Category Archives: Carbon GHG

Sustainability ONLY Exists In the Supply Chain

Furthermore, simply switching suppliers does not make you more sustainable no matter what you may think or what those overpriced third party ESG / Scope 3 reports may (or may not) say. Switching suppliers to a supplier approximated to be more sustainable is not increasing sustainability, because if you take someone else’s supplier, then they are just going to end up with yours. It may be a temporary net win for your company, but it’s a net loss for another company, and that doesn’t really help anyone as sustainability was not actually increased overall.

Sustainability only comes from net improvement. The reason it only comes from the supply chain is because the products you buy come from the supply chain. The energy you use comes from the supply chain. The water you use (and drink) comes from the supply chain. The services come from your partners (in the supply chain). The transport to you (and/or to your customers) is the supply chain. Everything comes from the supply chain. The only way you can increase your sustainability is to reduce the energy, water, and products you use and the travel you undertake. For most companies, this is a negligible part of the supply chain … sometimes so negligible it rounds to zero.

So how do you increase sustainability in your supply chain? You start by helping your suppliers be more sustainable, which, believe it or not, starts with you being a better buyer and a better partner. Sustainability requires investment, and when they are operating at slimmer margins than you, significantly smaller bank accounts than you, and a lot more uncertainty than you, it can be hard for them to invest in new technology or processes when they don’t even know if they can invest in next week’s payroll.

And it requires more than a piece of paper from you saying you’re going to award them two years of business after a multi-round RFP when you’re a first time buyer. Because they know that while you may have the wherewithal to enforce a contract in another country half a world away, they often don’t. And they know how many times they’ve been screwed in the past when they were told they’d get 100,000 units, but COVID hit, the market crashed, or the transport lanes (ports, borders, etc.) closed down and the orders never came.

You need to develop a true partnership, work with them, build up shared trust and commitment, stick to your promises, help them with their processes so they become more efficient, identify efforts they can make to significantly increase sustainability, and then make the long term commitment they need from you (and other major customers) to invest in better technology, build their own renewable energy grids, etc.

Why are we bringing this up? Because a recent article in VOGUE Business that asked if fashion’s buying practices are really improving had a very good point. While fashion brands make strong claims they are investing in longer-term strategic partnerships, and big consultancies like McKinsey quote impressive statistics (such as an increase from 26% to 43% over the last 4 years) on how the percentage of CPOs reporting longer-term strategic partnerships (which just translates into longer term contracts, but not necessarily guaranteed awards over the long term, as there are usually so many out clauses the contracts mean nothing), the reality is that when you ask the suppliers how things are going, it’s a completely different story. As the Vogue Business article point out, this year’s Better Buying Partnership Index saw just a one point increase in the garment industry’s buyer-supplier partnerships score. Just one point! That could be a rounding error.

Despite all the lip service, there has been no improvement in the fashion supply chain because, at the end of the day, as Lindsay Wright was quoted, simply claiming you have good partnerships with your suppliers isn’t going to cut it. If you want an honest picture of what’s really happening on the ground, you need to be asking suppliers, because they’re the only real arbiters of whether purchasing practices are improving.

And this holds true across supply chains. Partner with your suppliers on long term contracts and work on development initiatives with them if you want to increase sustainability. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is to just shut the f*ck up because you’re only contributing to the hot air.

COUPA: Centralized Optimization Underlies Procurement Adoption …

… or at least that’s what it SHOULD stand for. Why? Well, besides the fact that optimization is only one of two advanced sourcing & procurement technologies that have proven to deliver year-over-year cost avoidance (“savings”) of 10% or more (which becomes critical in an inflationary economy because while there are no more savings, negating the need for a 10% increase still allows your organization to maintain costs and outperform your competitors), it’s the only technology that can meet today’s sourcing needs!

COVID finally proved what the doctor and a select few other leading analysts and visionaries have been telling you for over a decade — that your supply chain was overextended and fraught with unnecessary risk and cost (and carbon), and that you needed to start near-sourcing/home-sourcing as soon as possible in order to mitigate risk. Plus, it’s also extremely difficult to comply with human rights acts (which mandate no forced or slave labour in the supply chain), such as the UK Modern Slavery Act, California Supply Chains Act, and the German Supply Chain Act if your supply chain is spread globally and has too many (unnecessary) tiers. (And, to top it off, now you have to track and manage your scope 1, 2, and 3 carbon in a supply chain you can barely manage.)

