A Green Global Supply Chain? Yeah, Right. Maybe Next Decade

If this is the decade of corporate responsibility when it comes to "going green" and reducing harmful carbon emissions, then we're all in a smelly garbage heap of trouble.

A new Accenture survey of 245 supply chain executives finds that just 10 percent of companies actively manage their carbon footprints. Even worse, nearly 40 percent say they have no clue about the level of supply chain emissions in their supply chain networks.

It's particularly distressing that these results come from supply chain execs (it's not like Accenture was asking CEOs) and almost 40 percent of them hadn't a clue. These supply chain chiefs are ostensibly the men and women on the front lines tackling one of today's top corporate initiatives.

If the Accenture survey results are any indication, there's much more corporate "greenwashing" occurring than even the most cynical person can envision. (Greenwashing is "the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue" by a person, company or government agency "to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy," according to SourceWatch.)

The survey did find that more than three-quarters (86 percent) of respondents had undertaken at least one green initiative in their organization's warehouses. But these actions were predominantly in the areas of "recycling and using natural light, lighting management systems and energy efficient bulbs."

Not exactly leading-edge stuff.

There are, of course, scores of other critical supply chain challenges right now, which could be garnering the majority of supply chain chiefs' attention. Those include: managing the promise and peril of Chinese sourcing; mitigating global risk; determining an effective vendor strategy; integrating ERP and CRM data streams with supply chain applications; and re-inventing the supply chain for the future. (For more on how companies are dealing with today's supply chain challenges, see articles on Wal-Mart, Apple, Nintendo and GE.)

But Jonathan Wright, senior executive in Accenture's supply chain management practice, notes in the survey that organizations that have achieved top-quartile performance in both cost-effectiveness and customer service are more than twice as likely as those that haven't to "actively model their supply chain carbon footprints and implement successful sustainability initiatives." And, he adds, those organizations have been able to lower supply chain costs as a result.

However, Wright notes that while the vast majority is taking a step or two to reduce carbon emissions, "most are implementing carbon-reduction solutions without understanding their carbon footprint and are therefore unable to measure real impact those solutions are having on their emissions."

In today's harsh economic environment, any corporate initiative that can't show an immediate and positive impact on the bottom line or a projected ROI is absolutely doomed. And with this dearth of carbon emissions understanding and concern, you can expect the greenwashing to blissfully continue.

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