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Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability – The Challenges and Opportunities

I was lucky enough to attend a BSI Group meeting yesterday in which the attendees were asked to become quasi BSI sub-committee members for the day. We were given the chance to put forward our ideas and suggestions surrounding future policy changes that will aim to encourage businesses to act more sustainably, with a focus on transparency throughout their supply chain to enforce and promote sustainable sourcing. The day in my opinion was a huge success and it is fantastic that BSI get like minded people together to talk about how we can move forward in attempting to make this world a better and indeed more ‘sustainable’ place. However I came away from the event with, (although a real sense of momentum towards sustainability across an increasingly broad scale), a real sense of how complicated the questions of sustainable sourcing on a global scale really are.

The first issue that became apparent was the realisation that it is in fact the supply chain that makes up a huge proportion of a company’s environmental impact. This importantly highlights the complexity of becoming a sustainable business based on the complexity of the processes that go into tracking an entire supply chain. Therefore, although a better way of doing things, the holistic approach to sustainability which accounts for the entire supply chain becomes time consuming, complicated and actually impossible to do in every detail. This therefore is posing a huge barrier for businesses to begin tackling sustainability in the detail necessary to make a globally positive benefit. However, with the work of numerous environmental consultancies and the evidence of the fantastic work done by Kingfisher and others in mapping out their supply chain, I was pleased to see progress in the right direction. Moving forward, it is important for businesses to take the message away that a holistic approach to sustainability is the only method that will be effective. This holistic approach should be adopted, however an understanding that no supply chain map will be perfect, but as Mike Berners-Lee put it, the analysis must be ‘good enough’.

The other issue that emerged for me was the overall complexity surrounding environmental accreditation and the complexity that is present in identifying which accreditation should be prioritised by businesses over others.  This is made especially complex as many of the accreditations overlap each other in terms of what is required. Within our group discussion a consensus was generally agreed in how to move forward. This consensus centred on an increasing focus of collaboration and communication between the relevant bodies in charge of accreditations as opposed to the creation of more intricate, overlapping and complicated accreditations into the future (although in saying that I do not discount the idea of an overarching accreditation system which combines the major points of many existing schemes).  These changes I believe would make accreditations more transparent themselves and in doing so provide a detailed yet uncomplicated template from which companies can build their own sustainable practices. It is, in my opinion, the over complicatedness of the process currently that may perhaps be a barrier to entry for companies looking to move to more sustainable practices. Furthermore, I feel that these barriers are far larger for SME’s as opposed to large multi-national corporations.

Although these barriers do not necessarily apply to Delphis Eco as a company already in the environmental market as an SME, I can see why in a small company they do exist. Obtaining many of the accreditations is very much a box ticking exercise that requires a lot of documentation, organisation and most importantly time. It is time that in a small company may be best spent elsewhere; considering the cost of time spent by employees (perhaps time wasted?), in addition to the cost of actually obtaining the accreditation at the end of the process. Therefore, as was said at the conference, I believe that the accreditation process must be made more scalable or indeed scale neutral.

Although much of what I have discussed here has highlighted the challenges in creating more sustainable businesses, I do also see the stage at which we are at as a glaring opportunity. When I mention opportunity, in my view it applies to both us on the environmental side as well as the companies in question who must show behavioural change. First, the opportunity to genuinely begin to make progress is reducing Carbon emissions (and influence many other pressing environmental issues of which I won’t speak of now) and be part of the generation that begun to put the world back on track after generations of unsustainable practice. I also feel that the opportunity sustainable practice generates for companies is equally large. This opportunity is I believe there due to the sustainability factor still representing a large and ever increasing USP in business. Companies that make the correct changes now will not only be acting proactively as opposed to reactively, they will be acting ahead of the curve in terms of the populations understanding of the severity of environmental challenges. This in turn will give a huge competitive advantage when strict guidelines are enforced in legislation, or consumers’ attitudes have changed so drastically that only the responsible businesses will be considered as viable options for purchasing goods from; whichever of these comes first.

The current situation therefore is full of hope and events such as the BSI forum yesterday will only serve to accelerate the progress in the right direction. Please feel free to email me Daniel@delphiseco.com to discuss this article or to express your opinion on any environmental issues.  

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