While the COP26 text might be the strongest to emerge from any conference yet – including the first ever commitments on fossil-fuels and coal – in the final analysis, many will have come away from Glasgow disappointed. Action needed to limit global warming to the critical target of 1.5°C a long way out of reach, putting even more onus on business to drive radical change in their operations and supply chains – and to keep those promises.
For environmental leaders looking to rise to that challenge, there has never been a better time to engage with an assurance sector which is undergoing its own transformation. The rapid digitisation of assurance services and the opening up of data and technology is creating new opportunities for companies to use assurance programmes to take control of the sustainability agenda, so that aspirations, targets and commitments are turned into tangible, independently assured outcomes. Demands on business are growing exponentially, but as we saw at COP26, one thing will be constant – the need to demonstrate transparency, action and progress. This is where a new era of digitally-enabled assurance has much to offer.
Auditing and inspection – the bedrock of supply chain programmes worldwide – is a case in point. When the pandemic hit, methods had to change – and fast. The fact that LRQA had a global plan for digital delivery already in place enabled us to move faster than most, but we could not have envisioned that a year later, well over half of the audits we conduct would blend face-to-face and technology-led solutions. Covid forced the pace of change, but in a world of fast-changing sustainability risks, it’s clear that there was demand for approaches that are more agile, more transparent and more responsive. New and emerging technologies will only enhance these processes further, with continuous monitoring, drone inspection, robotics and VR technologies all promising to transform the visibility of supply chains for organisations – and ultimately, the consumer.
This shift towards remote auditing, however, is just one example of how technology and data are transforming the way that companies are looking to assurance partners to support and achieve their environmental and sustainability goals.
As consumers, our appetite for transparency and authenticity is becoming insatiable. From the food we eat and fashion we wear, to the smart devices that accompany our every move, manufacturers and retailers need to be able to deliver transparency and traceability right across the supply chain. As we emerge from the pandemic, however, manufacturers and brands are facing unprecedented disruption to supply chains. Where once the priority was to reduce suppliers and drive down cost, the focus has now shifted to expanding supply networks to guarantee supply. The result? An exponential increase in the risk surrounding product integrity.
As a result, we’re seeing customers put much more focus on data analytics and insight that drives better supply chain management. Where analytics was once the domain of the marketing department, it is becoming much more common for companies to examine supply network data to understand where safety and sustainability problems are most likely to occur, so that finite resources are directed towards managing risk in the most effective way to protect both products and the planet. In the UK, for example, LRQA is leading a consortium project – SecQuAL – which brings together manufacturers, supply chain innovators and data specialists to develop integrated technologies, which digitise the provenance and transparency of food supply chains.
Where data and technology have enormous potential to turbo-charge transparency and supply chain efforts, the growth of the ESG agenda is also emphasising the value of more traditional forms of certification. Successful organisations are embedding net-zero targets into existing and proven standards and management systems, for example through the environmental management system ISO 14001 or energy management system ISO 50001 certification. Companies are finding that standards covering everything from carbon reduction, to social and ethical practices, can provide both a robust framework for continual improvement and lifecycle thinking, as well as a foundation for credible reporting, helping to identify risks and opportunities from product concept and design to end of life – and enabling sustainability considerations to be integrated into decision-making at every step.
We expect to see even more focus on the role of assurance in the coming year, as businesses recalibrate after the pandemic and look again at sustainability, social responsibility and security across operations and supply chains. The re-branding of our business to LRQA this month signals a broader ambition to meet that need, so that the digital transformation of assurance continues to strengthen the foundations of sustainable business growth.
For more information, please visit www.lrqa.com.
Heather Moore, P.E. is LRQA’s Supply Chain Sustainability Technical Director where she supports sustainability products and helps clients achieve their goals in ESG assurance. She joined LRQA 10 years ago as a Lead Auditor/Verifier, providing assessment and verification services for greenhouse gas emissions and other sustainability data, ISO 14001, and social auditing schemes. She has since held various roles with LRQA related to management, training auditors and verifiers, running second-party audit schemes for global companies, and leading complex verifications.
Her 16+ years of practice experience in the environmental field have taken her to landfills, power plants, cruise ships, upstream and downstream oil and gas operations, chemical plants, hotels, agricultural operations, and various manufacturing facilities. She received a B.S. in civil engineering from Purdue University.