And, guess what, you can’t solve these problems just with:

  • supplier onboarding tools — you can’t just say “no China suppliers” when you’ve never used suppliers outside of China, the suppliers you have vetted can’t be counted on to deliver 100% of the inventory you need, or they are all clustered in the same province/state in one country
  • third party risk management — and just eliminate any supplier which has a risk score above a threshold, because sometimes that will eliminate all, or all but one, supplier
  • third party carbon calculators — because they are usually based on third party carbon emission data provided by research institutions that simply produce averages for a region / category of products (and might over estimate or under estimate the carbon produced by the entire supply base)
  • or even all three … because you will have to migrate out of China slowly, accept some risk, and work on reducing carbon over time

You can only solve these problems if you can balance all forms of risk vs cost vs carbon. And there’s only one tool that can do this. Strategic Sourcing Decision Optimization (SSDO), and when it comes to this, Coupa has the most powerful platform. Built on TESS 6 — Trade Extensions Strategic Sourcing — that Coupa acquired in 2017, the Coupa Sourcing Optimization (CSO) platform is one of the few platforms in the world that can do this. Plus, it can be pre-configured out-of-the-box for your sourcing professionals with all of the required capabilities and data already integrated*. And it may be alone from this perspective (as the other leading optimization solutions are either integrated with smaller platforms or platforms with less partners). (*The purchase of additional services from Coupa or Partners may be required.)

So why is it one of the few platforms that can do this? We’ll get to that, but first we have to cover what the platform does, and more specifically, what’s new since our last major coverage in 2016 on SI (and in 2018 and 2019 on Spend Matters, where the doctor was part of the entire SM Analyst team that created the 3-part in-depth Coupa review, but, as previously noted, the site migration dropped co-authors for many articles).

As per previous articles over the past fifteen years, you already know that:

So now all we have to focus on are the recent improvements around:

  • “smart scenarios” that can be templated and cross-linked from integrated scenario-aware help-guides
  • “Plain English” constraint creation (that allows average buyers & executives to create advanced scenarios)
  • fact-sheet auto-generation from spreadsheets, API calls, and other third-party data sources;
    including data identification, formula derivation and auto-validation pre-import
  • bid insights
  • risk-aware functionality

“Smart Events”

Optimization events can be created from event templates that can themselves be created from completed events. A template can be populated with as little, or as much as the user wants … all the way from simply defining an RFX Survey, factsheet, and a baseline scenario to a complete copy of the event with “last bid” pricing and definitions of every single scenario created by the buyer. Also, templates can be edited at any time and can define specific baseline pricing, last price paid by procurement, last price in a pre-defined fact-sheet that can sit above the event, and so on. Fixed supplier lists, all qualified suppliers that supply a product, all qualified suppliers in an area, no suppliers (and the user pulls from recommended) and so on. In addition to predefining a suite of scenarios that can be run once all the data is populated, the buyer can also define a suite of default reports to be run, and even emailed out, upon scenario completion. This is in addition to workflow automation that can step the buyer through the RFX, auto-respond to suppliers when responses are incomplete or not acceptable, spreadsheets or documents uploaded with hacked/cracked security, and so on. The Coupa philosophy is that optimization-backed events should be as easy as any other event in the system, and the system can be configured so they literally are.

Also, as indicated above, the help guides are smart. When you select a help article on how to do something, it takes you to the right place on the right screen while keeping you in the event. Some products have help guides that are pretty dumb and just take you to the main screen, not to the right field on the right sub-screen, if they even link into the product at all!

“Plain English” Constraint Creation

Even though the vast majority of constraints, mathematically, fall into three/four primary categories — capacity/allocation, risk mitigation, and qualitative — that isn’t obvious to the average buyer without an optimization, analytical, or mathematical background. So Coupa has spent a lot of time working with buyers asking them what they want, listening to their answers and the terminology they use, and created over 100 “plain english” constraint templates that break down into 10 primary categories (allocation, costs, discount, incumbent, numeric limitations, post-processing, redefinition, reject, scenario reference, and collection sheets) as well as a subset of most commonly used constraints gathered into a a “common constraints” collection. For example, the Allocation Category allows for definition “by selection sheet”, “volume”, “alternative cost”, “bid priority”, “fixed divisions”, “favoured/penalized bids”, “incumbent allocations maintained”, etc. Then, when a buyer selects a constraint type, such as “divide allocations”, it will be asked to define the method (%, fixed amount), the division by (supplier, group, geography), and any other conditions (low risk suppliers if by geography). The definition forms are also smart and respond to each, sequential, choice appropriately.

