The five ingredients of 'the whole enchilada' of supply chain sustainability

Shaun McCarthy
17 March 2015

In my previous life I used to co-chair a collaborative group of international airport operators interested in energy and carbon.

My co-chair was a hyperactive New Yorker called Bill Fife. A lovely guy and full of energy, despite not being in the first flush of youth. I used to wind him up about the US and UK being two countries divided by a common language. In one of his presentations he talked animatedly (he has no other way of talking) about “doing the whole enchilada”.

As mediator for the session I asked in a very English way: “I say old chap, what on earth does that mean?” (or words to that effect). The closest translation I can come up with is that he was referring to a whole solution and not just the bits that suit you. In (English) English we may say you can’t cherry-pick - which would be like a foreign language to Bill.

So, what does the whole enchilada look like for delivering sustainability through supply chains and are we doing it?

Good procurement. First we need to procure well and to incorporate clear sustainability requirements into our processes and practices. BS 8903 tells us how to do this and the forthcoming ISO 24000 will take those ideas and develop them on to a global stage. I am proud to have been involved in both. Not everybody gets this but there is help and guidance out there.

Compliance. Some sectors are quite good at this and have invented ways of working together to ensure the supply chain is compliant with minimum standards. Examples of collaborative initiatives such as GeSI for the electronics and communications sector show what can be done. This still a work in progress but we get compliance, we have delivered it for quality and safety, the techniques are similar. Set the standard, do the audit, tick the box, move on.

Relationship management. The idea of category management and working with suppliers over a longer term is not new. I was doing it in the oil and gas sector in the 1990s and Japanese industries were doing it long before this. Incorporating sustainability is a bit harder because it is a complex and ever-changing subject which needs some knowledge from the buyer and for them to be properly advised by competent internal or external experts, which are in short supply.

Supply chain development. In many sectors the supply chain does not even know what it does not know. I work a lot in this area and knowledge levels are very low. This should not be confused with compliance and needs different techniques to deliver, preferably in collaboration across a sector to develop a new baseline of competence from which companies can kick on. I am proud to chair the Supply Chain Sustainability School which is attempting to address this issue in the construction sector. With 28 partners and more than 7,500 people learning about sustainability in a virtual learning environment it is a great initiative but we still have a long way to go.

Measurement. Again we need to understand the difference between compliance and performance. We are very good at measuring things like quality in some sectors. We insist our suppliers have ISO9001 but we still measure defects, delivery performance, inventory levels and many other things to understand if we are getting the levels of performance we asked for. We don’t tend to do this in sustainability, we rely on generic reporting like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). These measures don’t really tell us how our suppliers are delivering what we actually asked for in the first place (if indeed we asked for anything that can be measured).

So, do we have the whole enchilada? No, we don’t. I must give Bill a call and talk to him about it, if I can only understand what he is saying.

Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability

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