You need a Platform that Supports Sustainability

I think we can all agree that sustainability is important – very important. You might be in business to make money, but the only way you’re going to make money is if you stay in business. The only way you’re going to stay in business is if you’re sustainable, because, otherwise, you risk running out of resources, money, or, and I’m not kidding, customers. The earth is finite, so it stands to reason that there is only a finite amount of any resource. A company has a finite amount of money, and wasting it is the quickest path to going out of business. Today’s consumer is concerned about the environment – harming it will drive them away, and with no customers, you have no business.

So how do you achieve this magic of sustainability? Well, you can achieve it the same way you achieve everything else in business – hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity. But the real trick comes in sustaining sustainability – and the best way to do that is to have not only supporting processes and methodologies, but a supporting platform as well.

A supporting platform can help you keep track of your initiatives which can range from your office recycling program to your global waste reduction initiative. Recycling efforts within a single large office building can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. As noted in a now classic S&DC article on Building the Green Supply Chain, the Boulder Community Hospital reduce, reuse, and recycle program saved the hospital $600K a year. On a global scale, Walmart saved 2.4M in shipping just by reducing packaging requirements. And Interface Inc, in their effort to move to a zero environment footprint, have saved more than 260M in the first decade of their sustainability program.

More importantly, it can also help you get control of your global sustainability initiatives when it comes to environmental impact reduction, social responsibility, and prevention of animal cruelty. Unlike internal waste reduction initiatives, which often do not exceed the complexity of making sure the used toner cartridges were shipped back to the manufacturer, global sustainability initiatives require you to also insure your supply chain does not violate the initiatives you commit to. Just because you don’t have a sweatshop, pump out toxic emissions in excess of the Kyoto protocol, or skin cows alive does not mean that your suppliers do not.

In order to insure that you have a supply chain in compliance with your initiatives, you have to track relevant information from your suppliers and have them track the corresponding information from their suppliers. This is an insurmountable challenge unless they can provide you with the information you need directly into your systems, as the average large company has dozens, if not hundreds of essential tier 1 suppliers and thousands of less critical suppliers. This requires a web based platform capable of securely collecting, storing, indexing, aggregating, and unifying all of the relevant information from each supplier.

Furthermore, depending on where you want to do business, sustainability might be more than just an initiative – it might be a fact of life. If you want to do business in the EU, you need to comply with REACH and RoHS, and possibly half a dozen other directives. California has introduced its own green legislation, and parts of Asia, suffering from severe pollution as a result of the rapid build up of manufacturing capability over the last few decades to meet the demands of American and European multinationals focussed on low cost country sourcing, may not be far behind. You have to not only maintain all of the documentation necessary for compliance purposes, but have to be at least 99.999% certain you are in compliance before making a shipment into the region. If even the tiniest removable part of your electronics system, such as the removable power cord, is not in compliance, your entire shipment could be blocked, seized, or destroyed.

This dictates the need for a platform that tracks not only all information related to your sustainability programs, but all product related information from raw materials through final production. This is the only way to minimize your risk of non-compliance. That’s why you need a Supplier Information Management (SIM) solution, or an e-Sourcing/e-Procurement solution with enhanced Supplier & Sustainability Information Management. Fortunately, you have a lot of options. We’ve covered many on SI in the past and will cover more in the months to come.

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