Tag Archives: Nike

Greenpeace Takes Global Clothing Brands and Chinese Textile Supply Chain to the Cleaners. Who’s Responsible?

15 Jul

“I make my living off the evening news

Just give me somethin’, somethin’ I can use

People love it when you lose

they love dirty laundry”(Don Henley)

(from Greenpeace Report, "Dirty Laundry")

I was reminded of that Don Henley (The Eagles) solo hit from back in the 1980’s when I read about Greenpeaces latest initiative and report…aptly titled…you guessed it, “Dirty Laundry”.  The report focuses on the high levels of industrial pollutants being released into China’s major rivers like the Yangtze and the Pearl and commercial ties between a number of international brands such as Adidas, Nike and Li-Ning with two Chinese manufacturers responsible for releases of those hazardous chemicals.  Greenpeace has also launched the challenge ‘Detox’ Campaign, calling “brands, especially Adidas and Nike, to take the initiative and use their influence on its supply chain.”  The organization unfurled its characteristic banners at Adidas’s main retail store in Beijing this week.

There are several nuances to this story that are important to pass on and collaborative opportunities (rather than the finger-pointing that has plastered Twitter and other media the past 24 hours) to explore.

Supply Chain Challenges …Again!

This latest supply chain environmental wrinkle underscores the challenges multi-national organizations (MNC) are facing daily in oversight and enforcement of first tier, second tier or lower contract manufacturers.  If it’s not Apple under the radar, its Nike, or Adidas, or GE…who’s next?  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.

To be fair, although the pollution is real and the threat of toxics contamination very real, it’s possible that Greenpeace may be sensationalizing Nikes and Adidas’s culpability.  In fact, neither company directly is involved with the key manufacturers labeled in the Greenpeace report.  The two manufacturers are the Youngor Textile Complex in Ningbo, an area near Shanghai along the Yangtze River Delta, and Well Dyeing Factory Ltd. in Zhongshan, China, along the Pearl River.  The Younger Group is China’s biggest integrated textile firm.

“Game on, Nike and Adidas.  Greenpeace is calling you out to see which one of you is stronger on the flats, quicker on the breaks, turns faster and plays harder at a game we’re calling ‘Detox’,” “Whether you’re ‘All in’ with Adidas or believe in the Nike motto to ‘Just do it,’ you can challenge the brand you wear to win the race to a clean finish.” -Greenpeace DeTox campaign’s website.

(from Greenpeace Report, "Dirty Laundry")

Both Nike and Adidas admitted jointly that said their work at Youngor is limited to cut-and-sew production — not “wet processing” such as dyeing and fabric finishing that Greenpeace says is the cause of the chemical discharge.  Greenpeace did not hide behind that fact but made the point (perhaps rightly so) that “As brand owners, they are in the best position to influence the environmental impacts of production and to work together with their suppliers to eliminate the releases of all hazardous chemicals from the production process and their products”.  I agree on the grounds that effective supply chain sustainability practices and corporate governance must be driven by the originating manufacturers that rely on deep tiers of suppliers and vendors for their products.

That being said, I think that to call out Nike and Adidas specifically (along with other companies like Puma) is to suggest that they are not doing the right thing as regards sustainability in the apparel industry.  For instance, Nike has learned from its mistakes if the past (especially on the labor/human rights side of social responsibility) and implemented aggressive governance frameworks and on the ground oversight programs.  Also, the  Nike Considered Index evaluates solvents, waste, materials, garment treatments and innovation, and the company has an internal working group constantly evaluating Restricted Materials lists.

Kick ’em when they’re up

Kick ’em when they’re down

Kick ’em when they’re up

Kick ’em all around- (Don Henley)

Chinese Laws and Regulatory Oversight- Not in Sync

As I noted recently, China is still in the “ramp-up” phases of economic development.  Plus it’s been evident for some years that enforcement of environmental laws and regulations by government agencies has not been on par with the intent of the laws.  According to the report, samples taken from the facilities contained heavy metals and alkylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals, which are restricted in the United States and across the European Union.  These chemicals have reproductive and hormone disruptive effects Therein lies another institutional problem…the laws in the home countries of the MNC’s are not in sync with those in the host manufacturing country- in this case, China.

Writing yesterday in China Hearsay, Beijing based lawyer Stan Abrams offered this up.  “This is a classic law versus CSR problem. The law here in China allows for this activity, yet the allegation is that this is a harmful activity. Should the companies in question merely follow the law or “do the right thing” and either sever ties with the polluter or pressure it to change its behavior?”

