Researchers estimate that 40-60 percent of a manufacturing company’s carbon footprint stems from its supply chain, and so it’s no surprise that businesses looking to improve their sustainability scorecards are turning the spotlight on their supplier networks. As a result, several new supply chain management trends are emerging, according to panelists at the Ceres Conference 2010 held last week in Boston.
The discussion, “Tiers of Influence: Driving change throughout the supply chain,” was moderated by Margot Brandenburg, associate director of The Rockefeller Foundation. Panelists included:
- Caterina Conti, executive VP, chief administrative officer and general counsel, Anvil Knitwear, Inc.
- Patricia Jurewicz, director of Responsible Sourcing Network, a project of As You Sow
- Amy Kleiner-Roberts, VP of corporate responsibility, Outdoor Industry Association
- Stefanie Zeldin, executive vice president of corporate relations and sustainability, Jimtex Yarn
At Anvil, the largest buyer of organic cotton in the U.S., transparency is key, Conti said. Anvil functions as both a brand buyer and a supplier, and so has a multi-dimensional perspective on the significant role sustainability is beginning to play in supply chain management.
“We expect transparency,” she stressed, quickly adding that customers do, too. In fact, Anvil recently launched an innovative, educational web campaign called “Track My T!” At the website, customers can explore the journey their t-shirt has taken, “from its very beginning as a cotton seed on a farm, to every step it took before you bought it.”
Now that people freely share personal information online, they increasingly expect that same kind of openness from the companies they do business with, Conti said.
Jurewicz agreed. Customers expect information about products, they want to compare brands, and they’re demanding accountability, she said. For example, she pointed out that a growing number of retailers are taking action regarding forced and child labor in the cotton industry of Uzbekistan.
Picking up on that theme, Kleiner-Roberts reported that the Outdoor Industry Association is developing an “eco-index” that will help consumers assess products based on a variety of sustainability considerations. This open-source eco-index will combine environmental impacts with fair labor and social factors. Ultimately, then, there will be one score that allows the industry to “talk to” consumers more easily, Kleiner-Roberts said.
Both the eco-index and the retailers’ joint action to support fair labor practices illustrate two other emerging supply chain trends: collaboration and what the panel called “de-siloing.”
After all, many sustainability initiatives require partnerships–between supply chain tiers, between suppliers and manufacturers, and even between brands, Zeldin explained. In the textile industry, for example, creating a sustainable alternative often requires innovation. And innovation, in turn, requires time and funding. Collaboration between manufacturers and suppliers can help uncover channels to support long-term products and funding for innovation, she said.
“Sustainability is not just replacing one thing with another,” Zeldin explained. “You have to rethink the process and come up with new solutions.”
Even so, when companies begin to scrutinize their supply chains, many are “very surprised” at the low-hanging fruit, she added.
“It’s a challenge (to move towards sustainability). But, some brands are establishing themselves as leaders, and consumers appreciate the effort,” Zeldin concluded.
Other trends mentioned during the panel discussion included: local souring and the “closer to home” concept, product differentiation, and the recycling industry as a new commodity provider.
Photo courtesy of Ceres.