February 20, 2024

From Pilot to Scale: Launching Effective Supply Chain Initiatives

February 20, 2024

From Pilot to Scale: Launching Effective Supply Chain Initiatives

February 20, 2024

From Pilot to Scale: Launching Effective Supply Chain Initiatives

February 2024

From Pilot to Scale: Launching Effective Supply Chain Initiatives

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This week we sat down with David Quass, Senior Director of Sustainability for EMEA at VF Corporation (VF), to understand how VF transitions supply chain initiatives from effective pilots to scale-ups.

VF is the parent company of iconic outdoor brands including The North Face, Timberland, Vans, Napapijri and Dickies. In 2019, VF set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative, to reduce their absolute Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 55% and absolute Scope 3 GHG emissions from purchased goods and services and upstream transportation 30% by 2030. VF focuses a lot of their reduction efforts on transforming material use - providing us with a lot (I mean A LOT) of experiences to draw lessons from!

David is at the helm of VF’s EMEA sustainability strategy, spearheading their sustainability roadmap, driving efficiency improvements across brands and enabling tools (e.g., product labelling, LCAs at scale) to help brands implement their strategies.

Sustainability Team Setup: VF’s central corporate sustainability team comprises 20 professionals globally, with 6 based in the EMEA region. Each brand also houses independent sustainability leaders and teams.

David’s top tips for building a sustainability team:

  • Divide and conquer. Individuals who are closest to the products and emission drivers are best placed to own the implementation problem. On the flip side, infrastructure and horizontal strategy planning are best tackled from a centralised point.
  • Adopt a flexible hiring approach. Sustainability needs are changing pretty rapidly. Flexible hiring allows you to better understand how to shape resources to align with the changing landscape over time. At the moment, the VF EMEA sustainability team includes expertise covering: data analytics, internal audit, finance, risk analysis, and LCA modelling. This is a really strong mix of skill sets to address current sustainability needs.

Let’s dig into a key initiative that VF piloted: Regenerative Rubber

VF sponsored a 3-year pilot to build the industry’s first regenerative rubber supply chain, partnering with Terra Genesis International — a regenerative design and development firm connecting brands with growers. The pilot aims to scale regenerative natural rubber production (a critical material in many of their brand’s product lines).

In 2023, the Timberland®, The North Face® and the Vans® brands launched footwear lines made with natural rubber grown using regenerative practices (e.g., the Vans Ultrarange NEO VR3.)

Key (relatable) challenges:

  • Feasibility. Establishing a supply chain from dedicated farms in Thailand all the way to finished goods production.
  • Desirability. Meeting consumer expectations on product performance of the final footwear outsole.
  • Viability. Introducing a new raw material stream in an economically viable way, thus allowing for scale into the business and signalling demand to growers to transition to growing natural rubber with regenerative practices.

David’s learnings:

  • Longevity. Good things take time. VF started to work on conceptualisation 3 years before products hit shelves. Make sure you plan and budget against a realistic runway. Communicate these timelines to stakeholders to manage expectations and secure continued buy-in.
  • Testing. Setting up a new initiative creates a series of challenges, from establishing and securing supply to ensuring the compound works in product specs. You will rarely get your desired outcome the first time around. Assign budget and plan for testing, testing, and…more testing.
  • Find the right partner: Assess and shortlist your suppliers. Engagement is expensive and not all suppliers are going to be suitable partners. Take into consideration materiality, spend, sustainability maturity, and risk to find a relevant (much smaller) pool of potential partners.
  • Look for win-win situations. Pilots require you to navigate a complex stakeholder landscape - from growers to external stakeholders, to suppliers of finished goods, to Brand needs, to consumer expectations, to economic necessities, to sustainability benefits. They work best when you are coming to solve a genuine shared problem or realising an opportunity.
  • Commitment. It’s easy to get absorbed in timelines, cost and partner conversations. Always link your activities back to the ‘why’ - seeing farmed land that uses regenerative practices, the amount of biodiversity and the multiple tunes of birds contrasted to conventional land is all the more reason to overcome any challenge.

Interested in learning more? Check out VF’s Environmental and Social Responsibility Report.

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