It’s 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 proactively implement systems based environmental management systems.

Multi-Sector Collaboration is the Answer

The apparel industry as a whole has taken a very proactive stance in looking at ways to redesign sustainably, produce its goods taking a cradle-to cradle perspective, and manage toxic chemical use and waste streams so that human and environmental exposures are minimized.  The multi-stakeholder Sustainable Apparel Coalition ironically includes Nike, the Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, and Patagonia (some of whom are also being targeted by Greenpeace).  Over 30 companies have committed to collaborating in an open source way to drive the apparel industry in developing improved sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate sustainability performance.  In addition over 200 outdoor products companies from around the world have been working together on sustainability best practices and standards, called the Eco-Index, led by the Outdoor Industry Association and European Outdoor Group.

The most successful greening efforts in supply chains in “tiger economies” are based on value creation, sharing of intelligence and technological know-how, and support in developing environmental regulatory frameworks that have the force of law. MNC’s and contract manufacturers can collaboratively strengthen each other’s performance, share cost of ownership and social license to operate and create “reciprocal value”.  Greenpeace wants MNC’s to establish “  clear company and supplier policies that commit their entire supply chain to the shift from hazardous to safer chemicals, accompanied by a plan of action that is matched with clear and realistic timelimes”.  Agreed with that sentiment, but many hurdles remain to cross.

Youngor Textiles, Adidas and others cited in the report have not hidden from the findings, and Youngor has committed to working jointly with Greenpeace to find a workable solution to remove potentially harmful toxics from the apparel manufacturing supply chain.  Solving this problem on the ground will take a multi-stakeholder effort to 1) balance contractual arrangements among many parties, 2) craft good law and enforceable regulations, 3) drive clean chemistry, 4) redesign production processes and use advanced manufacturing technology, and, 5) develop, implement and maintain robust contactor monitoring.

I will be watching carefully to see how this collaborative effort with an NGO giant and big business unfolds…er, should I say “unfurls”.

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Manufacturing, Suppliers & Retailers- Partnering for Better Chemical Data in the Supply Chain

27 Apr

(Photo Courtesy of Milosz1 under the Creative Commons license)

“WARNING: This area contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Now that I have your attention, have you ever seen one of these warnings posted outside your local convenience store or place of business?  Well, this is one of the many ways that consumers and workers are informed of the presence of chemicals in our everyday lives and the responsibilities that companies have to notify the public and workers of potentially hazardous substances.

This past week, GreenBiz editor Jonathan Bardeline highlighted a cross-sectoral effort by a unique assemblage of manufacturers and retailers, focused on meeting consumers demand for less toxic products. “Meeting Customers’ Needs for Chemical Data,” is a tool with information from major companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Hewlett-Packard, SC Johnson, Nike and Seagate, detailing how they interact with chemical suppliers.  The scope of the document focuses on assisting suppliers to product fabricators and formulators[1] , and steps they can take to collaborate to bring safer products to the consumer.

The guidance document was prepared by the Green Chemistry in Commerce Council (GC3)[2], which promotes itself as a “business-to-business network which provides an open forum for participants to discuss and share information and experiences related to advancing green chemistry, design for environment, and sustainable supply chain management.  The projects focus is to “provide the opportunity for cross-sectoral collaboration on enhancing chemical data sharing along supply chains”.   The guidance provides clear signals to suppliers on the needs that fabricators and formulators have for chemical data and the consequences of not providing such data.

Chemical Data 101

To begin to understand what we are really talking about, let’s start at the beginning.  The document lays a great foundation by describing what types of chemical data exist.  Basically, chemical data includes, but is not limited to, the following types of information:

1. Chemical name, trade name, and CAS number of all chemical ingredients in an article or chemical mixture, including known impurities.

2. Function of a chemical ingredient in an article or chemical mixture (e.g. catalyst, plasticizer, monomer, etc.).

3. Human health and ecotoxicological characteristics of chemical ingredients and chemicals used in making that ingredient, as well as their physical safety properties such as flammability.

