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Got Sustainable Procurement? Yes! No! Maybe. Supply Chain Surveys Read the Tea Leaves (Part1)

21 Jul

Courtesy LeoReynolds via Flickr CC

To paraphrase  a timeless Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are A’ Changin’” is no understatement.  You can read the details from across the globe in the news every day and are rapidly happening simultaneously on political, economic and social levels. And business is also making radical changes in the sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR)  frontier.

“Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”- Dylan

One area that appears to be in movement is Procurement. You know, those folks on the third floor in the back that order stuff?  Well, wrong! I’ve maintained that the heart of a sustainable supply chain runs through its procurement function.  That’s because every product- every single purchase- has a hidden human health, environmental and social impact along the entire supply chain.  My previous posts have discussed how the procurement function is a vital cog in product value chain.  Purchasing staff are the “gatekeepers” that can access powerful tools and serve as a bridge between supplier and customer to assure that sustainability and CSR issues are taken into account during purchasing decisions.  2010 was a watershed year for sustainability initiatives and supply chain management and I predicted that 2011 would see greater progress.

So I was incredibly excited when I recently got my hands on a relatively new white paper from Ariba, entitled “VISION 2020 -Ideas for Procurement in 2020 by Industry-Leading Procurement Executives”.  According to the conveners of the document, the “objective [of the effort initiated in 2010] is to initiate a dialogue on the future of procurement and to create a roadmap for how to get there.”  For that, they connected with leading practitioners and executives from around the world and across a variety of sectors to share their ideas, best practices and to read the tea leaves as to where procurement might be in 10 years.

And while the initial report laid out some pretty intriguing and widely varying trends and predictions about the state of procurement in the corporate function, I was unfulfilled.  I was all ready to read about how the emergence of sustainability in the marketplace was going to drive procurement decisions.  I expected to hear how top flight companies around the world were collaborating with their supply chain, implementing staff training on ‘green purchasing’ practices, and implementing sustainability driven supplier audits and ratings scorecards.

Boy, was I wrong!  Only ONE  mention of the word “sustainability” (thank you Dr. Heinz Schaeffer, Chief Procurement Officer, Northern and Central Eastern Europe for AXA), and no mentions of “responsible sourcing”, “green supply chain” or “sustainable sourcing”.  I would have expected more from chief procurement representatives from the likes of KeyBank, Maersk, Sodexho, and former execs from Hewlett- Packard, General Motors, and DuPont.  Most of these companies are generally considered leaders in the sustainability space.  So why would there be a disconnect between what companies are doing in design, manufacturing and product life cycle management and the procurement function?

Before we go too far, its helpful to define what “sustainable procurement” is.  While there is no singular definition for it, I like the definition offered up by the  UK-based Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS).  CIPS definition is  “a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment.”.  And what CIPS defines as  ‘whole life basis’ is that “sustainable procurement should consider the environmental, social and economic consequences of design; non-renewable material use; manufacture and production methods; logistics; service delivery; use; operation; maintenance; reuse; recycling options; disposal; and suppliers capabilities to address these consequences throughout the supply chain” [emphasis added].

It’s a good thing that the authors from Ariba stated that “The [2020 Vision]report is intended not as an end, but rather as a point of departure for much discussion and debate around where procurement can and should be setting its sights for the year 2020 and beyond.  In fact, Ariba invites readers to “join the debate and to extend the discussion with new ideas by joining the conversation.  I have and I hope you will too.  But I think I’ll start right here first.

Key Findings of Interest:

The report identified six key trending areas and take-aways among the participants who have weighed in so far, namely:

