Tag Archives: logistics

Collaborative Competition + Sustainability = The 21st Century Supply Chain Solution

24 Mar

Last week, I was honored to be the dinner keynote speaker at the European Petrochemical Associations 2nd Interactive Supply/Demand Chain Workshop in Brussels, Belgium.  What a beautiful place, where cobblestones meet bullet trains- two completely differing eras of transportation systems still working (collaborating?) after all these years.  This years’ workshop theme was “21st Century Supply Chains for the Chemical Industry”.  2011 has also been declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the International Year of Chemistry (see the EPCA’s cool new video, “Chemistry- It’s All About You” here).

Throughout the highly interactive, roll up your sleeves workshop, the dialogue centered on innovative tools and value-added approaches to drive supply chain sustainability. Discussion focused on how the chemical industry and its supply chain can support an evolution from the old linear, materials economy mindset to a more circular, systems based sustainability minded economy, as Annie Leonard describes in the Story of Stuff.  As a matter of fact, that short film was the lead-in to my speech on supply chain sustainability and the nexus with consumerism, and the important role of chemical industry and its supply chain.

As I noted in last week’s post, consumer demand appears to be contributing (at least in part) to some of the gains in eco-friendly and sustainability focused design and manufacturing progress that’s being made in the global marketplace. In addition, shipping and logistics partners are showing leadership in embedding sustainability in the “source, make, deliver and return” product value chain as well.

The (Re) Emergence of “Co-opetiton”

The 21st Century Supply Chain is a rapidly evolving business landscape.  Prior to around 2005,   the supply chain landscape centered on vertical collaboration between subsequent actors in the same supply chain, or between suppliers, manufacturers and customers.  Since the mid 2000’s, collaboration has refocused along the horizontal axis.   What appears to be happening is more evidence of collaborative exchanges between companies in the same market, or alliances, partnerships, clusters, and networked organizations.  This represents a real paradigm shift” that collaboration between producers, service providers and their customers.

Another older term coined in the mid 1990’s, “co-opetition” (or cooperative competition), may now find its place in the 21st century supply chain lexicon.  Co-opetition occurs when companies work together for parts of their business where they do not believe they have competitive advantage and where they believe they can share common costs.   The basic premise of co-opetition strategy relies on leveraging alliances, partnering with other shippers (even competitors!) to control logistics  and transportation costs.   In  “games theory, this would be called a “plus-sum” scenario, in which the sum of what is gained by all players is greater than the combined sum of what the players entered the scenario with.  For instance, co-warehousing or load consolidation in transportation and warehousing are straightforward examples where collaborative competition has enormous financial and environmental benefits.  Co-opetition can in effect lead to expansion of the market and the formation of new business relationships, perhaps even the creation of new forms of enterprise.

Co-opetition partners typically include:

  1. Producers, Customers, Consumers who drive producer demand and determine product eco-footprint
  2. Shippers and Terminal Operators: who generate the freight flows and provide the critical infrastructure for product flow
  3. Logistic Service Partners (3PLs): who can design and implement optimized solutions and move the freight
  4. Fourth Party Providers: who can facilitate partnerships, referee blockages, find common ground; and
  5. Governments who can assure that legal and regulatory arrangements are in place to support seamless collaboration

At the same time, though for co-opetition to be truly sustainable, there must also be  a cultural fit, strategic fit,  economic and operational fit,  and, trust and resources.

Source: Adapted from GEMI, Forging New Links

Co-opetition implies that cooperation and competition merge together to form a new kind of strategic interdependence between firms, giving rise to a co-opetitive system of reciprocal value creation. This new era of globalization has opened the door to co-opetition for small to midsized businesses that lack the scalable resources that larger companies have.  So this makes me think that if competition is a key driver behind innovation, and collaboration is a key 21st Century supply chain success factor, then collaborative competition (co-opetiton) may be a new solution to drive supply chain sustainability. I posed this theory to a warm response by the 65-plus chemical industry logistics professionals in Brussels. Yes, it’s a bit of a heretical idea, but one that has shown in some industries to work.  Take Proctor & Gamble’s Connect + Develop or Nikes Considered Design and the Environment open innovation models.  Both offer opportunities to collaborate and drive innovative solutions that can benefit consumers, and open business channels to entrepreneurs lacking resources to bring new (possibly more sustainable) products or processes to market.

Summary: Forging New Links in the Chain

Co-opetition offers opportunities for manufacturers and their upstream suppliers and customers to strengthen each other’s performance, enhance differentiation and foster end-consumer brand loyalty in the following ways:

  1. By tapping into to customer and consumer preferences, industry can adapt its processes, products and services to enhance competitiveness
  2. By collaborating, customer-supplier teams can address Triple Bottom Line (3BL)-related technical challenges that affect the profitability and performance of the overall supply chain.
  3. Reciprocal value creation through vertical and horizontal “co-opetition” means recognizing and quantifying each other’s value contributions
  4. By sharing intelligence and know-how about 3BL issues & emerging technologies.
  5. By incorporating 3BL advantages into their products and services, e.g., reduced cost of ownership.

What ideas do you have to forge new links in the sustainable supply chain?  Let’s start the collaboration now, shall we?

Consumerism & Supply Chain Meets Sustainability in the Chemical Industry

10 Mar

Next week, I’ll have the honor being the dinner keynote speaker at the European Petrochemical Associations 2nd Interactive Supply/Demand Chain Workshop in Brussels, Belgium. This years’ theme is “21st Century Supply Chains for the Chemical Industry”.  The topic is timely given how there’s been so much talk concerning over-consumption, consumer behavior, corporate social responsibility and increased growth of sustainability in manufacturing and supply chain management.  And the chemical industry indeed plays a large role in much of what we consume.  It reminds me of the old Monsanto commercial…”without chemicals, life itself would be impossible”.  It’s just that these days, chemicals in the global marketplace appear to be getting ‘greener’.

Consumer Demand for Sustainable Products

Consumer demand appears to be contributing (at least in part) to some of the gains in eco-friendly and sustainability focused design and manufacturing progress that’s being made in the global marketplace.  There is certainly a higher degree of consumer awareness and understanding of the need to make healthier, socially conscious and eco-friendly products.  However, the Green Confidence Index, a monthly online survey (~2,500 Americans by GreenBiz.com) noted last year that U.S. consumers cite price and performance as the principal reasons for not buying more green products- the flat growth was partially attributed to stale economy.  The slow economic growth of 2010 appeared to also be slowing widespread innovation by small to medium-sized businesses focused on green manufacturing.

