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“First Movers” Use Materiality Analysis to Link Sustainability, Supply Chain Management & CSR

25 Jan

By Dave R. Meyer (SEEDS Global Alliance)

Note:  this is the second of a three-part series exploring “materiality” and  the intersection of supply chain management, sustainability and  corporate social responsibility.

My first post in this series suggested that there was an intersection or cross-walk between sustainability, corporate environmental responsibility and supply chain management.  This “sweet spot” can be found in conducting “materiality” analyses.  Although the concept of materiality in the finance sector has a long track record in accounting circles, its application in the sustainability space is much newer.  Whereas financial reporting has taken a more short-term view and approach to handling performance and risk, sustainability generally factors in a much longer, strategic planning and implementation horizon.

Businesses have learned that in a world that has grown more transparent, they need to clearly identify what is material to their operations and stakeholders, and communicate this in trustworthy and convincing ways in order to drive creativity and innovation.  Materiality determination is a lot like the aspects and impacts analysis that is common to ISO 14001 based Environmental Management Systems.  ISO 14001 seeks to identify those elements of their activities, processes, services and products that have the greatest impact on the environment.  Materiality analysis does not only that but dives deeper into operations and stakeholder issues.  Let’s take a moment to explore materiality’s origins in the sustainability space.

Roots of Materiality in Sustainability Reporting

In 2003, The UK- based think tank, AccountAbility developed the  AA1100 Standard.   AA1000AS (2008) assurance provides a “comprehensive way of holding an organization to account for its management, performance and reporting on sustainability issues by evaluating the adherence of an organization to the AccountAbility Principles and the reliability of associated performance information. It also provides a platform to align the non-financial aspects of sustainability with financial reporting and assurance through its understanding of materiality”.    The framework for a materiality assessment is depicted in the adjoining graphic, jointly developed by AccountAbility, BT Group Plc and LRQA (The Materiality Report- Aligning Strategy, Performance and Reporting- November 2006).

The AA1100 Standard was revised in 2008.  In it, the AA1000 Materiality Principle requires that the “Assurance Provider states whether the Reporting Organization has included in the Report the information about its Sustainability Performance required by its Stakeholders for them to be able to make informed judgments, decisions and actions.”  Materiality norms taken into account by this standard are:

(a) Compliance performance (considering those aspects of non-financial performance where a significant legal, regulatory or direct financial impact exists).

(b) Policy-related performance (considering identification of aspects of performance linked to stated policy positions, financial consequences aside).

(c) Peer-based norms (considering how company’s peers and competitors address the same issues, irrespective of whether the company itself has a related policy or whether financial consequences can be demonstrated; and

(d) Stakeholder-based materiality (taking into account stakeholder behaviors and perceptions).

The Global Reporting Initiative has developed a framework for materiality determination as part of the G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines The GRI considers materiality as “ the threshold at which an issue or indicator becomes sufficiently important that it should be reported.”  The GRI defined a series of internal and external criteria to be considered when performing a materiality analysis.  Later in 2009, the GRI convened a to evaluate and create more specific guidance for determining materiality.  The draft content recognized that materiality analysis was one of the “least systematized aspects of reporting”:

“Identification of material issues and boundaries are core challenges for any standard risk assessment process. Despite the importance of these challenges to good reporting processes, they represent the most difficult and underdeveloped areas for most companies.” – Draft Report Content and Materiality Protocol, page 2.

The draft Report Content and Materiality Protocol review period closed last fall and is in review at this time.

Materiality “First Movers”

A number of companies have taken a “first mover” position in documenting materiality in their corporate sustainability reports.  Most have used a format similar in scope and criteria as the GRI or AA1100 frameworks, with some modifications.  Companies that have reported on materiality and that reach out to stakeholders what they find to be material to their interest and have some “reasonable control” over include companies from diverse manufacturing sectors such as automotive (Ford[1], BMW, Volvo), communications (BT), energy development (Exxon, Mobil) pharmaceuticals (Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson), electronics and control Systems (Cisco, GE, Omron), consumer products (Gap, Starbucks) and mining (Holcim, Rio Tinto), among many others.  One such company is Danisco A/S.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Jeffrey Hogue (@jeffreyhogue) of Danisco.  Mr. Hogue is Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Global Leader at Danisco A/S.  Danisco is a worldwide manufacturer of food and beverage products, including cultures, emulsifiers, gums & systems and natural sweeteners.  The company does business with the world’s largest food manufacturers.  Daniscos’ 2009/2010 Sustainability Report is extremely comprehensive and has been awarded some of the highest honors for corporate social responsibility reporting in the past year.  The company looked deeply into materiality issues in its report and has developed  strong operational programs to manage its supply chain in a proactive manner.  It’s web site indicates that they have developed and implemented a “new supplier management system…to strengthen our global supplier and material assessment programme through better audit portfolio management tools, detailed assessments, prioritised audits and improved collection of supplier and raw material data.”

Danisco catalogued and assessed stakeholder input from a variety of internal and external surveys and other sources, then indexed them according to their impact on its business. Issues emerging from the data were ranked according to their impact on the business and the degree of importance to stakeholders, forming the basis for the Materiality Matrix (see Figure 1 below).  The company strategically decided to address sustainability risks and opportunities identified as having “medium-to-high impact” on its business and being of “medium-to-high” interest to our stakeholders.


