Collaboration throughout the supply chain to improve global sustainability standards has enormous value, especially for retailers and producers.
Retailers should collaborate on sustainability and then compete, Alan Gunner, business development director for the global supply chain software solutions company Adjuno, urges in an op-ed for Supply Chain Digital.
He points to Lego’s introduction of new plant-based plastic. Although the new program still needs to consider the environmental impacts of the sugarcane used to produce the polyethylene, Gunner writes, the initiative shows that Lego is pursuing new methods and re-evaluating the environmental impacts of its products.
“While there are potential competitive advantages to be gained from going it alone and making that sustainable breakthrough, the risks are also significant,” Gunner wrote. “Stick your head above the parapet with a strategy that is not 100% robust and prepare to be shot down.”
Instead, Gunner says that small incremental gains are likely to have a far bigger effect on the environment and the lives of everyone involved in the product manufacturing process.
“Focusing on production methods to reduce the amount of water used in the creation of cotton products, from farming through to processing, is essential. As is minimizing the toxicity of chemicals used in the dyeing process,” he wrote. “The world has finite water and energy resources — failure to become far more effective in production will affect not only consumer perception but also profitability.”
Major sustainability achievements are likely to happen when retailers work together to drive sustainability through factories, Gunner argues. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration abound, from sharing performance information to jointly funding ethical audits, he says.
Here are key advantages:
- Collaboration reduces the barrier to sustainable production for retailers
- Working together frees up resources to focus on innovation that could provide a competitive edge, such as tracking material sourcing for products
- Reinforcing the credentials and business value of a pool of high quality suppliers allows retailers to deliver sustainability improvements year after year
Gunner isn’t alone in calling for improved industry-wide collaboration on sustainability. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Fibers Initiative released a sustainability report last year calling for a new textiles economy. Among the required characteristics that support entire system shifts identified in the report: “unprecedented levels of collaboration and alignment in areas of action.”
Nike was one of the partners for that publication. “Our success depends not only on the work within our own value chain, but on disruptive partnerships across a broader textile production and manufacturing ecosystem,” said Cyrus Wadia, VP, sustainable business and innovation at the athletic apparel company.
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