Category Archives: Sustainability

It’s Not Just Beds Burning Anymore, it’s the Planet. What Impact Are Your Efforts To Stop it Having?

Four decades ago, when sustainability was only a concern for the environmental extremists because, thanks to industrialization and burgeoning globalization, we had other disasters to deal with (hunger in Africa, aboriginals being forced from their land [sometimes with fire], the global AIDS epidemic, etc. — see Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, which took us through 1989 [the year, not the 2014 Taylor Swift release], and the doctor chronicled the next 20 years here in an unofficial Part II). And even though we still have all these disasters, and many more, the planet is in upheaval with every type of natural disaster occurring everywhere all the time. In fact, climate-related disasters have tripled in a mere 7 years. 7 years! We’ve gone from disasters increasing over the span of thousands of years during natural planetary cycles to disasters increasing in the span of mere years due to global warming thanks to the rapid increase in carbon and GHG emissions as a result of 150+ years of industrialization and rapid deforestation and wetland destruction. (Forests and wetlands have historically acted as carbon sinks for all of the carbon released by life, it’s historically primitive actions, and traditional disasters that resulted in the destruction of forests [and when trees die or get burned, all the carbon they captured is released]).

Now it’s true that, on average, even the largest of corporations on its own could only make a small dent when the depth of the problem is considered, but if even ten of the largest corporations in an industry teamed up, they could make quite an impact. (And if the largest retailers teamed up, think Amazon and Walmart and Target, and insisted on a maximum carbon footprint per product — think of the impact that would make.)

For details on the impact that can be made today, you should download the new Ecovadis Network Impact Report, 3rd Ed. which points out that Industry-level collaboration is one of the best levers available to companies looking to build more sustainable value chains and scale their positive impact. EcoVadis Sector Initiatives (SIs) are a highly effective vehicle for this. Six initiatives spanning a diverse range of sectors — from chemical manufacturing to health — are using the EcoVadis solution to share best practices and collectively address sector-specific challenges across their often highly interconnected supply chains. Our data shows that participation in an SI helps buyers improve their supplier engagement and enables rated companies to improve faster than their network peers.

More specifically, companies engaged in a Sector Initiative outperform the [Ecovadis] network average by 5.3 points — not only do companies that try to better than those that don’t, but companies that work with peers on the right objectives do better still.

But this is only one reason you should read the latest Ecovadis Network Impact Report, 3rd Ed.. Another reason is because, if you don’t, you won’t see how Ecovadis, which in 2022 officially became a “purpose-driven” company under French Law, has continued to grow at a rapid rate and how it is starting to make a global impact. When your customers represent 4.8 Trillion in global spend, you are starting to get somewhere. That’s 4.5% of GDP, and if Ecovadis could grow 30% year-over-year for nine years, that 4.5% could become 49%, close to the tipping point where we’d finally start making significant progress. (Which means if we can survive until 2032, we could start making real progress on sustainability and environmental stabilization. Not as fast as we need to, as parts of the planet will literally start burning by then, but Ecovadis and its peers may still save some of us.)

And, even if you don’t think Ecovadis is the answer for you (even though 945 organizations do and the number increases every year), the report will still educate you on the five key pillars of a sustainable procurement platform. And once you understand those pillars, you can assess, monitor, improve, report, and continue the wheel.

2030 is too late for Center-Led Procurement!

Especially since 2020 was too late! And organizations should have been there by then since center-led procurement was being discussed as the next generation model in the mid-2000s and, more importantly, as the futurists were predicting that the future of work, and companies, was remote and distributed last decade, every company should be “center-led” by now.

(Note that we mean “center-led” and not “centralized” where one central office handles all major procurement projects globally. We mean center-led where a centralized function determines the best procurement path for each category — which could be centralized, distributed, multi-level, or mixed — and provides guidance to all of the global teams and makes sure they build the right procurement — and supply chain — models up front.)

In fact, by now, all organizations should be working off of a virtual center-led model where the “center” is the Procurement A-Team, where the members could literally be spread out over the 6 continents to “locally” absorb the situations in each geography before making decisions and to always have someone available to answer questions on not just a follow-the-sun but follow-the-local-business hours model.

