Category Archives: CSR

Sustainability is Getting the Buzz …

… but will it get the buck?

By now it’s very unlikely that you haven’t heard the recent news about Ecovadis getting a 200 Million investment to spread its sustainability ratings to a larger audience … both directly and indirectly through its ever-expanding partner network.

And while it may be the case that momentum towards a more environmentally and societally focused economy has been building for years, that doesn’t mean that it’s here. It doesn’t mean that an organization will put their money where their data is and actually choose the most sustainable supplier for the award.

After all, the last few surveys that have been done asking buyers how much more sustainability is worth to them in real dollar terms have continued to demonstrate that while buyers want ethical and sustainable companies and products, they aren’t willing to pay much more for them. A few percentage points, tops.

And with inflationary times back, this means that companies are still under pressure to keep costs down to sell in addition to keeping profits high to keep the shareholders happy. This leaves little room for a move to a costlier supplier, even if that supplier is much more sustainable.

After all, unless the organization is willing to stand up to its investors and take a profit hit in the short term to embrace a new sustainability agenda (which WILL pay off in the long term as lack of non-sustainable resources causes everything to go up in price), all that is going to happen is that the buying organization is going to use the sustainability data to choose the lesser of two or three evils, not the most sustainable organization that will generate the greatest benefits over time.

And despite the hopefulness of companies like EcoVadis, and their investors, the doctor doesn’t think that tipping point has been reached yet, or that we are even close. However, the need to look like you’re doing good is growing, and making statements about the use of independent data on sustainability and ethics helps you look good (for now, anyway), so it is a good time to be one of the few, big, global players so the doctor does project continue growth for Ecovadis, even if the companies that subscribe to the data aren’t using it the way that they should.

Another Decade Has Passed. How Are You Doing on the 10 Rs?

Ten years ago (yes, this blog has been around for a long time, especially in internet years), we picked up on a great article by SupplyChainBrain on Ten Steps to Green Packaging in the CPG Industry which was a great article not just because it demonstrated just how many ways there were to make packaging green, but because it gave us so many ideas on how to make our entire supply chain green.

In brief, the ten steps were:

  1. Replenish
    Purchase raw materials from suppliers who employ sustainable resource management practices.
  2. Re-use (Re-explore)
    Use recyclable material.
  3. Reduce
    Use ergonomic design and optimization to minimize the use, and size, of packaging material.
  4. Replace
    Replace hazardous and harmful substances with eco-friendly materials.
  5. Reconsider
    Use renewable materials whenever possible.
  6. Review
    Inspect, monitor, and control waste in the packaging process.
  7. Recall
    Immediately recall harmful packaging and put processes in place end harmful packaging.
  8. Redeem
    Collaborate with retailers and collect reusable and recyclable packaging materials.
  9. Reinforce
    Set up a Centre of Excellence (COE) to disseminate environmental best practices.
  10. Register
    Sign up for a carbon reduction commitment initiative and follow-through.

And they are globally applicable.

  1. Replenish
    Regardless of what you are buying, you want a supplier who is focussed on sustainability.
  2. Re-use (Re-explore)
    Modern science has advanced us to a point where most materials are reusable and recoverable. You should be working to get to 90% re-used/recycled/replenished content within a decade.
  3. Reduce
    Modern structural analytic techniques (especially with the low-cost availability of high-powered computing, low-power cores, and the ability to host data centers in naturally cooled environments) allow for the usage of much less material than before, without compromising any structural integrity
  4. Replace
    There is no need for hazardous materials in the majority of products on the market today. Science has delivered us alternatives.
  5. Reconsider
    Non-renewable materials are becoming limited. It’s not just a cost or green consideration anymore, it’s becoming a necessity.
  6. Review
    Waste should be minimized inside your organization and eliminated in your supply chain. Waste to you can be raw material to someone else. Food stuffs don’t meet your level of quality for human consumption? Might more than surpass the level of quality for animal consumption and, if not, there’s always bio-mass energy production. Metal scraps? Straight to smelting and recycling. And so on. Your waste can always be someone else’s inputs if you are smart about your process.
  7. Recall
    Whatever you are creating should be benefiting the consumer, not harming them. If you screw up, recall the product, immediately fix or recycle it, and improve your processes so it doesn’t happen again. (Don’t reprimand the workers, but fire the pointy haired idiot who requested it or was responsible for guiding the workers. And yes, SI still disdains the average Master of Bullshit Administration.)
  8. Redeem
    Make all of your packaging reusable and get it back. (Considering how many empty miles exist in the trucking industry, this is not a big deal or big cost if properly planned. Coupa Sourcing Optimization and Jaggaer One Advanced Sourcing Optimization in particular have models customized for transportation and reverse transportation. USE THEM!)
  9. Reinforce
    … and mandate! Set up the COE, make an executive mandate that policies must be followed, and green your operation.
  10. Register
    Make a public commitment to carbon reduction, waste reduction, and energy usage reduction, measure annually, publicly report, and follow-through. (And don’t just buy carbon credits or carbon offsets. Don’t make your problem someone else’s.)

