Tag Archives: procrastination

The Sky’s NOT Falling: New Supply Chain, Logistics Surveys Cite Positive Benefits of Sustainability, Challenges Ahead

13 Jan

Geesh.  You’d think by the Twitter chatter that erupted from this weeks article in the Environmental Leader that the sky was falling.  The headline “Supply Chain Chiefs: Sustainability Isn’t Key” caught readers’ attention, but perhaps the messaging was taken a bit too negatively.

The article was focused on two recent surveys by eyefortransport (EFT), a very knowledgeable and (in my view) a marquee market research entity focused on the transportation industry.  In the survey, chief supply chain officers were asked what key challenges they saw for 2011.  Well, a majority that responded did not view sustainability as a key challenge in 2010/2011.  According to the survey, “supply chain officers identified the “biggest business challenges driving their supply chain agenda” as variability and forecasting (42 percent), cost containment and reduction (39 percent), and supply chain visibility (35 percent). Sustainability strategies and practices only ranked 11th in the list of concerns, with just over 15 percent.”

A second EFT survey of logistics service users’ ranked sustainability only 15th in importance out of 24 challenges they face, behind such factors as the economy, cost control and fuel price fluctuations.  Meanwhile, the survey noted that respondents from third-party logistics services, “ranked sustainability sixth, with the economy, cost control and demand forecasting coming tops.”

The two surveys results yielded no real surprises. And where some may see this as a sort of “green Armageddon”, I only view this as a “teachable moment”.  One of the comments to the post rightly noted that “supply chain sustainability is a powerful means of supply chain streamlining, cost reduction and agility enhancement, and the topic can be used to improve communications and business relationships through the supply chain.”

Because the principal question posed was “what are the biggest challenges that supply chain managers’ face”, I’ll go out on a limb to say that “first mover” supply chain managers are already getting a handle around this issue and maybe the “concern” level is not as great as in the past. In fact, the survey results suggested that in the past couple of years, organizations are generally acting in a more proactive, sustainable manner. As the survey went on to indicate, well over 60 percent of those companies surveyed had implemented or were initiating sustainability focused efforts in 2010- ranking around 10th out of nearly 40 supply chain management project categories- that’s actually a pretty good number!   In the logistics survey, most respondents noted a far higher level of positive environmental performance in 2010 compared with 2009.

You see- it’s all about how you look at a situation- greening of the supply chain through sustainability is not looking too shabby in my book, compared to just a few years ago.

If I had to call foul on the two surveys, perhaps EFT erred in recognizing sustainability as its own category.   Perhaps that was by design, but given the embedded nature of sustainability, I could easily link sustainability with a number of other categories that did rank high on supply chain officers “concern” lists, namely: cost containment and transportation and logistics constraints; also lower ranked issues such as product lifecycle, government mandate compliance.  In reality, sustainability is an overarching business approach that cuts across many business silos.  Supply chains by nature are systems-based networks that require dynamic management of internal and external inputs and outputs throughout a products value chain.  Supply chain sustainability is a powerful tool to identify and manage supply chain inefficiencies, reduce waste and optimize business performance.

As I suggested in an earlier article, the supply chain enablers are those who lead through innovation and don’t procrastinate.  These organizations have vision– for the short term and long-term.  These are the organizations I spend time evaluating and from which I share success stories.  It’s still valuable though to understand why some businesses hesitate in acting on sustainability or supply chain greening.  If you are a supply chain officer or logistics manager that is not paying attention to sustainability focused innovators yet, I suggest you take a closer look at what your peers or competitors are doing.  These leaders are changing the way business gets done- and more sustainably I might add.

Clearly by the EFT survey, much more work remains in 2011 but I am confident that supply chain greening and sustainability is here to stay.  Read why on my last post “Five Reasons that Sustainability and Supply Chain “Greening” Will Stick in 2011”.

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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.