October 02, 2013

Inspiring the Supply Chain: Sprint's New Supplier Booklet

By Amy Hargroves

As the sustainability world places increased focus on supply chain issues, there’s no doubt that any corporation on an authentic CSR journey needs to carefully examine the impacts of its entire supply chain. In fact, according to the United Nations Global Compact’s recently published Global Corporate Sustainability Report, supply chain management is the single greatest barrier to large companies advancing to the next level of sustainability performance. That’s why we’re excited we’ve developed a booklet to help our suppliers that other companies can use, too.

As we’ve noted before, Sprint relies on more than 6,000 outside vendors, so supply chain management is a major component of our CSR efforts. Sprint’s supply chain accounts for a large portion of our environmental footprint, which is why we aim to have 90 percent of our suppliers meet our environmental criteria by 2017. Although an impressive 79 percent are already up to speed, we’ve found that many of the companies that have historically rejected CSR do so because they view it as a high-effort/low-value activity. With this in mind, we developed a simpler assessment model and ask vendors to meet (and provide public evidence to support) just five core criteria: a materiality assessment, a GHG measurement and reduction goal, a human rights policy, a safety policy and an environmental policy.

As part of our ongoing effort to simplify supply chain management and reverse the value proposition (so it’s viewed as low-effort/high-value), Sprint has created a user-friendly supplier booklet, which is free and available to the public on our website. Launching this week, the booklet addresses the two areas we’ve seen suppliers struggling with most: completing a materiality assessment and measuring and reporting GHG emissions. Our suppliers have told us they find these tasks the most intimidating and time-consuming, that the Web resources we’ve pointed them to in the past were too confusing and even that they felt these categories didn’t apply to them. 

Our success has come from keeping it simple. We aim to inspire our business partners, not force them into compliance. To that end, the comprehensive booklet starts at the beginning, illustrating the potential triple-bottom-line value of meeting Sprint’s criteria and of CSR in general. We then provide explicit steps on how corporations could create a materiality assessment and how to measure, report and reduce GHG emissions — meeting two of Sprint’s five supplier criteria. Because the audience could be anyone from a service-business CEO to a new CR manager at a paper company, the booklet strikes a careful balance between extensive detail and over-simplification. We share some of Sprint’s anecdotes, successes, best practices and secrets along the way — how many hours each project took us, how many people were involved, how our company benefitted, etc.

We also provide an Excel spreadsheet I personally created to calculate Sprint’s 2012 GHG emissions. The spreadsheet provides the exact activity data, emissions factors and conversion formulas we used to submit our 2013 Carbon Disclosure Report. Users will be able to see the actual formulas in our spreadsheet and then complete their own GHG calculations on a similar Excel worksheet where they can directly input their own emissions activity data. We want to make it as easy as possible for our suppliers to complete a GHG assessment and to realize the benefits.

SB Issues in Focus   Hear more from Sprint's Amy Hargroves as she discusses new approaches to elevating supplier responsibility through scorecards with PwC's Amy Longsworth today at The New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

We are fortunate to have received a great deal of recognition for our sustainability efforts –Sprint was recently named on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America for the third consecutive year and included in the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index multiple years; and, this year, we were named to the CDP Performance Leadership Index for the first time. The experience and knowledge necessary to gain such recognition provided the wealth of knowledge to create this booklet. We worked with an outside expert to ensure the technical details were accurate, but wrote much of the booklet ourselves.

To ensure the booklet met the needs of our suppliers, we asked four of them to participate in several calls during the development process. Their feedback was invaluable and significantly influenced the final product. We continue to seek input from expert NGO partners who recognize the value this type of tool can offer the market.

We are not aware of any similar booklet available, publicly or privately, that provides point-by-point assistance for suppliers to complete materiality or GHG assessment. The usual approach seems to be providing supplier training on completing the assessment itself, not how to complete the work that’s required to get the answers. From our perspective, that’s a sign of an overly complicated assessment tool. Since we are a supplier to many large corporations, I have personally completed dozens of assessments, sometimes even multiple assessments for a single customer during a short time. All of this supports a position that CR is often made more difficult than it needs to be. We think we’re on to something with this booklet — a means to swap the high effort/low value proposition many think is the norm to a high value/lower effort model that’s oriented around a supplier’s needs and issues, not the customer’s. As we started to discuss our idea with others, we were amazed at the level of interest we found and the consistent perspective that this was a necessary step for us to expand the base of sustainable companies beyond those that are already engaged.

So, we spent five months creating a 40-page booklet that provides step-by-step instructions for meeting Sprint’s materiality assessment and GHG criteria, and shares the business benefits. We did it because we believe in a “carrot” approach of working with and rewarding suppliers, not a “stick” approach that punishes them for falling short of our criteria and that fails to create positive change. By partnering with our supply chain in an effective way we create a stronger, more symbiotic relationship that helps us reach our CSR goals more quickly and with greater transparency. We also believe that meeting our criteria can help improve suppliers’ businesses and by providing informational tools and assistance, we improve our collective opportunities for co-creation and innovation. (Suppliers may use Sprint’s expertise, anecdotes and easy-to-follow DIY instructions as starting point, but the booklet should not replace use of their own experts, advisors, and counsel regarding corporate responsibility matters.)

Earlier this year, the heads of companies that haven’t yet met our criteria received a personal letter from Steve Elfman, Sprint senior vice president of Product and Network; our supply management team then provided each company’s operations team with detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement. This highly engaged, peer-to-peer approach has so far been very effective, and suppliers have been pleasantly surprised at the personal outreach.

Our new booklet takes this all-in approach to the next level and aims to make the process even more streamlined and collaborative. It points suppliers – and other companies that are interested in learning from our journey — to the highest-yield efforts that make the most sense for their industry and available resources. It also reminds suppliers why corporate responsibility is so important to us and to them: It’s not about checking off a box on your to-do list or spending hours answering hundreds of survey questions. It’s about seeing the business value in a more sustainable business model and understanding how to get there. For us, it’s about meeting suppliers where they are on their journey and helping them reap the same benefits we have: increased revenue, improved reputation and, of course, a significantly reduced environmental impact.

Editor's Note: This post initially appeared in “News & Views” at www.sustainablebrands.com. Amy Hargroves leads Sprint’s Sustainability efforts. Her role includes developing and executing environmental programming strategies, establishing the organizational governance and infrastructure to manage sustainability, and helping to embed a more environmentally and socially conscious culture among Sprint’s employees.


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