Service Leaders Speak: Ashton Udall of Global Sourcing Specialists on “Supply Chain Sustainability and Transparency”

Today’s post is from Ashton Udall, a Global Sourcing Specialist (and author of the GSS Blog).

As optimism returns and some of the challenges of the downturn begin to recede, we are quickly reminded that many challenges and trends which played at the forefront of business concerns, prior to the economic fallout of 2008, will return. How are sourcing organizations evolving to meet customer needs in the next decade? Surely, strategic sourcing, spend management, and risk assessment and mitigation will see continued development and increased sophistication. But there is another trend that has come to the fore in the last few years; a trend that requires many sourcing and procurement organizations to stretch outside their traditional bounds because of its interdisciplinary and cross-functional nature. Whether one likes it or not, for reasons of consumer demand, cost reduction and risk, and good ol’ conservationism, environmental sustainability will grow in importance and the supply chain will increasingly be dragged into the limelight on this topic.

Companies will face a demand for greater transparency as a result of growing consumer awareness and changing priorities, the continued spread of technology — cell phones, video, and internet access, and executive leadership. Authenticity and transparency will become greater drivers of brand loyalty, and companies will be expected to do as they claim, and show what they do.

Waving the green flag of sustainability is not enough. Smart companies, those who are ahead of the curve, will assume greater market leadership in years to come. These companies are working hard to find win-win situations in which both the financial and environmental bottom line benefit. Walmart is leading the charge, in one recent example, recently reporting that adherence to its sustainability goals has led to a reduction in toy packaging, saving the company 727 shipping containers and 1,300 barrels of oil in comparison to the previous year, which adds up to an impactful $3.5 million.

Packaging reduction is considered a low hanging fruit of environmental initiatives, but a survey of topics to be covered at the 3rd SustainableSupply Chain Summit (North America, 2009), includes issues such as carbon footprint, ROI on green initiatives, supplier collaboration and partnerships to attain greater efficiency, and the emergence of the Chief Sustainability Officer. Packaging reduction is only the beginning.

Design and product development teams will hand over greater requirements in the realms of sustainable packaging, sustainable materials, lower carbon footprint, and certified labor conditions to the sourcing and procurement departments, and it will be up to sourcing and procurement to provide solutions to meet these needs. Smart companies will get out in front of these issues and not remain in a reactionary state. Sourcing leaders will need to develop greater sophistication in assessing supplier operations and risk. Specifically, sourcing leaders will require more robust methods of identifying and calculating risk to CSR and marketing programs that emphasize the social and environmental perspective, vendor monitoring and compliance, and supplier capacity development. Opportunities will not be limited to finding ways to reduce environmental footprint and informing consumers. Creating and capturing value will entail sourcing professionals to develop the ability to create scenarios in which cost is continually reduced in the supply chain by reducing energy inputs, material waste, and operational inefficiencies, while simultaneously fulfilling CSR goals that build brand loyalty. Inorder for this to occur, compliance, procurement, and brand management will need to act cross-functionally, and in concert, to drive optimal results.

Sourcing solutions providers which continually investing in their staff to understand this new and rapidly evolving field, building relationships with service providers that specialize in compliance and capacity building programs, and expand and refine their network of suppliers that meet higher requirements, will be in a strong position to increasingly add value to customers’ top and bottom lines as we enter the next decade of transparency and sustainability in supply chains.

Thanks, Ashton.

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