As the global population grows and resources become increasingly strained, the concept of sustainability has picked up traction. While the rest of the country is just jumping onboard, Seattle has long been an advocate for sustainable practices; in fact, Seattle has garnered global attention for its practices, and was ranked the third most sustainable North American city in the 2018 Sustainable Cities Index. As a region reliant on natural resources like fish and timber for its livelihood, sustainability is no foreign concept. For years, local advocates, legislators, and community members have put sustainability at the forefront of their conversations about the city’s resources.
Today, the practice has grown to include global commodities. Case in point, Seattle local Theo Chocolate is a fair-trade, organic chocolate company boasting pure ingredients grown in a sustainable way. Since its opening, Theo has committed to practices that enable farmers to increase their resilience for now, and for the future.
“You’ve got a lot of companies who are deeply ingrained in the way they’ve always done business, which is to beat the crap out of suppliers,” says Kate Vitasek, Visiting Lecturer of Sourcing in the Master of Supply Chain Management program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. But, as business is increasingly seen as a driver of social, environmental, and economic problems in the public eye, there is growing demand for accountability from the corporate world. “The reality is, if it isn’t good for society it isn’t good for business,” Vitasek says.
New, long term ideologies rooted in vested partnerships, shared value, sustainability, and social responsibility are taking root in companies large and small, forcing the business world to reckon with itself. It is a welcome change for companies like Theo, who believe it just makes sense. “This isn’t just about doing good or adding on social programs. We want to know which practices we need to engage in now to ensure we are robust in 20 years,” says Emily Benson, Supply Chain Impact Manager at Theo Chocolate. Social responsibility and sustainability are the backbone of the Theo brand.
Theo has established strategic partnerships with cocoa suppliers and tackled farming community issues head on. They consistently pay two to three times the market price for the beans they buy in order to support their farmers. Even then, the farmers’ living situation is still fraught with hardship, Benson shared. “We can’t solve this problem alone,” she continues. Other companies use social responsibility programs to address the problems seen in farming communities in the Congo. “But that’s just to dodge the fact that prices that are too low to sustain people. We deal with externalities by paying a higher price now; it’s part of our enduring mission.”
Supply chain executives are increasingly focused on sustainable practices throughout their supply chain, which means professionals must understand both the issues at hand and the tools they can use to solve them. “At MSCM, we are teaching students to think strategically about the things companies buy and which sourcing models are appropriate in different situations,” Vitasek says. Students are taught a framework of attributes they can use to find the right sourcing model for any business. No matter the model, Vitasek ensures teachings come with a long-term plan. “Laws are changing to look at best value, companies are becoming more conscious, and consumers are demanding more transparency,” she told us. “Business evolves. This is a movement.”
The Master of Supply Chain Management program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business can prepare professionals with both the tactical skills needed to create sourcing models and the strategic thinking it takes to tackle global issues, like the ones we see with sustainability. MSCM also has partnerships with industry leaders from Seattle’s world-class multinational supply chain community and is engaged in a strategic expansion of a partner network geared toward enriching student’s understanding of these issues in real time. MSCM is a program that understands tools, business acumen, and keeps pace on what the industry needs from supply chain professionals.
To learn more check out the UW Foster School of Business Master of Supply Chain Management Program.