It was just before 10:00 pm local at night and 105 degrees when I landed at PHX and it struck me as an appropriate and ironic setting to discuss Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Compliance. While the heat in Phoenix did not surprise me, some of the lasting impressions from my two packed days with SSCA professionals did. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of these key take-aways with everyone working towards improved sustainable business practices.
- Choose and commit to change – Get started and take even just one initial step towards positive impact business decisions. Organizations have built fully funded and successful programs by starting small with volunteer and borrowed resources. Don’t be intimidated by the need to address social and environmental concerns – many presenters acknowledged starting with one often leads to the other. For example, working through the supply chain to improve carbon footprint led to examining the people impact of purchasing solar energy from half a world away. The power of making the commitment and choose to take positive action sets the path in motion.
- Respect the complexity – Recognize the complexity and enormity of working to improve ESG metrics in your supply chain. There are no easy answers, but it is possible to borrow successful approaches and strategies from peers. It’s important to look both up and down the supply chain for opportunities to make improvements. Map your supply chain fully – it is important to go even all the way back to the raw source materials and mines where those materials are sourced. Take a moment to consider the tremendous undertaking just the coordination of internal and external resources requires. Pursue your long-term vision and near-term goals with eyes open to the total size of the organization, your supply chain, and the industry you are working to evolve into a better practice.
- Thrive through sustainability – It will require driving innovation through your supply chain to make substantial improvements and it will require the business success in these newly embraced practices. Consider new approaches to familiar concepts within your supply chain materials. For example, existing recycling concepts can expand into Circularity practices to uncover new and creative ways to extend the use of all products and materials. Through revisiting current practices with new pathways, you can go beyond metrics of “mass diverted from landfills” and “mass recovered” and realize environmental improvement impacts and new business relationships.
- Inspiration and accountability – Every presenter touched the need for clear communication. There is a need for a constant communication flow of goals to drive alignment internally within the org as well as up and down the supply chain. Your communications serve to inspire, spark passion and keep everyone motivated. Given the complexity of driving improvement, it requires you to bring the org and your suppliers along with you – through outreach, communication, education, accountability, and ongoing alignment. A best practice includes establishing and enforcing a minimum threshold required in order to do business with you – require your supply chain to embrace your standards. That addresses the current business relationships but take the next step and set required improvement expectations for the future as well so that your supply chain is held to your own future improvement targets. Bring your supply chain forward with you.
- Show me the data – Awareness of current state, tracking of improvements, and setting of future goals requires a significant amount of number crunching. Data capture and data tracking is key. It is hard to motivate people and keep eyes on a goal at the scale required, if you aren’t measuring and tracking a large collection of data. Put in place the tools and practices needed to collect, verify, refresh, and report on the data. A clear handle on the data will simply the alignment and communications. By sharing facts and reporting visible, quantitate progress, you will bring the people along with you.
The thing that made the biggest impression was the sense of community and purpose at this event. This aligned group of professionals were focused on a greater good and a larger goal that transcends corporate identity. The message that resonated with me the most was the idea of mutuality and interconnectedness. Byron Witherspoon from Ameren paraphrased a concept by Martin Luther King, Jr. which I later looked up: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Byron’s point was that while King meant this in the context of civil rights, the concept of mutuality is also a sustainability message. Organizations like SSCA and the sharing of best practices, discussing effective change, and renewing commitment to ESG improvement coming from events like EUISSCA (Electric Utility Industry Sustainable Supply Chain Alliance) 2022 are critical for all of us. The three-legged bottom line is people, planet, profit.