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“Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe”- Selecting Best Conflict-Free Minerals Supply Chain Sourcing Strategies (Part 3)

10 May

(Photo courtesy of Julien Harneis under a Creative Commons license)

Part 1 of this series highlighted the issues, regulatory and supply chain complexities and efforts by industry to tighten the control of precious minerals sourcing.  Part 2 of the series dove a bit deeper into efforts by key manufacturers in how they are auditing, validating and tracing the conflict minerals supply chain.  The post also presented some ideas on and what responsibilities non-governmental organizations have had in shaping the debate over conflict minerals, and the roles or responsibilities that we as consumers should take in this thorny human rights- environmental impacts meets consumer products issue.

The final part of this series highlights specific international guidance and steps that industries and consumers can and are taking to proactively address supply chain minerals sourcing and maintain a high level of corporate social responsibility.

But before I go further, a postscript to Part 2.  Following my second post, I was contacted by Suzanne Fallender of Intel with an update on the company’s efforts that I described in the second post.  In her response, for which he apologized for the delay, she provided a copy of a white paper prepared and posted in late April.  In it, the company states “we continue to work diligently to put the systems and processes in place that will enable us, with a high degree of confidence, to declare that our products are conflict-free. Our efforts on conflict minerals are  focused in three main areas: (1) driving accountability and ownership within our own supply chain through smelter reviews and validation audits; (2) partnering with key industry associations, including the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI); and (3) working with both governmental agencies and NGOs to achieve in-region sourcing”. 

The Intel white paper concludes by stating “From the time we became aware of the potential for conflict-metals from the DRC to enter our supply chain, we have responded to this issue with a sense of urgency and resolve. We have approached this issue like we would address other significant business challenges at Intel.”  I believe Intel and their efforts to date bear that out.  They are encouraging comments on their plans and efforts, which can be submitted at http://www.intel.com/about/corporateresponsibility/contactus/index.htm.

By the way, I am still waiting on Apples reply to my inquiries.

Comparing Proposed Steps to Action

As mentioned in the second post, the OECD guidance, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, serves as a common reference for all suppliers and other stakeholders in the mineral supply chain.  The guidance also meshes well with current industry-driven schemes like the EICC and GeSi and AIGG guidance, and clarifies expectations regarding responsible supply chain management of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas.

The OECD guidance approaches minerals sourcing and supply chain management from a “risk management” and “due diligence” perspective and offers a framework to promote accountability and transparency.  A fundamental problem with the OECD guidance is that it’s voluntary.  And with any voluntary guidance, there’s reluctance or little pressure to fully commit to implementation, unless key market or financial drivers threaten or pressure companies to do so.  Also, what is challenging as mentioned before are the many steps and sometimes fragmented nature of the minerals sourcing supply chain.  The myriad of hands that minerals often pass through on the way to the smelter, and in turn on to intermediate and final product manufacturers is numerous and admittedly difficult to accurately trace. Risk levels are particularly high when minerals are derived from the artisanal mining operations (as compared to larger scale operations).  Consequently, being able to control and influence risk along the entire minerals sourcing network and assure that adequate due diligence mechanisms are in place to keep track of intermediary activities is daunting to say the least.  All the more reason to seek ways to streamline the sourcing process by limiting the number of materials exchanges, stepping up oversight, and disengaging activities with underperforming  or high risk suppliers

The OECD suggests a five step framework for risk-based due diligence in the mineral supply chain  that strongly advocates for traceability and accounting systems for both upstream and downstream supply chain organizations:

Step 1: Establish strong company management systems

Step 2: Identify and assess risks in the supply chain

Step 3: Design and implement a strategy to respond to identified risks

Step 4: Carry out independent third-party audit of smelter/refiner’s due diligence practices

