I own a 118 year old house. When people say "they don't build them like that anymore", my reaction is usually "thank, goodness" as the Victorian builders didn't bother themselves with trivialities like foundations, joists always meeting walls or, indeed, right angles. Add in the ravages of age and some questionable 'improvements' over the decades, and the place is like Pandora's Box - what other problems will emerge if you look too hard? When we did major refurbishments 10 years ago, we decided to grasp the nettle and do everything properly and, boy did we find problems - woodworm, dry rot, damp - and our bath was being supported by just half an inch of floor joist. Doing it properly was disruptive, expensive, but worth every penny.
I always think of my house when I meet people reluctant to deal with sustainability issues in their supply chain. It's almost a fear of shining a light into the dark corners because you mightn't like what you find. So most seem to sit tight and hope the problems don't bubble up and burst in their faces.
Apple tried to do this when Greenpeace targeted them for toxic waste problems in the supply chain back in 2006. Steve Jobs first dismissed the issues but performed an extremely rare u-turn once the issue threatened the company's hip image and produced an impressive environmental strategy. Then the Foxconn working conditions issue exploded and Apple was back in the mire again. As a result, the company has upped its supplier audits by a factor of 10 and publishes them online. It has also announced the re-shoring of some manufacturing to the States. The lesson has been learnt - the hard way.
Here are two quotes from Tom Smith of Sedex, taken from my latest book, Building A Sustainable Supply Chain:
It’s tempting just to scratch the surface, but you’ve got to go all the way down – it’s a dirty, nasty, difficult business, but that’s the only way of doing it properly.
As you go down, the risks are greater, you have less visibility is less and you have less influence. But how can you say you have a good quality, efficient supply chain when you don’t know where your goods are from?
Unfortunately too many still think that they can sit tight and hope any timebombs in the supply chain will never go off. But it's time to get the sniffer dogs out, shine a torch into those dark corners and defuse problems before they blow up in your face. Just ask Apple.
Building A Sustainable Supply Chain is available from DoSustainability. Use the code BSS15 to obtain a discount before 6 December 2013. You can read an extract here and join in our free webinar on 27 November 2013 to celebrate the book's publication.