Sustainability has become ever-prominent for many chemical distributors' growth strategies and will inevitably remain one of the key drivers for our industry moving forward.
But what does all of that mean? What role do distributors play in the supply chain and how can they offer support as we strive for a more sustainable future?
All these questions and more were raised during our recent webinar featuring two guest speakers from Univar Solutions: Liam McCarroll, Sustainability Director – Global and Brian Jurcak, Vice President – Product Marketing Management.
The enlightening session provided their perspective on the importance and relevance of this important issue for chemical distributors and steps they can take to adapt and evolve.
Chemical distributors sit in a unique position and will continue to play an increasingly central role in sustainability, said McCarroll. “I don't believe we can truly achieve the shared objectives of our customers and suppliers if we're not all part of the journey.”
“Sustainable business is an opportunity for chemical distributors to be part of the solutions that our customers and our suppliers are already working to develop and deliver on,” he acknowledged.
Jurcak pointed out that pressures are mounting to integrate further environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into both our near- and long-term plans. Until fairly recently, he said, ESG had been seen as an initiative rather than being woven into the framework of operating a business.
“It's about making a positive impact with everything we do and how we act. This is something that's relatively new in the way we operate our businesses as chemical distributors,” he said.
In fact, the modern distributor must consider four key elements regarding sustainability: supporting the supplier, helping the customer, the marketing component, as well as improving their own footprint.
“In the past year, I've watched a lot of suppliers integrate ESG into their expectations,” added Jurcak. “It’s our job as a distributor to convey that integration to the marketplace as a force multiplier with passion to our customer base. For the small- to medium-sized customers that may not have the base of ESG knowledge that a large corporation may have, it's our job to help them along and influence them.”
“For the customer, it’s about providing the solutions to help them minimize waste and become more efficient.”
Setting ambitious goals and guidelines, taking new products to market and promoting them, as well as raising efforts to minimize our carbon footprint is imperative, he said.
The big question is, how can distributors balance sustainability concerns with the need to achieve their business objectives and meet customer demand?
Ultimately, sustainability should be treated as a metaphorical three-legged stool, suggested McCarroll, with each leg representing environmental, social, and economic factors. “All three of them have to work otherwise the stool falls over.”
“It's important to put into context the scale and importance of the challenges we face and understand that we have to make it work against all three of those factors.”
This is a long game and chemical distributors must look beyond just the next few years and invest in areas that will help reduce emissions, cut waste, and improve efficiencies. Financially, legally, ethically, and reputationally; these investments are needed for a successful future.
“Investing now in more sustainable means of operations enables us to avoid the increased cost of inaction,” he said.
The pursuit of sustainability is certainly a good thing for business, although it will take time and a lot of hard work to achieve the desired goals. This will be a long and expensive journey and will require a great deal of support. With chemical distributors as a key link between customers and suppliers, it is our job to play a significant role in this transition moving forward.
For those of you who missed the recent webinar, The Distributors’ Role in Sustainability, you can access the recording with additional examples of sustainable practices for distributors at https://www.nacd.com/pub/D656AA6C-0140-08BC-C864-F9EB4CEAD3EB.