Our supply chains are broken.
That, in a nutshell, is the diagnosis from software giant Oracle's recent study on the state of the world's supply chains.
Of course, as a provider of software designed to help fix supply chains this conclusion is almost as self serving as David "show me the keys to No 10" Cameron's assessment of our supposedly "broken society". But that does not make the company's analysis of siloed, poorly integrated supply chains any less valid.
In truth, nothing Oracle is saying is particularly surprising. We all know that supply chains have become sprawling monsters that are supremely difficult to keep track of, a fact evidenced by the still routine uncovering of poor working practices at far too many of the factories that supply some of our most famous high street brands.
Equally, the revelation from Oracle's, admittedly small, survey of supply chain managers that almost half have no access to data from beyond those parts of the supply chain they manage directly only confirms the experiences of many who work in logistics.
The problem for firms keen to cut the environmental impact of their supply chains (which given high fuel prices, imminent legislation and the West's direct responsibility for much of the pollution in China and India should be everyone) is that it is impossible to start cutting emissions until you have a complete overview of the entire supply chain.
As Oracle's Dave Food pointed out it is this absence of oversight that has resulted in initiatives to cut emissions that are in danger of having the exact opposite result. The best examples top date are the debate over whether cut flowers from Africa actually have a lower carbon footprint than those from the Netherlands, because despite the flight they do not require heated glass houses, and concerns that cutting packaging levels could result in more emissions if it results in more breakages during transport. You get the feeling these simple examples could be the tip of the iceberg - the problem, of course, is that we just don't know.
The question now is how to fix these supply chains and get the information that is required to start driving effective carbon reduction initiatives - given they have already been in place for a couple of decades and relatively basic best practices such as communicating with partners and undertaking thorough audits are still well short of being universal it is obviously quite a challenge.
Perhaps the answer lies in not continuing to push these best practices - a Sisyphean task that appears to be making limited progress - but instead taking an entirely new approach altogether.
One of the most intriguing predictions in the Oracle study is that we will start to see the emergence of shared distribution networks whereby different firms, and in some cases even competitors, use the same logistics networks. In the case of retailers, for example, they already often outsource production to the same factories and farms, so why not do the repeat the trick with distribution? It is rare that distribution represents an area of competitive advantage and as such it makes sense to work with other firms and enjoy the carbon efficiencies, financial savings and greater ease of oversight that goes with that.
Another enticing prospect is that in order to gain the oversight they so desperately require firms will begin to take back control of their supply chains. American Apparel, one of the fastest growing clothes company's of recent years, is the poster child for this movement (and what posters they are), controlling almost every aspect of its supply chain and manufacturing the clothes in its own factories. The company has been so successful that others are bound to be taking notes.
Bringing an entire supply chain in house is likely to prove too daunting a prospect for most firms, even if there is a strong CSR and environmental case for doing so. But there are signs that firms are finally looking to co-operate with supply chain partners in a much more proactive manner than in the past. A group of high profile multinationals are now working with the Carbon Disclosure Project to routinely request carbon data from supply partners, while supply chain reforms sit at the heart of Wal-Mart's wide-reaching environmental programme.
We're also beginning to see more and more big multinationals starting to offer funding to their supply chain partners. IKEA this week pledged to invest €50m in clean tech start ups, responding to an absence of affordable green products by trying to kick start their development. The primary aim of such initiatives is to accelerate the emergence of new products that the retailers can then sell, but they also herald a more proactive approach to supply partner management - if you've got your own money invested in a firm you are more likely to keep a close eye on them.
There are certainly a fair few broken supply chains out there, but just maybe we are beginning to see a willingness to fix them.
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