Fantastic Fact Sheets

Fact Sheets can be auto-generated from uploaded spreadsheets (as their platform will automatically detect the data elements (columns), types (text, math, fixed response set, calculation), mappings to internal system / RFX elements), and records — as well as detecting when rows / values are invalid and allow the user to determine what to do when invalid rows/values are detected. Also, if the match is not high certainty, the fact-sheet processor will indicate the user needs to manually define and the user can, of course, override all of the default mappings — and even choose to load only part of the data. These spreadsheets can live in an event or live above the event and be used by multiple events (so that company defined currency conversions, freight quotes for the month, standard warehouse costs, etc. can be used across events).

But even better, Fact Sheets can be configured to automatically pull data in from other modules in the Coupa suite and from APIs the customer has access to, which will pull in up to date information every time they are instantiated.

Bid Insights

Coupa is a big company with a lot of customers and a lot of data. A LOT of data! Not only in terms of prices its customers are paying in their procurement of products and services, but in terms of what suppliers are bidding. This provides huge insight into current marketing pricing in commonly sourced categories, including, and especially, Freight! Starting with freight, Coupa is rolling out a new bid pricing insights for freight where a user can select the source, the destination, the type (frozen/wet/dry/etc), and size (e.g. for ocean freight, the source and destination country, which defaults to container, and the container size/type combo and get the quote range over the past month/quarter/year).

Risk Aware Functionality

The Coupa approach to risk is that you should be risk-aware (to the extent the platform can make you risk aware) with every step you take, so risk data is available across the platform — and all of that risk data can be integrated into an optimization project and scenarios to reject, limit, or balance any risk of interest in the award recommendations.

And when you combine the new capabilities for

  • “smart” events
  • API-enabled fact sheets
  • risk-aware functionality

that’s how Coupa is the first platform that literally can, with some configuration and API integration, allow you to balance third party risk, carbon, and cost simultaneously in your sourcing events — which is where you HAVE to mange risk, carbon, and cost if you want to have any impact at all on your indirect risk, carbon, and cost.

It’s not just 80% of cost that is locked in during design, it’s 80% of risk and carbon as well! And in indirect, you can’t do much about that. You can only do something about the next 20% of cost, risk and carbon that is locked in when you cut the contract. (And then, if you’re sourcing direct, before you finalize a design, you can run some optimization scenarios across design alternatives to gauge relative cost, carbon, and risk, and then select the best design for future sourcing.) So by allowing you to bring in all of the relevant data, you can finally get a grip on the risk and carbon associated with a potential award and balance appropriately.

In other words, this is the year for Optimization to take center stage in Coupa, and power the entire Source-to-Contract process. No other solution can balance these competing objectives. Thus, after 25 years, the time for sourcing optimization, which is still the best kept secret (and most powerful technology in S2P), has finally come! (And, it just might be the reason that more users in an organization adopt Coupa.)

How Do You Sustain Sustainability When True Value is Long Term …

… and the brunt of the cost is short term?

AlixPartners recently published an article over on Mondaq on how The Fourth Dimension In Strategic Sourcing, Sustainability, Can Drive Value which caught our attention because Sustainability can drive value, but most organizations under cost pressures, which are rampant in our current inflationary economy, don’t choose the sustainable option as it’s typically a higher expense in the short-term.

Moreover, the big value is investing in suppliers that invest in new technologies that will be more sustainable in the long run. However, due to the cost of implementing these new technologies, the up-front costs are higher as the suppliers have to stay in business until the new technologies start to deliver returns. For example, the following are major improvements to sustainability:

  • suppliers utilizing, investing in, or building their own renewable energy grids (solar, wind) to avoid using the energy produced by the local coal/oil burning plants
  • suppliers re-designing production lines and methods to minimize waste (through cutting of metal, processing of food, etc.) and to ensure any waste they create can be used as an input to another production line (melting and re-fab of metal scraps, animal feed, etc.)
  • suppliers investing in their own water purification technology to re-use water in the manufacturing process
  • suppliers investing in product redesign research to minimize use of scarce rare earth minerals/metals and to increase use of reclaimed minerals/metals
  • suppliers investing in reclamation technology to maximize recycling of products created with metals/minerals

