Getting to grips with sustainability in the supply chain

By Dr. Allinnettes Adigue, Head of GRI in the ASEAN Region

Covid-19 has instigated significant changes in global procurement and supply chain operations. The global lockdowns exposed supply chain weaknesses, which were pervasive even before the pandemic, especially sub-par labor practices. Yet it has also opened up opportunities for a sustainability transformation.

As KMPG research from 2017 warned, supply chain fraud and corruption is a widespread problem. What has been underlined since is that, driven by their complexity and scale, supply chains are a significant source of corporate risk — hiding impacts that can negatively affect sustainability performance and reputation.

It should come as no surprise that measuring and monitoring key impacts is necessary for effective and well functioning supply chains — with transparency throughout all practices.

To drive focus on how companies can respond to growing demands to do more to ensure transparent supply chains, GRI’s sixth installment of the Expert Series on Sustainable Business Leadership took place in May, under the theme sustainable procurement in supply chain operations. Bringing together expert speakers, it addressed why and how procurement managers could be the vital missing link to corporate sustainability. Key takeaways from the session are shared below.

Understanding supply chain complexity

Supply chains are complex due their sheer magnitude, expanse and constant state of flux — driven by numerous factors, such as expanded line of products and markets, faster lead times, multi-party inventories, and a manifold of data sources from hundreds and thousands of suppliers of different tiers. As such, supply chains can be a major pain-point for companies.

Multiple research sources have indicated that supply chains often account for a majority of a companies’ environmental impact, including those on air, land, water and biodiversity. In addition, WEF analysis in 2021 found more than 50% of global CO2 emissions is concentrated in the supply chains of just eight industries.

While many large corporations are committed to entrenching fair economic, environmental and social practices throughout their supply networks, too often these commitments fail to be effectively translated and cascaded.

Sustainalytics’ future-proofing supply chains study, meanwhile, estimated that up to 90% of a company’s sustainability impacts occur in a firm’s supply chain, As Francesca Placa, Commercialization and Product Manager of Sustainalytics, explained, “whether directly or indirectly regulated, sustainability in supply chain operations is going to cascade down. That means the risk of inaction will be detrimental — not only on the reputation of firms but also on shareholder value.”

Push and pull — regulatory changes are coming

With the myriad possibilities of persistent and pervasive abuses and misconduct that occur in supply networks, it is imperative for any organization to identify and address vulnerabilities in the supply chain, as inaction can have catastrophic effects. The pandemic has forced companies to finally up the ante on their supply chain resiliency as a key factor to sustaining business operations.

With the proliferation of the jargon on ‘green recovery’, ‘net zero’ and ‘decarbonization’, supply chain sustainability-related regulations around the world are also on the rise.

· The upcoming EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive will raise the bar for how far ESG data should be collected beyond a company’s own operation;

· The US SEC’s proposed climate disclosures are expected to require public companies to disclose climate-related risks from their upstream and downstream suppliers;

· Germany’s new Supply Chain Due Diligence Act will require large companies to ensure social and environmental standards are observed in their supply chain.

Call for sustainable solutions

With the likelihood of increased legal compliance requirements, companies need to monitor their own operations and direct suppliers worldwide, and act if they find violations. As Nick Heine, Co-Founder and Head of Sustainability & Compliance with IntegrityNext, identified, there are digital solutions to help buyers and suppliers alike: “While the issue is complex, it is solvable. With digitalization, there are tools to help companies set up their database and track suppliers. With technology, buyers can extend their focus beyond the top spenders or strategic suppliers. For companies with an extensive supplier network, leveraging digital solutions will help procurement professionals to identify and track the most sustainable suppliers in their network.”

Olivier Tichit, Sustainability Director Musim Mas Group, shared his perspective based on more than 20 years in coffee and palm oil supply chain management. He said: “Buyers increasingly want to know not only about your suppliers but also the suppliers of your suppliers — and how you verify the information they provide. These demands have made buyers responsible for educating their suppliers on sustainability. Business is very personal in Asia and there is a fear that data sharing will negatively affect the business — but gaining trust from suppliers is also key in driving a sustainability transformation in the supply chain.”

Supply chain accountability is a leadership imperative

By building a complete picture of impacts throughout the supply chain, companies can identify and adjust procurement practices that cause or contribute to negative impacts in the supply chain.

Embracing globally-applicable reporting standards, such as those from GRI, helps organizations to collaborate with the suppliers, setting clear KPIs for sustainability, which in turn is a driver for accountability.

· The seventh — and final — installment of the GRI Expert Series on Sustainable Business Leadership takes place on 14 July: Role of investor relations in integrating sustainability in investment strategies

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Based in Singapore, Dr. Allinnettes Adigue leads GRI in the ASEAN region. She oversees engagement and collaboration with Southeast Asian stakeholders and companies to create a conducive environment for sustainable business practices. She joined GRI in 2018, initially delivering donor-funded programs in Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Prior to GRI, Ally worked in both the public and private sectors in Australia, Philippines and Singapore. She earned her PhD on Public Policy from the Crawford School of Public Policy (Australian National University). She holds two Masters: in Development Studies (Erasmus University, The Netherlands); and Public Administration (Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore).

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GRI

GRI is the independent international organization that helps businesses and other organizations communicate and understand their sustainability impacts.