  1. Procurement devolves- with spend management requirements shrinking, companies are being forced to optimize what resources they have and make better informed decisions.  More work at the business line level will occur, possible eliminating the central procurement function entirely.  Money and metrics will drive most decisions as companies face leaner profit margins.  There will be a need to engage end customers more and more and leverage relationships.
  2. The new supply management emerges– some traditional sourcing functions may become outsourced.  Strategy “will tie directly to an enterprise’s end customers and it will be more cognizant of the diversity of desires and requirements within the customer base”.
  3. Skill sets change.  The Chief Procurement Officer and staff must have broader skills that allow them to not only create opportunities for revenue enhancement internally and optimized “spend”, but also be more in touch with end customer values-driven needs. Procurement staff need to be tuned into multiple tiers of the supply chain, dive deep “inside the supply chain and bring [issues] forward to the designers within [individual] companies”.
  4. Instantaneous intelligence arrives.    Market pricing will become more transparent [the Cloud forces transparency to some degree].  Companies will have to rapidly extract innovation and other value from supplier bases, and build exclusive commercial relationships with leading suppliers that share both risks and rewards.
  5. Collaboration reigns- There will be as the report notes a “big emphasis on driving and taking innovation from the supply base… the supply role will be less ‘person-who-brings-innovation-in’ and more ‘person-who-assembles-innovation-communities-and-gets-out-of-the-way’.  Suppliers are being asked more often to participate in early design and product development as a way to leverage risk and control overall product life cycle management risks.
  6. Risk management capacity and demands soar– as companies are already realizing, effective procurement relies on response to risk management variables (financial, ethical, and operational performance).  Companies must create “360-degree performance ratings and provide greater transparency into market dynamics, potential supply disruptions, and supplier capabilities”.  A few participants noted that  there will be a “big expansion in the kinds of risks companies address in their supply chains, considering, for example, such things as suppliers’ sustainability, social responsibility…”.

Now if I read in between the lines, I can easily pluck out a number of key procurement trends from the 2020 report that transfer well to sustainability and responsible sourcing.  Risk Management.  Collaboration.  Design phase (life cycle) engagement of multi-tiered suppliers.  Key performance metrics. Responding to consumer demands. Supplier performance ratings. 

Courtesy babycreative via Flickr CC

One takeaway for me appears that there may be a disconnect still between the procurement function and other functions within organizations. So is the procurement function still operating in obscurity in most organizations?  It all depends who you talk to but also on your skill at reading the tea leaves.

Rest assured that compared to only a few years ago, more companies that are seeking to manage the life cycle environmental impact of their productsfrom design and acquisition of materials through the entire production, distribution and end of life management.  They’re finding sustainable procurement to be a valuable tool to quantify and compare a product or component’s lifetime environmental and social impact early on in a products value chain while positioning the company for smart growth in a rebounding economy.  We may be at a sustainable procurement “tipping point” and Part 2 will present the results of a very promising benchmark report recently released by HEC-Paris and Ecovadis, which tells a much different story.

The times they are [indeed] a’changin’.

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Sir Bransons Climate Challenge to Sea Cargo Shippers- Carbon Accounting Successes & New Tools

7 Dec

In prior posts I have discussed the importance of transportation and logistics as critical elements in anchoring a sustainable supply chain (see separate posts here and here).  Last week I discussed the key linkages between supply chain sustainability and climate change.   No comes a bit of encouraging news from the Cancun Climate Summit (COP16), still in progress through this week.  A free internet database was announced over the weekend, the focus of which will list the energy efficiency of almost every ocean-going vessel, in a scheme designed to reduce shipping emissions by nearly 25%.  This effort is important not only because it recognizes shipping and transport as a backbone” of commerce, but because of the value of transparency in enhancing supply chain efficiencies.

“By eco-labelling clean and dirty ships, we hope to change the mindset in shipping and begin making gigaton-scale reductions in emissions,” said Peter Boyd, director of Carbon War Room.  The Carbon War Room was a co-founded by Sir Richard Branson.  Using publicly available data on the engine size and CO2 emissions of nearly 60,000 ships, exporters and importers, as well as holidaymakers on cruises, will be able to choose between ships that run on cleaner fuels and have other technologies designed to reduce environmental “loads”.

The initiative, called Shippingefficiency.org, rates ships on a scale from A to G in a similar fashion to ratings given to fridges or washing machines. According to the site, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) ratings for an individual ship are calculated by assessing the values for that ship to overall average values for all ships of that type (e.g. bulk carriers) and to other ships of a similar size within this type. It will “allow supermarkets, oil and mining companies, food importers, retailers and manufacturers” to specify that their goods are sent from point to point by the least polluting ships.

