Anyone who has an eight to twelve-year old son (or anyone born before 2006) should be familiar with the quote in this headline. It’s from Yoda, the 900-year old Star Wars Jedi Master, so beloved for his abbreviated physique, distinctive dialect, and ability to wield a lightsaber with the agility of an Olympic gymnast. He says this line as he is beginning Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training, and has become aggravated with Luke’s resistance to learning new ways of doing things.
This quote is very relevant in the discussion of supply chain transparency. The Parker Avery Group, a Parker Avery Associate Partner, and our PLM (product lifecycle management) Practice Leader, recently authored an article for Apparel Magazine about visibility and transparency in today’s retail supply chains, and in it, she spells out that the traditional ways of operating supply chains – primarily with respect to undisclosed information – can no longer be business as usual. With news of natural and man-made disasters spreading like wildfire across the myriad of social digital channels, today’s consumers are much more conscious of how companies operate. Couple this with increased awareness of worker conditions and environmental concerns, and companies must step up the ante when it comes to mitigating these issues.
It is similar to when recycling first started to become mainstream. A handful of municipalities – driven by environmentally conscious people and groups – began to realize that many of our resources are not endless, and the cost to reproduce was not only measured in monetary impacts, but also in terms of consequences to the environment. Back then, most of us were used to just tossing everything in the trash, and not thinking about where it would eventually end up or the cost of managing that waste. Now, however, with the rising cost of oil and gas (used to make most “virgin” plastics), many studies have proven that recycled plastic is in fact less expensive to produce. Furthermore, recycling lessens the negative impact of the increased use of plastic on the environment. Our society has now accepted recycling as the new norm, and we do it gladly.
But this is not a lesson on the benefits of recycling.
It does, however, paint a similar story to how our society is becoming much more conscious of the choices we collectively make, and how we can help improve ways of doing business by selecting brands and companies who make a concentrated effort in addressing global, societal and environmental concerns. Instead of shutting a blind eye to where certain fabrics or materials came from or how they are made, consumers are now paying attention, and brands are taking notice. I like the fact that the label on the Gap sweater I bought last week is made from recycled plastic. In our own house, we reuse plastic bags, we recycle everything we can, we compost, we wear hand-me-downs, and we even sometimes shop at Goodwill.
Why? Because it makes us feel good about the choices we make.
I can sleep well at night knowing the options we chose are making at least a small, but positive impact on the environment and our community. And these choices are making a bigger impression on my son’s developing sense of consciousness and awareness that all actions have consequences – some good, some bad. I know that if more and more people mirror these efforts, it accumulates to a lot of positive change now and for future generations. Most consumers want to do business with companies whose strategies and operations align with their beliefs.
The good news is that more and more companies understand this growing consumer desire to take social and environmental matters into their own hands, and are also beginning to take this approach. They are not just talking about it – they are beginning to build this into the very fabric of their brand’s mission. Here are a few examples:
• Tiffany & Co. CEO and Chairman Michael Kowalski further defined the Tiffany corporate mission by saying, “Tiffany & Co. is committed to obtaining precious metals and gemstones, and crafting our jewelry in ways that are socially and environmentally responsible.”
• “The mission of Trader Joe’s is to give our customers the best food and beverage values that they can find anywhere and to provide them with the information required to make informed buying decisions. We provide these with a dedication to the highest quality of customer satisfaction delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, fun, individual pride, and company spirit.”
• The Whole Foods mission explains their motto, “Whole Foods. Whole People. Whole Planet.” “Whole Foods” – We obtain our products locally and from all over the world, often from small, uniquely dedicated food artisans; “Whole People” – We recruit the best people we can to become part of our team. We empower them to make their own decisions, creating a respectful workplace where people are treated fairly and are highly motivated to succeed; “Whole Planet” – We recognize the connection between our lives, our communities and the environment.
Brands are moving away from “requesting” certain standards of their supply chain partners to “demanding” these standards, and being pretty vocal about it in the process. Walmart has done this for several years (see their Standards for Suppliers Manual), and, while not perfect, it’s an excellent start. Smaller, newer brands have more agility and usually younger supply chain partner relationships, so it may be somewhat easier for them to select and work with suppliers who are able to easily conform to requirements that reflect the brand’s vision and value proposition. Newer brands are also typically not tied into older legacy systems, which can often hamper the ability to provide transparency. As McCann Ramsey points out in the Apparel article, brands who are implementing newer systems like PLM actually are better equipped to enable transparency. Parker Avery offers a diagnostic service to help companies holistically understand their current environment, and develop an actionable plan to migrate to a PLM environment – click here for more information.
In the not so distant future, this transparency will be a consumer expectation for all retailers. Those companies who are beginning the process of unlearning their former, clandestine ways of managing their supply chains and learning new ways of integrating the consumer desire for transparency and integrity must instill these elements now into their boardroom discussions and strategic agendas. Doing so will put them ahead of the game and on a competitive level that goes far beyond determining the perfect integrated channel assortment or capitalizing on the hot new fashion trend.