Back to school

20 August 2013
It was a great pleasure to be involved in the first birthday celebrations of the Supply Chain Sustainability School. The school is a virtual learning environment to develop the sustainability competence of the construction supply chain in the UK. It employs some clever software to ensure the sustainability priorities selected are relevant to what the company does and how competent they are currently. The system produces an action plan that is unique to each member of the supply chain and highly relevant to their business. Much of the delivery is online, supported by face-to-face training and events. It is truly a product for the iPad generation: efficient, relevant and effective.

This unique collaborative initiative in the UK construction sector has been a runaway success, tripling most of the objectives set for the first year. The school started with seven founding partners led by Skanska. We are now pleased to welcome Wates, Balfour Beatty and Carillion to the family, with a number of other major players poised to join in the next few weeks. The number of organisations in the supply chains of partners (called members) has grown from nothing to 2,600 in 12 months and new members join daily.

The school has secured funding from Construction Skills until 2015 and with financial contributions from partners starting in 2014, I am convinced this is an initiative for the long term that will become part of the fabric of the construction industry for years to come. But why stop there? We are working with partners to roll out a school in Australia in 2014 and are developing plans for similar initiatives in Canada and Mexico. It does not just have to be about construction, other sectors can benefit from this approach. The success of the school has taught me two important lessons: First, the sustainability agenda is too big for one company or one government to tackle alone. Collaboration is needed between companies that traditionally compete. The competition comes from how they deploy the more competent supply chain they are creating. Second, in its broadest sense, procurement goes way beyond ‘buying’. I suspect I am preaching to the converted here, but I see the procurement function in a similar way to HR. HR is about attracting, developing and retaining talent internally. Procurement is about attracting, developing and retaining talent externally. The problem with something relatively new like sustainability is that the talent does not exist or there is not enough of it to go round, which is why we need an initiative like the school. I gave a presentation at a CIPS event recently and said the school is “the most exciting thing I have been involved in since the Olympics”. Perhaps it is even more exciting. Watch this space. ☛ Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability
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