The “Dirt” on Sea Shipping…

The shipping industry has been challenged for decades to find ways to efficiently deliver the majority of goods from point of manufacture to point of use.   Ocean transport carries more than 90 percent of the world’s traded goods and contributes between 3 percent and 4 percent of global emissions.  Shipping has been slow to address carbon emissions, choosing to focus on containment and control of other critical pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)[1]. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body that governs shipping, the industry has an opportunity to make substantial money by reducing the first 250 million tons of its CO2e.[2]

Shipping has a number of inherent institutional issues that hamper demand for widely available fuel-efficient technologies.  For instance, the worlds shipping fleet has been driven for years by engines designed to burn the cheapest, dirtiest “bunker” fuel, passing on the cost. Nearly 15% of the world’s ships account for about half of all the industry emissions.  In addition, most shipping lines traditionally pass on most of the fuel costs to charterers, providing few incentives to build more efficient ships (often referred to as the “landlord and tenant scenario”).  In addition, shipyards worldwide always charge an often cost prohibitive premium to operators for new designs and technologies

Also, its shipping-attributed pollution can pose serious human and environmental health risks.  For instance, particulate matter emissions from ships have been reported to contribute to an estimated 60,000 premature deaths annually (with most deaths occurring near coastlines in Europe, East Asia, and South Asia), as reported in a 2007 study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

…and What the Industry is Doing About It

Mr. Branson’s announcement in Cancun adds another initiative to the increased attention being paid to the transport industry in managing pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions. As I recently noted in a recent post on shipping and logistics, Inbound Logistics Magazine earlier this year released its Top 50 Green Partners listing earlier this year.  Eight of the companies and organizations listed were ocean carriers.  These appear to be true leaders in implementing improved operational practices designed to lower the environmental impact of their operations.

Also, back in the early 2000’s, the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) launched the Clean Cargo Working Group (CCWG). The group consists of over 60% of the leading multinational manufacturers (shippers) and freight carriers and forwarders (carriers).  The group is dedicated to” integrating environmentally and socially responsible business principles into transportation management”.  Unlike the new EEDI rating, the CCWG methodology is the only existing standardized approach to calculate CO2 emissions for ocean going container vessels. The data is put in the form of emissions factors to enable shippers and liners calculate carbon emissions in a consistent manner.  This allows trade routes to be compared. In addition, the CCWG annually benchmarks member lines’ environmental performance, further increasing focus and reducing environmental footprint.

Other collaborative efforts that cover other transport modes include EPA’s SmartWay Transportation Partnership, Ecological Transport Information Tool, and the GreenShip Project.  Each of these and other transportation-focused groups have made strides in developing tools and methods for different parts of the sector.

Case Studies

Reducing emissions is technically feasible using current technology, and, in the case of efficiency measures to reduce fuel consumption, can contribute cost savings that make it economically attractive with appropriate financing of upfront costs. Of those emission reductions, the first approximate 25% of reductions could be achieved “profitability”, according to the IMO GHG Study.

Big Players Getting it Done: At a transportation conference convened this past summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Lee Kindberg of Maersk Lines (one of the top 50 Green Partners reported by Inbound Logistics) reported that “… vessels are becoming more energy efficient and reducing emission. This is due to technologies, operations, the speeds we operate at, and the vessel sizes as there definitely are economies of scale. …Since 2002 [Maersk] reduced our CO2 emissions per container per kilometer by 20% and set a goal of an additional reduction of 25% by 2020.  In addition Kindberg indicated that the company was switching to a distillate fuel instead of the heavy fuel oil, resulting in sulfur oxide emission reductions of 95%, particulate matter emission reductions by 86% and the NOx emissions reductions by 6% to 12% depending on the vessels.  Reducing ship speeds, reducing ship drag, or ballast water optimization and treatment systems has also increased ship efficiencies along with improvements in ship procedures, crew training and performance measurement using independent third party environmental certifications like ISO 14001.

The Little (Hybrid) Tug That Can: Major cargo seaports are also collaborating with companies to introduce new technology to comply with stricter air quality regulations.  The world’s first hybrid electric tugboat, Foss Maritime’s Carolyn Dorothy which works in Southern California’s San Pedro Bay at the Port of Long Beach, California, emits 73 percent less soot (tugs are known high soot contributors), 51 percent fewer nitrogen oxides and 27 percent less carbon dioxide than a standard tug of comparable size.  The tug also can claim improved fuel efficiency and a quieter operation, all contributing to a lower environmental footprint.

