“Genuine and certifiable sustainable business is good for people, planet and profits.”

Stuart Higgins, Partner, Consumer Goods and Retail at BearingPoint.

Consumers are demanding higher ethical and sustainability standards from their favourite brands, which are responding accordingly. But the risks are huge if brands are found to have been dishonest—whether intentionally or not.

Stuart Higgins, Partner, Consumer Goods and Retail at BearingPoint

Today’s customers want more than speed and quality from their brands. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) and diversity and inclusion (D&I) are key to customer demand. To meet that expectation, brands must deepen supply chain traceability; harnessing technology to get closer to their raw source materials and trace forward.

For brands and their supply chains, business must address two interconnected key challenges:

  1. Their product and supply chain sustainability positioning must be authentic and provable.
  2. They must have operating processes that include new methodologies to improve tracking, tracing and measuring.

Get it right and businesses can reveal significant revenue and reputational opportunities whilst securing a more sustainable future for all, with a number of technology-tagging tactics in play:

  • Radio frequency identification (RFID) chips used to tag raw materials at source
  • Web-based tools to track and monitor materials moving through complex chains
  • Unique trace ingredients (Infrared dyes and chips) placed into raw materials
  • Non-invasive traceability methods, such as high-fidelity computer vision / photography, to identify unique products using high quality image verification techniques.

By tagging at source-level, brands introduce authenticity and visibility across the supply chain, regardless of route and handling complexity. And while monitoring has long been in place to ensure garments are not manufactured in sweatshops using slave or child labour, monitoring the conditions of the growers and manufacturers supplying the factories has been limited.

That’s only half the battle, though. Materials and products can travel thousands of kilometres across countless borders, mix with other source materials and be handled with varying degrees of integrity. That means multiple certifications, shipping receipts, purchase orders and exceptional amounts of paperwork across multi-tier supply chains.

Genuinely green

Companies often lack the rigid processes required to collect, interpret, track and analyse data effectively across the chain – impacting trace accuracy and provenance authenticity. Change here comes down to a combination of closer supplier relationships and technical skills training, alongside better merging of technology-enabled data tracking and robust manual reporting. Here, there must be a corporate-wide commitment to embrace traceability and provide authentic visibility at all levels of the supply chain.

It boils down to the genuineness of the brands themselves.

For consumers, it’s as much about the ‘why’ as it is the ‘how’ in proving a supply chain can be confidently stamped as ethical. Plenty of companies have fallen foul of greenwashing in recent years. Just ask the woman or man who bought what they thought was a genuine Italian handbag or a Swiss watch on a trip abroad. Almost always, it’s the marketing message misrepresenting the true (and less-than-sustainable) realities in the company’s supply chain.

Consumers, employees and investors take a dim view of greenwashing, green-wishing, green-hushing (covering up supply-chain issues) or green-botching (well-meaning ecological actions that are being employed so poorly there’s a backlash.) There’s no way of getting around it: genuine and verifiable sustainable business is good for people, planet and profits.

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