Supply Chain Heroes: How CFOs Can Help Save the WorldArticle by Lisa Anderson, March 31, 2020
Reprinted from Oracle/Modern Finance
Early this year, the largest asset-management company in the world made a bold announcement: It would start redirecting investments away from fossil fuels because of climate change. In his annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink stated that “climate risk is investment risk,” and that risk is driving a fundamental reshaping of finance.
“Because capital markets pull future risk forward, we will see changes in capital allocation more quickly than we see changes to the climate itself,” he wrote. “In the near future—and sooner than most anticipate—there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”
For manufacturers, retailers, and others that move business or consumer goods, a reallocation of capital will require tighter alignment between the CFO and supply chain leaders. This is already happening among the leading-edge CFOs I meet because they recognize the end-to-end supply chain is driving customer experience, profit performance, and working-capital improvements.
As more companies start reshaping strategy in response to climate change risk, this CFO/supply chain alignment will become more critical to achieving business and environmental goals. In fact, CFOs could find themselves being the heroes of the next decade’s climate-change success stories.
Assessing the payoff for climate change initiatives
CFOs will need to be front-and-center to assess climate change initiatives related to packaging, material handling, transportation, and logistics because changes in these areas tend to have widespread impact.
For example, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are feeling the most pressure from climate change activism right now. Packaging is a big target for waste reduction but switching container sizes or materials can have direct and indirect cost implications. There’s a change in direct costs for replacement packaging, but material handling and transportation costs also could shift because of weight, storage, handling requirements, and other relevant factors.
Another example is investment in technology systems. For instance, buying products that are sustainably sourced and handled is important to a lot of consumers, and trust is essential for companies that want to differentiate themselves on this point. New blockchain applications are enabling this verification down to a granular level. While an ideal investment from a marketing point of view, what will the impact be on logistics? Will shipments slow down or speed up? How will the change affect fulfillment and customer satisfaction?
Cloud applications and other advanced technologies have made it easier to conduct real-time analysis and identify upstream and downstream impacts from business decisions like these. Such decisions will require collaboration and ongoing discussions between finance and supply chain leaders to meet all business requirements successfully.
Supply chain health and environmental health are linked
Even if a company isn’t a leader in climate change-reduction efforts, improving supply chain performance will naturally make operations more environmentally sustainable. I’ve seen this over and over again in my decades of working in supply chain management.
Supply chain services and assets are expensive and don’t usually generate cash, so they’re a frequent target of cost reduction. The outcomes of these cost-reduction efforts reduce environmental impact because fewer miles are traveled, inventory replenishes more often and doesn’t become obsolete, and there’s less material waste in damaged goods and over-packaging.
This might be an obvious example, but when you think about on-the-horizon innovations, such as biofuels made from landfill waste and autonomous vehicle and aircraft deliveries, you can see how supply chains could become proactive enablers of reducing climate impact.
Another reason for CFOs to focus on supply chain when developing an impact-reduction strategy is it could help recruit supply chain talent. We’re experiencing a shortage of supply chain professionals across manufacturing, retail, logistics, and a range of other companies. Having a solid stake in climate change-reduction efforts could help attract limited talent, especially Millennials. A recent survey found that 75 percent of Millennials said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that is environmentally responsible. And nearly 40 percent said they have chosen one company over another in the past because their choice had a better environmental record.
Millennials will comprise three-quarters of the workforce within six years—so statistically, companies with stellar environmental practices will be a top position to recruit talent.
Finance and supply chain: Teaming up for sustainable operations
First and foremost, CFOs want to be good stewards of business assets. For many companies, the supply chain is central to value creation. So, it’s not surprising that CFOs at these companies are paying closer attention to their supply chains from a cost point of view.
Now, climate change is raising risk in ways that require a rethinking of how to grow and protect those assets. As markets begin to respond and shift, supply chain leaders and CFOs will find themselves facing the challenge together.