Sustainability, for Real

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Sustainability for real

Talking about sustainability may seem easy, but in reality it is a very daunting topic – and more so, if you’re talking about how we can truly transform our operations into one that both considers its impact on the environment as well as on the bottom line. When you’re approaching it from a supply chain perspective, it is easy to be overwhelmed, because there’s just a lot of ground to cover. Where do we start? Recyclable packaging? Electric vehicles? Renewable energy throughout the production process?

When I was invited to moderate a panel on sustainable procurement at LogiSYM Asia Pacific in Singapore a month ago, I thought it would be a little easier because it’s just one aspect of the sustainability journey. Then I realized that procurement is the most critical part of the journey, for this is what dictates how our sustainability efforts will go throughout succeeding product cycles. Of course, there’s also the fact that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, that there are different requirements and approaches depending on the industry you’re in, the market you cater for, and the nuances of your operating environment. How do you cover all that in just thirty minutes?

I’m happy to report that my panelists – the Anchor Group’s Wolfgang Lehmacher, LBB International’s Dr. Marco Tieman, and DB Schenker’s Tom Kruse – still had some takeaways for us to think about. Primarily, this is the importance of collaboration, both within the organization and between stakeholders. I agree. Tackling our environmental impact is both an urgent undertaking – we in the Philippines know all too well the effects of global temperature rises on our weather patterns and the liveability of our communities – and a very daunting one. Same questions as before. Where do we start?

Ideally, everywhere. Again, this is urgent. But most organizations are not equipped to truly tackle these issues as comprehensively as possible. There’s the matter of truly understanding your environmental impact, collecting as much data as possible from your operations as well as your partners’. There’s the process of finding the right partners who can help you in every aspect of your sustainability journey, partners who will do meaningful change rather than just nudge you towards greenwashing.

Most importantly, there’s the need to balance all that with the needs of your customers and the profitability of your business. In some cases, your environmental credentials can be a competitive advantage – are you more likely to buy a product if you know it’s, say, easily recyclable, or responsibly produced? – but in other cases, you can’t just make such a move without impacting your product cycle. Will it be detrimental to the quality of your product? Will your customers appreciate the change? If it means a more expensive buy, perhaps not.

Thus, collaboration. We all collectively understand that sustainability is no longer just about looking better in a crowded market. Between a keener understanding of the stresses our planet is experiencing, and new regulatory requirements on brand owners, it’s obvious that we have to walk the walk on the environment. But one, it’s essential that everyone in the organization – all levels, all disciplines – are working together to achieve truly meaningful environmental goals. These should not just be targets in the boardroom, but an intrinsic part of a company’s culture and values.

And two, it’s essential for companies – whether competitors in the same category, or partners across different industries – to work together, to find common solutions, to make sustainability very much justifiable in a business sense. As Wolfgang was keen to point out during the panel, sustainability also means you can remain competitive as a business.

How exactly do we all do this? Again, no one-size-fits-all solution. I can’t possibly answer that from my vantage point. But I can leave you with one more thing to think about. At the sidelines of the event, I was chatting with another 30-something colleague who was asking me about how businesses can better deliver on their responsibilities to the communities that host them and that it serves. Can we do for social responsibility what we are somehow able to do with sustainability? Me, I don’t think it’s impossible – but that will also require a lot of work within organizations, and a lot of collaboration between stakeholders, to both understand what we can do and deliver meaningfully, rather than just setting up photo-ops and press releases.

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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