Tag Archives: green purchasing

Guest Perspective: Is the Dodd-Frank Act Conflict Minerals requirement the next Proposition 65?

Ed. note:  We are fortunate to count Mark Schaffer as an Elm Affiliate.  Mark is located in Austin, Texas and runs Schaffer Environmental, providing a range of supply chain, sustainability and product content consulting support to the computer, technology and electronics industries.  Mark submitted the following piece on conflict minerals from his perspective on other product content matters.

The Dodd-Frank Act requires companies regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to report whether their products contain conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and other nearby countries.  These conflict minerals are defined as cassiterite, columbite-tantalite, gold, wolframite and their derivatives (tin, tantalum and tungsten) – though, in the future, more minerals may be added to this list.

These materials are found in a variety of consumer products that we love to use everyday, from computers to cell phones, golf clubs to fishing weights.  So, to the purchaser of these consumer products, what is the real impact of whether the product contains one of these minerals sourced from the Congo?

Currently, the exact reporting requirements are still not established.  The law requires manufacturers sourcing “conflict minerals” to include information on their sourcing in their websites.  The SEC regulations, scheduled to be finalized in third or fourth quarter 2011, will clarify what disclosures will be required within the financial reports to SEC.  Further sourcing disclosure may even end up on the product or the product packaging.

Granted, business-to-business contracts, relationships and purchasing requirements are already being impacted by the supply chain traceability mandates – but what might this all mean to the consumer and the choices they make?

At best, the disclosures will be an awareness point for consumers, but will it truly affect their purchase of the product?  Unless there is a price differential between products, only the most conscientious consumers will be deterred from buying and using products containing DRC-sourced materials.

In addition, consumer confusion is likely to result where companies use/disclose “Non-conflict DRC materials”.  This is material that originates from the conflict areas (DRC and adjoining countries) but is obtained from a legitimate source verified as not funding or contributing to the region’s armed conflict and human right violations.

In a similar fashion, California Proposition 65 requires a notification of the presence of substances that have been determined to be cancer causing and/or damaging to the reproductive system by the State of California.  A warning is often seen printed on the packaging of products or on tags and labels of products indicating the presence of materials in the product that could cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Even this type of warning does not deter the consumer from purchasing the product.  It is likely that a conflict-warning label, if that became a requirement, would have similar negligible effect in product sales.  There will be even less of a measurable impact on sales/revenue if the warning is limited to disclosures within a corporate Form 10-K report.  Placement in a 10-K will raise visibility to investors in the company producing those products but unless there is a clear impact on the bottom-line profits or revenue, will that be enough incentive to change sourcing practices?

The strength of a “notification” regulation lies in a company’s desire to avoid “label shame.”  Manufacturers of products covered by Prop 65 have made changes to the materials they use such that their products no longer need the warning label.   So, even though not all consumers changed their purchasing habits due to the presence of those warnings, manufacturers worked (and still work) to replace those materials with safer alternatives.  The Dodd-Frank Act may ultimately have similar effect in transforming the material choices and sourcing.

At the same time, however, there is growing evidence of consumer “label fatigue,” indicating that consumers are paying less attention to these labels or feel they are not credible, especially where the labels – and their form/content – are not mandated by law.  This is perhaps most prevalent in “green” product labels and certifications.

Recent history tells us that the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals requirements may indeed promote change, though that change is slower than would occur from an outright restriction or ban on the use of those materials.  For example, the most recent impactful “banning” restriction, the EU Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) went into effect July 1, 2006 after many years of development.  Due to the demand by the electronics industry for parts that could meet the RoHS requirements by that date, the supply chain transformed rapidly using alternative materials and techniques.



Survey on Green/Ethical Procurement in Disaster/Supply Chain Disruption Recovery

As the world begins to assess the global economic impacts of the Japan disaster, it is clear that many industries are facing major supply chain disruptions.

Generally, companies have robust business continuity/disaster recovery plans that provide for employee safety and continued business operation.  At the same time, in the last 5 years have we have witnessed an explosion in the adoption of green/ethical procurement standards.   So we have posed the question:

How are corporate green/ethical procurement standards addressed in emergency recovery plans – if at all?

Elm has launched a short survey to gather general information on this question.  Click here to participate in this survey.  Please be assured that we do not track any information about the participants and no company/individual identification information is requested or gathered.

The results will be published here in 2-4 weeks.  We appreciate your participation.

Japan Tragedy Tests Ethical/Environmental Procurement Standards

As the world grapples with the immense impact of the disaster in Japan, attention is turning to the global economic impact of the country’s lost production.  Japan has long been a critical link in the supply chain of many industries – perhaps most notably in the automotive and electronics sectors.

The Financial Times ran a piece today on this which touches on contingency plans to help replace lost production stemming from unforeseen major disruptive events.

In this context, a question arises:  Will companies enforce their procurement requirements for vendor EHS performance during this period?

Elm has long discussed EHS risks in the context of supply chain disruption contingency planning.  In past years, the risks have been more focused on matters related to how production redistribution could cause violations of various environmental permit limits tied to production levels.  However, the rise of ethical purchasing standards – as voluntary and highly publicized corporate commitments – has altered the definition of EHS risks in supply chains.

It may be months or years before some of the Japanese plants are in production mode again.  In the interim, companies impacted by the disruption face a conundrum:

  • Do they attempt a rapid production recovery by quickly engaging second-tier alternative suppliers that may not meet EHS procurement standards (i.e., relaxing their supplier requirements)?
  • Or do they stick to the EHS standards for suppliers, thereby risking potentially extended production downtime while either (a) searching for a supplier who meets the standards, or (b) bringing a supplier up to speed?

Certainly, it is easy to say there is a third option – implementing an existing contingency plan with an existing alternate supplier that already meets the EHS procurement standards.

But few manufacturers have that third option available, as EHS concerns tend to be overlooked in supply chain disruption planning.

Does Green Procurement Create Supply Chain Disruption Risk?

Even before Walmart’s supplier sustainability index was announced, interest in green procurement (GP) practices had been growing.  The trade publication Supply Chain Management Review had a piece on it earlier this month.  IBM recently published an article on the subject as well.

But what seems to be missing from the current discussions is how implementing GP standards could create significant disruptions in a company’s supply chain.

Consider this scenario:  A company implements GP standards and negotiates supply agreements with “green suppliers”.  The number of “green suppliers” for a particular process input is likely to be small, so the company is forced to reduce its supplier base, possibly to a single supplier.

Supply chain professionals know this conundrum too well – by consolidating purchases, you increase purchasing and negotiation power, but you lose flexibility in addressing supply disruptions should there be problems.  GP programs may also result in purchasing consolidation and reduce a company’s ability to manage that supplier’s inability to deliver (for whatever reason).

GP programs should not be viewed as anything less than a significant business change.  Underestimating the business risk posed by implementing GP standards may have dramatic consequences.