Step 5: Report annually on supply chain due diligence

In some contrast to the OECD guidance, the Enough Project offers its own set of valuable ideas and frameworks for the electronics sector and others working in east Africa to follow.  Enough Project, in its recent report entitled  Certification: The Path to Conflict-Free Minerals from Congo , states that international certification efforts are vital to long-term solutions to conflict minerals issues  and on assuring revenue “transparency”.  The Enough Project offers its “five key lessons that should be incorporated into a certification scheme for conflict minerals:

  • A “conductor” is needed to convene a high-level diplomatic partnership on certification and help transform words into action. A “conductor”—a leader with gravitas and political support—is needed to bring stakeholders to the table and to issue a call to action. President Bill Clinton provided a precedent for this when he called together companies and sweatshop labor campaigners in 1996, resulting in the Fair Labor Association certification process.
  • Certification should be governed and funded by a multi-stakeholder body that includes companies, governments, and NGOs. The legitimacy of a process rests on a multi-stakeholder governing and funding framework that ensures accountability.
  • Certification must include independent third-party auditing and monitoring. Regular independent audits assure the public that the process is credible, and on-the-ground monitoring ensures accuracy.
  • Transparency of audits and data is essential to making certification work. Certification processes are moving rapidly towards full disclosure of data and audits.
  • Certification must have teeth. Certification can only work if its standards have meaning on the ground and are enforced through penalties for noncompliance.”

The Enough Project report calls on the United States, through Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, to convene a senior partnership on certification with industry and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).  The report also states that “the United States must act quickly, as minerals traders in Congo are already seeking alternative, opaque markets for their minerals. An internationally accepted certification process would deter this development.”  Last week, a letter writing campaign launched encouraging U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to state a public U.S. position on this issue and convene a high-level partnership on certification with leading electronics and end-user companies, together with Congolese President Kabila and regional governments.  The goal of this summit would be “aimed at unifying the regional and industry-led initiatives and gaining consensus on a system of independent checks on the ground”.

Meantime, Conflict-Free Smelter the industry protocols proposed and under development by the EICC and GeSi are focused on two key areas targeted at what they characterize as the “pinch point” in the supply chain- the smelter:

Business Process Review: Evaluate company policies and or codes of conduct relating to conflict minerals

Material Analysis Review: 1) Conduct a complete material analysis to demonstrate that all sources of materials procured by the smelting company are conflict-free; 2) Evaluate whether source locations are consistent with known mining locations; and 3) Establish whether material identified as “recycled” meets the definition of recycled materials.

The CFS program is moving forward in spite of the delay by the SEC for final rulemaking.   CFS assessments for tantalum began in the fourth quarter, 2010 and are expected to be posted on the EICC website starting this month.  Tin, tungsten and gold are planned to commence later this year.

What Makes a Good Auditor?

In addition to “what” types of certification schemes are needed and how they should be administered or governed, there’s the matter of “who” should do the auditing and third- part certifying.  What I see as critical here is Step 4 of the OECD process and Step 3 of the Enough Projects documents, both of which the EICC and GeSi programs are attempting to fulfill.  However, key to this audit process is the “independence” and competency factor as well as what qualifications auditors have to perform these assessments.  The Enough Project gleaned through numerous frameworks in order to develop its proposed certification approach, which deserves careful consideration.  In addition, while the SEC has yet to clarify the specifics of the Dodd-Frank provision, ELM Consulting’s Lawrence Heim in a recent AgMetal Miner series, notes:

… There are a number of auditor certifications that could be considered applicable to this scope of audit, but none should be considered to automatically qualify an auditor for these engagements. These audits require a unique blend of expertise in general auditing processes/procedures, environmental knowledge, accounting basics, chemistry/industrial processes, procurement controls, contracts and supply chain fundamentals. Finally, the auditor must be able to execute the engagement in accordance with the auditor/engagement standards of the Government Auditing Standards, such as the standards for Attestation Engagements or the standards for Performance Audits (GAO–07–731G) GAO-07-731G contains standards on auditor independence.

