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Supply Chain

About the Sustainable Supply Chain Community

The value of a sustainable supply chain is clear and many organizations within industry, government, academia and the non-profit arena have the tools, lessons learned and practical guidance on how to achieve one. The Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice seeks to make this existing data broadly available so that all participants benefit. In addition to datasets, the Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice focuses on sharing best practices in leveraging supplier relationships to reduce environmental impacts and other inefficiencies and risk factors throughout a supply chain.

The Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice is an outgrowth of the GreenGov Supply Chain Partnership Program, which sought to incentivize federal suppliers to complete Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions inventories. Federal agencies are required to complete yearly GHG emissions inventories and while the inclusion of vendor GHG emissions (part of Scope 3 emissions) is currently voluntary, agencies are interested in knowing how much of their GHG emissions are embedded in their supply chain, i.e., a result of their suppliers’ emissions.

During the early part of 2011, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) held listening sessions around the country to learn from federal suppliers the benefits and challenges associated with completing a GHG emissions inventory. Many of the top 100 US federal suppliers are not only already completing Scope 1 & 2 GHG emissions inventories for their own operations; they are also starting to engage their suppliers in GHG inventory completion (this constitutes Scope 3 emissions). They recognize that the act of identifying and reducing GHG emissions provides cost savings, as well as increases a company’s competitiveness in international markets.

Along with tracking GHG emissions, these same suppliers are also tracking and reducing additional relevant environmental impacts within their operations and supply chain. Other leading companies, academic institutions and non-profit organizations are also increasingly focused on sustainable supply chains as a source of cost savings, innovation and competitive advantage. Recognizing that sustainable supply chains are important to a broad number of stakeholders, GSA initiated the Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice. The community’s goal is to encourage sharing practical information, such as checklists, tutorials and other supplier engagement tools that businesses, especially small and medium-sized, can use to cost effectively improve the efficiency of their operations and increase the sustainability of their supply chain within their market sector. Through fostering an inclusive and transparent community of practice, all stakeholders benefit by gaining access to practices that can increase their efficiency, reduce risks, increase competitiveness, highlight areas of innovation and achieve more sustainable supply chains.

Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice Coordinator
Nancy Gillis

Building a Community of Practice

The concept of a community of practice can be traced back to the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), a 1986 spin off from the Palo Alto Research Center. IRL was a nonprofit research organization of linguists, anthropologists, computer scientists and professional teachers who believed that people learn less through formal instruction and more through social interactions. Eiteene Wenger, a teacher and PhD in artificial intelligence, joined IRL along with anthropologist Jean Lave and they developed the theory of “Situated Learning" which they published in a 1991 book of the same name. Their concept, in a nutshell, was that communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

According to Wenger, there are three elements that are crucial in distinguishing a community of practice from other groups and communities:

  1. The domain: A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.
  2. The community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice, and members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis.
  3. The practice: A community of practice is not merely a community of interest—people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction.

The Sustainable Supply Chain Community of Practice differs from the other hosted communities because it seeks to share best practices from all who are active in supply chain sustainability, not just government data sets.