guidance on social responsibility concepts, definitions,and methods of evaluation.

The core areas of ISO 26000 (see Figure 1, courtesy of http://www.desarrollohumanosostenible.org) address potentially contentious and volatile issues such as human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development.   According to the ISO, ISO 26000 provides guidance for all types of organization, regardless of their size or location, on:

  1. Concepts, terms and definitions related to social responsibility
  2. Background, trends and characteristics of social responsibility
  3. Principles and practices relating to social responsibility
  4. Core subjects and issues of social responsibility
  5. Integrating, implementing and promoting socially responsible behavior throughout the organization and, through its policies and practices, within its sphere of influence
  6. Identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  7. Communicating commitments, performance and other information related to social responsibility.

ISO 26000 is unique, not because it’s taken six years to get it finalized. It’s mainly because it’s a “guidance” and not a certification standard like the more well-known ISO 9001 quality management and 14001 environmental management standards.  That may be part of its weakness.  Most skeptics believe that ISO 26000 will not be the “magic bullet” which suddenly replaces all corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in the Supply Chain. While the guidance is not a certifiable standard, it attempts to harmonize itself with UN Global Compact guidelines for ethical business practices and a number of existing practices, principles and guidelines devoted to social responsibility, like the Global Reporting Initiative (see recent crosswalk). Other recent studies (admittedly a very small survey group of less than 60 entities) by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) prior to the final release established that ISO 26000 may increase awareness, provide definitions and add legitimacy to the social responsibility debate.  However, as stand-alone guidance, ISO 26000 may not contain the practical guidance to enable SMEs to turn theory in practice.

Another recent post by Business for Social Responsibility, entitled ISO 26000 Approved for Publication. Now What?while not holding out great hopes for ISO 26000 stated that the guidance:  “… has the potential to increase the adoption of responsible business practices by all types and sizes of organization around the world—not just corporate entities. In bringing social responsibility to all entities, it may be a useful guide for engaging your supply chain in social responsibility issues. ISO 26000 can provide a first point of call for companies to understand the concepts and implementation tools for a social responsibility program, such as advocating stakeholder engagement and issues assessment methods to define priorities.”

In fact, doing a cursory review of the Final Draft International Standard published in July found many references to supply chain management issues, especially in the areas of “environment” and “fair operating practices”.  I believe that innovative,leading SME’s can successfully apply some of these guidance materials in a productive and cost effective manner.  Doing so begins to institutionalize “triple bottom line” thinking into their supply chain practices.

Turning Theory into Practice- Tips for Supply Chain Integration

Environment

  1. Practice life-cycle management – consider all the steps of a manufacturing process, and all the links in the supply chain and value chain right to the end of a product’s life and how it is disposed of;
  2. Seek way to integrate sustainable resource use and management to make manufacturing steps as environmentally friendly as possible (especially with regard to electricity, fuels, raw and processed materials, land and water);
  3. Test innovative technologies as a way to reduce the product environmental footprint

Fair Operating Practices

Promote social responsibility throughout the supply chain; and stimulate demand for socially responsible goods and services:

  1. In procurement and purchasing decisions, use criteria that select ethically and socially responsible products and companies;
  2. Examine your value chain/supply chain and be sure that you are paying enough to enable your suppliers to fulfill their own responsibilities;
  3. Promote broader adoption of social responsibility through networks of manufacturing associations and business sector colleagues;
  4. Seek business to business and peer network support to collaboratively develop best methods and approaches, leverage resources and document benefits
  5. Treat suppliers and customers/consumers fairly and equitably.

Like my recent posts discussing the supply chain benefits of two other draft sustainability and green product specification standards (ULE 880 and GS-C1), large to small organizations can strive to be ISO 26000-compliant, stay ahead of the curve and grab the “leader” advantage.  Or conversely, companies can risk being a “laggard” and lose vital business opportunities.

Large corporations are realizing the importance accountability, transparency, ethical conduct, and respect for stakeholders’ interests, human rights, rule of law, and international norms of behavior in managing internal and external stakeholder expectations.  Why not apply the same principles wholistically through ones supply/value chain at the SME level?

If you are an owner/operator of a SME, think about your values and principles of operation.  Believe me when I say that doing good can also mean doing well.

