I interviewed John Wilkerson, a 25 year supply chain, procurement sustainability veteran. He has had the opportunity to work across a number of different businesses and industries, including industrials, aerospace, food & beverage, healthcare, as well as doing work in the home building and the supply chain space focusing on suppliers.
John also had the opportunity and honor to be a contributor on a number of thought leadership publications such as Kyoto Publishing, The Environmental Leader, Grocers Headquarters Magazine, Institute for Supply Management and more.
Why is sustainable supply chain an important topic?
Primarily for public companies. There are several issues out there. One is that public companies, manufacturing, distributors, retailers and service companies have a number of supply chain challenges. They are managing sustainability and out of stocks, excess inventory, cost management and related topics of the day. When it gets to specifics in the sustainable supply chain or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) supply chain partners are looking at carbon foot printing as the next evolution of emerging topics out there.
Industry leaders such as Procter & Gamble, Intel and AT&T have realized they have to go beyond the traditional organization and reach out to the suppliers to 1. Reduce carbon footprint and 2. Look for other longer term cost savings opportunities. If these companies say it is important, obviously we should listen.
What are the industry leaders doing?
Other companies such as Unilever, McDonalds, TESCO, along with Walmart and Target are actually leading the way. One of the things John recommends is taking a look at the Environmental Leaders 2012 lessons learned guide which is a large white paper around 70 pages. There you can take a look an see what the industry leaders are doing. Some of the companies included in that white paper, besides John's company Bellwether are companies such as Yahoo, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Nike, General Mills, Staples, etc.
Green supply chain transformations and lessons learned
Some of the work John has done with clients over the last several years include 3 things:
Aligning supply chain goals with corporate goals
Making sure you have a realistic time line
Getting the CFO to be a part of your team and an advocate
Aligning supply chain goals with corporate goals
John worked with roughly 2,000 suppliers with about 4,500 peers in the workforce. It also had about 30 buildings. One of the things they did was to operate in a silo, which they knew was a mistake but they did it just to get started. As they went along they found the Chief Sustainability Officer and Facility Manager because they couldn't proceed very far without their support. John's team eventually got them engaged. From a distance they had the executive management team on board.
The end result is that they went out and developed the goals. One of the issues they didn't do very well was matching the goals and aligning the goals to where the corporation was going. As a result they didn't get the entire management team on their side.
A lesson learned is that to get the management team on your side and get true executive support, and bring in facility managers along with the Chief Sustainability Officer should be done early rather than late.
Looking at the time line
One of the things they did well was developing a plan. With the plan they included all of the traditional aspects of project planning such as dividing things into phases, defining costs and assigning resources. However, there are several things they didn't do very well.
The project plan was basically 6 months. The project was extended to 18 months. There are four things which extended that plan:
Data integrity (which is always a big deal when doing any type of analytical project)
Education and re-education
At the end of the day what John would recommend is to compare the early days of green supply chain maturity to the early days of word processors.
It took a number of years before we shook out what the right standards were going to be for word processors. It took a long time to do that. The green supply chain industry is in the same boat. John recommends finding a way to do as much research as possible before you start and learn from John's lessons, and to do things such as develop a realistic time line.
Getting the CFO to be a part of your team and be your advocate
Over the years, John has learned while working with a number of CFOs is that they want to be on your side but they need something to hang their hat on. We all know that CFOs are data driven.
One example of how John and his team got the CFO on their side and to be a part of their business case involves the same example of the 4,500 person workforce. To that workforce the trash bill or the waste that was emitted was roughly $500,000 per year. John and his team stopped focusing on strictly recycling. They focused on container management and found a way to reduce the amount of containers they had, for example moving from a 5 yard to a 2.5 or 3 yard.
They then went back in to look at a recycling program. This forced them to look at their business case. With that business case they were able to save 20% of that $500,000 just by reducing the size of the containers. This example can be generally applicable to any company that generates waste as a part of their business.
About John Wilkerson
Supply Chain, Procurement, Sustainability Executive