How can we create positive impact through our Supply Chain? Catalyst Conversation Insights

Every few months we bring together a select group of Network Members for an in person Catalyst Conversation session at our Manchester Headquarters (similar to a roundtable). This month was centred around the topic of supply chains.

It allows our invited members to draw upon their expertise and years of experience to offer their unique perspectives on the topic, that we can share with the rest of the Better Business Network. 

This month we invited: 

Joy Stevenson, B Corp Lead and ESG Manager at MPM Products, a premium, sustainable pet food company. 

Jen Regan, Supply Chain manager at MPM Products.

Barry Liversidge, Manager Director at B&B Press, a sustainable printing solutions company.

Anna Liversidge, Marketing & Sustainability Lead at B&B Press.

Eleanor Akers, Director at Innovative Energy Consultants, a consultancy firm that helps businesses implement practical steps to become more sustainable.

Jennifer Wakefield, Sustainability and Communications Manager at EFG UK, a leading sustainable furniture and office interior solutions provider.

Corin Bell, Executive Director at Open Kitchen, a sustainable catering company who invests all profits into tackling food insecurity. 

By sharing this knowledge we can guide our Members to use these insights to prepare for their future as a purpose driven business 

We discussed:

  • How to decarbonise:  How do you accurately measure and reduce carbon? Can you add circular solutions into your supply chain? How do you manage your supply chain to be as sustainable as possible when potentially engaging in global imports and exports
  • Wider considerations and social impact: How can you educate your suppliers in positive impact? How can you create value- based supply chains?

Members of the Better Business Network have access to our online members area which signposts them to businesses, tools, resources or workshops to help them with all the topics discussed above. If you would also like to be part of a community that cares, consider joining the Better Business Network today. 

What were the key takeaways? 

  • A clear theme and takeaway that the room seemed to agree upon is that as a business owner who truly cares about your social and environmental impact, then it’s important to spend as much time on your supply chain as it is on sales and other areas of the business. Managing your supply chain should be a genuine priority.
  • Record as much information and data as you can. How can you improve without knowing what you need to improve? You should reach out to those in your supply chain and try to get an accurate understanding of where they are up to,and where you are up to, so you can create a baseline that you can then improve upon moving forward.
  • For decarbonisation specifically, in terms of carbon emissions, it is important to understand that if your suppliers are giving you their calculations, they may all use different methodologies and frameworks to calculate emissions totals. 

If you have an extensive supply chain, it is preferable to gather the cold hard data (ie weight of inbound/outbound freight, travel miles, emissions factors), and use your own methodology (which you can get verified by experts) so you can ensure the figures are consistent, using that data as a benchmark to then work towards reductions.

A number of those attending had built their own CO2 trackers intentionally because of this problem of inconsistent methodologies. 

One of those attending had two shipping containers on the same boat, with the same product, and found an almost 40% difference on the carbon calculation output – spurring them to create their own tracker and methodology that could be applied consistently to the figures being provided, rather than relying on the supply chain.

  • Tools like Life Cycle Assessments (a way to investigate the environmental impact of a product from cradle to the end) are incredibly useful, but should not be used as a marketing tool so you can make a claim about how much carbon you produce. 

They are to identify hot spots, identify in which areas you can improve and then focus your efforts (e.g if the majority of emissions come from transportation and logistics, change the transportation method / electrify fleet etc)

  • It’s crucial to engage with your suppliers in an honest and supportive manner. You need to understand the actual impacts from your supply chain, and when gathering data from suppliers it’s important to make them realise you want the actual answer, not the ‘right’ answer. 

Attendees recommended having these conversations face to face, rather than via email.

If you have long standing relationships with suppliers, you can leverage those years of experience to engage them properly. Try saying we’ve been working with you for X years, this is what we’ll need from you going forwards, do you want to go on the journey with us – we’ll help each other and work together going forward. 

  • It’s a shared, collaborative journey. If you find that your suppliers aren’t at the place you want them to be, engage with them, try and work with them to improve rather than leaving them (unless they are refusing to engage entirely in which case, switch!). 

One attendees company would even look to co-invest with suppliers who wanted to move forward, helping them bring in measures that would support their sustainability journey (e.g coinvesting in new machinery that was more sustainable and less carbon intensive).

Attendees shared the sentiment that they were surprised at the willingness of suppliers to engage in this journey together. 

  • One key takeaway from the session was the importance of ensuring that procurement isn’t and doesn’t become a box ticking exercise. As a purpose driven business, you want to put in contractual commitments and provisions that mean your values don’t get undermined, but it’s easy to fall into a trap of ‘box ticking’. How do you solve that?

Attendees all agreed that to avoid this, it was important that the people who are dealing with procurement actually truly understand the content and subject matter. Are those procurement managers within the organisation trained to understand the nuances of sustainability and social value? 

They believe that when you try to streamline a procurement supplier process like that it can negatively impact the potential for having positive outcomes. 

This again highlights the importance of spending as much time investigating and engaging with your supply chain as you do on sales.

  • It was agreed that even though spending this much time on supply chain may seem counterproductive, you need to truly know and value your supply chain in order to sell properly.

If you truly work on your supply chain, it will build the integrity of your brand. Knowing exactly where your product comes from (traceability is key), how it was made and who’s been involved in making it will build that integrity, reaping untold benefits in the marketing and messaging of your company. 

  • To build this integrity, transparency is key. You should tell your customers how you’ve gathered the data, tell them what assumptions you’ve made, and make the evidence available for all to access if they so desire.
  • There are always extra considerations and complications – that’s normal. You have to think about every single step and there will be bits you can’t change immediately  As long as you are making progress and being transparent along the way

What can you learn from this discussion? 

I will update this section soon with some specific policy examples that you can adopt if you are struggling to create a procurement/supplier process that embeds sustainability and social impact at the heart of it.

Thanks to those Members who joined our Catalyst Conversation on “How can we create positive impact through our supply chain”. 

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Better Business Network and getting involved in events like this, you can apply to join here or reach out to our Community Manager James Dady for more information.