Tag Archives: u.n.

Seeking Links Between Supply Chain Sustainability, Logistics & the U.N. Climate Conference (COP16)

30 Nov

As the world’s nations converge on Cancun this week for the two week UN Climate Change Conference (COP16) a few statistics are in order to put the supply chain and related logistics industry into perspective.  It’s a pretty sure bet (given poor results at COP15 in Copenhagen and recent Congressional elections here in the U.S.) that it’s unlikely that any major binding agreements will be reached on setting measurable and verifiable targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts for industrialized nations.  What is at least hoped for is that there will be some progress on establishing more robust means to appropriate and distribute micro-finance funds to support development of technologies in developing countries that lack the dollars themselves to manage their own greenhouse gas footprints.

Logistics and Transportation Share a Big Piece of the Carbon Pie

But the fact remains that logistics is a major source of CO2 emissions, accounting for 13.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) – although, this figure also includes passenger transportation.  The “transport sector’ sector as a whole is responsible for 24% of global CO₂ emissions!  So as the logistics industry grows and expands to respond to the ever changing demands by global commerce, so will energy consumption and GHG emissions related to daily logistics.  To that end, in a report issued this fall by Deutsch Post/ DHL, “Delivering Tomorrow: Towards Sustainable Logistics[1], a study of more than 3600 companies found that “two-thirds, i.e. 63 % of business customers, believe companies will regard transportation as a key lever to reduce their carbon footprint”. And while the report suggests that low-carbon logistics solutions and flexible transport modes are not yet widely available, there are a few market-ready technologies or solutions today that can meet the specific needs of the transport and logistics sector.

“We want to take a significant step forward to improving carbon efficiency and do our part to facilitate a low-carbon economy,” says Chief Executive Officer of Deutsche Post DHL Frank Appel. Deutsche Post DHL was the first logistics company worldwide to commit to a carbon efficiency target – 30 percent improvement by the year 2020 compared with 2007.  Other companies such as UPS and FedEx are implementing similar programs designed to optimize operations in a sustainable manner.

The report also cited that “70 % of respondents believe that legislation is needed in order to bring about a substantial shift towards a sustainable logistics industry.” The study shows that carbon pricing mechanisms can likely accelerate a market-based dynamic toward more sustainable solutions. Once there is a real price tag attributed to carbon emissions, the environment will be an integral part of investment decisions.    Customers in Asia in particular appear quick to accept that sustainable solutions may cause higher prices, according to the study. For example, 84 percent of consumers in China, India, Malaysia and Singapore say they would accept a higher price for green products – compared to only 50 percent in Western countries.  This type of hesitancy on the part of Western countries falls in direct line with the ‘foot dragging’ that has occurred at past climate conferences.

The report concluded by suggesting seven key developments that are likely to take place that can largely be influenced by the ways that logistics can affect global commerce:

1. Logistics counts – it is not a commodity. Logistics is not only a chief catalyst of global trade and a defining component behind value creation – it is also a business of strategic importance in the move towards a low-carbon economy.

2. Technological change will be achieved through a concerted planning and implementation effort between private companies, governments and financial institutions.

3. Collaboration will increasingly be seen as an enabler to attain sustainability even between perennial competitors. This will especially be the case as greenhouse gas emissions reduction becomes a priority for suppliers, business customers and logistics companies.

4. Business models of logistics companies will change as sustainable innovations and technological advances create new opportunities.

5. Carbon labeling will become standardized. Carbon ‘tags’ offer ways for customers to compare environmental impacts of products. This increased product ‘transparency’ can raise confidence among logistics customers and end consumers when making climate-friendly choices.

6. Carbon emissions will eventually have a price tag, whether it’s mandated by law or not. Already, carbon accounting has become part of companies accounting, decision making and corporate reporting practices in many market sectors. Increasing movement in this direction, with possible government or free market intervention will only increase the demand for a price to be attached to CO2 emissions.

7. Carbon pricing will lead to more stringent regulatory measures.  However companies will only accept a price tag on carbon emissions if governments ensure a level playing field across industries (and more challenging will be across economies).

Companies are not Waiting Around

Already, big product manufacturers and retailers like Unilever and Walmart are reaching deep into their supply chain to stock shelves with less harmful products.  Gavin Neath, senior vice president for sustainability for Unilever says that this approach not only helps the company cut costs, but create new products that are less impacting to the environment and expand in developing-world markets that are likely to be hit hard by global warming, he said. With efforts to secure a global climate treaty barely inching forward “big companies like ours, which have very extensive supply chains, reaching across all continents and 60, 70 countries, can make a difference,” Mr. Neath explained.

That brings us back to COP16.

UPS Carbon Neutral Shipping Program (courtesy Logistics Management Magazine)

It’s been suggested by some practitioners and policy makers that at COP16, a binding agreement is more likely to occur when countries take ownership of their entire life-cycle emissions and when such agreements are based on data that attributes emissions fairly.   It’s also been proposed that national inventories be generated by adopting measurement tools that follow the principles established by existing carbon accounting methodologies already used by corporations and at a product level.   Supply chain wide carbon accounting (at the product design, manufacturing and distribution levels) is a vital ingredient to achieve this result.