Associations consist of multiple members who have varying degrees of business relationships with each other and the audited entities, putting the auditor in a position of serving “multiple masters” relative to influence over the audit scope, process, information, report and payment. Our research and inquiries to qualified experts in SEC auditing requirements indicates that there appears to be no precedent in any other legally-required audit in the US that has been fulfilled in this manner.

Comparisons and Contrasts

I had the chance last week to listen in on an informative webinar by STR Responsible Sourcing.  The company is an accredited monitor for numerous social certification programs, and partners with many organizations that share our mission of assuring responsible sourcing practices.  The company compared governmental, regional, industry schemes for addressing minerals mined in conflict regions.  The figure below summarizes each of the initiatives and target areas.

According to STR, there are a series of challenges lying ahead for both upstream suppliers (e.g. miners (artisanal and small-scale or large-scale producers), local traders or exporters from the country of mineral origin, international concentrate traders, mineral re-processors and smelters/refiners) and downstream users (e.g. metal traders and exchanges, component manufacturers, product manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and retailers) of precious minerals.   Downstream Supply Chain parties are faced with some unique challenges, namely:

  • No clearly defined requirements of “due diligence”
  • No guarantees for “conflict-free”
  • Limited transparency in upstream supply chain
  • No traceability in downstream supply chain
  • No generally accepted standard / certification

For the upstream supply chain, primary challenges include:

  • Complexity of the supply chain
  • Difficulty to include small and artisanal mining
  • Challenges for implementation of traceability schemes in the DRC due to militarization of mines and widespread lack of formalization of small scale mining

Meanwhile, according to STR,  the downstream supply chain might consider the following approaches to start on the path of responsible sourcing of precious minerals:

  • Implement a procurement policy and due diligence procedures
  • Develop consistent supplier engagement processes (awareness raising, communication and training) throughout the supply chain
  • Monitor downstream suppliers’ due diligence procedures and gather data on organization of supply chain (desktop or onsite)

For the upstream supply chain consider the following:

  • Support certification schemes and industry efforts
  • Join certified trading chains / buy certified products
  • Government lobbying

Where to Start

If you are a manufacturer of electronics, jewelry, automotive parts or other goods that may be subject to sourcing through the DRC or other conflict prone areas of the world, consider (at a minimum), the following steps:

  • Read the OECD and Enough Project guidance documents to understand the issues and risks associated with responsible sourcing
  • Stay tuned into the progress that your industry associations are achieving to bring a better sense of responsible management to this issue
  • Follow the development of the SEC conflict mineral guidelines
  • Work with procurement, operations, legal, environmental and communications staff to craft a procurement policy & selection of supplier selection process (along the lines that Intel, HP, Motorola and others have)
  • Request origin and chain of custody documentation for purchases to assure traceability
  • Establish adequate record-keeping system
  • Ensure that relevant staff is trained on procurement policies, procedures to receive material and identification of potential conflict material

If I were to look at where industry was a few short years ago on this issue compared to now, there’s no doubt that increased minerals sourcing tracing and accountability in conflict-free minerals is improved.   The system as presently planned, in pilot stages or in process certainly has some flaws as most new initiatives have.  But given the industry, region, national and international levels of cooperation that is rapidly becoming evident, I’ve no doubt that the positive outcomes will be great.

Aaron Hall, Policy Analyst at the Enough Project in a recent interview with Resource Investing News said “It’s a start. You have to take small steps forward. The fact that governments and industry are thinking about this shows concern and to a large extent they are willing to tackle the problem,” said Hall. “I think it’s remarkable that the multiple stakeholders involved in this process have been able to come together in such a short amount of time and make progress towards setting up a regional certification regime for these minerals.”

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.

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”.

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.

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 Quest for Personal & Organizational Sustainability- The Path to 2011 & Beyond

24 Dec

A great article was brought to my attention this past week by sustainability colleague and sage Gil Friend (@gfriend) this week.  The article by Peter Shallard talks about ditching New Years resolutions and reminding yourselves that you are on a journey- a quest.

