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Strong Partnerships Key to 'Greening' Your Supply Chain in Developing Markets

Image credit: Unilever

A product will go through multiple points of contact in its lifecycle. From the designer to the manufacturer to transport to the consumer and end of life, each component has an impact. Environmentally and socially responsible supply chain management is key to addressing the often disproportionate impacts of manufacturing processes, and balancing ecology with economy in the supply chain process.

Traditional supply chain management is very customer-oriented, focusing on enhancing the strategic use of internal resources to deliver quality products to the consumer effectively. However, in this approach, the effect of these products on the external environment, people, and resources is neglected. As a result of decades of carelessness, it is now a moral and business imperative that manufacturers from all corners of the globe integrate environmental and social considerations into all management mechanisms.

This is not an easy ask, though, especially in African markets where we are confronted with a vast, culturally complex, underdeveloped continent with severe social challenges. Here, sustainability may be regarded as a ‘luxury’ that few can afford. Yet an ecologically enhanced approach to doing business is now a global imperative, and no longer an add-on optional extra. The focus must be on long-term investments rather than short-term gains.

Virginie Helias
Mohamed Samir
speakers at
SB '16 Cape Town

With this in mind, I believe that collaboration and aligned focus with partners is the key to minimising external impacts in the supply chain and enhancing business benefits. It is therefore important that companies establish and implement strict criteria for evaluating their suppliers. When considering a supplier, companies should take into account their compliance with environmental regulations, the effectiveness of their environmental management system and how they implement and monitor internal control procedures.

But an initial evaluation is just the first step in the process. Once an agreement is in place, the supplier and buyer need to work closely together to ensure quality management, performance management and that processes are continually interrogated. This mutual investment into operations not only reduces the significant short-term financial costs of implementing sustainable practices but also assists in stimulating product and service innovation. Through knowledge transfer and a focus on maximising resources, minimising impact and enhancing efficiency, companies are put in a position to continually evolve. This results in a win-win situation for all, as ecology is prioritised, relationships between buyer and supplier are solidified and companies are given a competitive advantage.

Of course, this is unfortunately not yet a reality for many companies on the continent. The relevant skills and technologies need to be developed, awareness needs to be enhanced, attitudes must be changed, and stricter regulations need to be implemented. But as corporates that touch the lives of thousands of communities in multiple ways every day, it is also our obligation to ensure more responsible production and consumption so that sustainable development and economic growth go hand in hand. Partnership is the first step in this journey and it is vital that collaboration becomes a cornerstone in buyer/supplier engagement.

Khululiwe Mabaso is the Head of Corporate Communications & Reputation Associate Director for Procter & Gamble Sub Sahara Africa.

[Read more about Khululiwe Mabaso]

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