Eco-design and the Supply Chain:
Influence Suppliers

Eco-Design Case Study:
Cable & Wireless (C&W)


Cable & Wireless (C&W) in the UK is keen to responsibly manage its environmental impacts across the enterprise. Realising that telecommunications and other electronic products can be a source of a number of these impacts, C&W initiated a project of awareness-raising among its suppliers, with the ultimate aim of seeing cleaner manufacturing processes put in place, and cleaner products (components, sub-assemblies, systems) supplied to the company. There was also the issue of the emission of greenhouse gases from operating C&W's network: one way to combat these gases was to look at the energy requirements of equipment and seek energy efficient solutions. The company worked closely with The Centre for Sustainable Design (CfSD) during a programme of information gathering and awareness-raising.

Changing attitudes in the supply chain is an exercise that takes time and expertise but can put all parties in a stronger position commercially, while making a contribution to a cleaner environment. C&W began in 1998 to consider supply chain attitudes and their affect on end products and manufacturing processes. This was important as C&W provides services and does not manufacture anything.

One driver for this was proposed European directives aimed at reducing the amount of waste to landfill, and the use of certain toxic substances, such as cadmium and lead.

However, C&W had already initiated a Round Table with Nortel and both their respective corporate customers and suppliers on the environmental impact of telecommunications, before the directives were announced. Martin Charter, Visiting Professor at CfSD, had been a member of early discussions about environment and supply chain issues and sat in on this Round Table.

"First, we wanted to gauge the Round Table's reaction. Our own interest was in how the supply chain could best be influenced by C&W" says Mark Cannon, Environment Manager at Cable & Wireless, "because suppliers manufacture the products which we use in our network."

At the end of 1998, CfSD received investment from the EC to manage and develop the ETMUEL (Eco-design Training for Manufacture, Use and End of Life Management) project in the UK. Shortly afterwards, C&W decided to participate in ETMUEL with a view to reaching suppliers in the telecommunications and electronics sectors, via C&W's supply chain.

Suggestions for influencing the supply chain came from CfSD, based in the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, University College. CfSD had developed a training programme to assist companies in meeting the directive, and was keen to "reach" small and medium sized (SME) supplier organisations in supply chains, especially those chains supplying large corporates such as C&W.

The proposed directives themselves are (i) WEEE - Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment - and (ii) Restriction of the Use of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment, and (iii) recently, EEE, a so-called Eco Design directive, which focuses on the reduction of environmental impact of electrical and electronic equipment through the lifecycle.

Over the period of the C&W project there have been various drafts of the directives, demonstrating that the directives exist in a dynamic environment that must be tracked. "One small change in the directives could be significant for companies like C&W," says Martin Charter. "CfSD has kept C&W informed of all the developments."

To raise awareness, CfSD and C&W organised two workshops for a range of managers and engineers. These built up a critical mass of interest in the project - vitally important in an industry where decision makers have less and less time to do more and more…and where the C&W project was jostling for attention alongside other projects.

"To progress the project internally, it was important to get on board our head of Supply Chain Management - and those internal people who specify equipment, e.g, transport equipment," says Cannon.

To do this, the Supply Chain Management and Transport Technology departments were invited to a training session with CfSD. The main focus was on power/energy consumption of the equipment bought in - and cooling requirements, as coolers use ozone depleters in refrigerants.

One objective of the meeting was to explain why eco-design was important to C&W as a non manufacturer. "We spoke about the potential implications of WEEE, for example in product take-back at the end of life," says Cannon.

"It was beneficial to link in bottom line costs to the business to help Senior Managers understand why eco-design was important for C&W, even though we do not manufacture. Energy is a big cost to the business and one of our most significant environmental impacts are GHG emissions from its use. By tying the two areas together it was clear that our suppliers equipment design criteria affected us on both counts - cost and impact.

"We raised this issue with suppliers in an open forum, letting them know that we were aware of the situation and asking for their input to help reduce our impact, which I believe helps them become more competitive."

When the departmental senior managers agreed that C&W should move the project forward, CfSD conducted awareness raising workshops among supply chain executives, in order to establish a knowledge baseline; these workshops included the use of simple eco-design tools. "We then reached agreement with the head of Supply Chain that we would amend the Request For Quote (RFQ), which would include a number of environmental and health and safety questions."

The aim of this RFQ was to establish if any environmental management systems were in place in C&W's suppliers.

"Our aim is to lessen the environmental impact of products we buy in and raise awareness among the supply chain" says Cannon. "We wanted to communicate to suppliers that C&W was considering the amendment in its buying policies."

The next stage of the project was to work closely with a selected number of suppliers, via a workshop hosted by CfSD and C&W.

"The workshop included some good, open discussion and was an opportunity to share information within the confines of commercial confidentiality. We also discussed potential problems arising out of supplier acquisitions - for example, how to bring newly acquired companies in line with the new environmental standards being discussed," says Cannon.

Benefits of the project

The drive to raise the visibility of eco-design, both internally and in the supply chain - and to influence the supply chain - has led to better environmental and eco-design awareness, says Mark Cannon. "There is an increasing realisation that environmental management needs to be implemented, where it is not yet in place - and to see if it can be improved where it is already used."

Prior to the initiation of the project, environmental and health and safety criteria had not been applied consistently to preferred suppliers. "The project has progressed and we can now tell these suppliers that our aim is to weight the criteria as part of the overall assessment of a supplier."

So, the project has resulted in better management by C&W of business processes as well as increased eco-design awareness in then supply chain. But has it resulted in "cleaner" products and manufacturing processes?

"Probably not just yet," is Cannon's response. "Most of our suppliers are now actively seeking to improve the environmental impact of their products. It will take a while before results are seen - that is often the case when newly acquired knowledge has to be assimilated into business culture and then translated into results."

Commenting on the strengths and benefits of the CfSD approach, Mark Cannon says: "CfSD have provided an independent, non sector perspective. They have been able to ask the "obvious" questions that may have been missed or simply accepted as "business as usual". In addition, CfSD helped to demonstrate to senior managers that to remain efficient and competitive, technical specifications need to encompass more than functionality and capital expenditure and extend to whole of life operating costs."

From Martin Charter's viewpoint, CfSD brought to the project both awareness and workshop facilitation skills, "as well as leading edge knowledge on ec-design and up-to-date legislative awareness." In addition CfSD "helped to keep the project business rather than technology focused…we explained what legislation meant in business terms. Communicating the message was key and Mark Cannon played a vital role in helping to 'translate' that to be meaningful to the C&W business culture."