In contrast, the consumer business disconnect appears to be alive and well in other parts of the world. In fact, it’s my thinking that businesses are significantly underestimating consumer interest and awareness in sustainability and green issues.  For instance, consumer demand for sustainably manufactured or ‘green’ products and services in China, India and Singapore are outstripping supply (according to an independent survey conducted by TÜV SÜD Asia Pacific). I’ve no doubt the same is the case in Europe, often considered way ahead in terms of consumer sensitivity regarding sustainability. The TÜV SÜD Asia Pacific found that:

  1. 84% of consumers prepared to pay an average 27% premium for green products, services.
  2. Only 43% of business believes consumers to be willing to pay more  or even produce or trade green products in China, India and Singapore.
  3. 74% of businesses either do not have a policy or guideline to  minimize environmental in place or are failing to clearly communicate  they have one.

Chemical Industry Response to Sustainability and Supply Chain Impacts

Manufacturers in the chemical industry and peripheral services have progressively been responding to end-consumer and customer driven pressures. The emergence of ‘green, (or sustainable) chemistry” and restricted materials initiatives over the past half-dozen or so years have propelled the chemical industry and global consumer products manufacturers to rethink how products are made, consumer health effects and long-term eco-impacts.  Traditionally, supply chain management of hazardous products has focused more on reducing the exposure to hazards than on hazard elimination. The advent of green chemistry has provided opportunities to refine supply chain management, including procurement policies and practices, by developing safer products. Redesigned products and processes can dramatically reduce the risks encountered in manufacturing, storage, transportation and waste control by mitigating the hazards associated with them. From a risk management perspective, since it is fundamentally better to mitigate hazards than to try to protect against them, green chemistry has proven to be highly beneficial and contributes by default to greener supply chain management and supply chain-related risk management

Many manufacturers have risen to the occasion in recent years to drive green chemistry and supply chain management to lessen their eco-footprints and support development of safer products.  Global chemical manufacturer BASF chooses its carriers, service providers and suppliers not just on the basis of price, but 0n their performance in the fields of environmental and social responsibility when making our sourcing decisions. In addition to following the internationally recognized Responsible Care program requirements for environmental, health and safety, BASF has established product stewardship goals designed to reduce its overall eco-footprint.

“What counts for us is acting responsibly throughout the entire supply chain because we want to build stable and sustainable relationships with our business partners. This is why we choose carriers, service providers and suppliers not just on the basis of price, but also include their performance in the fields of environmental and social responsibility when making our decisions.”

The company also maintains several key features of its global supply chain management program, including:

  1. Safe transportation to our customers
  2. Evaluate and support partner companies
  3. Monitoring of suppliers
  4. Product types and sources important
  5. Providing advice for better services
  6. China: sustainability in the value chain
  7. Minimum social standards for suppliers

Meanwhile, DuPont’s Mission is focused on “creation of shareholder and societal value while we reduce the environmental footprint along the value chains in which we operate”.  Throughout the production-supplier-consumer value chain, DuPont strives through end to end supply chain communication to 1) manage risk and be adaptable; 2) gain efficiencies & profitable flexibility; and 3) enable sustainable product performance and verification through its entire supply chain. Sustainability efforts are tracked and managed for continual improvement through a combination of business management integration approaches and supply chain design and operation.

On the retail side, Walmart has asserted itself in the past several years, by clarifying its stance about reducing toxics in products.  In response, American Chemistry Council members have pledged to lower GHG intensity by 18% by 2012 using 1990 as a base-reporting year and has exceeded that initial commitment and has reduced carbon intensity by 36%.  In addition, Dow Chemical’s is working to harmonize the Walmart goal with its own sustainability objectives of decreasing its environmental footprint and maximizing product performance throughout the supply chain.

“Given the challenges associated with running a global chemical manufacturing supply chain, we have been focused on sustainability for a long time – not just our own but also how we address sustainability with our customers and our customers’ customers,” – Anne Wallin, director of sustainable chemistry and life cycle assessment at Dow Chemical.

Logistics Providers Stepping Up to the Challenge

Among supply chain and logistics businesses, the 2009 14th Annual 3PL Study found that shippers want to create more sustainable, environmentally conscious supply chains. The survey found a need to strike a balance between labor & transportation costs.  Surveyed 3PL’s also noted the market value of carbon-reducing processes, compressed production cycles, and less carbon intensive transportation modes that beat the competition.

Most recently, American Shipper just published its Environmental Sustainability Benchmark Study of over 200 shipping companies.  According to the study, “survey respondents clearly see environmental sustainability has an emerging impact and increasing importance in their supply chain. On a scale of one to five (one lowest; five highest) the study average ranked sustainability as 2.42 two or three years ago, 3.41 today, 3.95 in five years, and 4.17 in 10 years”. Interestingly, customer demands, at 25% percent (see graphic below) are on a par with company policies as a leading driver of environmental sustainability adoption.  Most respondents saw potential return on investment (ROI) although ROI was clearly a potential barrier to sustainability adoption.

In response, leading 3PLs and fourth party logistics providers (4PL’s) are focusing more attention on business practices that are intentionally drive business efficiencies , but (perhaps unintentionally) enhance overall environmental performance, namely:

  • In-Store Logistics
  • Collaborative warehousing & infrastructure
  • Reverse Logistics
  • Demand Fluctuation Management
  • Energy/Fuel Use Management

End consumer preference certainly has its place in deriving sustainability in the 21st century, but as I see it, the chemical industry and its shipping and logistics partners are showing proactive leadership in embedding sustainability in the “source, make, deliver and return” product value chain.

My next post will explore how competitive collaboration, or “co-opetition”, is making resurgence in the supply chain sustainability conversation.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to next week’s conference and all the hospitality that Brussels has to offer.

Taming the Tiger: GE Manages China Supply Chain Sustainability Issues with Education & Collaboration

1 Mar

Many of my prior posts have highlighted the critical needs for increased supply chain collaboration among the world’s largest manufacturers. This is especially evident for large worldwide manufacturers operating subcontractor arrangements in developing nations and “tiger economies”, such as India, Mexico and China (and the rest of Southeast Asia). I have stressed how 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.  I’ve further stressed how suppliers and customers can collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance, share cost of ownership and social license to operate and create “reciprocal value”.  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.

