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Why You, The Logistics and Supply Chain Manager, Need to OWN Your Sustainability Program

An era of sustainability ownership

Many companies have sustainability offices or offices for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and because of this many logistics and supply chain managers acquiesce their obligation to sustainability to these offices.  The offices do not have the staff to really do the job at the execution level (they are great at setting high level goals and making press releases) and therefore much of a company's sustainability program is thrown over the wall to external "validating" agencies.

Looks like a good strategy right?  After all, if you can say you are working with LEED or Smartway isn't that enough?  Well the answer turns out to be no and the supply chain manager who does this does it at her own potential peril.

In a recent article the New Republic highlighted an example of this as it relates to LEED certification of the Bank of America building in New York.  In this case, the investigative journalist found the building, while certified when it was empty, in practice is not very "green" at all.  Read:  In the EXECUTION of the sustainability program, it failed miserably.

Also notice the headline had Bank of America prominently displayed.  The brand under attack in the headline was not the LEED brand (although deep in the article it did not fair well) but it was the actual company brand. This is important because one of the critical success factors of all sustainability programs at the execution level is brand protection. Imagine this scenario:

  1. Your CEO is out on the speaking circuit touting the sustainability and social responsibility of your company.  Indeed, she is making this a cornerstone of why consumers should deal with your product. 

  2. You feel like you are doing your job because your distribution centers are LEED certified and you at least ask your carriers if they are in the Smartway program. 

  3. Someone now takes an inventory of what is really happening and they find out many of these "certifications" are so general in nature that they cannot be used to determine anything.  A true and real inventory shows not much progress in truly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

  4. An aggressive reporter or investigator starts questioning your CEO about this - she looks perplexed

At that point the brand damage is done.  All you are doing is playing catch-up to the damage and hoping time and some counter communication will work.  You can find yourself with a real problem at this point.  

Here are some recommendations to ensure this does not happen to you or to your company (and of course to your CEO):

Take Ownership of Your Supply Chain Sustainability Program

The corporate office sets targets and high level goals and may be the location you send reports to but you must own the supply chain performance of this.  Not some other office in your company and not some external agency. 

Employ external expertise as needed

This may sound contradictory but it is not.  When I say use this external expertise I mean to actually dive in and inventory.  This external agency should have no vested interest in the outcome beyond inventorying your GhG emissions, consulting with you on programs to reduce, developing road-maps and re-inventorying.  They have a fiduciary responsibility only to you.

Put goals and targets on performance appraisals with equal weight to other items

This is not and either/or as it relates to a sustainability program v. financial performance - it is a both.  You must evaluate people on the actual performance of the program or they will only see it as a sideshow. Sideshows lead to results shown above. 

When conducting your inventory do it at a very detailed level

There are a lot of generic databases out in the public domain which say, essentially, "on average" this is what the emissions are for a company doing what you do.  However, a lot of people have drowned in streams that "average" 3 feet deep.  You must inventory at the truck, fleet and fuel level.  Real consumption data for energy is a must.  The higher you generalize the more likely it is your CEO will be surprised one day. 

If you do not take ownership of your supply chain sustainability program with the same vigor and thoughtfulness you put against financial performance I can assure you someone else will... and that will not be the best day of your life.  

If you still do not believe me think about how your company deals with safety.  If someone asked you who is responsible for safety in your company would you really respond, "The safety office"?  I think that makes my point.