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Collaboration: lack of trust is the main challenge to overcome

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

In a car, around 28.000 parts are assembled, made out of thousand different materials. One of the biggest sustainability issues in the automotive is the responsible sourcing of raw materials. To tackle these, Drive Sustainability, a collaborative partnership, was set up a few years ago. 

BMW is a member (Lead Partner) of the automotive partnership Drive Sustainability.  Facilitated by CSR Europe, the Partnership aims to drive sustainability throughout the automotive supply chain by promoting a common approach within the industry and by integrating sustainability in the overall procurement process. We have interviewed Ferdinand Geckeler, Sustainability Manager at BMW on the benefits of collaboration.

What makes Drive Sustainability a well-oiled platform according to you? How important is ‘Collaboration’ in that process?

Ferdinand Geckeler: I think that Drive Sustainability is a well – oiled platform, because three fundamental aspects make it possible to work collaboratively.

  • First, top management commitment. Straight from the very start of the Drive Sustainability initiative, it was clear that the commitment of our CEOs was an essential base to push for improvement on sustainability performance of the member companies.
  • The second aspect is the supply chain integration and integration of standardized tools in the procurement processes. This calls for process alignment and standardisation of every tool that we develop, like for instance the Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) for suppliers.  Collaboration with other companies through joint activities is an enabler to achieve impact.  The more companies use the same tool on the same way, the more impact we create!
  • The third one is related to raw material issues. Stakeholders are increasingly concerned about sustainability performance in our industry. With the Raw Materials report Drive Sustainability launched, I think that most stakeholders, especially NGOs such as Bread for the World are now considering us in a different way.

Collaboration is now at the heart of our work, and our goal is to contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs based on the OECD Due Diligence Guidance.

How do you find collaboration with competitors? And NGOs?

F.G.: Competition is important, and we all need it. We all want to sell cars or other products and mobility services. However, without standardization we have no chance. Besides the vast range of supply chain activities that each partner performs individually, achieving greater impact requires collaboration. The main challenge however is lack of trust, especially at the beginning. Sometimes companies disagree on issues and take competition as an argument. In the long run, collaboration emerges as the common ground to ensure standardisation on basic work related to sustainability. Climate change, for instance, binds us together to agree on tools aimed at measuring CO2 emissions. These are challenges that can only be addressed through collaboration, rather than competition. No company can achieve all the industry’s requirement alone.

Can you think of a concrete example, where collaboration between stakeholders around Drive Sustainability, was a clear accelerator in getting impact and results?

F.G. Setting up a joint SAQ for suppliers was a major milestone. Back in 2014, BMW was the first automotive manufacturer implementing the SAQ in its procurement process. Within Drive Sustainability, asking suppliers to fill in the SAQ is now increasingly becoming the standard for the automotive industry, with companies using it exactly as we do. The SAQ enables us to address the three steps of the OECD Due Diligence, namely: identify risks, agree on corrective actions and continuous performance monitoring.

In order to collaborate effectively, do you think a manager needs specific skills? If so, which ones?

Indeed, I think that effective collaboration within our type of industry requires a manager to have different skills. He/she needs to be familiar with the procurement process and understand the buyer’s mindset and expectations. In addition, it is vital to understand the specificities of buying products for the automotive industry and be able to integrate different sustainability aspects in the daily business operations. In my case, I can build effective collaboration because I have a comprehensive insight on sustainability matters as result of combining different skills, including environmental economy, communications and supply chain management.

Any drawbacks?

The main drawback is that our economic system in Europe does not recognize sustainability. I think that we need to add legislation like a supply chain transparency regulation to improve the system step by step, in order to tune the economic machine in a sustainable way.