And while virtual / remote / distributed work still seems to be an entirely new thing that most companies didn’t think of before the pandemic and that most companies are trying to eliminate entirely now that the pandemic has been declared over (even though the next pandemic is just around the corner and, yet again, no one is prepared for it), those of us in IT and Supply Chain have been doing it for two decades (and the doctor has been primarily been working remote for the past 19 years — the tech has been there, and has worked, for two decades … and now that high speed is in just about every urban area globally, there’s no reason a hybrid/virtual model cannot work and work well).

The reality is that the pandemic not only brought global supply chains crashing down but brought to light the high risk embedded in them a few of us saw a decade ago, which went beyond the obvious risks of “all your eggs in one basket” (even though Don Quixote was published in 1605) and “The Bermuda Triangle*1, but also included the risks of relatively centralized procurement where one team in one part of the globe made the all-our-eggs-in-the-China-basket*2 and managed the relationship with one team at one factory in another part of the globe; so if either team got completely locked down with little remote/virtual support (and we saw some countries limit people to 1KM from their homes and China lock down entire cities and not even let people leave their apartments), the entire chain was shut down even beyond the worst case that some of us were envisioning a decade ago (and made our definitions of bad — which was factory goes out of business, shipping lane closes, or ship sinks — look good by comparison because, at least then, you could still go to work and travel to find a new factory, organize a new lane, or spin up the factory 24/7 until you remade the order).

However, with virtual center-led, you not only have a team that knows how to work distributed and remote, and who knows how to use that setup to better mitigate operational risks, but who also has a risk-mitigation mindset that any supply base should also be distributed and different locations remote from each other (two factories in the same town is not risk-mitigation; an earthquake destroys the roads, the entire town gets quarantined, or political borders shut and its effectively one cut-off source of supply) and will help the different parts of the organization design more risk-adverse, or at least risk-aware, supply chains — tapping into local expertise in each part of the world to make the best decision and allowing the organization to move management of the chain around as needed and local teams (because you’re not sourcing your Canadian snow-plow and igloo building services from India, for example) to always have remote access to guidance and best practices in snow-removal services RFP construction (and know how from Norway and Japan).

In other words, center-led procurement (of which you can find a lot of guidance on in the archives here and over on Spend Matters, especially since, now retired, Peter Smith of Spend Matters UK was a guru on this as well as sustainability) of the virtual kind is what you need to be doing now if you want to last until 2030.


*1 which, while statistically no more dangerous than any other part of the oceans, exemplifies the fact that even the biggest ships, with an entire year of your inventory on board, can sink, especially when oceanographers have finally realized [even though mathematicians working with wave models understood this concept decades ago] that rogue waves are not a once a in decade occurrence, but a DAILY occurrence on this planet, it’s just that the ocean is so big that the fraction ever covered by ships is so microscopic that the chances of any ship encountering a rogue wave are infinitesimal on a ship-by-ship basis)

*2 likely thanks to McKinsey, although many of the Big 5/6/8 followed suit quickly thereafter and proclaimed China the future

Sustainable Supply Chains Sacrifice China! (Most of the Time.)

Last Friday we posted China is the Enemy because, especially where your supply chain is concerned, China has just demonstrated what SI has known for over a decade — it is the enemy. (This isn’t the only situation where China or the CCP is the enemy, but those are different rants. Note that we do NOT equate China or CCP with Chinese people. Most Chinese are NOT the enemy of your supply chain or democracy just like most Americans are NOT the enemy of intelligence and common sense.)

Long time readers will know that in the naughts, SI spent a lot of bandwidth telling your deaf ears that you should be investing heavily in nearshoring and home country sourcing because of the dangers of outsourcing in general, and, the dangers of oversourcing to a specific country, like China, in particular — which have finally become very apparent. It’s too bad it took a freakin’ pandemic to make clear how dangerous it is to outsource so many critical products and JIT materials to a country halfway around the globe, especially when such sourcing in bulk across the industry leads to the lack of capacity close to home due to factory closures and talent evaporation.

There’s a reason the doctor told you two weeks ago to remember the 80’s (and the early 80s in particular) … and that’s because that’s the last time most multi-national corporations in the Americas got outsourcing right … when they were near-sourcing to Mexico (who should build the wall just to keep Trump out, but that’s yet another rant for another day).