Sustainability isn’t hard anymore … and the organizations that start now will be the ones that will be around in the decades ahead.

CSR, Procurement and North America: Creating a Market

In our previous article, we asked if you could solve the modern compliance challenge, and, more specifically if you could do it with Ecovadis. This is because compliance has morphed over the past few years from insuring you weren’t doing any illegal trading and simply satisfying the tax man (and import/export compliance is essentially just respecting the legality of the country you are trading with and satisfying its tax man) to having to comply and deal with a lot of regulations around financial reporting and global trade to having to respect the environment (pretty much everywhere but the US, with the exception of California) to having to take corporate social responsibility for the organization’s entire supply chain and ensure there is no violation of worker’s rights, child labour, or human trafficking — or face the consequences that can not only include bad press (at internet speed) and large fines but, in some countries, criminal charges against the officers of the corporation.

We also noted that solving the compliance challenge was tough because you needed environmental data, sustainability data, social compliance data, and even third party audits on your suppliers, and sources of this data (outside of internal surveys that were unverifiable without site audits) were few and far between. The few players with even remotely recognizable names that exist are in Europe, and Ecovadis is the largest. As a result, it likely has the best shot at championing a market in North America, especially with its increasing partner footprint, supplier database (with over 55K assessed companies), and global reach (as they cover suppliers across 155 countries).

But Ecovadis is not a household brand in North America. To become one, it really must drive material commercial traction outside of the EU and, most important, prove that the market for CSR ratings and compliance in North America is as central to supplier management as other supplier management initiatives (e.g., risk, EHS, etc.) to truly “go global”.

The case for an Ecovadis model is sound. Most major procurement departments at US F500s and larger mid-size companies are still focussed on cost-cutting. And using Ecovadis to get the sustainability data the organization needs is roughly 20% of the cost of trying to do it in house.

Further:

  • Organizations that are embarking upon more strategic category management want deep supplier information before selecting potential strategic suppliers and the response rate to Ecovadis-initiated assessments is 90%
  • The average organization will struggle with a 70% response rate in such initiatives, especially when you consider the average supplier turn-over (as identified in a recent QIMA survey) is 27%
  • Once a supplier is in the Ecovadis network, the chances that their overall CSR rating will improve on their next (annual) assessment is 64%
  • For an average company, unless they initiate a supplier development program and work with the supplier, the chances the supplier will otherwise improve on their own is, as we all know, closer to 6.4% than 64%

Less money. Better results. You’d think it would be an instant buy, but it’s not. So why. Is it because it’s European?

Not necessarily — Jaggaer One+ and Jaggaer One Direct from Jaggaer, which is one of the S2P juggernauts, has good NA penetration, and those solutions (formerly BravoSolution and Pool4Tool) are European.

So that’s not it.

Is it because the space is new or unproven? Can’t be. Ecovadis has been around for 12 years and Sedex Global for 18. Plus, there are a number of other players in the space. Is it because the solution is not user friendly? No — it’s delivered via a simple SaaS platform and they even have public quotes from F500s to that effect. So what’s the problem?

North American companies.

First of all, with apologies to Spike Lee, many will “only do the right thing” when they are forced, and then only to the extent necessary (although this may be changing).

Second, they’d rather profit today than save tomorrow (even if the long term savings would be multiples of the short term profit gains). This means that for them to invest in a solution, they want to see a large, immediate, sometimes unreasonable ROI.

Third, they tend to only act when they’re scared (e.g., losing budget if they have extra).

This means that, unless something changes, for Ecovadis to create a true market in North America with a similar reasonable TAM for say, the compliance management side of supplier / contractor management, it will need to lead with evangelism and, perhaps, more.

All things are possible. But as Vincent Ngo speculated decades ago, it takes a superhero to change the mind of the corporate culture. Can Ecovadis be that superhero?

For the sake of procurement and a better world, we hope that they’ll do it — or someone else.

For more information on Ecovadis, check out Spend Matters’ recent post on Catching Up on a Provider to Know (which also includes links to a deep 3-Part Vendor snap-shot co-written by the doctor and the maverick).

Remember that Sustainability Requires a Shared Understanding

With raw materials getting scarcer, energy costs getting higher, environmental conditions getting worse, and people upset by this all around, sustainability is becoming more important to the supply chain not just from a brand perspective, but from a long term business survival perspective.  But it’s not enough to just say you’re going to be sustainable, only use sustainable resources when the option is there, and only use suppliers who accept your sustainability agenda.  You have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk and make sure all parties involved understand what sustainability really means.

For example, using recycled materials where the recycling process takes more energy or creates more carbon than creating new materials from renewable resources is not a smart move.  Sometimes you want to create reusable materials or containers and not just recyclable ones. Etc.

