Charting a Path Forward in the Storm of COVID-19

Most mountaineers and backcountry explorers will tell you that when a storm descends that often the best thing to do is to actually do nothing. Conventional wisdom says settle in, get safe and ride it out. Scrambling around on the edge of a steep slope in the clouds and swirling snow is usually a recipe for disaster. But when a crisis occurs it’s hard to resist the urge to ‘do something’ – and to do it right now!

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global crisis. We’ve never experienced this paralyzing halt in our normal way of life. And so over the last six weeks, our team at Reeve Consulting has been trying our best to follow the sage advice of explorers and first responders to stay put, stay calm and listen. We’ve focused on our people, our projects and our partners while we wait out the storm. It’s been incredibly hard. The situation has been so dynamic – with an intensity to the crisis and economic shut down that was almost impossible to imagine.

As we begin to understand the enormity of the situation, we’ve been seeing huge needs within our supply chain and procurement communities. It has inspired us to take action and connect with our clients and our members of the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP) to see how we can help address the enormous supply chain challenges they are facing. Whether it’s securing adequate and reasonably priced PPE, ensuring the continuity of contracts with smaller suppliers who have seen global supply chains turned upside down, or simply managing the challenge of continuing to offer seamless procurement and supply chain services in the midst of a sudden and unexpected transition to remote work and telecommuting.

The recent CCSP Peer Exchange on April 16, 2020 highlighted how many challenges supply chain professionals are facing right now – and the incredible pressure they are under to secure adequate supply in a time of unprecedented competition for product. This has been further compounded by the fragility of global supply chains that bring certain benefits and efficiencies but leave many communities completely disconnected from some of the critical suppliers and inputs that are absolutely essential to us. It was amazing to see our members respond to the call to share information and resources to manage issues in real time – and then to be able to document those resources and make them available broadly to our members and others.

We know the first job is to stabilize the health and safety of workers and the public at large. But it’s coming with some direct sustainability costs and we are already hearing about the impacts of dysfunctional supply chains under pressure from COVID-19. As we scramble to assemble necessary supplies and PPE for front line workers from far flung regions around the world, one can only imagine the cost that will come in terms of packaging and waste and transportation emissions. The temptation to move towards more single-use and disposable products may be a huge step backwards in our efforts towards Zero Waste.

We’ll be monitoring these unintended consequences and hope that an outcome of this pandemic is an overhaul of how we think about our supply chains. Let’s continue to pause and reconsider the value of producing more products domestically, the role that small and local businesses play in our economy, what it means to really think about ‘best value’ and ‘total cost’ when it comes to how and where essential products like our food are produced, and the working conditions of people caring for our most vulnerable populations.

We know this storm isn’t over – but we do see skies brightening at the moment – and that’s giving us the chance to chart our course and take action. As we consider the post COVID-19 recovery let’s take this opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that is more respectful of workers and the planet.

By: Tim Reeve, President of Reeve Consulting and Founder of the Canadian Collaboration of Sustainable Procurement 

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