“The holidays give you the window of opportunity to do this important thinking – not the date on the calendar. Take advantage of the time you’ve got to review the past and be grateful. Then, think of the future and be excited….Dismiss the date. Embrace the introspection.”- Peter Shallard

For individuals, organizations and communities, sustainability can be a walk in the forest, a chance meeting or a seminal event that jogs the mind, creating an urgent call to action that is transcendent.   For me at least, this shift towards sustainability has truly been a quest- sometimes a quiet, almost transparent change, other times a deliberate, “in your face” awakening. Either way, questing for sustainability involves embracing whole systems thinking that allows us to view ourselves and the business relationships that we have with others differently perhaps as a value chain of innovation and creativity.

My Journey

A few moments come to mind in my journey toward sustainability and my professional path (dates are approximate) that I’d like to share- come along with me please- read on:

Riding the Range (South Central Montana, 1964)- that's me on the left with my Dad & brother

1964: My family takes “The Great Western Road Trip”- one month in a loaded Ford Country Squire, exploring the wide open Western U.S., riding horses in Montana, exploring the Colorado back country, and marveling at Yellowstone National Parks natural wonders.  I vow to move west one day. I eventually do in 1977 to finish out my college education in natural resources ecology and management.

1969: Memories of recycling glass, plastic and newsprint with my Dad at the huge new recycling center in my hometown (Highland Park, Illinois).  I liked the shattered glass sounds.

1972-1976: Camping in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and making a conscious decision while on a “walk in the woods” to pursue a natural resources career.  I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ed Abbeys Desert Solitaire and am changed forever.

1982: I developed and unveiled a groundbreaking employee environmental training program that changed the way of thinking for hundreds of coal miners in Utah.  Their changes in behavior and proactive efforts led to a stellar number 1 environmental compliance ranking and state-wide recognition.

1983: I watched the groundbreaking movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance while I was working for a coal mine in New Mexico.  As I saw smoking, exposed coal seams from the surface mining activities, I began questioning if who I was working for was contradictory to my belief in natural systems, conservation and environmental protection.  So I reached out to Amory and Hunter Lovins (@hlovins) at the newly founded Rocky Mountain Institute for advice on how to manage my moral and ethical environmental center.  Their sage wisdom enabled me to continue my environmental work.  I embraced  internal change management, policy development, environmental awareness and education,  advocacy for proactive compliance management and supporting land conservation and  site restoration.

Emergency Site Cleanup-Utah, 1986

1984-1990: I called this period ” the Tyvek Years”.  I had numerous transcendent experiences conducting high profile federal and state-led hazardous waste site investigations and emergency cleanups.  It was sometimes very nasty work.  The experiences left me wondering how to prevent future environmental calamities like the ones I was helping to clean up.  This  led me toward developing proactive compliance and environmental management frameworks for clients and take a more active role in community planning groups.

1990: Captain Planet and the Planeteers debuts on Turner Broadcasting.  The Captain Planet Foundation still exists to support hands-on environmental projects for youth in grades K-12.

Mr. Science goes to pre-school for Show-and-Tell (1991)

1991: My four-year old son brings me to pre-school as his show and tell project.  He introduces me as follows: “This is my Dad- he saves the Planet”.  What a better way to spend the lunch hours in enlightening the next generation about environmental issues and the wonders of science.

1993:  I participated with an international team in a solid waste facility siting project in Barbados.  The political process trumps good engineering and science, and demonstrates lack of value placed on natural parklands and sustainable development.  The government ignores all technical recommendations made by the team following years of study and eventually sites the project in the middle of a proposed national park.  Really!?  I leave the island tanned but disillusioned and even more committed to advance science in effective sustainable development policy-making.

