On December 7, 2010, Brad Zarnett of Watters Environmental and Kathryn Cooper of the Sustainability Learning Centre hosted a Sustainable Supply Chain Education Workshop, with special guest James Gray-Donald of Sears Canada. The workshop, led by Zarnett, was an extension of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series, a forum created to share sustainability best practices and green business success stories.
The event was the first of a planned series of supply chain workshops and webinars that will teach sustainability best practices to the Toronto business community.
Sustainable Supply Chain Management: From Vision to Reality
An organization can reduce costs, enhance its brand and strengthen relationships by improving its supply chain sustainability record. Opportunities may be found in areas such as material selection, product design, production process, customer use experience and ultimately disposal/recycling options. A holistic awareness of the supply chain and its environmental, social and economic impacts is the foundation for reducing risks and seizing opportunities.
Workshop leader Brad Zarnett outlined a methodical approach to developing a sustainable supply chain with a focus on vision, supply chain mapping, sustainability metrics, and partnerships.
Sustainability should lead to greater shareholder value but to achieve this, business leaders must look beyond short term cost reduction opportunities and remember that being a green supplier of choice or an environmental steward does not always have a short term ROI. A vision to find innovative answers to our environmental problems can inspire corporate creativity and deliver new and often industry changing solutions.
Zarnett shared the success story of outdoor clothing company Patagonia which shifted its entire supply chain to organic cotton in just 20 months. They were not deterred by an initial 300% increase in material costs; the vision to make the best product possible with the least unnecessary environmental and social harm demanded innovation. Ultimately they reduced costs and improved quality by substituting waste plastic as a raw material.
Every company must map how it interacts with its supply chain and identify where environmental and social impacts occur. Zarnett emphasized that companies must look beyond direct suppliers to avoid potential risk to their brand.
New metrics must be defined to track performance in this new initiative. Zarnett provided examples including Scandic Hotels where supply chain impacts are tracked per “guest night stay” and Interface where impacts are tracked per square foot of carpet produced.
Once the supply chain is mapped and impacts assessed, an evaluation of supplier relationships begins; this starts by asking questions about supplier practices and values. Separating fact from fiction can be challenging.
Guest speaker James Gray-Donald, Sustainability Champion at Sears Canada, suggested using a sustainability scorecard to identify suppliers who comply with and/or exceed standards. This can also reveal the suppliers’ level of enthusiasm for the company’s values and vision. When Sears chose to source lower impact paper for its catalogue, Gray-Donald found that about 1/3 of suppliers responded quickly and set themselves apart. Sears knew immediately who was willing to step up and develop a partnership based on Sears’ sustainability vision. Corporate social responsibility demands win-win resolutions, says Gray-Donald. “A sustainable vision should force businesses to engage seriously with stakeholders and partner with them to solve the complicated problems that responsibility poses.”
“Your supply chain may be extremely complicated and could take years to understand,” says Zarnett, “But the sooner you begin, the sooner you will find industry changing solutions that offer competitive advantages and leave your competitors playing catch up and wondering why they resisted change for so long.
Brad Zarnett is the Senior Sustainability Consultant at Watters Environmental Group as well as the Founder and Director of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathryn Cooper is the Founder and Director of the Sustainability Learning Centre; a network hub for sustainability education. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Contributing Writers: Julia Barnes and Adina Kaufman