Recent events concerning Apple Computers alleged lax supplier oversight and reported supplier human rights and environmental violations only shows a microcosm of the depth of the challenges that suppliers face in managing or influencing these issues on the ground.  Apple recently did the right thing by transparently releasing its Apple Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report, which underscored just how challenging and difficult multi-tiered supply chain management can be.

GE’s “Bringing Good Things to…”  it’s Supply Chain

In the fall of 2010, GE conducted a Supply Chain Summit in Shanghai, China. China was selected as the first supplier summit venue outside the United States mainly because of the ‘unique set of challenges global manufacturers face in conducting overseas manufacturing’. As GE’s Supply Chain Summit site notes, “China’s manufacturing industry has grown immensely over the past decade, faster than its environmental controls and the availability of skilled managers. Thirty percent of GE’s suppliers covered by the company’s Supplier Responsibility Guidelines Program are in China, yet more than half of the environmental and labor standard findings under the Guidelines Program have been identified in the country. Many factories continue to struggle to meet standards and local laws regarding overtime, occupational health, and environmental permits.”  This suggests that the ratio of negative supplier findings to supplier location is higher in China than in other geographies where GE operates.

To meet that deficiency, a key element of GE’s supply chain management program relies on intensive supplier auditing and oversight.  GE’s comprehensive supplier assessment program evaluates suppliers in China and other developing economies for environment, health and safety, labor, security and human rights issues. GE has leaned on its thousands of suppliers to obtain the appropriate environmental and labor permits, improve their environmental compliance and overall performance. GE performs due diligence on-site inspections of many suppliers as a condition of order fulfillment and as part of its tender process.

In a two-year period from 2008 to 2010, GE’s supplier environmental and social program focused assessments were conducted in 59 countries, in addition to performing “spot checks” or investigating complaint or media initiated concerns at particular factories. Some suppliers noted “audit fatigue” which can be perfectly understandable (being an auditor myself I can appreciate the wear and tear this causes on the mind and body after a while!). Third-party firms conduct some of the inspections. However, many of those participating in the audits found that third-party firms often did not provide the critical “how to” guidance as to altering business practices to assure future compliance.

What appeared to be most beneficial to manufacturers is GE’s detailed auditor-training program, which includes instruction on local law requirements and field training followed by a supervised audit with an experienced GE auditor.   The summit findings noted that dealing with the hands on “how to” aspects of solving non-compliance issues greatly helped Chinese manufacturers to “understand the importance of treating their employees fairly and the need to systematically manage the environmental impacts of their operations”. Suppliers at the summit also highlighted the business benefits that resulted from this “maturing approach to labor and environmental standards, including improved worker efficiency and morale, an enhanced reputation, and increased customer orders”. GE’s more advanced suppliers shared that they were developing management systems or integrated processes to proactively address issues and risks.

Education First!

EHS Academy, courtesy GE

In addition, GE and other multi-national companies (including Wal-Mart, Honeywell, Citibank and SABIC Innovative Plastics) have partnered to create the EHS Academy in Guangdong province.  The objective of this no-profit venture is to create a more well-trained and capable workforce of environmental, health and safety professionals, and give them the management, implementation and technical knowledge to be able to proactively assure ensure “that real performance is sustainable and integrated fully into the overall business strategy and operating system” of a company.  Chinese regulatory agencies are also invited to participate as well. The model that GE is using in China offers a positive example of collaborative innovation.

As large companies like GE and Apple expand their production capabilities throughout the globe, it’s vital that they continue to seek ways to train and educate contract manufacturers on environmental and social issues.   This may be tough to do because countries like China are still in the “ramp-up” phases of economic development.  Plus it’s been evident for some years that enforcement of environmental and social laws and regulations by government agencies has not been on  par with the intent of the laws.  It’s also likely that (for the foreseeable future) Chinese political and economic systems will remain focused on rapid development at all costs. So it’s critical that local/in-country government policies be aligned as well to support capacity-building for companies to self-evaluate, learn effective auditing and root- cause evaluation,  institute effective corrective and preventive action programs and seek means to systematically achieve continuous improvement through proactive environmental  and social management systems.

The GE program offers a glimmer of hope that (in China and similar developing economies) that multi-stakeholder, collective and timely collaboration may (someday soon) tame the tiger.

Surveys Lift the Lid on Innovation & Sustainable Supply Chain Management, Uncovering Value & Leadership Traits

9 Feb

This is a tale of two surveys…one innovation focused, the other supply chain focused.  What both have in common is how the reports focused on define the traits and qualities of those who lead and those who follow in their respective business spaces.  Those who innovate tend to lead while those who follow…well, often play catch up.  That’s not too efficient and can lead to wasteful use of resources.  Trust me-as I learned last fall (see photo), it’s better to be the lead horse rider in a dusty trail ride.

The Leaders vs. Laggards Survey

In 2010, as part of its Innovation Survey Series, Cap Gemini Consulting performed a “Leader versus Laggard” study.  The goal of the study was understand the “current state of affairs regarding innovation, and … to identify what drives the success of companies that view themselves as successful”.  Over 375 companies responded to the survey.  Those reporting ‘over 75%’ of innovation efforts having a positive material impact on the company’s business results were considered “leaders” (slightly more than 11%). The ‘less than 25%’ category represents the innovation “laggard” group (nearly 25% of the respondents).  The remaining 65% percent were somewhere in the middle, innovation-wise. The primary drivers of innovation were: evolving customer needs, technological advances and changes, executive direction/internal demands, macroeconomic/external factors, globalization, and changing supplier capabilities. Innovation efforts were generally wrapped into the following five categories: customer focused innovation, new product development, incremental product improvement, business process innovation, and, business model innovation.

Innovation was considered a top-three strategic priority by more than 76 percent of the respondents to the Capgemini survey. Further, over half of the respondents indicated they have developed relationships with third parties to support their innovation efforts on an ongoing basis. The key study takeaways were:

  1. Innovation leaders have advanced beyond other innovators by having an accountable innovation executive or other form of formal innovation governance structure that deals with this kind of decision-making.
  2. Laggard companies hadn’t mastered collaborating effectively with external partners to improve their innovation results. Leaders however had been able to successfully leverage suppliers, customers and other third parties in the innovation process, including filling in missing capabilities or resources – such as technology and talent.
  3. Business model innovation will be the next big differentiator for companies aspiring to innovation leadership. Innovation leaders are allocating increasingly more resources to business model innovation.

Why is this study valuable in terms of supply chain sustainability?  Read on.

