The Supply Chain Rebel’s Guide to Saving the World

Author: Kelsey Steele

What if I told you that you could:

  • Anticipate and manage risk better than ever
  • Operate within communities that have previously been difficult to reach
  • Empower suppliers who improve innovation and process
  • Improve profitability through increased customer loyalty from commitment to environmental responsibility.

It’s possible! The above are just some of the variety of business benefits you can get from incorporating the SDGs into your supply chain. 

You may have heard your sustainability-focused friends and circular economy enthusiasts mention something about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). You may have even read a news article about them somewhere. But you might have just brushed them off as lofty goals that didn’t have anything to do with you or your work. The following answers will aim to convince you that the SDGs deserve a second glance and a call for action.

How can SDGs save the world?

In case you need a refresher, the SDGs are 17 goals with 169 targets that were adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations in 2015. These goals serve as a guide towards a shared mission of peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The idea is to meet all 17 goals by 2030. It’s lofty. On the other hand, it’s also impossible to saving the world when you don’t know what saving the world looks like.

Just as the supply chain relies upon interdependent networks, the goals acknowledge the interdependency of ending poverty and other deprivations, strategies that improve health, education, reduction of inequality, economic growth, mitigation of climate change, and preservation of oceans and forests.

We also can’t save the world without a plan for action or a way to track progress towards saving the world. The SDGs provide a framework for each member state’s government, so that they can create a customized plan for implementing the 17 sustainability goals within their own state. These specialized plans involve collaboration between the government, non-profits, businesses, individuals, and more. The UN monitors progress within each state by collecting data from Our World In Data.

How can supply chain help the SDGs?

The UN Global Compact participants say that supply chain practices are their biggest challenge when it comes to their sustainability performance. Let’s face it, supply chains are large, complex, and difficult to track. In addition, as a supply chain professional, you face the pressure of driving costs down and increasing efficiency. This often means that your suppliers will forgo their environmental and social standards in order to meet your business requirements. This is where you can get creative with your businesses’ requirements. Think about how you can combine your business’ goals with the SDGs. The SDGs are all about saving resources and so is your business.

According to United Nations Global Impact, a SDG-focused voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, “a company’s entire supply chain can make a significant impact on promoting human rights, fair labor practices, environmental progress, and anti-corruption policies”. In other words, as a supply chain professional, you have an opportunity to help the world reach all 17 SDGs.

How can you incorporate the SDGs into your work?

There are more resources than you think for professionals in the supply chain field. The UN Global Compact provides guidance and a framework for assessing, defining, implementing, measuring, and communicating sustainability strategies. You and/or your organization can apply to join other changemakers on the UN Global Compact’s website.

You can also check out The UN Global Compact also offers the following free resources:

Call to Action

As an MBA student in sustainable systems, I know that you can’t make an argument for sustainability without making the business argument first. And as a supply chain professional, you have an amazing opportunity to utilize the SDGs in a way that meets the needs and goals of your organization.

The SDGs have been successful in offering a clear set of objectives for stakeholders from all over the world and from all different sectors. You also have the power to share your knowledge with others so that they might incorporate the SDGs into their organizations. In the comments, share how you are using the SDGs at your organizations or one thing you are going to do now that will capitalize on the SDGs.

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  • Motivational piece Kelsey, great work! We are a Risk & Compliance tech platform in the UK that have developed a system for mapping, managing and mitigating risks in this space, and have incorporated the SDGs as a cornerstone of a company’s manifested actions to tackle Sustainability. Are they referenced in the Chairman’s statement, investor packs, supplier Codes of Practice? Is someone in the business actually responsibile for it? Are they engaged with third parties and NGOs in this space? Have they identified priority SDGs and measuring themselves and suppliers with stretching KPIS? ….none of the above is simply not acceptable in my book, and any business can start to reference and achieve them, as you so rightly point out…if they have the will and the desire to do better business. Maybe this enforced time through Cocid19 will allow us to emerge with more purpose and give companies time to develop a strategy for sustainable growth as they bounce back? Here’s hoping.

  • Very enlightening, people don’t even know the SDG. This call to action is apt!
    My organization has been advocating for sustainable SCs and sharing learnings with stakeholders at different fora.

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