Since 90% of a retailer's or brand's sustainability actions are executed by their manufacturers, the only way for them to make sense of sustainability is to identify this as a top down program with a bottom up action plan. Below are the top 5 ways to secure success with sustainability.
- Going It Alone Out; Supply Chain In
Too many companies believe if they can showcase flashy sustainability achievements like green certified technology in a store, they can distract from the complexity of manufacturing where they may not be in compliance (labor law restrictions, fair wage, social responsibility, etc.) You can't. Sustainability can only be achieved when approached as an A to Z supply chain function and not one or two obvious or easy successes.
- Outsourcing Everything Out; Accepting Responsibility In
While it is necessary to outsource functions to protect your bottom line, you cannot outsource sustainability. You can delegate authority, but not responsibility. There is a fine balance between protecting your profits and promoting your proactivity. Do research, you'll see programs by the leaders extend far outside their enterprises to include those of their manufacturers, in effect an entire supply chain of compliance.
- Head in the Sand Out; Full Disclosure 'or Else' In
Even if your organization has taken every precaution to monitor the sustainability commitments of your suppliers -- if you discover trouble in the chain-- you ignore at your own risk. Try to remedy it pre-product but if you are too late -- be the first to announce it and your correction moving forward (preferably by jointly investing in the fix). Your customers will admire you and your other suppliers will quickly be prepared for you.
- Individual Trust Out; Verify the Team In
Once you have established a supply chain of companies who share your commitment to sustainability (as well as other relevant business factors from scheduling to employee relationships to product quality, etc.) it is time to trust them and listen to their ideas, but verify how they are doing. The axiom holds that "those closest to the action are furthest from the truth". That's why when you ask a chain, it answers as one. Suppliers up and down chains check one another; they are a very self-correcting business model.
- Cynicism Out; Big Picture In
Don't fight the social change of increasing wages or enhancing employee conditions. The extra investment today could be your ultimate payoff tomorrow. The real ROI of sustainability for manufacturers is having happy committed employees which in turn raises quality, on time delivery, lowers turn over and reduces training costs. The great success stories today show 'sustainability' is not a little box you check, but a big box you stand on top of to broadcast your competitive advantage -- your people.
Mike Todaro is Managing Director of the American Apparel Producers' Network the leading private sector, non-profit, members-only, business network of over 600 company owners and senior executives from nearly 200 organizations spanning the entire supply chain end-to-end, organized industrially worldwide to produce apparel for the U.S. market.