Telling the story

I attended the Loyola Supply Chain Summit in Chicago on October 20, and in listening to the speakers at the event, it has  inspired this and the next blog post. If there was over-riding theme to the conference, it was sustainable supply chains can be economically viable.

Francesca Debase, Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer for McDonald’s closed the conference with her presentation entitled: “How not to be the Falling Tree in the Forest”. Her message was simple, if the supply chain has a major success be sure to tell the story and not be like the fallen tree in a forest which nobody hears when it falls.

Her story has much to do with sustainability but also equally important the need for supply chain visibility. Earlier in her career, she was based in Europe and arrived at work one day with Greenpeace demonstrators in chicken outfits protesting the defoliation of the Amazon, Forests were being cut down to be used to raise soy beans to feed chickens whose food was used in McNuggets. Though she do not say this in the speech, I read this as being a  total surprise to the organization as it did not have visibility in the supply chain this many layers down.

It is hard to know what your supplier suppliers are doing, unless you make a concerted effort to dig down. The demonstrations caused McDonald’s to look. Ultimately it joined with its suppliers including Cargill, to create a sustainable soy bean council which put a  moratorium on the use of defoliate land in the Amazon. It was implied in the speech this will be on going. Here is Greenpeace’s web page from that 2006 period:

Her presentation’s point was that it was enough to do the right thing or be successful. It is important to get the word out, not just to your people, your company officers but to others  such as your customers. It is important to tell your story to be successful in the long run.

Just a further comment on this process. Yes, McDonald’s did not want to the PR embarrassment and potential lost sales for defoliating the Amazon. It what the cynics will view the motivation for their actions. And certainly that was an element.  My take on this is, that individual’s values do make a difference. Hollywood’s films make all business people greedy misers, but your values can make a difference. Finding ways to economically sustainable while maintaining those important values very much rests on the individuals in the corporations to make that difference.




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