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:
- Producers, Customers, Consumers who drive producer demand and determine product eco-footprint
- Shippers and Terminal Operators: who generate the freight flows and provide the critical infrastructure for product flow
- Logistic Service Partners (3PLs): who can design and implement optimized solutions and move the freight
- Fourth Party Providers: who can facilitate partnerships, referee blockages, find common ground; and
- 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.
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:
- By tapping into to customer and consumer preferences, industry can adapt its processes, products and services to enhance competitiveness
- 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.
- Reciprocal value creation through vertical and horizontal “co-opetition” means recognizing and quantifying each other’s value contributions
- By sharing intelligence and know-how about 3BL issues & emerging technologies.
- 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?