The Sustainable Supply Chain Survey

A revealing and promising study was released by the Aberdeen Research Group a couple of months ago.  The Sustainable Supply Chain surveyed 360 companies and found that sustainable supply chain management and supply chain risk management are among the top three areas for improvement in their organization for one third of the respondents.  While that isn’t a stellar number there are some positive trends.  For instance, the survey showed that 76% of the overall survey respondents have incorporated sustainability criteria into some or all of their supply chain management processes. The results provide further proof that in 2010 more companies viewed sustainable supply chain and greening as a foundational aspect of their business operations.

This survey fared compared well with another survey conducted by eyefortransport (EFT) that I reported on in a prior post).  In the EFT survey, well over 60 percent of those companies surveyed had implemented or were initiating sustainability focused efforts in 2010- ranking around 10th out of nearly 40 supply chain management project categories.   In the logistics survey, most respondents noted a far higher level of positive environmental performance in 2010 compared with 2009.

The Aberdeen survey found that two primary drivers for sustainability revolved around achieving “competitive advantage” and assurance that companies were compliant “with current and future regulations”.   Additional drivers noted by about a third of the respondents included interest in positive impacts to bottom line financials and responding to consumer demands for ‘eco friendly’ products.  These drivers, according to the reports highlighted perspectives of five different stakeholders along the end-to-end supply network: customers, suppliers, regulators, competitors and shareholders.

What makes the Aberdeen survey unique was how it distinguished business pattern between “leaders” and “laggards” (like the Capgemini report).  Two key take-aways were:

1) Best-in-Class companies were twice as likely to incorporate sustainability principles throughout all supply chain management (SCM) processes and

2) a principal characteristic of “laggards” was their lack of focus on incorporating sustainability into their SCM processes.

For example, the Aberdeen study identified a 29% spread between leaders who’ve achieved 12% emission reductions versus laggards corresponding 17% increase in emissions.  Similar polar opposite movement was found in areas related to energy consumption and operating margin containment.  And like the Capgemini study, best in class (leaders) companies were 70% more likely to establish corporate governance teams, making technology investment to collect and report metrics, and engaging their suppliers.  Think of the potential savings that leaders have realized compared to their laggard counterparts.

Logistics Providers Leading the Way

As one example, two logistics giants, FedEx and UPS have done deep dives in their business practices and implemented industry leading solutions to bake supply chain sustainability into their operations and supplier networks. UPS has deployed “package-flow” software to map out its most efficient delivery routes. Besides limiting left-hand turns, UPS estimates it shaved nearly 30 million miles off its delivery routes, saved 3 million gallons of gas and reduced CO2 emissions by 32,000 metric tons.  FedEx has deployed cleaner vehicles, sourced alternative power sources for its facilities and engaged its supply chain to promote recycling, product reuse and greener packaging to support FedEx’s operations. The company reports that they’ve improved total fleet miles per gallon within the U.S. by 14.1 percent since 2005, saving over 53 million gallons of fuel or approximately 472,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, with a goal of improving by 20 percent by 2020.  And like UPS, FedEx  is (according to its web site) redesigning its “physical distribution models to maximize the density of … ground and air shipments. This reduces the amount of fuel it takes to ship each package….”

The Aberdeen study also mentioned how the UK based non-profit Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) has developed a secure online platform for companies to share and monitor sustainability data across supply chain.  Sedex’s mission is “connecting businesses and their global suppliers to share ethical data and enabling continuous improvement in ethical performance”.  Currently used in over 160 countries, the membership driven initiative focuses on metrics capture across four “key pillars”: Labor standards, health and safety, business integrity and environment.  Being on Sedex does not mean that a company has met any ethical standards or is in compliance with any code but it does mean that suppliers have made a commitment to continuous improvement.  Suppliers to major retailers and brand owners continue to own the data and manage its use, and keep it updated on a semiannual basis.  Suppliers’ customers then have the option to run a “risk profile” which can allow them in turn to prioritize suppliers for additional collaboration to manage the sustainability footprint of their products or practices.

The Work’s Not Done

The Aberdeen study did uncover several challenges that companies face, especially those with wide supply chain networks.   The study found that about 40% of companies outsourcing at least some of their manufacturing struggle to establish operational capabilities that yield measurable results (less than 10% efficiency).  This underscores the difficulties that many manufacturers have in effectively controlling or influencing supply chain behavior.  And while sustainability initiatives focused on improved energy use efficiency and practices to reduce environmental footprints are highly relevant in improving operations efficiencies, execution still remains challenging.

“The focus on sustainability has changed from being a philanthropic, ‘nice to have’ initiative, to the one that is core to the success of organization…Consistently adhering to the sustainability mandates established by clients as well as establishing mandates for your suppliers is an important strategy to gain incremental business value in the current environment” – Nari Viswanathan, Vice President and Principal Analyst of Supply Chain Management at Aberdeen.

Pushing the Supply Chain Envelop Requires Innovation and Leadership

Many of my prior posts have suggested that “supply chain successes are driven by those who lead through innovation and don’t procrastinate.  These organizations have vision- for the short term and long-term”.  The Aberdeen and Capgemini surveys are proof that ‘first mover’ companies are changing the way business gets done, sometimes in marked, ‘greener’ ways.

I believe that innovative companies are those who consider business operations through a “sustainability lens” by 1) developing key performance goals and metrics to make supply chain sustainability initiatives thoughtful, effective and believable; 2) implementing sustainability initiatives that create environmental and social benefit and that are aligned with the company’s financial strategies and business vision; and 3) identifying and developing value-added transparency and proactive collaboration throughout the supply chain.

Who is up to pushing the supply chain envelope, be a sustainability leader and reap the benefits?

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.

“First Movers” Use Materiality Analysis to Link Sustainability, Supply Chain Management & CSR

25 Jan

By Dave R. Meyer (SEEDS Global Alliance)

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

My first post in this series suggested that there was an intersection or cross-walk between sustainability, corporate environmental responsibility and supply chain management.  This “sweet spot” can be found in conducting “materiality” analyses.  Although the concept of materiality in the finance sector has a long track record in accounting circles, its application in the sustainability space is much newer.  Whereas financial reporting has taken a more short-term view and approach to handling performance and risk, sustainability generally factors in a much longer, strategic planning and implementation horizon.