I asked Jeff if he could shed some insight on the company determined materiality and its resulting high ranking for supply chain (criteria, indicators etc).  I also asked Jeff if he’d share his thoughts on the critical nature of supply chain management relative to triple bottom line based materiality (as well as risk management).

“I think that there are three dimensions of this subject and why our supply chain is very important to our success.


Risk reduction – With a supplier base of over 3000 key suppliers it is crucial for us to manage any risk that may be present in our upstream value chain to eliminate the impact on our operations and our customers.  Therefore it is a baseline requirement that we scrutinize our supply chain and develop robust and systematic programmes to address and mitigate risk. Most of our customers expect it — and although it is in a lot of ways a compliance programme, we do derive value in knowing that we will maintain consistent raw material quality, avoid issues related to labor and human rights, and supply security.  We also have the ability to anticipate and mitigate other sustainability related endpoints like the impacts on agricultural raw materials from climate change, water scarcity, regulation, etc.

Opportunity harvesting – We also see the need to understand the potential synergies between our organization and our suppliers.  In many cases we do this to provide shared value in terms of capacity and livelihood building for our suppliers alongside our need for more secure raw material sources.  We often do this on a case by case basis — mainly on a regional level where it makes sense

Value chain pressures and expectations – We are experiencing a world where retailers and our largest customers see these issues in the light of their entire value chain and are actively seeking ways to reduce their indirect impacts.  This of course is cascaded down their supply chains through our organization to our suppliers.  We also see a tremendous opportunity in this area to be first movers and to act now based on how the retailers are moving.  This will put us in a position where we can be proactive and are faster to respond to value chain pressures.”

Materiality in CSR Reports of the Future

I also had the pleasure of several e-mail exchanges with Ms. Elaine Cohen (@elainecohen).  Elaine is a well known CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional (and self-avowed ice cream addict).  She’s  the Founding partner at BeyondBusiness Ltd (www.b-yond.biz/en) and consults to companies on CSR strategy, processes and sustainability communications. I asked Elaine what trends she has seen in CSR reporting these past few years where supply chain has been classified as having “high materiality” to a company’s operations and to their stakeholders.

“I believe supply chains have been becoming increasingly more important over the past few years, as the effects of inadequate supply chain accountability are more and more visible in our market place. We can split these issues broadly into two: the human rights issues in supply chains and the sourcing issues in supply chains.  The HR issues surfaced mainly with the apparel issues in the late 90’s. But the last five years have been characterized by significantly greater transparency  due to the spread of the internet and ease of access to information.”

“… Additionally, I believe the increasing focus on Human Rights and the work of John Ruggie [Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Business & Human Rights], have been clear about squarely placing the responsibility for clean supply chains on the manufacturer. There is almost nothing more material for apparel suppliers than human rights in their supply chains – just take a look at some of their Sustainability reports. Regarding sourcing, this has also become a major issue – Starbucks and Ethiopian coffee farmers, Unilever and others in palm oil issues, Nestle and the Greenpeace KitKat campaign . Manufacturers are getting clearer that sourcing decisions are now much more visible than in the past, and much more risky. So for these companies, raw materials sourcing is most definitely high materiality. Sustainability reports are reflecting these trends and the space allocated to human rights, responsible sourcing and factory auditing is significantly greater that it was some years ago.”

Trending forward in 2011, I asked Elaine to read the tea leaves on supply chain management, CSR and materiality.

“I believe these issues will continue to maintain high-profile and ultimately move towards cross sector alliances to resolve issues that affect all players in a sector such as the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil , work done by the apparel sector and the electronics industry  to determine common standards. We might see multi-company collaboration on third-party factory inspection and evaluation. We might see a set of industry wide agreements on core issues….countries such as China and India are also aware of risks, and greater legislation and enforcement in these countries may help resolve some issues.

Takeaways on Materiality in the Supply Chain.

Jeff related to me that a key NGO with a critical stake in Daniscos’ supply chain affairs remarked that supply chain management and sustainability go hand in hand and is basically a foundational aspect of business operations and risk management.   The challenge, according to Jeff, is in finding the “shared value proposition” that is often difficult to achieve, especially across multiple layers of an often globally distributed supply chain.  Finding localized suppliers and establishing multi-stakeholder collaborations hold promise as models where stakeholder interests and large-scale products manufacturers can find the needed common ground to advance supply chain sustainability.

Elaine summed up our dialogue with the following suggestions: “For manufacturers, don’t underestimate the importance of high-quality supply chain management – get it right before it gets you right, learn from the mistakes of others, think of supply chain management as a core business issue which goes to the heart of strategy and brand decisions, not just something that is tacked on to a new project as a deliverable…In terms of materiality, make sure you “engage, engage, engage” at [the] local level with a wide range of stakeholders, so that you are not demanding deliverables which are not reasonably  feasible. Report transparently on all aspects of supply chain because, if nothing else, this will assist in identifying hidden costs and areas of potential risk.”

Thanks Elaine! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll lay out the business case for materiality assessments to strengthen supply chain management and a straightforward framework for materiality analysis.


[1] Ford’s 2008/09 Sustainability Report includes an interactive materiality matrix that categorizes issues based on two dimensions: the degree of stakeholder concern and the extent of the current or potential impact on the company.

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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.

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.

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.

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