As Sustainable Brands marks its 10th anniversary, many of us find ourselves in a reflective mood. We can recall the decade’s pivotal milestones like they were yesterday, as we also consider the challenges that lie ahead.
Despite the countless amazing achievements and major advances in embracing sustainable practices among corporations, I am struck by the continued, widespread lack of visibility and business integration that exists between governing boards, shareholders, and their supply chains. They still seem to exist in different universes, which can’t be good for our economy- and even worse, I imagine, for our climate.
Having just read Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, (which recounts the roots of the 2008 Great Recession, in much deeper detail than the movie), I can’t help but worry about the massive disconnect that exists in our society regarding the ‘true cost’ of the goods we buy, whether we’re talking about Wall Street or your local Walmart. As Lewis points out, collective self-delusion is easier than we might imagine when we take our risk off the books. Something for nothing is always seductive, but the consequences can be catastrophic.
“If I were a CEO of a consumer goods company in the 21st century, I’d really want to know what was going on within my supply chains,” remarks Sheila Bonini, CEO & executive director of The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). “And I think the challenge today is that most of them don't.”
Most c-level executives don’t, and I suspect most brand and product managers don’t either. The opaque mysteries of most supply chains can mask a lot of small sins and inefficiencies, and unfortunately, many opportunities for meaningful innovation.
Thankfully, Walmart has proven itself to be more of leading light than Wall Street or Congress. By placing demands on sustainable practices throughout its supply chains and establishing a Sustainability Index, Walmart has helped bring the rest of the consumer goods world along with it. Walmart also did something else profoundly important in 2009 when it helped establish The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), an organization with more than 100 members today, including the likes of Unilever, BASF, Pepsico, Miller/Coors, and Wrangler/VF Corp, to name but a few.
TSC’s goal to advance a world of more sustainable consumer products is no small ambition when you consider that the industry as a whole accounts for 60% of all GHG emissions, 80% of water usage, and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally. This past April, TSC created a new milestone when it released its first impact report, Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots To Hotspots To Action. The report outlines a practical pathway for how manufacturers and retailers can collaborate to set priorities, reduce climate impacts, and uncover new market opportunities. This video, created by my agency Citizen Group, helps to tell the story of how it can serve as an important barometer for the consumer goods industry globally.
It’s easier to manage what you can measure and see, and we are fortunate to live in an age when data analytics combined with the right KPIs can give us the supply chain visibility that was once only imagined. Combine this with the right kind of collaboration and creative decision-making among a company’s leaders, and the opportunities to unlock stronger stewardship, innovation, and economic growth are profound.
To me, this is a big part of how we unleash our next economy. Without these tools, and without the hard work of TSC and its partners to assess the true cost of what we produce, we will continue to fly blind and leave the climate bill to our children.
You might say this is capitalism’s best shot at avoiding the ultimate 'big short.'