Businesses have learned that in a world that has grown more transparent, they need to clearly identify what is material to their operations and stakeholders, and communicate this in trustworthy and convincing ways in order to drive creativity and innovation.  Materiality determination is a lot like the aspects and impacts analysis that is common to ISO 14001 based Environmental Management Systems.  ISO 14001 seeks to identify those elements of their activities, processes, services and products that have the greatest impact on the environment.  Materiality analysis does not only that but dives deeper into operations and stakeholder issues.  Let’s take a moment to explore materiality’s origins in the sustainability space.

Roots of Materiality in Sustainability Reporting

In 2003, The UK- based think tank, AccountAbility developed the  AA1100 Standard.   AA1000AS (2008) assurance provides a “comprehensive way of holding an organization to account for its management, performance and reporting on sustainability issues by evaluating the adherence of an organization to the AccountAbility Principles and the reliability of associated performance information. It also provides a platform to align the non-financial aspects of sustainability with financial reporting and assurance through its understanding of materiality”.    The framework for a materiality assessment is depicted in the adjoining graphic, jointly developed by AccountAbility, BT Group Plc and LRQA (The Materiality Report- Aligning Strategy, Performance and Reporting- November 2006).

The AA1100 Standard was revised in 2008.  In it, the AA1000 Materiality Principle requires that the “Assurance Provider states whether the Reporting Organization has included in the Report the information about its Sustainability Performance required by its Stakeholders for them to be able to make informed judgments, decisions and actions.”  Materiality norms taken into account by this standard are:

(a) Compliance performance (considering those aspects of non-financial performance where a significant legal, regulatory or direct financial impact exists).

(b) Policy-related performance (considering identification of aspects of performance linked to stated policy positions, financial consequences aside).

(c) Peer-based norms (considering how company’s peers and competitors address the same issues, irrespective of whether the company itself has a related policy or whether financial consequences can be demonstrated; and

(d) Stakeholder-based materiality (taking into account stakeholder behaviors and perceptions).

The Global Reporting Initiative has developed a framework for materiality determination as part of the G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines The GRI considers materiality as “ the threshold at which an issue or indicator becomes sufficiently important that it should be reported.”  The GRI defined a series of internal and external criteria to be considered when performing a materiality analysis.  Later in 2009, the GRI convened a to evaluate and create more specific guidance for determining materiality.  The draft content recognized that materiality analysis was one of the “least systematized aspects of reporting”:

“Identification of material issues and boundaries are core challenges for any standard risk assessment process. Despite the importance of these challenges to good reporting processes, they represent the most difficult and underdeveloped areas for most companies.” – Draft Report Content and Materiality Protocol, page 2.

The draft Report Content and Materiality Protocol review period closed last fall and is in review at this time.

Materiality “First Movers”

A number of companies have taken a “first mover” position in documenting materiality in their corporate sustainability reports.  Most have used a format similar in scope and criteria as the GRI or AA1100 frameworks, with some modifications.  Companies that have reported on materiality and that reach out to stakeholders what they find to be material to their interest and have some “reasonable control” over include companies from diverse manufacturing sectors such as automotive (Ford[1], BMW, Volvo), communications (BT), energy development (Exxon, Mobil) pharmaceuticals (Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson), electronics and control Systems (Cisco, GE, Omron), consumer products (Gap, Starbucks) and mining (Holcim, Rio Tinto), among many others.  One such company is Danisco A/S.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Jeffrey Hogue (@jeffreyhogue) of Danisco.  Mr. Hogue is Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Global Leader at Danisco A/S.  Danisco is a worldwide manufacturer of food and beverage products, including cultures, emulsifiers, gums & systems and natural sweeteners.  The company does business with the world’s largest food manufacturers.  Daniscos’ 2009/2010 Sustainability Report is extremely comprehensive and has been awarded some of the highest honors for corporate social responsibility reporting in the past year.  The company looked deeply into materiality issues in its report and has developed  strong operational programs to manage its supply chain in a proactive manner.  It’s web site indicates that they have developed and implemented a “new supplier management system…to strengthen our global supplier and material assessment programme through better audit portfolio management tools, detailed assessments, prioritised audits and improved collection of supplier and raw material data.”

Danisco catalogued and assessed stakeholder input from a variety of internal and external surveys and other sources, then indexed them according to their impact on its business. Issues emerging from the data were ranked according to their impact on the business and the degree of importance to stakeholders, forming the basis for the Materiality Matrix (see Figure 1 below).  The company strategically decided to address sustainability risks and opportunities identified as having “medium-to-high impact” on its business and being of “medium-to-high” interest to our stakeholders.


I asked Jeff if he could shed some insight on the company determined materiality and its resulting high ranking for supply chain (criteria, indicators etc).  I also asked Jeff if he’d share his thoughts on the critical nature of supply chain management relative to triple bottom line based materiality (as well as risk management).

“I think that there are three dimensions of this subject and why our supply chain is very important to our success.


Risk reduction – With a supplier base of over 3000 key suppliers it is crucial for us to manage any risk that may be present in our upstream value chain to eliminate the impact on our operations and our customers.  Therefore it is a baseline requirement that we scrutinize our supply chain and develop robust and systematic programmes to address and mitigate risk. Most of our customers expect it — and although it is in a lot of ways a compliance programme, we do derive value in knowing that we will maintain consistent raw material quality, avoid issues related to labor and human rights, and supply security.  We also have the ability to anticipate and mitigate other sustainability related endpoints like the impacts on agricultural raw materials from climate change, water scarcity, regulation, etc.

Opportunity harvesting – We also see the need to understand the potential synergies between our organization and our suppliers.  In many cases we do this to provide shared value in terms of capacity and livelihood building for our suppliers alongside our need for more secure raw material sources.  We often do this on a case by case basis — mainly on a regional level where it makes sense

Value chain pressures and expectations - We are experiencing a world where retailers and our largest customers see these issues in the light of their entire value chain and are actively seeking ways to reduce their indirect impacts.  This of course is cascaded down their supply chains through our organization to our suppliers.  We also see a tremendous opportunity in this area to be first movers and to act now based on how the retailers are moving.  This will put us in a position where we can be proactive and are faster to respond to value chain pressures.”

Materiality in CSR Reports of the Future

I also had the pleasure of several e-mail exchanges with Ms. Elaine Cohen (@elainecohen).  Elaine is a well known CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional (and self-avowed ice cream addict).  She’s  the Founding partner at BeyondBusiness Ltd (www.b-yond.biz/en) and consults to companies on CSR strategy, processes and sustainability communications. I asked Elaine what trends she has seen in CSR reporting these past few years where supply chain has been classified as having “high materiality” to a company’s operations and to their stakeholders.