… and the following, highlighted in the article, are minor improvements …

  • sustainable supplier selection as everyone is going to try and secure the most sustainable supplier of the lowest cost suppliers, leaving less sustainable suppliers or more sustainable suppliers at a higher cost that the CFO/CEO will not let Procurement pay for the majority of organizations (the small, sustainable, suppliers cannot massively scale overnight)
  • eco-friendly packaging and waste reduction as this is not new and many organizations are already be doing this to the extent eco-friendly packaging is available
  • energy-efficient products and services as this is not new either and as companies replace end-of-life products, they have been choosing more energy efficient products for a while now with the increase in energy prices over the last five to ten years, and the truth is that this is usually a small dent on their total energy footprint
  • carbon footprint reduction as that is the goal, not a specific action that can reduce carbon footprint, and. most importantly, significant reduction requires significant investment (reducing travel and forcing the CEO to give up the private jet and fly first class only goes so far)
  • collaboration and reporting because while you need to understand your footprint, and sometimes shaming goes further than incentivizeation, reporting doesn’t actually increase sustainability unless action is taken …

IF PE firms, with billion dollar funds, won’t actually invest in supply chain (which includes sustainability) improvements, because you typically don’t realize the bulk of the value until you (significantly) pass the five (5) year mark, how can you expect short-term thinking CEOs and CFOs, trying to impress Wall Street or attract PE funding, to actually put their money with their big mouths are and invest in true sustainability?

If you have answers, we’d love to hear them — comment on the LinkedIn post.

Carbon Tracking is Important — But a Calculator or a Credit is Not A Solution!

We need sustainability. But that’s a heck of a lot more than just calculating the carbon in your supply chain or buying credits from an unknown seller of dubious origin. However, in the last two years, we’ve seen dozens (upon dozens) of startups that, as of now, do just that — and only that.

If they have plans to do more, that’s great, we need more — a lot more, but for now, all they are adding is unnecessary duplication of capability and confusion to a space that needs more clarity.

First of all, you don’t need a custom “carbon calculator” to compute your carbon footprint. All you need is the data on the products you produce — specifically, how many units you buy, the carbon output by the factory on an annual basis, and how many total units it produces. Then, you can compute a carbon contribution by product. (Yes, this is a bit simplified, but you can have the factory track daily production by product and daily output and improve the estimate if you like. It’s still a simple calculation.)

And, most importantly, you can do all of these calculations easily in any Business Intelligence (BI) or Spend Analysis Tool. Just load the factory carbon / GHG output for a day and the number of products produced per day in a tracking table and create a derivation dimension for carbon and each GHG you want to track and that’s your output per product. Then, on your product purchase table you create a derived dimension that calculates how much carbon (and GHG) the products you bought contributed. Dump the table and there’s your report, which you can format how you like.

And you can even do all this work in, gasp, Microsoft Excel if you don’t have a spend analysis tool — you don’t need someone to build a custom mini spreadsheet tool to do this for you (or pay for it).

But even worse is an unregulated someone who will take your money and invest it in “carbon offsets” for you. Especially when the enterprises that someone invests it in may or may not be doing anything that’s actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The reality is that, today, many “carbon offset” investments are a complete and utter scam, as per this John Oliver segment, and many more that look like they are doing activities that will capture atmospheric carbon are just wasting time and money. For example, just planting a tree does nothing if the tree doesn’t survive. In many areas of South America and other locales undergoing rapid deforestation, especially where droughts are common, the climate quickly becomes similar to that of a semi-desert part of the year — and a young sapling in this climate generally won’t survive without irrigation. Also, if the entity doing the planting decides to plant a non-native species of tree that they believe should “grow faster”, chances are those trees won’t survive the climate either.

What we really need is a few internationally regulated organizations that create requirements and standards for an operation to be a real carbon offset operation and auditing requirements that must be met in order for an operation to be certified as being a true carbon offset operation — before it takes a dime of your money. Otherwise, yet another organization just wanting to do good is NOT enough.

And then, we need these companies that care to take the next step and provide meaningful guidance to global enterprises as to the steps these global enterprise clients can take to reduce their carbon footprint — technologies they, and their suppliers, can invest in to reduce carbon and GHG production, alternative raw materials and components they can use in their designs that produce less carbon in their mining and production, and ways to reduce consumer demand for carbon intensive products. (Which, by the way, doesn’t have to reduce profit — conscientious customers will pay more for sustainable products, especially if those products now last longer as a result!)

