Sumit Dutta: Supply chain sustainability has become a top board-level topic but organizations struggle to move forward. How did you start this journey at Cox Enterprises?
Clarence Jackson: Cox was a pioneer when we started in 2007 with energy-saving goals to reduce our internal carbon footprint by 20% in 10 years, and we hit that early. Then we said, “OK, let’s be more comprehensive.” We wanted zero waste to landfill by 2024 and carbon and water neutrality by 2044, but we recently went through a strategic planning process a year and a half ago and accelerated the latter goals to 2034. This aligns with aggressive revenue targets and social goals as well. As part of that, we said, “Let’s look at our supply chain.” Our supply chain had been designed for efficiency — to get the freight moved and supplies on-time.
We had no idea what our impact was, but we thought it was big, because we spend billions on outsourced items, working with 50,000 suppliers. We worked with EY professionals to, first off, do a materiality assessment. We all knew we wanted to be sustainable, but where is the priority for us, our customers, investors and our board?
Then we analyzed our supply chain spend, which needed to be sourced from multiple databases. For about a year, we examined our climate impact within certain spending categories, with EY help, using a comprehensive environmental data set. For instance, in software, for every dollar spent, it has this much carbon, waste and water use. And we knew that some of our suppliers were much better than others on sustainability. Directionally, that spend analysis showed 13 categories and priorities, and we developed strategic processes on how to measure and address the very high-impact categories, such as electronics returns, packaging and transportation.
SD: One of the regular challenges we see in sustainable supply chains is where to focus. Most companies start their sustainability journey in procurement. However, there are also compliance, revenue enhancement and increased shareholder value opportunities. As you went through the journey, how did you prioritize your efforts?
CJ: In 2020, our VP of Corporate Social Responsibility made environmental, social and governance (ESG) a bigger priority. We brought EY professionals back in again to look at our areas of focus and specific metrics, and sustainable supply chain was part of that, including supplier diversity measurements. We hadn’t been auditing our suppliers, and we assumed that, since we were a service business, we had minimal supplier risk. We weren’t monitoring risk from an environmental or sourcing standpoint. So, we came up with a list of things to check off and focus on and based on the prior analysis we knew which categories had the highest impact.
We focused on the short-term wins, and now we’re on to longer-term projects, like sustainability programs around coaxial cable and electronics. In electronics, we had processes in place for reuse and recycling. Next, we put the environmental priority on that and closed the loop: recycling is awesome, but we’d rather keep it in our business and remanufacture it, like TV remote controls. We work with non-profits to do that work, so there’s a social aspect as well.