“I believe supply chains have been becoming increasingly more important over the past few years, as the effects of inadequate supply chain accountability are more and more visible in our market place. We can split these issues broadly into two: the human rights issues in supply chains and the sourcing issues in supply chains.  The HR issues surfaced mainly with the apparel issues in the late 90′s. But the last five years have been characterized by significantly greater transparency  due to the spread of the internet and ease of access to information.”

“… Additionally, I believe the increasing focus on Human Rights and the work of John Ruggie [Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Business & Human Rights], have been clear about squarely placing the responsibility for clean supply chains on the manufacturer. There is almost nothing more material for apparel suppliers than human rights in their supply chains – just take a look at some of their Sustainability reports. Regarding sourcing, this has also become a major issue – Starbucks and Ethiopian coffee farmers, Unilever and others in palm oil issues, Nestle and the Greenpeace KitKat campaign . Manufacturers are getting clearer that sourcing decisions are now much more visible than in the past, and much more risky. So for these companies, raw materials sourcing is most definitely high materiality. Sustainability reports are reflecting these trends and the space allocated to human rights, responsible sourcing and factory auditing is significantly greater that it was some years ago.”

Trending forward in 2011, I asked Elaine to read the tea leaves on supply chain management, CSR and materiality.

“I believe these issues will continue to maintain high-profile and ultimately move towards cross sector alliances to resolve issues that affect all players in a sector such as the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil , work done by the apparel sector and the electronics industry  to determine common standards. We might see multi-company collaboration on third-party factory inspection and evaluation. We might see a set of industry wide agreements on core issues….countries such as China and India are also aware of risks, and greater legislation and enforcement in these countries may help resolve some issues.

Takeaways on Materiality in the Supply Chain.

Jeff related to me that a key NGO with a critical stake in Daniscos’ supply chain affairs remarked that supply chain management and sustainability go hand in hand and is basically a foundational aspect of business operations and risk management.   The challenge, according to Jeff, is in finding the “shared value proposition” that is often difficult to achieve, especially across multiple layers of an often globally distributed supply chain.  Finding localized suppliers and establishing multi-stakeholder collaborations hold promise as models where stakeholder interests and large-scale products manufacturers can find the needed common ground to advance supply chain sustainability.

Elaine summed up our dialogue with the following suggestions: “For manufacturers, don’t underestimate the importance of high-quality supply chain management – get it right before it gets you right, learn from the mistakes of others, think of supply chain management as a core business issue which goes to the heart of strategy and brand decisions, not just something that is tacked on to a new project as a deliverable…In terms of materiality, make sure you “engage, engage, engage” at [the] local level with a wide range of stakeholders, so that you are not demanding deliverables which are not reasonably  feasible. Report transparently on all aspects of supply chain because, if nothing else, this will assist in identifying hidden costs and areas of potential risk.”

Thanks Elaine! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll lay out the business case for materiality assessments to strengthen supply chain management and a straightforward framework for materiality analysis.


[1] Ford’s 2008/09 Sustainability Report includes an interactive materiality matrix that categorizes issues based on two dimensions: the degree of stakeholder concern and the extent of the current or potential impact on the company.

How ‘Materiality Analysis’ Can Drive Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability in the Supply Chain- the Case of Conflict Minerals

19 Jan

By Dave R. Meyer (SEEDS Global Alliance)

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

As the ongoing Wikileaks controversy has made very clear, the political and business world is on information overload.  Some of the information that is disclosed can reveal damaging and often jaw dropping news- and somewhere, interested stakeholders either celebrate or shudder. If a company is questioned about its work practices, environmental impacts of its products or services, it’s too late to claim “it’s not my problem”.  By the time the conversation happens, it’s already a “material” issue.  We are (as former Beatle George Harrison penned) indeed “living in the material world”.

“Materiality” is a term that is frequently used in corporate financial circles, especially as it relates to corporate responsibility, risk and liability management.  A “material issue” is commonly understood in the financial industry as a factor that can have a significant financial impact on a company. These issues are generally disclosed to shareholders, quantified to a degree in annual financial reports, and addressed within the strategic planning process.

Tomorrow’s effective corporate social, environmental and economic reporting must communicate information that is ‘material’ to stakeholders in making coherent decisions and taking planned and timely actions relevant to their interests. An appropriate redefinition of materiality is therefore essential for business managers, for policy makers establishing tomorrow’s regulatory frameworks, and for those involved in their implementation and oversight.- excerpt from Redefining Materiality -Practice and public policy for effective corporate reporting (AccountAbility, 2003)

As sustainability meets supply chain networks, the issue of ‘materiality’ is taking on a new meaning.  Maintaining a “responsible supply chain” involves ensuring that human and labor rights are acknowledged along the supply chain.  Leading companies are engaging their stakeholders to assure that proactive institutional controls are in place to manage the environmental footprint of the value chain.  In addition, companies are increasingly promoting ethical business practices and fostering community based initiatives that support companies “social license to operate”.   As one example, on average, 40% to 60% of a typical consumer product manufacturing company’s carbon footprint is from its supply chain[1]. For retailers, the figure is closer to 80%, with an equally high supply chain exposure to human rights and social issues. By managing supplier and community engagement in a way that achieves and maintains the highest social and environmental standards, a company can achieve performance goals while creating a ripple effect that raises standards deep within the supply chain.

A recent report by Ernst and Young stresses a number of factors that are contributing to more companies expanding their supply chain initiatives in support of sustainability.  Key factors cited in the report are:

  • “Changing consumer preferences toward environmentally responsible (green) products
  • A call for better public availability of product data across the entire value chain
  • Major supply chain risks, including human rights, national security, environment  and  climate change, each of which individually can   collectively affect the nature of a companies sourcing activities.
  • Potential impacts of a products reputation and brand value associated with potentially harmful supply chain practices.”

It’s the last two points that touch most closely on the concepts and issues of ‘materiality’.

“Materiality” 101

As I noted above, ‘materiality’ analysis requires identifying the issues that are of high concern to your stakeholders and also of high strategic relevance to your company.  These are the issues that should be at the core of your corporate responsibility approach and communications strategy, both internally and externally. The concept of “materiality” for sustainable strategic planning widens the analytical spread to address significant environmental or social impacts—as understood by the company AND its stakeholders.

“Topics and indicators that reflect the organization’s significant economic, environmental, and social impacts, or that would substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders.” -Global Reporting Initiative G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, October 2006.