4. Potential for human or environmental exposure to chemical ingredients in an article or chemical mixture.

Much of the chemical data that exists for products is typically captured in Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) or Safety Data Sheets (SDS).  A great deal of the chemical data must be made available to employees coming into contact with these materials in the workplace through Hazard Communication rules or (in the case of California, Proposition 65).  Other chemical disclosure requirements like TSCA, REACH, RoHS, WEEE[3] are in place to assure proper notification to customers of the potential of toxic constituents and to meet country or sector specific restricted materials rules.

(Photo Courtesy of Nebarnix under Creative Commons license)

Generally, this information is not necessarily required to be made available to the public unless that are product safety related issues i.e. lead or BPA free products.  The SC3 guide correctly notes that “MSDSs are often a company’s only resource for chemical ingredient, hazard, and toxicity information. While they could be more useful, they are better than having no information at all. Unfortunately, MSDSs fall short of providing enough information to satisfy the chemical data needs of many fabricators and formulators.”  This is primarily due to the fact that many MSDS’s do not contain all product constituents, different MSDS’s exist for a similar chemical constituent offered by different manufacturers, and MSDS’s do they apply  to specific products or intermediate products.

Ways Leading Companies are Engaging Suppliers

There are already many efforts already underway within various product sector supply chains to actively share relevant chemical information between fabricators, formulators, and their suppliers, and this report has no shortage of fantastic examples.  When engaging suppliers, the report suggests a few basic steps that every company depending on a deep supplier base must consider taking:

  • Written guidance detailing chemical information needed
  • Supplier questionnaires with specific questions addressing chemical ingredients, concentrations, toxicity information on chemical ingredients, etc.
  • Web portals for chemical data entry.
  • Training suppliers on chemical data reporting requirements

For example, the report cites Hewlett-Packard and how they developed a web portal that suppliers use to enter chemical data (the company uses the SAP/Environmental Health and Safety module to process the information.  SC Johnson provides training to suppliers on its internal Greenlist™ raw material rating system. The company focuses particularly on obtaining toxicity data from its suppliers for scoring chemicals and materials.

Managing Confidential and Proprietary Information

Notwithstanding suppliers efforts to obtain data, there are natural concerns that many suppliers may have in releasing confidential and/or proprietary information.  The GC3 guide offers some valuable advice and examples that companies can use to protect the often proprietary nature of their products.  As I have reported before, high-end office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller executed hundreds of Non-Disclosure agreements with its Tier 1 -4 suppliers in its effort to attain zero-landfill waste status and reduce its overall product life-cycle footprint. Method uses a third-party reviewer to evaluate all chemical ingredients for safety prior to their selection for a product formulation.  And SC Johnson uses three layers of confidentiality protection depending on the public availability, types, quantities and specialty formulations of the materials.

On the regulatory front, the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency last year that it is taking steps to increase the public’s access to chemical information of consumer products, by restricting efforts chemical manufactures to keep chemical information confidential, except under narrower circumstances.  This only underscores the increased emphasis on product transparency, pushing the envelope on placing proprietary information in the public domain, and the possible negative consequences on a company’s business competitiveness.  Or maybe such openness can have a positive business outcome too!

Chemical Industry and the Consumer …Two Green Peas in a Pod

This development gels nicely with the issues recently brought up at the European Petrochemical Association Interactive Supply Chain Workshop that I attended. During my keynote speech on sustainability efforts by the chemical industry, I noted that a number of key indicators were coming to light, particularly in the chemical industry. I noted growing customer concern, public-driven mandates, product preferences, and growing demand for supply chain transparency. I noted too that customers and consumers want to know what’s in that product, it’s environmental footprint, what chemicals it contains, the carbon emissions generated in manufacture.

For many year the internationally accepted Responsible Care Initiative has been a hallmark effort within the chemical industry in safeguarding materials transport and driving innovation in manufacturing, and making safer products. Along with Responsible Care, there has been increased emphasis on environmental and “greener” specification in logistics, and the expansion of communications relating to toxic and hazardous materials. Now, the industry is seeing the growth of environmental indexing, environmental footprints and benchmarking, and less toxic) products in response to the demands of consumer-facing customers such as WalMart and other major retailers.

There is, as the GC3 document states “ a need for communication to be a two-way street to enhance the ability of suppliers and fabricators, formulators, and retailers to work more effectively together in advancing transparency, product safety, and sustainability.”

Get Your Green Chemistry Hat On

Demands for chemical data are likely to increase as government agencies, customers and consumers ask for detailed information on life-cycle impacts of chemicals, materials, and products.  Therefore, its advantageous for suppliers to jump ahead of coming trends, work with their customers to identify data gaps and work collaboratively to fill them.

