Practically Practical Guide to Sustainable Supply Chain

To enhance my understanding of the more specific areas of sustainable business, I make an effort to read some white papers and special reports that are outside my scope of work. This week I took a closer look at sustainable supply chain, focusing on the UN and BSR produced practical guide for supply chain sustainability. (Found here)

What attracted me to this report in particular was that it promised to address issues beyond the typical introductory topics and the fact that it claimed to be useful in real life.

Photo credit: PRA

It had me at ‘practical’ *swoon* and the document didn’t disappoint. Sort of…

Though a friend of mine had described the report as ‘amazeballs’, I found the first part of the document a bit difficult to endure. It started out by repeating the same-old (yet admittedly important) material, such as how green is not necessarily synonymous with expensive and stakeholder consultation helps to increase buy-in etc., but the relentless promotion of the UN Global Compact grated on my nerves.

Yes, yes, I realize the UN Global Compact is one of key creators of the report and they are allowed to promote their standards, but seriously, the Global Compact was described in the forward, referenced in the executive summary and then further illustrated in the introduction. The first few chapters invoke the Global Compact whenever possible, like an irritatingly bubbly tween who just got back from a Justin Beiber concert.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the BSR does great work and the Global Compact is a solid, well-founded model, but it was painted as the only approach where anything less is substandard and I prefer to not have these things rammed down my throat. I ended up trying to amuse myself by writing sarcastic comments in the margins (“Can I haz buy-in?? LOLZ!”) but best of all, even if you close the report for a breather, the model is there, outlined once again on the back cover. Staring. Waiting…

No escape!

No escape, that is, except for the second half of the report. The relentless thumping of the Global Compact abruptly ceases after about 25 pages and we find ourselves immersed in some wonderful material about sustainable supply chain. Here, the report does a great job suggesting starting points to tackle your supply chain’s footprint. It suggests segmenting your supply chain to tackle specific key areas as pilot projects and it recommends the use of positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement when collecting data on compliance.

One topic that was especially of interest was the concept of having a larger impact for your efforts by targeting the supply chain. Large players can exert pressure on their many suppliers and watch the effects ripple well beyond their own facilities and across the industry. Even smaller players can form joint codes of conduct to exert similar pressure as a group.

As a whole, the report is a good overview and will provide practical insight into the starting points for addressing the impact of your suppliers. Many of the suggestions are common sense, but even those are beneficial since it is helpful to frame these familiar concepts in the context of supply chain. The report does not, however, address the real nitty gritty of how to address stakeholder groups or the indirect side-effects of efficiency planning, like layoffs or mistrust of auditors.

These ‘practical’ issues and all the potential questions that would come up along the way can only truly be addressed with live feedback, either by jumping in and trying the methodology out for yourself or by, oh I don’t know, an instructional workshop.

The report will get you on your way and serves as a good introduction to the topic, but it by no means is a comprehensive handbook. That would be difficult to capture in a single written work, but if you happen to know of one that comes close, I would love to know about it.

Now that would be amazeballs.

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About Daniel Caunter

Who is Daniel Caunter? Daniel is a series of contrasts – Environmentalist MBA, anglo Montrealer, landlocked surfer, serious about fun, and creatively practical. He has lofty ideals, but is focused on finding veritable solutions that will work in reality. He is a work in progress, building a career in environmental business with a focus on stakeholder engagement, project management and corporate communications. Daniel can be reached via Twitter (@danielcaunter), or by commenting here on this site. If you’d like a real-time update on this work in progress, he may even be persuaded to come out for a pint or a cuppa. (Please note: the views expressed in Daniel’s posts are his personally - though sometimes satirical - and are not necessarily those of his employer or other affiliations...so don’t be silly.)
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