Stakeholders can generally be defined as: investors, employees, customers, communities, non-governmental organizations (NGO), regulators, and (of course), suppliers. Suppliers upstream of core manufacturing operations hold a critical place in operationalizing organizational sustainability initiatives.  They can serve a key external role in determining if an environmental, social or financial issue that can be encountered within the product value chain is great and unmanageable or small and can be contained.  If manufacturers can control or influence supplier behavior, the environmental footprint of the product before it enters the production cycle, its likely that the entire product life-cycle footprint can be narrowed downstream at the point of use and end of life. Also, in softening the environmental and social “load” the residual effect would likely be greater stakeholder confidence, enhanced financial assurance and managed reputation.

The Case About “Conflict Minerals” and Supply Chain Management

Photo by Mark Craemer

Making the rounds in sustainability and supply chain circles so far this year is closer examination of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010), signed into law last July.  Within the body of this voluminous Act (page 838 of the 848 page Act  to be exact) is a six-page section that may have a marked impact on the supply chain for companies across many industries. This law and the issue of conflict minerals (and other commodity driven issues like palm oil extraction, cocoa or coffee production) is a golden example of where supply chain management meets social responsibility and ethics.  This issue sits squarely in the world of materiality, both to internal operations and to external stakeholders.

Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act promulgates new requirements that will have companies reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the origins of many precious metals and minerals in their products, including gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten. The focal point of this legislation is targeted on so-called “conflict minerals”.  Most of these minerals are sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Many of the proceeds from the sale of the minerals entering the supply chain are believed to be funding armed militia groups. The new provisions will create potential penalties for failing to comply with the SEC reporting requirements.  Also, the provisions require that companies respond adequately to customer or third-party requests for information about how these minerals are included in a company’s products or manufacturing processes.

According to a recent white paper on the Dodd-Frank Act by Supply Chain Executive and IHS, Section 1502 requires companies to make an annual disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding whether potential conflict minerals used in their products or in their manufactur­ing processes originated in the DRC or an adjoining country. If the minerals were sourced from these countries.  Companies must report on the due diligence measures used to track the sources of the minerals if they were derived from the DRC or neighboring nations. In addition, the Act will require a 3rd party audit to verify the accuracy of the company’s disclosure. Finally, a declaration of “DRC conflict-free” must be provided to support that goods containing minerals were not obtained in a manner that could “directly or indirectly … finance armed groups in the DRC or an adjoining country”.

This Act and others like it are likely to create difficult, but attainable challenges for electronics manufacturers. The steepness of the challenge depends on the depth of the supply leading from initial extraction of materials to production and the frequency that the minerals exchange hands through the chain-of-custody.  Most surveys taken from manufacturers suggest a lack of confidence in being able to confidently trace conflict minerals to the source (excluding the likelihood that illegal extracted minerals are also blending into the marketplace).  So you could see the difficulty in companies demonstrating due diligence in tracing the chain of materials flows from point of origin.

Meanwhile, major manufacturers in sectors affected by the law already (electronics, cell phones etc) are starting to push new reporting requirements down their supply chains.  Also, a number of industry associations are working with their members to develop codes of conduct associated with conflict minerals.  They are also developing tracking tools and mechanisms to more accurately account for conflict mineral movement in compliance with Dodd-Frank.  And still other NGO’s continue to fight conflict minerals on the ground and through public action.

The second post in this series will look at the successes and challenges surrounding materiality in the supply chain and the intersection with corporate social responsibility.  I’ll present some industry leading examples of materiality analyses in corporate social responsibility reporting, and the criteria that went into determing levels of supply chain materiality .  The third part of this series will dive into how to conduct a detailed materiality analysis and best methods for engaging the supply network to create positive, verifiable benefits and leverage risk.


[1] Medical products manufacturer Baxter estimates that 38% of the company’s overall carbon footprint is represented by its suppliers. As part of its green supply chain initiative, Baxter “concentrates its efforts to green its supply chain on minimizing transportation-related emissions, procuring raw materials and other goods and services with reduced environmental impacts, and helping suppliers improve their environmental performance.”

The Sky’s NOT Falling: New Supply Chain, Logistics Surveys Cite Positive Benefits of Sustainability, Challenges Ahead

13 Jan

Geesh.  You’d think by the Twitter chatter that erupted from this weeks article in the Environmental Leader that the sky was falling.  The headline “Supply Chain Chiefs: Sustainability Isn’t Key” caught readers’ attention, but perhaps the messaging was taken a bit too negatively.

The article was focused on two recent surveys by eyefortransport (EFT), a very knowledgeable and (in my view) a marquee market research entity focused on the transportation industry.  In the survey, chief supply chain officers were asked what key challenges they saw for 2011.  Well, a majority that responded did not view sustainability as a key challenge in 2010/2011.  According to the survey, “supply chain officers identified the “biggest business challenges driving their supply chain agenda” as variability and forecasting (42 percent), cost containment and reduction (39 percent), and supply chain visibility (35 percent). Sustainability strategies and practices only ranked 11th in the list of concerns, with just over 15 percent.”

A second EFT survey of logistics service users’ ranked sustainability only 15th in importance out of 24 challenges they face, behind such factors as the economy, cost control and fuel price fluctuations.  Meanwhile, the survey noted that respondents from third-party logistics services, “ranked sustainability sixth, with the economy, cost control and demand forecasting coming tops.”

The two surveys results yielded no real surprises. And where some may see this as a sort of “green Armageddon”, I only view this as a “teachable moment”.  One of the comments to the post rightly noted that “supply chain sustainability is a powerful means of supply chain streamlining, cost reduction and agility enhancement, and the topic can be used to improve communications and business relationships through the supply chain.”

Because the principal question posed was “what are the biggest challenges that supply chain managers’ face”, I’ll go out on a limb to say that “first mover” supply chain managers are already getting a handle around this issue and maybe the “concern” level is not as great as in the past. In fact, the survey results suggested that in the past couple of years, organizations are generally acting in a more proactive, sustainable manner. As the survey went on to indicate, well over 60 percent of those companies surveyed had implemented or were initiating sustainability focused efforts in 2010- ranking around 10th out of nearly 40 supply chain management project categories- that’s actually a pretty good number!   In the logistics survey, most respondents noted a far higher level of positive environmental performance in 2010 compared with 2009.

You see- it’s all about how you look at a situation- greening of the supply chain through sustainability is not looking too shabby in my book, compared to just a few years ago.