And while it can be easy to state the goals, it can be difficult to communicate exactly what those goals mean and how they should be addressed.  And, more importantly,  why it is important if the sustainable way costs more, takes longer, or displaces traditional suppliers if they don’t change their core business.

And if people don’t accept the why, the how won’t materialize.  So how do you address the how?  Point out anciliary benefits that could be worth more in the medium and long term than the short term (switching costs).  For example:

  • brand reputation
    if it makes customers want to buy from you, especially those that will spend 5% to 10% more to feel sustainable, that’s good … and while most people don’t want to pay more for sustainability, if a rival brand does something unsustainable or politically incorrect and gets a media backlash, all of a sudden your brand becomes favoured
  • risk management
    if the new material is (more) sustainable, easier to produce, more widely available, overall supply risk is lowered and that’s a good thing since every risk that materializes causes a disruption that is very costly to the organization
  • supplier engagement
    if you can find a supplier who lives and breathes for sustainability, they might be much more willing engage with you on joint-development projects for joint-benefit than a supplier mass-selling the same old widget to a wide supply base, especially if it is a widget that hasn’t changed in five years and it’s now high profit and the supplier has become fat and lazy because it gained a large market share that allowed it to be less aggressive in its offering
  • long-term savings
    if, after the switching costs are covered, the longer term cost projects are lower, than it’s worth the up-front investment

And make sure to point out how the decision stacks up with respect to concrete sustainability factors such as:

  • raw materials
    are the materials you are using renewable and can they be extracted with minimal harm to the environment
  • energy requirements
    are the energy requirements associated with your purchase (for production, storage, and transportation) minimal and can they be met with renewable resources
  • waste products
    are waste products minimal and/or reusable and/or reclaimable? can the food waste be used to feed livestock? can the metal waste be melted down and reused?
  • worker treatment
    are all workers who take part in your supply chain treated ethically, responsibly, and fairly, using standard guidelines

If a supply management decision would increase brand reputation, reduce risk, contribute to medium and long term value, enhance supplier relationships, use renewable (and non-environmentally harmful) raw materials, reduce energy requirements, or minimize (or eliminate) waste in production, and do any of this in the context of ethical worker treatment, then, regardless of what definition of sustainability each individual on a cross-functional sourcing team is partial to, it should be easy to agree that such a decision, at least in the mid-term, is sustainable.

Maybe You Can Be a Procurement Hero!

Everyone wants to be the corporate hero, but at the end of the day, very few people in a company get to be society’s hero, and fewer still without blowing the whistle on criminal activity (and being made the target of a well paid hitman).

But if your company is big enough, and the spend you’re responsible for is large enough, you can sometimes do the right thing for the company and the right thing for society (even if it’s a bit tough at first).

How? You get corporate buy in to use your corporate spending power for good. You get commitment that it’s not just the lowest cost, it’s the lowest sustainable cost that meets minimum ethical guidelines. You get a commitment from the C-Suite to not only do your best to follow what is becoming the law in many jurisdictions and eliminate slave, forced, and child labour from your supply chain but to do it because it’s the right thing. Then, you can also get a commitment to shift at least some supply to suppliers that are making efforts to be more sustainable (and not polluting the local water table) or corporately responsible (and making efforts to improve the quality of life of their workers or the local community). In certain categories (primarily sourced from low-cost countries), each of these options will generally be a bit more expensive in the short term than going with the lowest cost supplier, who likely underpays the workforce or destroys the local environment, but well worth the temporary cost increase.

First of all, your C-Suite won’t have to worry about criminal charges or jail. Secondly, sustainable suppliers tend to be around for the long haul and get more leaner, more productive, and more cost effective over time — especially with your investment (and work with you to contain costs when they start to rise). Third, you can market the heck out of your commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility. While not all consumers will pay more, some will, and those that are willing are those that will stick with you. Plus, when your competition stocks out because their supplier is finally shut down for its poor practices, you won’t have any disruptions.

Now, you’re probably saying one buyer can’t make a difference, but if you are buying a multi-million, or hundred million, category for a Fortune 500 / Global 3000, that’s a lot of money and you can use it to make a huge difference. No supplier wants to lose out on that amount of money, and even current suppliers can be changed.

Plus, if you band together with peers that are part of a trading network (like the Ariba Network that does more commerce annually than Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay combined) and all make a commitment to stop buying from a certain supplier until they adopt certain minimum corporate responsibility and sustainability requirements, you can bet that supplier will turn on a dime.

The reality is that if Procurement gets a Purpose in the Global 3000, and practitioners can garner the resolve to stick to their guns, they are one of the few people who can make a difference in this corporate driven world. It won’t be easy, but is anything worth doing?

For a slightly deeper dive into Procurement With Purpose, check out the doctor‘s two-part series over on Spend Matters (Part I) and for a much deeper dive, check out the public defender‘s new paper on Procurement with a Purpose — Making a Positive Impact on Organisations, Human Rights and Communities, sponsored by Ariba.