1995: I complete my Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Management as a charter member of University of Denvers groundbreaking and pioneering post secondary education curriculum.  My Capstone Project, an “Environmental Policy Toolkit” becomes available to hundreds of small to large businesses through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.   While the younger grads are passing alcohol filled bota bags at graduation ceremonies, my professional colleagues and I are passing “Tums” around!  My son gets to see his Dad who “saves the planet” walk up to accept his diploma- that was cool.

1996: Recalling my talk in 1983 with the Lovins’, I was confronted by an old time miner while working at my company’s booth at a mining expo in Spokane.  He saw that I worked for an environmental services firm and said: “so I see you’re an environmentalist- so, are you ‘fer or ‘agin mining!?”  I answered ” I’m ‘fer environmentally responsible mining”.  That stumped him but he said he’d “accept that” answer.  I gave him trinkets for his five grandkids, and he left happy.

1998: I had the pleasure of planning and developing several successful and industry groundbreaking ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) certifications (the first of more than three dozen I have installed since).  Bubble shattered in 1999 by a retired Washington state Senator, who quipped to me on a Washington D.C. street that environmental policy is not science-based.  I am dumbfounded (post script: last week the Obama administration finally released its  long awaited “scientific integrity” policy statement).

City of San Diego Water Department ISO 14001 Champions (I'm in the 3rd row)

1998-2004: The public sector years.  During this time I assisted major water, wastewater and solid waste utilities in implementing award winning ISO 14001 EMS’s, improving operations and saving taxpayers millions in real and avoided environmental liabilities.   I knew I could flush, drink water and recycle in confidence knowing that my city operations were “doing the right thing”.  After my latest utility client successfully received its ISO 14001 certification in 2004, one of  the organizations chief protagonists quietly pulled me aside to thank me “for getting us to do what they would not have done themselves”.

2010: I finally seek out and find the link between my Jewish identity and environmentalism.  I become a Bar Mitzvah and find that the Torah and Jewish scholars have taught extensively about environmentalism over the past 5771 years- guess I was a little late to the party!.  Many Talmudic themes specifically center around the concept of “sustainability”. Here in the U.S., the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has helped tens of thousands of Jews make a connection between Judaism and the environment.  There are even green tips to have an ‘eco-kosher’ New Year.

A quest is superior to a goal because the journey itself is rewarding. It’s an epic ongoing voyage which will immediately go down in folklore as a story worth telling.  Ditch your goals in favor of choosing the journey that you want to go on. Pick a quest that will necessitate the accomplishment of your goals along the way.

So that’s my story….or at least some of the highlights.  There’s more to share but that’s perhaps another chapter in this journey.  I hope you found this first story worth the telling.  As you can see, sometimes its the little things that (when I take the time to think about it) have slowly moved me forward, or sometimes the events have been larger and have catapulted me further .

A Call to Action

Mr. Shallards piece distills preparation for a successful quest as a series of four essential steps.

…focus on equipping yourself for your journey.  Ask yourself:

  • What kind of person do I need to be to be the hero in this story?
  • What beliefs and values do I need to hold?
  • What capabilities do I need to develop?
  • What habits and behaviors do I need to master?

The suggestions by Mr. Shallard can easily be adapted to an organizational  and supply chain level when considering best methods to transform a “business-as-usual” organization into a sustainability-minded one, or instill changes in policy and implementation at the community level.   A few other ideas to turn your organization toward a “top-line”, first mover one can be found here as well.

I can’t begin to reel off the names all of the family, friends, colleagues, teachers and organizations that have made such a huge difference in my quest  of the past 50 plus years on this planet.  Suffice it to say that it takes many wings to fly in this world and I am indebted to each and every one of you who’ve made a small or large contribution to my quest along the way.   I will thank Gil Friend though for bringing Mr. Ballards perspective to my attention.   Meantime, I’ll just simply say that if you are reading this, I truly appreciate your continued support and interest in my ideas and experiences this past year.

I’d love to hear your stories too and hope you’ll share them in the comments below!

Here’s to a very happy, health, sustainable & prosperous 2011!

Paz- Dave

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 Solutionsnumerous 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.