If I had to call foul on the two surveys, perhaps EFT erred in recognizing sustainability as its own category.   Perhaps that was by design, but given the embedded nature of sustainability, I could easily link sustainability with a number of other categories that did rank high on supply chain officers “concern” lists, namely: cost containment and transportation and logistics constraints; also lower ranked issues such as product lifecycle, government mandate compliance.  In reality, sustainability is an overarching business approach that cuts across many business silos.  Supply chains by nature are systems-based networks that require dynamic management of internal and external inputs and outputs throughout a products value chain.  Supply chain sustainability is a powerful tool to identify and manage supply chain inefficiencies, reduce waste and optimize business performance.

As I suggested in an earlier article, the supply chain enablers are those who lead through innovation and don’t procrastinate.  These organizations have vision- for the short term and long-term.  These are the organizations I spend time evaluating and from which I share success stories.  It’s still valuable though to understand why some businesses hesitate in acting on sustainability or supply chain greening.  If you are a supply chain officer or logistics manager that is not paying attention to sustainability focused innovators yet, I suggest you take a closer look at what your peers or competitors are doing.  These leaders are changing the way business gets done- and more sustainably I might add.

Clearly by the EFT survey, much more work remains in 2011 but I am confident that supply chain greening and sustainability is here to stay.  Read why on my last post “Five Reasons that Sustainability and Supply Chain “Greening” Will Stick in 2011”.

Five Reasons that Sustainability and Supply Chain “Greening” Will Stick in 2011.

11 Jan

Hello, 2011.  Ten days in and already the supply chain chatter is in full force.  In a recent post, I noted how 2010 saw an incredibly marked increase in attention to supply chain ‘greening’ and sustainability (two different things I might add).  2011 looks to carry this trend to greater heights.  Why will there be increased traction in supply chain greening and sustainability?  For the following key reasons:

Economics- Contrary to popular belief, making the business case for making sustainability ‘operational” within an organizational supply chain is becoming easier, not harder.  With the availability of more data from ‘first movers’, procurement managers, environmental directors, design engineers, marketing/communications staff and operations managers (among others) are able now to make strong business cases in favor of looking at operations through a green lens. In addition, barriers to global trade brought on by increasing environmental regulations, more stringent restrictions on hazardous substances, greater emphasis on lean manufacturing, and increased supplier auditing and verification are creating the critical mass toward a new norm in supply chain management and expectations.  Seeking efficiencies in supply chain management and producing products while reducing waste continue to be a vital imperative in a recovering economy.  Those who neglect to critical evaluate their operations from a sustainability point of view this year will be cast to the side.

Climate Action- Supply chain sustainability is affecting shareholder value, company valuations and even due diligence during proposed mergers and acquisitions, the report said. It added that shareholder actions on sustainability performance and transparency were up 40% in 2009.  An article in the Environmental Leader last month described how climate change was playing an integral role in corporate supply chain decisions.  A very insightful report by Ernst and Young note that “As carbon pricing becomes established in various jurisdictions, organizations will face risks from compliance obligations.  This will impact cash management and liquidity, and carbon-intensive sectors may see an increase in the cost of capital.”  Still much work still remains to infuse green thinking in the C-Suite.   Little more than a third of those executives surveyed indicated that they were working directly with suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint, or have just started discussing climate change initiatives with their suppliers.  And now, the World Resources Institute is completing authoritative new supply chain and product lifecycle greenhouse gas protocols that will frame what’s expected to be a burgeoning wave of value chain sustainability accounting and reporting.   Stay tuned!

Disclosure and Accountability- As I’ve previously noted, supply chain management became widely recognized in 2010 as a key factor in measuring the true “sustainability” of an organizations practices and processes, and ultimately its product or service.   Increased attention will be paid this year on conflict minerals (because of the recent passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010), fair labor and other social aspects of sustainability, ongoing management of hazardous substances in toys and other consumer products, and looking at the supply chain to manage risks and liabilities from product recalls and other environmental impacts of products and services.  The concept of “materiality” in corporate social responsibility and product disclosure (FTC Green Guidelines) and SEC financial reporting is taking on new meaning from a supply chain perspective. ‘Materiality’ in terms of supply chain or network management will require more rigorous implementation and oversight of ethical business practices and practicing proactive environmental stewardship through-out a products value chain.  Suppliers play a key external role in managing the environmental, social or financial issues within the product value chain. I will treat the issue of sustainable supply chain management and materiality in an upcoming series. Watch for increased supplier requirements, third party verification (like ISO 14001, GS-GC1 and ULE 880) and more upstream accountability.

Innovation and Collaboration- the emergence of collaborative opportunities among larger manufacturers creates entry points in the market for smaller, intermediate products manufacturers as well.  Larger companies are identifying the critical supply chain partners that have the greatest product impact and begin seeking ways to collaboratively address the environmental and social footprint of their products through the value chain.   A new report even suggests that consumers will play a leading role behind greater supply chain collaboration.  The report, by CapGemini suggests that while suppliers are independently seeking more open, collaborative ways to move goods, consumers may be “… the trigger for an optimized collaborative supply chain flow: this next level of supply chain optimization is based on transparency and collaboration.”  More specifically, “Consumer awareness about sustainability demands a more CO2-friendly supply of products and services”, the report notes.

Life Cycle Design and End-of-Life Product Management- There are increased challenges that the waste management industry is facing, wider attention paid to greener packaging and increased emphasis on financial accountability is being felt in world markets.   Establishing a reverse logistics network that supports life cycle design, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and “demanufacturing” processes will take on higher meaning in 2011.   According to a recent white paper issued by sustainability expert and colleague Gil Friend, EPR is a market-based approach that effectively assigns end-of-life responsibility and product stewardship to producers, requiring them to meet specific targets for material recycling and recovery, relative to the total amount of packaging that they have put into the marketplace. EPR helps to shift the responsibility for collecting packaging and end of life products from financially tapped out local government to producers.  But upstream of the manufacturing process, EPR success can be achieved through incentives for companies to take a closer look at how they design products for better end-of-life management (life cycle design).  Producers are not alone in addressing the social and ecological impacts of their products. Manufacturers must engage their supply networks to help drive EPR upstream; however, downstream customers play a role too. So producers and consumers should strive in 2011 to continue a dialogue about what to do to improve the profile of consumer products in a way that’s a win-win for all affected stakeholders.

So there it is from my view of the world. Five sustainability and supply chain challenges that were framed out in 2010 and look to stick in 2011.

Did I miss any?  Please chime in and share your thoughts.

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.

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