So, how is everyone enjoying their ringside seats at the Great Dumpster Fire of 2020? OK, a tad melodramatic, but I’d imagine many of you nodded in agreement when reading it. I’ll admit to feeling angsty of late. All the challenges and pressures that arose from the pandemic are still with us and we’re now seeing the telltale signs of the previously anticipated “second wave,” in line with traditional cold and flu season.
A few months ago, a lot of the COOs and heads of supply chain that we speak with at Gartner started using the term “COVID fatigue” to describe the organizational and personal malaise that had descended upon their organizations. Companies are, of course, just collections of people.
And so are governments. The attention and resources they need to simultaneously maintain the biological and economic health of citizens are fraying. This challenge alone would be enough to contend with, but there are so many larger ones looming in the distance for humankind. Most of these could be put under the banner of environmental, social and governance (ESG).
Companies, Not Governments, Will Lead the Way
How have our governments been stepping up to deal with these thorny ESG challenges? A scan of the news headlines points to systematic dismantling of environmental protections in the Americas, gridlock and infighting in Europe and forced ethnic assimilation through imprisonment in Asia. In the grand sweep of history, we will move past this way of being, but it bears asking: will our governments be the ones to lead us out?
The pupil at the front of the classroom, eagerly raising their hand to answer, is likely not your national government. More often, it is the CEO and executive team of global corporations. More specifically, corporate supply chain’s leadership has been one of the few bright spots of a truly dismal 2020.
Last month, I hosted a webinar with Marc Engel, chief supply chain officer for Unilever, on the topic of “Building a Future-Fit, Purpose-Driven Supply Chain.” Toward the end of his talk, Marc made a call to action for us to collectively make a “green exit” out of the pandemic. He used this widely shared graphic as a conversation starter.
Source: MacKay Cartoons
Marc went on to share the significant investments Unilever is making to support sustainability in global climate and agriculture. This is in addition to the resources it has used to ensure the livelihoods of its workers, extended supply network and the broader communities it serves.
Unilever is not alone in its commitment to these important societal issues. A small sampling of others that I’ve recently encountered include:
- Microsoft’s environmental stewardship announcements on becoming “carbon negative” and “water positive” by 2030. These commitments are a huge step beyond most companies’ goals to merely reduce the impact of their environmental footprints. We are excited to see where Donna Warton (VP, Microsoft Devices Supply Chain & Sustainability) and her team go next in this journey.
- Cisco’s public position on Social Justice Beliefs and Actions, which speaks to 1. using technology for social good, 2. making a commitment to social justice causes, 3. addressing “insecurity of being” for marginalized groups, 4. driving collective action through its broader ecosystem and 5. continuous education on social injustices paired with hands-on engagement in marginalized communities. John Kern (SVP, supply chain operations) and team have been on the vanguard of these social positions and it is encouraging to see this work elevated to a corporate level.
- Private discussions I have been in with some supply chain leaders regarding the discontinuation of sourcing from China due to its use of forced labor in the western province of Xinjiang.
Rise and Shine, Supply Chain
Today, we find ourselves in one of the most disruptive environments in modern history, but it’s also important to take the long view. With or without the help of our governments, the 2020s can be a time of enlightened corporate leadership. In this world, we can pursue purpose-driven goals and build regenerative systems for our businesses, the environment and society.
Rise and shine, supply chain, your day has come!
VP Distinguished Advisor
Gartner Supply Chain