Tag Archives: warehousing

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.

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“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”: 3rd Party Logistics CEOs Priming for a Sustainable Future, Retooling to Compete

3 Oct

Last week in San Diego (my second hometown), the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) held their Annual Global Conference.  Over 3,100 supply chain professionals from 41 countries attended sessions from over 20 tracks.

At the Conference, the 17th Annual Survey of Third-Party Logistics Providers was presented by survey author, Dr. Robert Lieb, Professor of Supply Chain Management at Northeastern University, and Joe Gallick, Senior Vice President of Sales for Penske Logistics. The findings analyzed responses from 31 third-party logistics company CEOs across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.  The study was pretty comprehensive in its findings but me being the sustainability focused guy that I am, poured through the document in search of green stats. And as expected they were there.

With 87 percent of the companies reported to be rebuilding their workforces in 2009, CEOs revealed that green practices are still a major priority in the 3PL market.  Further, more than 80 percent of the companies surveyed now have formal sustainability groups within their companies. Even in the wake of the recession, most of the companies surveyed these are still heavily committed to environmental sustainability issues.  Take note of these numbers according to the survey:

  1. Fourteen of the 31 companies began new green initiatives during the year.
  2. Eighteen of the companies expanded existing sustainability programs.
  3. Twenty-five of the companies now have formal sustainability groups within their companies.
  4. Twelve of the 31 CEOs believe that their sustainability capabilities differentiate them from their competitors.
  5. Ranking second and third respectively in North America were opportunities related to potential differentiation based upon the companies’ environmental sustainability capabilities and opportunities related to expansion of service offerings.

Also, 27 of the 31 CEOs noted that some of their manufacturing customers have begun to move toward “near-shoring” options during the past year.  This type of “reversal of fortune” for U.S. manufacturing has been driven by quality control issues, fuel costs for transoceanic shipping and (wishful thinking perhaps) a desire to stand by corporate commitment to curtail carbon emissions associated with reduced fuel usage.

Additionally the report cited several business practice trends, related to risk management/risk sharing; business continuity planning; performance based contracts; and enhanced vendor qualifications.  Each of these growth areas fit well into the sustainable sourcing, accountability and risk management picture that I have spoken about in this space as essential elements of a green supply chain.

While the survey results are impressive, there is clearly room for improvement in terms of implementing actual “boots on the ground” solutions.  There are increasing examples everyday where 3PLs have demonstrably improved operations efficiency while lowering fuel use, energy use, air emissions and indirectly related resource consumption and waste generation. But at the same time, these efforts must be able to strike a balance between cost and benefit that CEO’s can understand, appreciate and rally around.  The stat about CEO’s belief in how sustainability can differentiate their companies (only 38% are on board) tells me that much still needs to be done to make a business case for greening of supply chains.

In another recent reportthis past spring by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the Economist Magazine,   supply chains are in a massive state of flux.  Individual supply chains “have shrunk at the margins and the network has become denser”, according to the report. The report concluded that many companies are forced to choose between having supply chains that are simple and compact, or those that are complex, redundant and dispersed.  Efficiency versus resiliency, in effect.   But the report found it possible to increase both efficiency and resilience.

The EIU report cited that a more efficient supply chain enhances two drivers of value: operating margin and asset efficiency.  What was notable to me was a note in the report that said “efficiency also has the beneficial side effect of shrinking the carbon footprint”.  The report cited companies like Coca-Cola, that are looking at ways to move to central distribution, cutting back on empty loads (bringing back post-consumer recycled cans  for instance) as ways to ‘own’ its supply chain and drive efficiency (without losing resiliency).

Issues such as supply chain resiliency and agility are two criteria that should be evaluated as 3PL’s move down the sustainability path and create a business case for operational changes.  I am fairly certain, based on the Penske sponsored 3PL report that CEO’s and other top managers will be asking the tough questions, so be prepared to come to the table with some compelling ideas and numbers to back it up.