Meanwhile organisations like Provenance are building digital platforms that allow businesses – in the food industry, for example – to make themselves traceable. In the case of Provenance, the start-up is using blockchain to help business owners validate the authenticity of goods and create digital passports for every product.
“The potential benefits of blockchain are that it will reduce inefficiency, fraud and any unethical practices by offering even greater transparency, particularly with regards to production and shipping and transportation,” says Roehrich.
Once a company has shored up its supply chain, the challenge is to communicate this to the stakeholders further downstream and, eventually, potential customers and end users. One way of achieving this is through certification.
“Certification provides an internationally accepted framework for sustainable practice, which is regularly updated to incorporate new science and any supply-chain concerns,” says Sophie Persey, senior programme manager for the Rainforest Alliance’s LandScale initiative.
“In the case of the Alliance’s green frog seal, it connects customers [and stakeholders] and businesses that are committed to making responsible purchasing decisions with farms that have been independently verified to meet these standards,” she says.
By displaying a certification logo on packaging and marketing materials, SMEs can also strengthen their brand and create new market opportunities for themselves.
An issue often overlooked in less-digitised industries such as agriculture is cyber security: a responsible supply chain should also be a protected one.
Two thirds of companies have experienced a cyber attack on their supply chain software, according to a survey by security firm CrowdStrike.
Duncan Sutcliffe, director of Sutcliffe & Co Insurance Brokers, says: “GCHQ recommends all businesses achieve a cyber essentials certification as a minimum – this will give them a good baseline of cyber hygiene. GCHQ believes it will stop 80% of threats, while Lancaster University has published research suggesting it could reduce the risk by up to 99%.
“The likes of farming SMEs may soon be told to get certified if they’re to retain or win supply contracts.”
Share information with stakeholders
Any uncertainties business owners may have about what’s required of them or other supply-chain stakeholders can be alleviated through honest and open discussions.
“I’d advise that business owners hold both formal meetings and informal ‘relationship away days’ to meet with supply chain partners to exchange information, air problems and challenges, and then jointly develop solutions to address them,” says Roehrich.
Sharing information is fundamental – yet, as has been seen in the past with events like the horsemeat scandal, often an issue only becomes actioned once a problem has arisen in the supply chain.
“In order to mitigate any risks, SMEs need to share information regularly,” Roehrich adds. “This will help ensure that the supply chain is healthy and sustainable.”
Five quick tips for sustainable supply-chain management
- Map your supply chain, so you understand the challenges you and your suppliers face.
- Collaborate with other stakeholders, so you can work together to address any concerns or areas that need improving.
- Communicate your vision and establish goals – monitoring performance will ensure you stay on track to meet the targets set.
- Invest in software to automate the purchasing side of the business. This will help save you time and money in the long run.
- Remember certification – it’s one of the best ways to demonstrate to stakeholders and customers that you’re committed to sustainability and being environmentally responsible.