On the 5th and 6th of April this year SEDEX hosted its annual conference in London at the prestigious QEII Conference Centre. The event has grown massively in the last 10 years with over 700 delegates attending from its 40,000 members across 150 different countries. As testament to the global organisation it has now become it also then repeats the conference in Australia, China and the USA throughout
The focus this year was continuous improvement across the supply chain and importantly debating the issues associated with the Modern Slavery Act and whether this will move from guidance to legislation.
My focus and market is grocery retail and I was pleased to see that most of the main UK retailers, including: ASDA, Co-op, M&S, Sainsburys & Tesco were present. As we know these are very dynamic and transient enterprises, driven by monthly sales which make headline news in the media and trade press when they are announced. Therefore, there are huge challenges for any Senior Sustainability or Responsible Sourcing Manager to get the attention of the board to support and comply with new initiatives for anything that is not directly contributing to the sales effort. What we often find are such topics typically don’t get the attention they deserve and simply end up getting categorised ‘as not urgent but important for the future’.
I was particularly interested with the presentation by Louise Nicholls of M&S. She shared how she managed to get the boards attention by presenting to them the results of an important survey on Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking, the results of which showed that M&S were not doing very well at all and being out performed by a number of their key competitors.
I’m sure it’s no surprise to know that boards are comprised of competitive people and it’s safe to say this got their attention when they saw the importance of this topic for their customers. What the board at M&S then went on to do was turn this negative result into a competitive advantage that meant they could lead on sustainability and ethical issues within their market place. Hence the now familiar ‘Plan A’ was born. Plan A had the boards attention and the cleverly titled Plan A, made it clear to all there was no need for a ‘Plan B or C’ and therefore ultimately there was no turning back!
M&S has now used this to its competitive advantage and Plan A is marketed throughout its stores whether it be a water saving initiative in the customer toilets or the sleek design of its trucks in the distribution fleet to improve fuel efficiency.
Many in retail are now playing catch up with M&S and I thought it would be useful to expand on Louise’s experience and share my thoughts on working with major retailers and my top 10 tips and questions you should be asking yourself as a manager wishing to formulate a strategy to drive sustainability initiatives through your business:
- What are your customers wanting, what is concerning them, what are the trends; how can you align your strategy to address these?
- What are your competitors doing, whilst it’s best to stay ahead and not necessarily copy them, you might also not want to re-invent the wheel?
- Make a compelling business case for the risks of not doing something, that should get the Board’s attention.
- Consider ways to protect your business from bad press and negative media attention associated with bad practice.
- Ethical businesses tend to attract the better forward-thinking talent, these issues are often very important to the millennial generation when considering their career path.
- Internal and external design metrics. Given so many initiatives are supply chain or product related this can show where you are in comparison to competitors and track the progress being made to keep momentum.
- Commitment at board level for a strategic initiative, devise a name and campaign that is memorable i.e. Plan A This can then be cascaded down throughout the organisation
- Provide online training and education so that people have 24hr access to supporting documents and materials. Click here to watch our short video on Self-Help.
- Using something like a KPI dashboard for visual management can help suppliers better understand what good looks like and how they’re performing but also allows them through Self-Help get the information on how to improve if required. Thus making sure smaller sub initiatives are reported on and people can see the difference they can make.
- Whatever else is going on in your business i.e. poor trading results you must stick to the sustainability agenda and keep driving it through to make real sustained progress.
Managing sustainability, responsible sourcing and ethical trading, is a journey and requires an organisation to act on many initiatives to achieve success and recognition of the sustainable credentials for its products, such as: RSPO, REACH, FSC etc. To achieve this means working closely with your supply chain and sharing information as ‘One Team’. Good supplier engagement is the key to achieving the: transparency, communications and accuracy of data required to deliver this. To learn more about how Solutions for Retail Brands can help you achieve ‘One Team’ and engage with your supply base click here .