Photo: © Sebastian Kaulitzki - Fotolia.com

So if you are a supplier just starting to collect chemical data for your customers; or if you are currently responding to customers’ requests for chemical information and additional information that to fulfill your customers ‘requirements; or are a chemical user that needs to communicate with your suppliers about their chemical data; it’s time to begin gathering this value-added data.

The GC3 Guidance provides some great advice, offers solid tools and case studies to drive the business case, and tools to effectively engage both upstream suppliers and downstream customers to green up the supply chain, support product stewardship,  and make consumer products safer.


[1] The document defines “fabricator” as a manufacturer (or a company that directs suppliers to fabricate) of an “article”. The document defines an” article” as a “finished product, component of a product (such as a circuit board), or source material (such as a textile or leather) sold to other organizations or directly to consumers.  The document also describes a “formulator” as a manufacturer of a chemical preparation or a mixture of substances, such as paint, liquid cleaning products, adhesives or a surfactant package”.

[2] a project of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (http://www.greenchemistryandcommerce.org)

[3] Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE)

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

24 Mar

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

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

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

The (Re) Emergence of “Co-opetiton”

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

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

Co-opetition partners typically include:

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

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

Source: Adapted from GEMI, Forging New Links

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

Summary: Forging New Links in the Chain

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

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

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

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”.

Redwood Forests Provide a Clue to Business Sustainability and a Greener Supply Chain

26 Oct

Thoreau did it.  So did Carter and Brezhnev, and Reagan and Gorbachev too.  They all took a walk in the woods, like I did on a recent weekend…to explore and resolve internal and external issues.  My hike took place in the coastal redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the central California Coast.  A hike through these beautiful groves of ancient redwoods is truly an awe-inspiring, reflective experience. Redwood forests are complex ecosystems. From the tallest trees in the world to the tiniest animal, the whole forest is a working system in a very delicate balance. Everything has a role to play in this forest.

Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are also known for their resistance to fire.  They are protected by a very thick bark that lacks the highly flammable resin of other tree species. These resilient trees in some cases, can live for more than 2,000 years, making them one of the oldest tree species in the world. Also, unlike most trees, redwoods lack a taproot. Instead, they have a shallow root system that can extend up to 100 hundred feet outward, forming a network of connected root systems with other trees. But despite the connected roots, high winds and/or flooding can bring these massive trees to the ground.

Now substitute the word “forest” with “supply chain”, “tallest tree” with “largest company” and tiniest animal with “smallest supplier”, and you hopefully get where I am going with this post.

I mentioned in prior posts that to make progress on environmental issues in organizations and in supply chain management, organizations must understand that they’re part of a larger system. Fifth Discipline and The Necessary Revolution author Peter Senge makes valid claims that organizations are in a better competitive position if they understand the larger system that they operate within and to work with people you haven’t worked with before.  Like a forest, where all parts depend on the other, if the balance is upset, there can be chaos and poor ecosystem health.  A supply chain is in effect a business ecosystem.  And a supply chain functions the same way as a redwood, in that it has interconnected roots rather than one strong taproot, but can be blown down by external forces that it may not be able to control.

The Concept of Business Ecosystems

Author James Moore developed and popularized the strategic concept of business ecosystems in his 1996 book The Death of Competition: Leadership and Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems. According to Moore, a generic business ecosystem is defined as the economic and social environment that consists of organizations, individuals, regulatory structures and controls, government organizations, customers, competitors, suppliers, and the many entities with which a business interacts. The principal purpose of the business ecosystem is to align its members towards a shared vision that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Business ecosystem value is created by the combination of participants and their contributions – and their role within the ecosystem to enable the achievement of a combined vision or goal.

Many organizations have sought ways to deliver greater product and customer value through innovative supply chain solutions. The common link is that customers’ receive value from a whole solution, which takes into account all value chain contributions.  Think HP, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM.  Traditional high tech companies.  But this thinking extends to consumer product and apparel manufacturers (Herman Miller, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Nike, Keen, Patagonia) and major retailers like Walmart, Starbucks, Kohls.  The list grows weekly.  Each of these organizations have created business ecosystems through redefining the nature of the value for the client.  They have further created new competitive environments, with new rules and practices that account for sustainability and that challenge their industry norms through green supply chain innovation.

