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Are You Seeing What Lays in Your Company’s Wake? Are You Leaving a Damaging or a Generative Wake?

Submitted by: Sissel Waage

Posted: Feb 26, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Supply Chain Sustainability: Special Focus

Tags: supply chain, sustainability, csr

 
Sissel_waage_2015_

This is the most recent article in our series on Supply Chain Sustainability. For more articles, go to
http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/75-supply-chain-sustainability-special-focus/posts

When three Norwegian fashionistas agreed travelled to Cambodia and spend a month understanding how clothing is made in a new reality TV show, they were signing up for an extended reality tour. What the Norwegian fashionistas saw shocked them. 

Just like these three, few Europeans and Americans have clear, first-hand images of what lies behind modern industrial goods and economies. When we do, it is often hard to handle the reality. What lies in the wake of modern industrial goods can be devastating. Too often, it is the very opposite of an act of kindness. Though seldom intentional, we have a global economy rife with unintended consequences—many of which have a human face.

Seeing the human, as well as environmental, costs of the modern industrial economy can be powerful, as is clear on the Norwegian TV show. What previously lay hidden from view sparks questions and hopefully innovation. “There must be another way,” is the instinctual response when seeing the negative effects in the human faces that we unknowingly touch around the world through our daily decisions—about what shirt to buy, what kind of fruit to eat, what source of energy to use, how much water to use, or many other actions. Though it is often hard to see, these decisions leave in their wake either acts of kindness, or quite the opposite.

Putting a human face on the ‘wake’ of our products and economy has been an ongoing effort of writers and photographers for years. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle put a human face on workers in Chicago’s meatpacking industry. Photographer Sebastio Selgado—who started his professional life as an economist, before focusing on images of what lays behind the economy—shows us the human faces of mining, coffee, and other “Workers”. Similarly, photographers have shown us images of tar sands, deforestation, displaced people, and many more. 

The challenge, of course, is that most people, including business decision-makers, shut down and try to turn one’s gaze back to happiness and pleasure. We all do this. It is why videos of cute kittens go viral.

Therefore, as we watch the new factory worker reality show, or see images from photographers such as Sebastia Selgado, it can be important to remember a few more hopeful follow-up questions: What do you wish you had seen? What do you wish your products, supply chains and companies left in their wake? What acts of kindness do you wish that your company’s sourcing through manufacturing, sales, use, as well as re-use (or end of a product’s useful life) offered? These kind of questions allow people to imagine and speak about the kind of company that they hope to build, and the world that they hope their families live in. 

This approach has actually been used for years, in the form of corporate strategic blue-sky visioning and coupled within a process of ‘backcasting’. It enables business people to look forward and sketch out what they wish to see in terms of how their products are made and raw materials sourced. And then—as with any strategic planning or even scenario planning process—this desired future state can be compared to an assessment of the current state, in order to devise a plan for getting from where you are today to a desired future. 

The opportunity is hold both the hard-to-experience-reality, as well as the vision (and often the desire) to focus on re-making this reality into one that is more consonant with what many of us would wish to leave in our own ‘wake’.

Considering such a vision and acts of kindness throughout companies can be done in a structured fashion across multiple issue areas. Systems thinking is helpful.

To start the process, consider a few such corporate acts of kindness.

Such as, consider designing workplaces that invest in the human needs, human rights, and the situation of women and families, as well as other aspects of enabling inclusive economies. People feel this act immediately through better health, well-being and even (particularly positive for companies) productivity and loyalty.

Consider investing in low-carbon, renewable energy sources. Children with asthma will feel this act of kindness—particularly in areas shifting from coal-fired power sources to renewables—in the core of their bodies, their lungs.

Consider selecting non-toxic, non-bioaccumulative, non-persistent materials for products, as well as energy- and water-efficient, or even water-less, processes. People will see these changes in less ‘body burden’ associated with chemicals in our bodies. And, in terms of water, people in your watershed will feel this act of kindness in diminished demand pressure on what are finite (and in many places limited) water resources. Nike has done so with waterless dying. And Nestle has done so with in expanding one of its factories.

Consider committing to supply chain and sourcing decisions that are “zero deforestation” or “no net biodiversity loss” or even total “net positive impact”. The people living around forests and contiguous natural lands will feel this act of kindness in the form of access to water, natural controls on erosion and flooding, as well as enabling of nutrient cycling essential for fertile soil to grow food. A growing number of companies are making zero deforestation commitments, as are companies engaged with net positive impact (such as, Capgemini, Coca-Cola, IKEA, Kingfisher).

It is not always easy to see what we leave in their wake. But, it is important to know. And the reality is that our modern industrial economy offers few acts of kindness to many workers and ecological systems in which it comes into contact. In response, many companies are working hard to address these issues and be forces of net positive value. The business literature is now rife with reports, articles, and books on how risky current practices are, as well as how wise sustainable business practices can be. The business case for sustainable business practices is increasingly well-documented—and just an internet search away.  

The question now is often simply: Do you know what you’re leaving in the wake of our business practices? Is that what we want to be leaving in your wake?

This is the most recent article in our series on Supply Chain Sustainability. For more articles, go to
http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/75-supply-chain-sustainability-special-focus/posts

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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