Learning from experience: Nine steps to supply chain sustainability

Supply Chain Engagement - mapping the route from tactical to super-strategic

Sustainability leaders from GlaxoSmithKline, Tesco, B&Q and HSBC identify nine steps towards a more sustainable supply chain.

Last month I had the privilege of facilitating a round table of nine of the UK’s businesses at the sharp end of tackling practical supply chain sustainability challenges.

At the 2degrees Summit, my colleague Simon Brown and I listened to the common themes across leaders in financial services, utilities, construction, brewing, manufacturing, retail and pharmaceuticals.  In particular we were privileged to hear from two people who came into their senior, sustainable business roles from very different origins Richard Pamenter, Head of Sustainability, GlaxoSmithKline who was head of engineering at GSK before his current role and Helen Fleming, Climate Change Director, Tesco who came to Tesco from the UK Government Treasury. 

Along with other sustainability leaders including Matt Sexton, B&Q and Alex Base, HSBC we identified nine themes which most businesses come up against when engaging suppliers:

  1. Getting started
  2. Choosing your first targets
  3. Incentivising leading suppliers
  4. Levelling-up through knowledge share
  5. Segmenting suppliers
  6. Identifying hotspots
  7. Collaboration & innovation
  8. Tracking benefits
  9. Engaging at scale

Over the coming weeks I’ll blog on each of these, with links to 2degrees resources. Today I’ll cover the first steps.

1.     Getting started

For businesses on the starting line, it’s important to establish why you’re interested in engaging suppliers and to make sure you have enough practical, tactical support from internal colleagues to carry through. A kick-off phase of work can practise the dynamics of engagement within the buying business – perhaps working across national offices, trading/procurement and sustainability, or multiple operational sites. This establishes the value of engagement (most soon recognize that previously unengaged colleagues bring practical skills and insights to the process) as well as get a feel for the time investment needed to get the results. This phase may also include a very simple survey to make sure all potential participants are agreed about the results and time costs, have bought into the long term vision and understand the next, external engagement steps.

Case Example: When Walmart realized that they were operating a business model which was incurring financial costs while generating negative environmental impacts throughout their operations and supply chain they knew that they needed to refocus internally to tackle the challenge.  Executives reached out to the flooring supplier, Interface.  Together they innovated a Cultural Immersion program which helped Walmart executives rethink in a new environment and simultaneously raised the profile of Interface with Walmart and every business across the planet which looked up to the world’s largest retailer.  See further details here.

Next in the series: Choosing your first targets

You can also see Richard’s Pamenter's Summit speech here and Helen Fleming’s here.

Conrad is a Director at 2degrees Enterprise Services. Clients like Tesco and Asda use the online workspace, managed activity program and practical project support to tackle enterprise-level supply chain sustainability challenges in collaboration with their supplier communities.