From coronavirus to climate change, the world faces existential crises that can only be solved through cooperation and coordinated action. The same is true for cultivating trust—one of the three keys to building a responsible future in business along with net-zero operations and circular economy practices.

So in the spirit of cooperation, we’ve come together to explore the issue through a dual lens that reflects our backgrounds both in sustainability and procurement. Both of us help our clients work at the intersection of business and technology to fuel innovation and growth. And both of us agree on this: acting now for a sustainable future is a critical and urgent business imperative.

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When companies experience a drop in trust, they experience a material decline in revenue.  54% of companies on the Accenture Strategy Competitive Agility Index experienced a material drop in trust and conservatively lost out on US$180B in revenue.

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Meet the trust gatekeeper

Trust wasn’t top of mind of procurement leaders even as recently as last year. This is changing fast as a result of growing stakeholder interest in (and demand for) action on social and environmental  responsibility. All of it amplified by the pandemic year.

Something else is changing fast. CPOs are recognizing the unique relationship between their role and trust. When we as consumer trust our brands then that responsibility lies firmly with the CPO. CPOs are ecosystem builders who oversee external relationships with suppliers that can make or break corporate reputations. They are the trust gatekeepers. As a result they have a big responsibility to live up to. 

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CPOs want to identify and reduce social and environmental risks in their supply chains to build trust.

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A high-stakes environment

Being a trust gatekeeper is one thing. Actually building trust to operate responsibly and manage the social and environment risks associated with the supply network is another. With global supply chains, companies have to develop a much deeper understanding of product origins and supply chain risks to do this well. Culpability extends across the ecosystem. A trust gap in one part of the value chain can create a ripple effect of impact across the rest of it.

This dynamic is a massive liability amid endless news cycles and stories that go viral in seconds. When the world is watching, trust hangs in the balance. And sadly, there are many risks associated with the supply network—from human trafficking and child labor to pollution and bribery and corruption.

Where trust meets technology

So how can CPOs begin to protect and build trust in this high-risk environment? While it’s no silver bullet, technology is an exciting enabler here. Consider just some of what we’re seeing. Blockchain’s track-and-trace capabilities are improving food safety. Near real-time satellite imagery is ensuring that land used to grow crops isn’t connected to deforestation. And artificial intelligence and machine learning are identifying markers and flagging discrepancies that humans alone can’t identify.

In addition to game-changing use cases like these, technology is reducing social and environmental risk because it’s the muscle behind getting to scale. After all, the “decade to deliver” will never fully materialize if we can’t get past the slow and isolated progress that comes from a sea of pilots.

Five actions for purpose-led procurement

Let us be clear that leveraging technology is just one part of what CPOs need to do to strengthen trust and build a responsible future. As exciting as it is, it’s easy to get distracted by that “shiny object syndrome” that comes with every new technology.

This is why we encourage CPOs to take a holistic approach to making “purpose-led procurement.” It’s an approach that involves procurement, but it also involves other functions and partners. Remember, driving changes take cooperation and coordination, starting with these fundamentals.

  1. Rally from the top down. Trust has to be a mindset embodied from the corner office to the water cooler. When the ethos of the company is steeped in social responsibility and sustainability, procurement can be (and is expected to be) aggressive in setting targets—creating a high bar for achievements like zero social harm, zero waste and zero child labor.
  2. Create a clear data picture. No one can manage what they don’t measure. CPOs should prioritize establishing a foundational data and analytics layer that offers an insight-driven view of how suppliers are actually performing. This way, they can target their actions to educate suppliers about responsible metrics and additional trusted aspects that they need to develop.
  3. Start where the wallet is. No one will argue if CPOs make win-win choices that build trust AND deliver financial impact. The more CPOs do this, the better buy-in they’ll get for future initiatives where the business case is not as strong as the trust case. With banks teaming with companies to help suppliers invest in sustainability, there are creative financing options on the table.
  4. Know where the hot spots are. The more visibility that CPOs have into spending categories with significant social and environmental impact, the better positioned they are to target interventions to their most problematic categories. The CPO can be an important bridge builder here, cutting costs expressly in line with the sustainability strategy.
  5. Don’t try to go it alone. New, collaborative ways of working with internal customers, the supplier ecosystem and external partners committed to responsible business practices are the means to the end of building trust. CPOs can tap into “network power” to pursue more local, inclusive and ethical sourcing opportunities.

Check back for our next post on the CPO’s role in driving resource efficient business models and ecosystems through circular economy practices

Chad Gottesman

Managing Director – Operations, Procurement Business Process Services

Justin Keeble

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Sustainability Strategy Lead, Europe

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