In short, we need actions, not calculations!

Key Priorities for Ethical Supply Chains – An Interesting Study

Software Advice, a software review company which covers the supply chain management space, recently posted the results of its Key Priorities for Ethical Supply Chains Industry View 2014 that discussed the results of two surveys distributed to over 1,100 consumers. The findings are interesting, generally indicative of the current state of affairs, but, as far as SI is concerned, specifically off, though not due to any fault of Software Advice or the methodology employed by the researcher. What do we mean? Read on.

In the first survey, the group of over 1,100 consumers was split into three and each group of consumers was asked how much more they would pay for a product, normally priced at $100, that was produced more ethically with respect to one of three ethical initiatives: ethically sourced materials, carbon emission offset, and good working conditions. The first group said they’d pay an average of $18.50 more if the raw materials were ethically sourced, the second group said they’d pay an average of $19.70 more if the product had its carbon emissions offset, and the third group said they’d pay as much as $27.60 more if the product was made by workers working in good working conditions. A deeper dive revealed that 35% of consumers would not pay a penny more for products made under these ethical initiatives. And while the second finding does not surprise the doctor, he does not believe the first finding in its entirety. But more on that later.

In the second survey, the respondents were asked which of the three broad ethical initiatives would make them more likely to purchase a company’s products: working conditions, reduced environmental impact, or community involvement. The results were more-or-less evenly split. This does no surprise the doctor either.

So why doesn’t the doctor believe the average consumer would pay considerably more (an average of 21.93% if the above survey is to be believed) for an ethically sourced product? Three reasons.

  1. In the vast majority of verticals, it is not the most socially responsible company that is the market leader.
  2. Fly Research’s recent survey, which attempted to determine what factors are really important to consumers in their purchasing decision, found that only 9% of UK and 16% of US consumers rank “ethical company/brand” in their top 3 attributes but the vast majority are more concerned with value for money (86%), price (76%), and quality (73%). (See SI’s recent post on Do As I Say, Don’t Do As I Do!
  3. The study did not take into account the inherent bias of the consumer. As a result of recent disasters and media storms — including the fire in Bangladesh, the BP oil spill, and underground sweatshops in Russia — not only is corporate ethics and supply chain sustainability on the mind of many caring consumers, but it is stirring up their emotions. And an emotional subject is not an unbiased one. While a consumer might try her best to be unbiased when responding to a survey, when all of the questions stir emotional responses, her responses are going to be skewed relative to what they would be compared to the situation where only a small portion of the survey contains questions or answers that stir emotions. So had these been just three factors in a pool of ten or more that she is asked to consider when defining what is most important to her when selecting a product for purchase, and the other seven plus do not stir any emotion, she will be able to better balance her emotion with her objectivity. And this is why when you compare the results of this survey with the Fly Research study, you find a discrepancy (that cannot be easily accounted for unless there is emotional bias in the consumer responding to the surveys). How else do you explain that a third of consumers expressed a wilingness to pay over 10% more (and up to 100% more) while another third expressed a willingness to pay up to 10% more when the Fly Research study found that less than 43% would pay more than 5% extra and the percentage of respondents who would pay more than 5% declined much faster than the percentage of respondents in the Software Advice Study.

In other words, consumers are starting to care, aren’t necessarily sure which issue they care about the most, will definitely choose a socially responsible product over one that is not socially responsible if all things are equal, but if the cost differential is too high, the average consumer will not be swayed to a more socially responsible product, despite their desire for social responsibility. So while the issues are likely spot on, the relative worth to the average consumer is still in question.

However, in addition to confirming our suspicions that there is no high level issue with respect to social and environmental responsibility that is considerably more important than the others, the study did reveal that if you drill down, there are some specific issues that concern consumers more than others. For example, where environmental responsibility is concerned, more consumers care about reduced water use and biodegradable packaging than reduced carbon emissions. Where community involvement is concerned, 43% believe that the best thing a company can do is to open a factory where jobs are needed (and not outsource to another country). And where working conditions are concerned, 45% believe workers should be paid a fair wage. This gives you starting points in your CSR efforts that will earn you brownie points and increase your brand’s reputation if appropriate initiatives are undertaken. It will be interesting to see how these trend over the coming year.