Forging the Missing Link: What the 2017 CDP Supply Chain Report Says About Supplier Engagement

January 24, 2017
  • Marshall Chase

    Former Associate Director, BSR

Supply chains may be the most under-recognized opportunity for companies to address climate change. While companies tend to focus, understandably, on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions in business operations and products, supply chains often account for the majority of product greenhouse gas emissions.

To call attention to supply chain opportunities, BSR has again partnered with CDP on the annual CDP Supply Chain Report—this year, teamed with the Carbon Trust and supported by funding from ClimateWorks Foundation.

Although in many ways encouraging, our findings highlighted the need for urgency. The 4,300 suppliers that reported to CDP increasingly identify business opportunities coupled with their actions to address climate change—benefits like brand and product differentiation, energy and operational efficiency, or the ability to attract and retain talent. But at the same time, the number of companies taking significant action on climate change remains far too low. Only 34 percent of companies reported an overall emissions decrease, while a similar percentage were unable to track their progress. Such limited management both contributes to ongoing climate change and limits the ability of companies to build resilience in the face of increasingly severe climate impacts.

Supply chain engagement remains a challenge: Companies generally have much less control over their supply chains than they do over their owned operations or products, and supply chain emissions typically come from multiple, independent companies—many of which may be several steps removed from the purchasing company attempting to act on climate change. For example, significant emissions in electronics supply chains may happen in extraction and processing of raw materials—but these mining and processing companies are suppliers of suppliers (of suppliers … ) of the company that makes your smartphone.

Supply chain engagement may not be simple. But it is worth the effort. By working with their suppliers, companies can better identify and address the specific and growing physical, regulatory, and other risks they face from climate change. And they can take advantage of opportunities to build closer relationships and help suppliers build their own climate resilience. Because of these types of efforts, suppliers reporting to CDP in 2016 saved more than US$12 billion from emissions reduction projects—a significant increase compared to 2015. Understanding the types of climate risks that suppliers are facing and building resilient supply chain networks will help companies thrive over the long term.

BSR, CDP, and the Carbon Trust plan to continue using the lessons learned from the CDP supply chain program to help companies understand their risks and support greater climate resilience. Whether working with our members to establish and implement bold climate goals, as BSR did with General Mills and Walmart, or conducting industry benchmarking and other research to identify opportunities for action, we look forward to the coming year’s engagements, and we hope to see further improvements in next year’s report.

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