A New Approach to Sustainable Supply-Chain Finance

Sustainable supply chain management is gaining importance globally as companies recognize the significance of reducing their environmental footprint, mitigating social risks, and meeting evolving consumer demands. To achieve long-term business success and meet stakeholder expectations, companies need to adopt a comprehensive approach to managing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.

Stakeholder engagement is a crucial aspect of sustainable supply chain management; it includes communicating with and involving various groups that have an interest in or influence on the supply chain, such as suppliers, customers, employees, communities, regulators, and investors. This engagement helps companies:

  • Understand the needs and expectations of their stakeholders
  • Align their goals and strategies 
  • Build trust and credibility
  • Facilitate innovation, learning, and problem-solving by leveraging the diverse perspectives and expertise of different investors

Businesses that want to be sustainable need to adapt their supply chain finance (SCF) programs to the changing needs of their suppliers, who are expected to follow environmental and social best practices.

This blog will explore some of the key topics covered in a recent roundtable session I hosted, with special guests from NTT DATA, BBVA, and Quantexa also taking part in the conversation.

Implementing ESG Goals Across the Supply Chain

One way to achieve ESG goals is to involve suppliers—especially if they are small and medium enterprises (SMEs)—in sustainable sourcing policies, better working conditions, and environmental impact reduction within their supply chain. Anchor buyers can influence their SME suppliers to address these issues by providing them with guidance and support. However, SME suppliers may face additional costs when they have to report and change their behavior to meet ESG standards.

SCF schemes can help SME suppliers adopt their anchor buyers’ sustainable practices and align with their ESG targets by offering them fair benefits and rewards. One way to support SMEs and ESG goals is to implement sustainability-linked SCF programs. These programs use financial incentives to motivate suppliers to meet sustainability standards, report accurately, and adopt sustainable business practices. By using digital applications, SCF programs can provide flexible and affordable financing to SME suppliers and help them improve their cash flow and working capital.

Corporate sustainability is a key factor for banks to consider in their financing and investment decisions. By applying different pricing segments based on ESG ratings, banks can incentivize corporate sustainability and reward responsible businesses practices. Innovative technology can help banks exchange crucial information efficiently and make informed decisions in real time.

However, to ensure a consistent and transparent approach, a standardized industry framework is needed to assess the impacts of climate, social, and organizational changes on cash flows and to ensure comparable sustainable reporting data.

Using ESG Data to Make More Informed Decisions

Sustainability is a key driver of change in supply chain management, as it requires a holistic and long-term perspective that balances environmental, social, and economic factors. Sustainable principles are embedded in the financing process of supply chain operations, enhancing stakeholder engagement and value creation. Sustainable procurement is a process that integrates ESG factors into procurement decisions and practices, while balancing financial, environmental, and social considerations throughout the entire value chain.

Businesses need to prioritize sustainability in their supply chain management and finance practices to align with stakeholder expectations and drive long-term success. By adopting a comprehensive approach that integrates ESG factors and involves stakeholder engagement, companies can gain competitive advantage, avoid reputational damage, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Sustainability-linked SCF solutions are emerging as a new asset class for banks to meet the growing demand from clients for environmentally responsible and socially impactful initiatives. Organizations can promote more inclusive value chains by integrating social initiatives into SCF.

In response to the increasing emphasis on ESG standards by large corporations, which require their suppliers to comply with sustainability criteria, integrating SCF with ESG can bring mutual benefits for (large) buyers and (small) suppliers. Financial institutions are proactively developing ESG-linked products and services to extend the advantages of sustainable financing to their clients.

To make informed decisions, financial institutions should thoroughly assess ESG data from various sources and stages. The need for standardized information is becoming more crucial as regulatory bodies impose stricter transparency requirements in investment banking and capital markets. Industry stakeholders must collaborate and establish a uniform framework for disclosing information to decision-makers, ensuring compliance with regulations, and harmonizing the information shared in sustainability reporting. This approach will foster trust, efficiency, and protection of the interests of all parties involved in investment banking.

Leveraging fully digital solutions and incorporating ESG data on global SCF platforms, event-based financing (also known as event-triggered financing) can be integrated into conventional trade transactions. Financial experts can provide transaction-related solutions that can serve as a foundation for financing, which may be triggered by various events such as purchase order initiation, invoice generation and acknowledgement, and bill of exchange acceptance under a letter of credit.

Accuracy Is the Key to Long-Term Success

Forward-thinking financial institutions are offering guidance to their clients on enhancing sustainability and improving their performance in relation to ESG benchmarks. This is achieved through the development of customized sets of ESG key performance indicators (KPIs) tailored to specific industry sectors and regions. Furthermore, ESG ratings are now being integrated into risk models to effectively evaluate a company's potential adverse impact and potential sanctions.

SCF programs that incorporate sustainability risk indicators assess a company's potential to achieve ESG outcomes, rather than solely relying on its credit history. This inclusive approach allows companies of varying sizes, including large, small, or microenterprises, to access capital for growth based on their ability to adopt sustainable practices.

Banks with forward-thinking strategies can utilize statistical data related to a company's supply chain performance, such as punctual deliveries, sustainability adherence, shipping documentation, and payment records, to evaluate credit risk for corporations. Skillful management of ESG risk factors by banks can create substantial funding and product prospects, as it enables them to accurately price their risk levels.

Sustainability-linked SCF instruments offer a novel asset class for banks to meet the demand for environmentally responsible and socially impactful initiatives. By integrating SCF with sustainability principles, financial institutions can foster more inclusive value chains and provide customized solutions for their clients. Thorough assessment of ESG data, harmonization of efforts, and standardized information disclosure are critical for informed decision-making. Incorporating event-based financing and ESG benchmarks can enhance sustainability performance and create opportunities for financing.

SCF programs that incorporate sustainability risk indicators promote inclusivity, and skillful management of ESG risk factors can lead to funding and product prospects. Financial institutions with forward-thinking strategies can leverage statistical data to evaluate credit risk accurately.

Overall, sustainability-linked SCF solutions provide a promising avenue for banks to align with sustainable financing and meet the evolving demands of their clients and stakeholders.

To learn more about approaches to sustainable SCF, you can watch the recording of our recent roundtable discussion here or contact me to learn more.

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