I’ll be watching COP16 developments closely in Cancun these next two weeks and will offer additional insights about what potential policy driven outcomes these negotiations may have on supply chain logistics.


[1] The study on sustainable logistics was developed with experts from MIT, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, National University of Singapore and the Technische Universität Berlin, Deutsche Post DHL, and manufacturers/retailers like Fujitsu, Henkel, HP, Unilever, and Walmart.

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ISO 26000 Social Responsibility Guidance May Offer Supply Chain Opportunities to Small-Mid Sized Manufacturing

4 Nov

Amid the pre- and post-election haze here in the U.S and the taking of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants (first since 1954), comes ISO 26000, Guidance on Social Responsibility. This guidance document from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) integrates international expertise on social responsibility (SR), detailing what it means, what issues organizations need to address to operate in a socially responsible manner, and what the best practices are for implementing SR effectively and efficiently. ISO 26000 is designed to assist public and private organizations, and Small to Mid-sized Enterprises (SME) in particular by establishing common guidance on social responsibility concepts, definitions,and methods of evaluation.

The core areas of ISO 26000 (see Figure 1, courtesy of http://www.desarrollohumanosostenible.org) address potentially contentious and volatile issues such as human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development.   According to the ISO, ISO 26000 provides guidance for all types of organization, regardless of their size or location, on:

  1. Concepts, terms and definitions related to social responsibility
  2. Background, trends and characteristics of social responsibility
  3. Principles and practices relating to social responsibility
  4. Core subjects and issues of social responsibility
  5. Integrating, implementing and promoting socially responsible behavior throughout the organization and, through its policies and practices, within its sphere of influence
  6. Identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  7. Communicating commitments, performance and other information related to social responsibility.

ISO 26000 is unique, not because it’s taken six years to get it finalized. It’s mainly because it’s a “guidance” and not a certification standard like the more well-known ISO 9001 quality management and 14001 environmental management standards.  That may be part of its weakness.  Most skeptics believe that ISO 26000 will not be the “magic bullet” which suddenly replaces all corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in the Supply Chain. While the guidance is not a certifiable standard, it attempts to harmonize itself with UN Global Compact guidelines for ethical business practices and a number of existing practices, principles and guidelines devoted to social responsibility, like the Global Reporting Initiative (see recent crosswalk). Other recent studies (admittedly a very small survey group of less than 60 entities) by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) prior to the final release established that ISO 26000 may increase awareness, provide definitions and add legitimacy to the social responsibility debate.  However, as stand-alone guidance, ISO 26000 may not contain the practical guidance to enable SMEs to turn theory in practice.

Another recent post by Business for Social Responsibility, entitled ISO 26000 Approved for Publication. Now What?while not holding out great hopes for ISO 26000 stated that the guidance:  “… has the potential to increase the adoption of responsible business practices by all types and sizes of organization around the world—not just corporate entities. In bringing social responsibility to all entities, it may be a useful guide for engaging your supply chain in social responsibility issues. ISO 26000 can provide a first point of call for companies to understand the concepts and implementation tools for a social responsibility program, such as advocating stakeholder engagement and issues assessment methods to define priorities.”

In fact, doing a cursory review of the Final Draft International Standard published in July found many references to supply chain management issues, especially in the areas of “environment” and “fair operating practices”.  I believe that innovative,leading SME’s can successfully apply some of these guidance materials in a productive and cost effective manner.  Doing so begins to institutionalize “triple bottom line” thinking into their supply chain practices.

Turning Theory into Practice- Tips for Supply Chain Integration

Environment

  1. Practice life-cycle management – consider all the steps of a manufacturing process, and all the links in the supply chain and value chain right to the end of a product’s life and how it is disposed of;
  2. Seek way to integrate sustainable resource use and management to make manufacturing steps as environmentally friendly as possible (especially with regard to electricity, fuels, raw and processed materials, land and water);
  3. Test innovative technologies as a way to reduce the product environmental footprint

Fair Operating Practices

Promote social responsibility throughout the supply chain; and stimulate demand for socially responsible goods and services:

  1. In procurement and purchasing decisions, use criteria that select ethically and socially responsible products and companies;
  2. Examine your value chain/supply chain and be sure that you are paying enough to enable your suppliers to fulfill their own responsibilities;
  3. Promote broader adoption of social responsibility through networks of manufacturing associations and business sector colleagues;
  4. Seek business to business and peer network support to collaboratively develop best methods and approaches, leverage resources and document benefits
  5. Treat suppliers and customers/consumers fairly and equitably.

Like my recent posts discussing the supply chain benefits of two other draft sustainability and green product specification standards (ULE 880 and GS-C1), large to small organizations can strive to be ISO 26000-compliant, stay ahead of the curve and grab the “leader” advantage.  Or conversely, companies can risk being a “laggard” and lose vital business opportunities.

Large corporations are realizing the importance accountability, transparency, ethical conduct, and respect for stakeholders’ interests, human rights, rule of law, and international norms of behavior in managing internal and external stakeholder expectations.  Why not apply the same principles wholistically through ones supply/value chain at the SME level?

If you are an owner/operator of a SME, think about your values and principles of operation.  Believe me when I say that doing good can also mean doing well.