This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Nate Sullivan of Efficiency Exchange, provider of sustainability software and services to manufacturers. He highlights some of the challenges faced by Chinese factories in implementing their sustainable supply chain programs.
4. How much time and effort should a supplier factory reasonably expect to spend on tracking and reporting sustainability information to their customers?
Given how hard customers are going to push them on price, we think the focus really needs to be on driving that time and effort down to zero. One of the things that really drove us to build Charge the way we did was seeing how all this compliance data was not being used to provide any value to factories -- all the time they theoretically spent gathering and vetting that information was essentially spent checking a box that didn't create any value for them. That's not the way it has to be, or should be. When factories meet sustainability requirements through Charge, they're doing it without spending any time solely on compliance -- they are spending that time figuring out how to run their factory more cost-effectively, and then as a secondary benefit that data is helping them show that they meet compliance standards. Everybody still gets what they want, but nobody is sitting there trying to figure out whether the time is well spent, because the benefits of spending it are much more direct.
5. When done correctly, what are the bottom-line benefits that a supplier factory should see when implementing sustainability initiatives? (feel free to use EEX-specific examples!)
From the factory perspective, sustainability initiatives can have several possible benefits, if done right. First of all, there's reduced cost in the form of energy, water use, steam, natural gas, or whatever resource is being used less. There are some big benefits there, but obviously the "doing it right" part here is important, because factories need to be targeting the sustainability projects that make economic sense first and foremost. That's why Charge starts with energy -- we found energy costs and consumption to be something that factories could attack aggressively, reducing cost without slowing business growth. But there are opportunities in other fields, and Charge is going to add all of those to it's core capabilities.
Other than cost reduction, the biggest benefit to any sustainability project is becoming more appealing to customers, and that's a big part of where we see Charge going in terms of it's relationship to buyers and brands. It's a top line benefit instead of bottom line, but the idea behind Charge's connection to retailers is ultimately to match the best suppliers to the best retailers. Charge looks at your operational data, and tells you "hey, you are currently meeting the requirements for the following potential customers", and vice versa. That introduces you to new customers who are excited to work with you, and it ties successful sustainability projects to new business and more revenue, which really changes the motivational calculus for factories. Instead of seeing sustainability as this horrible paperwork/audit driven obstacle, it becomes something factories actively seek out, because the better they operate, the more customers they can find, and the better those customers will be for the business. I think that's already the somewhat cartoonishly-optimistic perception of sustainability, especially in the west, but until EEx came around, I don't think anyone was out there building the tools and relationships necessary for that to become reality at the factory level. That's something that we are really, really excited to do for them.
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