While my recent post called out many large companies for being procrastinators and laggards, I continue to applaud the industry leaders who’ve seen how each tree (supplier) contributes to a stronger and healthier forest (supply chain).

So go take a walk in the woods.  Breathe the air, take in the silence…and think of ways that you can help your company refocus its sustainability efforts and supply chain health for future generations to enjoy.

Green Supply Chain Management Requires Less Procrastination & More Innovation, Leading by Example

15 Oct

Admit it- we’ve all done it.  Procrastinated. Waited until the brink of a bad outcome.  Not taken the time to thoughtfully, proactively, pragmatically complete an assignment, implement a new ‘leading edge’ technology or launch a disruptively innovative initiative.  Instead we react, overlook great ideas for something less, produce a less articulate response to an inquiry, or implement a semi thought out idea.

Even in the business world, whether in supply chain management or in adoption of the ‘triple bottom line’ in business strategy, there are leaders and there are laggards.  Innovators and adopters.  I was reminded of this when I ran across a research paper that was published in “Sustainability” Journal this past spring.  The article, “Supply Chain Management and Sustainability: Procrastinating Integration in Mainstream Research” presents the results of a study conducted by several university researchers in The Netherlands. The researchers noted that “procrastination can be viewed as the result of several processes, determined not only by individual personality, but also by the following factors:

  • availability of information;
  • availability of opportunities and resources;
  • skills and abilities; and
  • dependence on cooperation with others.”

In addition, in a review of more than 100 additional studies on procrastination, the following additional items were found to likely to influence procrastination:

  • the nature of the task, and
  • the context of the issue.

It is these last two issues that the authors raised as primary reasons for procrastination, especially regarding embedding sustainability research and practices in supply chain operations and management. The authors found that “the nature of the task”, because it’s often complex and requires many internal and external stakeholders, and therefore tends to “generate conflicts”.  Also, the roots of supply chain management and related research are generally grounded in operations management and operations/logistics.  Therefore, the researchers noted that environmental and social aspects of supply chain management are foreign,  “out of context” and not wholly integrated into supply chain management and research.  I would also argue that dependence on others is a key issue as well given the widespread, outward facing challenges associated with supply chain coordination.

So what this means is that if a concept is foreign or unfamiliar or “out of context” it’s either set aside as being non-value added.  Also because of some of the complexities often inherent in grasping and applying sustainability concepts, some just throw up their hands and say “I’ve no time for this”.  This in turn can lead to procrastination in the real-world application of sustainability in supply chain management.

In a study conducted during the height of the recession (late 2009), GTM Research found that despite its growing prominence, “sustainability is not a core part of most companies’ strategies today or …a prime driver of their supply chain agendas.”  The study found that sustainability lies in the middle of the pack of supply chain priorities today, behind cost cutting.  The graphic presents a “leaders vs. laggards” scenario.  The 23% difference between leaders and laggards related to sustainability initiative implementation is large and underscores the work that remains to advance the “value proposition” for sustainability in supply chain management.

Prior posts have described positive aspects of adopting whole systems-based, collaborative and transparent approaches to sustainable sourcing and manufacturing,  and green logistics.  Sustainable thinking in supply chain management also value chain practices supports environmental and social responsibility – so why aren’t more companies adopting these methods?

I know who many of the leaders are in implementing greener and more sustainable supply chain practices in their respective markets and I’ve written about them here – Walmart, HP, Dell, Patagonia, Nike, Intel, Cisco Systems, IBM, Herman Miller, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Campbell Soup, Timberland, Danisco, UPS, FedEx, Staples immediately come to mind.  Laggards? Well you know who you are, but I am not pointing fingers.

While the future looks bright for a “greener” perspective in supply chain management, there still remains a stigma that a sustainable value chain is a costly one. In reality, there may be some up-front costs associated with some initiatives- very true.  But companies must take a longer view and pencil out the ROI of supply chain sustainability best practices. And its possible by taking a leap and reaping the benefits.  I’m confident that those organizations who wish to lead (and stop procrastinating!) will find a great many benefits including:

  1. less resource intensive product designs,
  2. better supply chain planning and network optimization,
  3. better coordinated warehousing and distribution and
  4. more advanced and innovative reverse logistics options.

Those who choose to lead will realize significant cost savings, improved efficiencies and a more secure and profitable future.

Give it a whirl- what have you got to lose- or should I say, gain?!  C’mon, tell this community what you think.  We’re listening.