Let’s face it, some stuff just shouldn’t be sourced from home. Stuff that’s not critical, stuff that’s very expensive to make at home (but easily trucked across a single border) for various reasons (which can go beyond labour to energy costs if there are no affordable renewable sources nearby, transportation costs for raw or unprocessed materials are ridiculous otherwise, etc.), or stuff where most of the raw materials or necessary environmental conditions (for growing, mining, etc.) are just not present at, or near, home.

But when you consider a typical organization, how much stuff really falls into this category? First of all, you have to exclude any product for (re)sale that’s a primary profit line. Then you need to exclude any raw material or component critical to production unless you just can’t get it nearby. Then any product necessary for security or safety. And so on. At the end of the day, you don’t have much left, and if you’re doing the analysis right, you’re going to be left with:

  • raw materials and products just not available nearby (because you need certain growing conditions, large deposits of a mineral only found in certain geographies, etc.)
  • processed materials or chemicals where the raw materials are very expensive or dangerous to transport
  • products unique to a culture or region
  • novelty or other items not critical to your business

which (before the short-sighted wall-street loving common sense hating clueless and unskilled consultants of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like Steve Castle, put everything into the outsourcing bandwagon and blinged it out beyond belief) were the only products a company would outsource halfway around the world and still the only products a company should be sourcing from halfway around the world. Everything else should be near-sourced, and if really critical or the cost differential is small, home-sourced.

This also means that just shifting everything to another country in the BRIC, and India (which is ruled by a more open, transparent, and dependable democracy) in particular, is also NOT the answer. (They may not be the enemy, but they are still NOT the answer.)

So, unless you want your Supply Chain to completely collapse after the next global disaster, go back to basics, remember the smart outsourcing decision from the 80s, reopen those Mexican factories, and start near-sourcing again. And then, where you can, bring it back (close to) home.

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.

Have You Solved Your Supply Chain Water Problem?

While energy production and availability is likely to be a problem in the decade to come, most experts believe that non-renewable energy production will peak between 2030 and 2035 and then trail off as hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable methods take over and begin to meet energy demands for decades to come.

However, the situation is not the same when it comes to demand for clean, drinkable, usable water. Global water demand is expected to increase from about 4,600 km3 per year to 6,000 lm3 per year. As a result, by 2050, the projection from the United Nations World Water Development Report is that nearly 6 Billion people will suffer form clean water scarcity by 2050. That’s almost 6/7ths of the current population. Think about that for a minute. BY 2050 ONLY 1 IN 7 PEOPLE WILL HAVE ENOUGH CLEAR, DRINKABLE, USABLE WATER FOR THEIR NEEDS.

Now think about this. WHAT IMPACT IS THAT GOING TO HAVE ON YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN? Regardless of your industry huge. There isn’t a single industry that doesn’t require water. Agriculture, Apparel, Electronics, Forestry, Manufacturing and so on all require huge amounts of water. And Apparel, for example wasn’t a typo – it takes 7,600 litres of water to make one pair of jeans. And Agriculture, Electronics, and Forestry all take considerably more water than you think. That cup of coffee you’re drinking now required 140 litres of water. The smart phone you might be reading this post on, 900 to 1,000 litres on average. And that quarter pound of bacon you’re eating, 526 litres of water.

And your workers need water too. And right now even first world countries are experiencing water issues. Thanks to aging (lead-based) infrastructure, there are a number of places in North America where the population (including school children) do not have clean drinking water. And thanks to drought and lack of infrastructure, water shortages are becoming more and more common. Just this year alone saw major problems in (Cape Town) South Africa and (Chennai) India.
In fact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) identifies seventeen (17) countries, and 1.7 billion people (or 1 in 5 people on the planet), as experiencing “extremely high” level of baseline water stress (as per this graphic from the WRI). (Most are in the Middle East or Asia, or Africa.) Moreover, another 27 countries are experiencing high baseline water stress and within a few years we could be seeing this list (and population base) double. Plus, while the US ranks well overall, the state of New Mexico has “extremely high” water stress (similar to the UAE that is 10th on the list) and projections are that within a few decades the southern Great Plains Southwest Rocky Mountain States, and California will also be under extremely high water stress. (And if you go five decades into the future, about half of the US.)

Without an immediate reduction in water use, improvements in wastewater recycling and reuse, and overall process efficiency across industry, water scarcity and stress will soon hit everyone, and every supply chain, hard and put entire companies, countries, and global supply chains at risk.

So, Have YOU Solved Your Supply Chain Water Problem?