Tag Archives: Peter Senge

Sustainability, Peter Senge, and the Necessary (Supply Chain) Revolution.

29 Sep

I just finished reading an interview with Peter Senge in the October Harvard Business Review.  Senge, for those of you that are unfamiliar, founded the Society for Organizational Learning, is a faculty member at MIT Sloan School of Management, and the author the The Fifth Discipline and The Necessary Revolution.  Senge maintains that to make progress on environmental issues, organizations must understand that they’re part of a larger system. Senge also makes a great point that companies will be 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. And while these two skills might seem distinct, in practice they’re interwoven. This is generally because systems are often too complicated for one person to grasp, crossing over many boundaries, both internal and external.  It’s these external boundaries that supply chain management issues begin to become apparent.

According to Senge, and as I mentioned last month in an earlier post about Starbucks, supply chains support whole systems thinking because they focus on the “nature of the relationships”. In the HBR article, Senge maintains that in most supply chains, 90% of them are still transactional.   Manufacturer or retailers still pressure upstream suppliers to get their costs down and little incentive is given toward innovating together.  This in turn erodes trust, however, as I have mentioned in this space, changes are everywhere.  Some companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Walmart are also partnering with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and working in an open source manner with industry associations to innovate.   Successful ventures like Walmart/Environmental Defense Fund, Unilever/Oxfam and Coca-Cola/World Wildlife Fund are taking a collaborative approach to problem solving that drives innovation, breeds trust and industry “cred” and offer NGO’s a wider voice in addressing social, environmental performance issues in the supply chain.

But success in levering supply chains to impact environmental performance ultimate resides with corporate leaders.  Senge maintains to successfully engage thousands and thousands of people around the world from multiple organizations, you’ll need technical innovations, management innovations, process innovations, and cultural innovations.  And to effectively achieve these innovations take bold, often heretical leadership.  Organizations need to often take a step back from the details and “see the forest for the trees” (and hopefully not just see more trees!)

Research and practice in supply chain management is beginning to prove once and for all that supply chain as a “practice” offer unique learning opportunities related to triple bottom line based sustainability.  Learning experiences can range from relatively simple, incremental modifications to a current knowledge set – for example, new environmental regulations like REACH and RoHS – through to complex new approaches which will involve experimentation, small scale piloting and larger scale adaptation (such as those designed to help transporters manage their carbon emissions).

How does your company use “whole systems” thinking to manage supply chain issues? In coming weeks I will begin exploring supply chain learning and management through a sustainability lens, and share some findings from various manufacturing sectors.  It’s my hope that readers can then begin to understand how to apply whole systems approaches across enterprises in the supply chain.  It’s my grand plan that these ideas will gel into practical steps that add value and become a core operating principle in your company.

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A Green Supply Chain Takes Innovation, Systems Thinking, Collaborative Approach–And Patience

23 Aug

As I have been involved with organizations through the years on environmental issues, I have discovered many things about supply chain management:

  • Contractors and suppliers often create environmental impacts, sometimes related to the nature of their product or work, sometimes by accident
  • Most organizations for some reason feel “powerless” to control their suppliers products
  • Many companies are constrained by cost factors (purchase from the lowest cost vendor or bidder)

So when considering how to effectively manage and influence contractors and suppliers, raise expectations and take control of your supply chain, it may be valuable to take a “systems thinking” approach. Those that do realize that doing so may unlock significant revenue and cost savings potential.

Consider Starbucks. In mid 2009, Starbucks announced a legitimate attempt to address some very vocal stakeholder issues to clean up its supply chain by staring efforts to ensure that single-use cups are recyclable by 2012. So they convened a “cup summit” with representatives from every part of the paper and plastic cup supply chain, including raw material suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage partners, local municipal governments, Starbucks employees, and environmental NGOs. They brought in systems thinking guru Peter Senge. This effort is no small task given the internal (vendors and suppliers) and external (end use customer) variables necessary to make this program a success. They modified their goal to 2015. Starbucks reconvened this past spring and they are continuing down this open, transparent path to a sustainable supply chain. They are taking on this approach one city, one franchisee at a time. They are working with customers and cities to develop more proactive, use friendly recycling solutions.

To date, in its approximately 2,200 company-owned stores in North America that control their own waste collection, recycled items are made from one or more materials. While the company has continued to encourage recycling in cities where it’s “marketable,” a great deal remains to be down on the customer side (see Triple Pundit 8/20/10 article http://bit.ly/9SOJig). The company is also reaching deep and is offering farmers incentives to prevent deforestation, with pilot programs currently underway in Sumatra, Indonesia, and Chiapas, Mexico. This represents both an upstream and a downstream approach to green supply chain management. Sustainability is built into the company’s business vision, all performance metrics and product development decisions.  Starbucks has a long way to go to meet its goals but heretical goals like theirs may be takes time, coordination, patience, and above all, will.

Like Starbucks, Hewlett-Packard, the obvious Walmart makeover and others, forward-thinking companies are making efforts to consider how parts or components of a system are interconnected and examines the linkages between them. In the manufacturing and delivery of a product, a systems approach recognizes the interconnectedness between product components and delivery systems. So changing the way one component is manufactured, delivered, used and reused can effectively change behaviors and operations along the “value chain.” And along with this product systems thinking approach, sustainability data and metrics will flow with it, demonstrating the benefits to all those in the value chain.

So by standing back and viewing the supply chain in a systematic or holistic manner, organizations can apply that “big-picture thinking” needed to be truly innovative. Doing so can create leverage points that companies never realized they had before with their suppliers. So how does a company like Starbucks, or HP, or Walmart tackle such a beast, with literally tens of thousands of suppliers in their supply chain? Well nothing comes easy and overnight. Get yourselves into that mindset first before you proceed. But there are some relatively simple ways you can proceed and make the progress you have set out to achieve:

Develop macro and micro-scale process maps of the critical stages of the supply chain, with an emphasis on key sustainability inputs (energy, materials use, waste generation, carbon footprint), to fully understand where supplier processes and products connect. Identify those processes that you do not even have direct control over–this is vital because you may gain a better appreciation of you supply chain partners’ priorities as well

Identify the critical supply chain partners that have the greatest product impact and begin evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the current relationship. If need be, can you effectively influence or control what they do and how it’s done?

Create a sustainable sourcing plan (with a two- to five-year window) where you develop a relationship with partners at those critical phases in your supply chain, from Tier to Tier. Develop a long-term engagement plan (as shown on the figure below), that incorporates your supply chain one tier at a time. Also make sure that the approach is collaborative and transparent (as I recently noted) in order to manage your suppliers expectations–and your own.

The upsides of collaborative, systems-based thinking is that suppliers feel ownership of the process, feel more invested in its outcomes and better positioned for a value-added business relationship. This is the essence of a green supply or “value chain.” All parts really are pulling together–this is the new wave of business in the 21st Century.

This post was originally published on my New Green Supply Chain Blog, which can be found at https://community.kinaxis.com/people/DRMeyer/blog