Developing your Supply Chain Sustainable Leadership

Optilon Crew

This year Earth Overshoot Day will be (or was) July 28th. Every day after, we’re stealing from future generations. 156 days. That’s how many days, this year, we are going to be stealing from future generations, unless we have the courage to do something about it. 
This year’s (2022) overshoot day will fall a day earlier than last year. This is the day by which humanity has used up all of the biological resources that the Earth generates during the whole year. So every day after – 156 in 2022 – we are in planetary deficit, using up resources that won’t be regenerated.  Put in a different way, in 2022 we’re on track to use 75% more resources than the world’s eco-systems can regenerate, equivalent to “1.75 Earths”. This deficit spending is the biggest it’s been since the world entered into ecological overshoot in the early 1970s.

What can and should be done? A fundamental mindset shift is needed to build Supply Chains and businesses that are fit for the future. It does also require a different mindset in terms of leadership to get us there. In this blogpost, we will have a look at how you develop your approach to Supply Chain Sustainable Leadership.

Let’s start by having a look at what we know about the Nordic companies.

What we know about Nordic Supply Chains

Around 80% of all Nordic firms have sustainability goals that they work towards.

Danish firms are best in the Nordics on setting a target on eliminating GHG emissions from their businesses (64%), followed by Sweden (57%), Finland (47%) and Norway (42%).

Although Norway lags behind when it comes to setting a target for reducing GHG emissions, the Norwegian firms that have a target also have the most ambitious time frame. 83% aim to reach their target within the coming ten years. The corresponding number in Denmark and Sweden is 81%. Finland lags behind on 64%.

It is most common that Nordic companies measures and report Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Nordic companies include GHG emissions from transport and distribution, purchase of goods and services, waste management, and fuel and energy when measuring and reporting Scope 3. Companies that do not measure and report Scope 3 state that it is too costly and time-consuming, that they lack knowledge of how to do it, that their value chains are too complex with many suppliers, and that their customers do not demand it.

The key question is: How do Nordic companies make sustainable progress?

Ambitions are key

We have come a long way since 1970 when Milton Friedman became known for saying “The business of business is business”. We have by now acknowledged that companies play a vital role in social, political, environmental, and economic aspects of society and in the development of planet earth.

The hard truth is that the CSR and net-zero initiatives simply don’t go far enough. We now know that climate change is exponential: the worse it gets, the faster it goes. And when these approaches have the unintended consequence of lowering ambitions, masking incrementalism and letting companies off the hook for the speed and scale of change truly needed, they are actually part of the problem. 

It’s time we stop satisfying ourselves with insufficient and frankly timid ambitions that don’t meet the challenges at hand. If we are to once again live within our planetary boundaries we must divert the best of human ingenuity and collaboration towards transforming the systems by which we produce, use and consume.

Top leadership commitment is key

A company can plan for sustainable development and can continue to do with and without the consent of everyone working for the company. For sustainability really to have an impact it must be fully integrated into the company. This means that it must be a core part of the company’s DNA. The employees must, at the end of the day also need to understand and want to work with the integration of sustainability, otherwise, nothing happens.

A survey completed in 2010 made by the Network for Business Sustainability showed, that the top leadership engagement is the key factor for integrating sustainability. The employees are much more reluctant to show sustainable performance or act sustainably if the top leadership is driving the change. The survey showed that it outweighed personal values or individual environmental interests.

Purpose plays a vital role

Over the past 50 years, the predominant purpose of running a business has been to generate financial returns for the benefit of shareholders. When customers, resources, and the society that companies depend on suffer from inequality and environmental impact, the only right thing to do is to create a purpose-driven business.

Purpose-driven companies create value, not only for the shareholders but also for the stakeholder groups, including customers, suppliers, local communities, and employees who are engaged in the company. Does this mean that companies do not have to make money? No. The company can only thrive in a strong society, but that also applies the other way around.

Supply Chain plays a significant role in executing the strategy both in terms of employee involvement and commitment, cooperation with the ecosystem, and processing of the product portfolio. Supply Chain has historically been measured by its ability to keep costs as low as possible while providing profitable customer service.


Quite impractical, being purpose-driven means that additional stakeholders must be taken into account in the decision-making processes. This also means that the Supply Chain must not only think about delivering the product but they must to a large extent also think about how the product is delivered throughout the value chain. 

Employees demand purpose. Questions like: Why is the company working with sustainability? Supply Chain sustainability? How is it or will it be integrated into the business as well as what it exactly means for the company to achieve sustainable business results? Which activities will the company initiate and how will the company honor progress?

Key questions guiding your sustainable leadership approach

  • What are the company’s visions for employee engagement in the sustainable agenda? What are the key targets internally as well as the key story externally?
  • Where is the company’s vision for sustainability born and who owns it in the company – and perhaps also in the Supply Chain organization?
  • How can the employees take on responsibility for driving the sustainability agenda? What would the company like to achieve by their engagement?
  • How do you ensure that all relevant employees get engaged in the agenda?
  • Which governance processes and structures would need to be put in place to motivate and structure employee engagement in the sustainability agenda?
  • Who is responsible for securing progress?
  • Which tools could possibly support us in supporting employee engagement?
  • How do you ensure that the effort the employees contribute with is turned into something more tangible?

With inspiration from: Forretning for fremtiden, Succes med verdensmålene, Kristoffer Nilaus Tarp and Erik Thomas Johnsen, page 204

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