Conclusions/Food for Thought

This past weekend’s announcement at Cancun and the slew of industry cross-sector, multi-modal collaborations are encouraging.  Whether it’s sea shipping, air cargo, rail or road transport, all modes play a vital key to solving part of the climate change puzzle.  As Maersks Kindberg stated this year at the FHWA conference, “We have to keep in mind that it’s the total lifecycle footprint that matters. Transportation is often only a small part of the total …If you focus on improvements and actually incorporate the carbon impact into business decisions, you can actually make real progress on both and perhaps also improve your business.’

It’s clear that all the nodes of a supply chain (from design to manufacturing and from point of use to end of life) and all the modal components in between want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Businesses are stepping up to the challenge.

As we head into the final week of climate negotiations at Cancun, are the world’s climate negotiators up to the task?


[1]According to the Carbon War Room, the shipping industry is the largest emitter of NOx and is also one of the largest emitter of SOx.  It’s been estimated by the IMO that demand will increase, and CO2e emissions from ships will reach 18% of all manmade Greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under “business as usual”.

[2] The IMO GHG Study 2009 estimates that eco-efficiency technologies could reduce CO2e emissions from shipping by between 25% and 75% with substantial monetary advantages.

2010 Green Supply Chain Awards Recognize Companies for Innovation, Efficiency, Environmental Performance.

17 Nov

Last week, the Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazine announced the recipients of its 2010 Green Supply Chain Awards.  These awards recognize companies that are making sustainability a core part of their supply chain strategies.

This is quite an impressive list and perhaps it shows that “green supply chain” as an integral function in business operations may be cementing itself as a new “business as usual”.  Why?  I have spoken repeatedly about how small to midsized companies are being pressured by primary customers, or original equipment manufacturers are seeing trade barrier blockage due to emerging rules and regulations, and how advancements in accounting for corporate social responsibility effort are on the rise, to name a few.

 “The purpose [of the Green Supply Chain Awards], according to Andrew K. Reese, editor, Supply & Demand Chain Executive is to “highlight a range of strategies and solutions that companies are employing to incorporate sustainability into the supply chain,” Reese said. “Our readers can use this information as a baseline to assess their own efforts in this regard.”  Through an online nominations process, submissions were reviewed based on the clarity and content of the sustainability and related supply chain management goals and strategies, implementation measures taken and performance results to date.

From among the nominated companies Supply & Demand Chain Executive selected those firms that “stood out for their projects to incorporate sustainability objectives into their own supply chains or to enable sustainability in their customers’ supply chains”.  Recipients ran the gamut from logistics and transportation companies (Maersk, DHL, YRC, CaseStack, Penske, Unisourse, Evergreen), , airlines and railways (Norfolk Southern, Cathay Pacific), clothing and footwear apparel (Timberland, Puma), healthcare (Kaiser Permanente), pharmaceuticals (Novartis), retail office supplies (OfficeMax), software and enterprise systems applications (Syspro, Cisco), among others.

Past recipients like Schneider Electric implemented a number of measures through its supply chain designed to manage the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH) law entered into force in the European Union in June 2007. Taking proactive action with its suppliers avoided costly disruptions in its operations.

At D.W. Morgan Co. last year, the company introduced iPhone-based mobile communications system, and with it managed to eliminate roughly 50,000 paper way bills annually.

Finally, 2009 winner Conexant Systems consolidated its hubs to two major locations in Singapore and Taiwan.  This consolidation allowed the company to allowing it to mix-and-match its chip sets at those locations, leading to significant reduction and reuse of packing materials, and reduced customer shipment frequency (by up to 75 percent).  Now that is efficient!

These examples  demonstrate how viewing at sustainability as a vital business risk management tool can be effective at all points in the product value chain- from Sourcing/Procurement, to Product Fulfillment/Logistics, Operations, Product Lifecycle Management Design , and other areas of the product value chain.

On top of the SDCE Green Awards list, Inbound Logistics named its Top 50 Green Partners list earlier this year (some of the third party logistics and freight companies are also listed on the more recent SDEC list I might add).  Visionaries every one of them for being innovative and sustainable without negatively impacting their bottom line.  I encourage you to look over the list and the great accomplishments each of these manufacturers and supply chain partners have achieved.

There are a myriad of “boots on the ground” examples where companies have tackled operational efficiency and optimization and managed to reduce their environmental footprint and pare costs of production and product distribution.  All it takes is innovation, a solid cross functional team, leadership support and the will to finish the job. Perhaps next year, your company will make the list.