Green Seals GS-C1 Taking Supply Chain Management in Manufacturing to a Greener, Socially Responsible Place

16 Sep

In late 2009, Green Seal[1] announced that they had developed a pilot sustainability standard for product manufacturers called “GS-C1”. This pilot standard recognizes socially and environmentally responsible product manufacturers so consumers can make informed choices while helping companies save money by reducing the resources they use and improving their brand and sales position.

The Pilot Standard is now available for public review until September 30th, so it’s not too late to get your comments into the queue.

While the GS-C1 Pilot Sustainability Standard is under review, Green Seal will be piloting a certification program for consumer product manufacturers. The objective of the pilot certification program is to gain practical understanding about the GS-C1 requirements and procedures from companies that are going through the certification process.

Among the criteria included in the standard are:

  1. Transparency and accountability on environmental and social policies at the corporate level;
  2. Aggressive goals, commitments and achievements on environmental and social issues, including greenhouse gas reductions, water and waste, indigenous peoples’ rights and biological diversity;
  3. Supply-chain management and accountability practices;
  4. Life-cycle analysis of product lines and commitments to reduce environmental and health impacts from manufacturing, packaging, transport and end of life; and
  5. Third-party certification requirements to verify environmental and social responsibility of products

Specific to supply chain management issues, the standard awards points for developing and maintaining environmentally preferable purchasing policies (for its non-manufacturing purchasing functions), product life cycle issues, including product design, packaging, transport/logistics and end-of product life management. Perhaps the relevance to supply chain management is Section 3.3, Supplier Management. Focus is paid primarily to “first tier” and highest priority and sub-suppliers.  Primary emphases are focused on:

  1. Identification of highest priority suppliers with the largest environmental and social impact/footprint
  2. Development and implementation of a documented management plan to reduce, in priority order, the social and environmental impacts of its highest-priority suppliers and sub-suppliers.
  3. Maintaining a Supplier “Code of Conduct”;
  4. Conform with Social Impact Assessment criteria described under SA8000 (including issues involving fair labor practices, bribery, governance and transparency);
  5. Monitoring of sub-suppliers (extra points are given if there is “Evidence of working with suppliers to resolve issues found during social and environmental compliance evaluations”.
  6. Accountability is recognized as well by designating a “senior officer” to be “responsible for enforcement of compliance with local laws, supplier Code of Conduct, and action plan for highest-priority suppliers and sub-suppliers.”
  7. Annually issue a publically available report on its supplier management activities and performance

The new standard represents a focal shift of sorts for Green Seal.  The organizations efforts to date have focused on assessing and documenting the environmental footprint of a specific product.  Now with GS-C1, the emphasis is now shifting to the entire product life cycle and all inputs and outputs from a supply chain perspective (the entire design, manufacturing, distribution and end of life management cycle).  This standard is but one of several new standards under development, such as ULE 880 (see my earlier post) that are taking a whole systems approach to manufacturing- a refreshing and necessary step to manage consumption sustainably while enhancing manufacturing efficiency.

Courtesy AU Optronics Corp.

Some companies are not waiting around for the specifications to be completed.  AU Optronics Corporation (AUO) is one of many examples of companies that are adapting to the ‘new normal’ in supply chain management, where environmental issues and social accountability are factored into daily operations. AUO built one of a handful of factories that are (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certified. The company has established a proactive program with its subcontractors and suppliers and includes elements related to quality, green products, manufacturing, labor and ethics, cost and ESH (see attached Figure). A cross-functional team from the company’s Quality Department, Risk Management & ESH Department, Procurement Department, and R&D Department, conduct audit activities. The company has strict acceptance requirements and will not accept a subcontractor or supplier until all of its environmental and social aspects of its products or services are approved. The company also conducts routine management, periodic audits, and ratings for subcontractors and suppliers.  On paper at least, AUO appears to be doing things in alignment with both ULE880 and GS-C1.

I encourage you to consider GS-C1 and ULE 880’s positions on supply chain management and plan ahead for what is undoubtedly a sign of ‘greener’ things to come in business management.

This post was originally published on the Kinaxis Supply Chain Expert Community Green Supply Chain Blog, which can be found at https://community.kinaxis.com/people/DRMeyer/blog


[1] Green Seal is a non-profit organization devoted to working towards environmental sustainability through environmental standard setting, product certification, and public education. The intent of Green Seal’s standards is to reduce, to the extent technically and economically feasible, the environmental impacts associated with manufacturing and services. (Source: www.greenseal.org)

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