The Case Centre has recently announced the winners of their 2018 global awards and competitions. Already last year, the winning case in the Production and Operations Management category was closely related to supply chain management (see my previous post, Zara: The World’s Largest Fashion Retailer). This is also the case for the 2018 category winner, which is titled Everything Is Connected: A New Era of Sustainability at Li & Fung. It was written by Hau L. Lee and Sheila Melvin. The case deals with the way how Li & Fung, a Hong-Kong-based trading company, reacted to the Rana Plaza disaster and other such events to ensure sustainable supply chain management. Li & Fung’s Head of Learning and Development is right when saying: “The hard part is to make sustainability part of our DNA, to get 27,000 people to understand that this is now as fundamental to us as the fact that we source globally.” Therefore, this case could be a great building block for future SCM courses!
Are business success and sustainability contradictory? A new white paper by Schmidpeter & Bungard, sponsored by DHL, is rather optimistic and argues that both goals can instead be mutually beneficial. The paper is titled Unlock the True Value of Your Supply Chain: Business Success through Sustainable Supply Chain Management. The authors state: “Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM) can help drive positive business change by helping companies save costs, strengthen ‘license to operate’ and generate additional revenue streams.” But the authors also acknowledge that “[a]lthough there are good tools and best practices available for integrating sustainability into your business, there is no silver bullet that will let you realize the benefits of SSCM overnight”. They also acknowledge that the Sustainability department should not do it alone: “The topic of sustainability should be on the agenda for every leader and employee within a company”. The white paper might partly be quite optimistic, but it provides several good practices from business reality.
Today I present my personal predictions for supply chain management in 2018. Sustainability and digitization will certainly top the SCM agenda! First, much more action is needed to combat global warming. SCM could play a key role to cope with this challenge, as a “supply chain” rather than “company” perspective helps to understand that upstream greenhouse gas emissions may occur anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, time is slowly running out! New technologies like blockchain, ID systems like bluenumber and standards like ISO 24000 could help us make a breakthrough. Second, we might see increased momentum to move beyond the machine learning hype. Machine learning could soon be integrated in all kinds of value-creating processes. But while IT giants like Google, Amazon and SAP highlight the strengths and opportunities of such technologies, we should also take the weaknesses and threats into consideration: Will robots take our children’s jobs? And what does all this mean for SCM? 2018 will bring some more questions and hopefully even more answers.
Today’s economy is a plastics economy, as most of our global supply chains contain plastics. A report, published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is titled The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics. Herein it becomes evident that linear supply chains need to become circular: “The circular economy is gaining growing attention as a potential way for our society to increase prosperity, while reducing demands on finite raw materials and minimising negative externalities. Such a transition requires a systemic approach, which entails moving beyond incremental improvements to the existing model as well as developing new collaboration mechanisms.” The report “explores the intersection of these two themes, for plastics and plastic packaging in particular: how can collaboration along the extended global plastic packaging production and after-use value chain, as well as with governments and NGOs, achieve systemic change to overcome stalemates in today’s plastics economy in order to move to a more circular model?”
I am happy to share the following guest post by Dexter Galvin, Head of Supply Chain, CDP. Thank you for contributing to my blog.
Our latest Global Supply Chain Report 2017, written in partnership with BSR and the Carbon Trust, revealed emissions savings of 434 million tonnes disclosed by suppliers in 2016. That’s more than the annual emissions of France, and it shows that the supply chain is a critical component – the missing link – in securing our sustainable, low-carbon future. Our data showed that supply chain action isn’t just about reducing emissions; it’s also good for the bottom line. Companies with emissions reduction projects disclosed cost savings of $12.4 billion as a result of their carbon-cutting measures – double what was reported in 2015. Almost half of the top 100 projects by savings were related to energy efficiency, and with a payback period of three years or less, the majority of projects had an attractive investment profile too. While the savings achieved by suppliers were certainly impressive, around half of the 4,300 companies we surveyed didn’t report any emissions reduction activities at all. So think what the impact could be – on costs and carbon levels – if they all took action?
Dexter runs the Supply Chain program at the global climate change NGO, CDP, from their London Headquarters. He has launched a number of important global initiatives to drive climate action in private and public sector supply chains, including CDP’s Action Exchange initiative. You can follow him on Twitter: @GalvinDex
Shifting from “company thinking” to “supply chain thinking” has successfully replaced the system managers had in mind when making their decisions. This shift has put some of the parts of what has formerly been considered the company’s unmanageable environment into their unit of analysis. A supply chain, however, is per definition linear. In the age of sustainability, we might thus need to go one step further and shift from “linear thinking” towards “circular thinking”. The circular economy (or closed-loop supply chain) could replace the linear system by a circular system in the minds of decision makers. This is illustrated in a video released by the European Commission.
Supply chain management can play a key role to help creating a more sustainable world that leaves no one behind. A new report, The State of Sustainable Supply Chains (pdf), echoes the voices of more than 100 specialists from 70 companies to reveal how companies “are embedding sustainability in their supply chains by managing risks and adopting corporate commitment to human rights, ethics, the environment and the communities from which they source goods and services”. The report was produced by Ernst & Young in association with the United Nations Global Compact. The authors present six main study findings: (1) “Supply chain sustainability can no longer be ignored”; (2) “companies are predominantly risk-driven with aspirations to unlock strategic opportunities and benefits”; (3) “companies tailor their approaches and governance to create sustainable supply chains”; (4) “leading companies are establishing a shared commitment with suppliers”; (5) “technology enables visibility and influence beyond tier 1”; and (6) “collaboration is critical for companies to achieve greater impacts”.
What are the future dominant research themes in supply chain management? In my new article, Mapping the Landscape of Future Research Themes in Supply Chain Management, co-authored with Robert Handfield and Christian Durach and published in the Journal of Business Logistics, we make an attempt to answer this important question. Our research is based on survey data collected from 141 SCM scholars. Big data ranks 1st on the list of topics that scholars expect will become important in the next years. Interestingly, this topic does not even appear in the top 10 of the list of topics that scholars think should become important. This list is led by sustainability and risk management instead. We calculated the differences between the will-become-important and should-become-important topics. The largest discrepancies can be found for: (1) the “people dimension” of SCM, (2) ethical issues, (3) internal integration, (4) transparency/visibility, and (5) human capital/talent management. These five under-represented topics could thus be good choices for future research projects or special journal issues.
Wieland, A., Handfield, R., & Durach, C. (2016). Mapping the Landscape of Future Research Themes in Supply Chain Management. Journal of Business Logistics, 37 (3), 1-8 https://doi.org/10.1111/jbl.12131
If you don’t have access to the journal, please feel free to request a copy of the paper via ResearchGate (blue button on their page).