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How Can Sustainability Be a Win for B2B Companies? Ask Flex

Consumer-facing companies get a lot of the attention for their sustainability efforts through great ads and campaigns. But there is a huge role for B2B companies to benefit from sustainability solutions, as well. Flex is one of these.

As a company that offers a wide spectrum of business solutions — ranging from advanced product development technologies to real time supply chain logistics data — Flexis reaping the benefits of integrating sustainability into its work. The company is investing heavily in employee training and education, which is helping it do great things such as give new life to e-waste, run reverse logistics, provide highly efficient LED lighting, and utilize solar trackers to maximize solar energy. Naturally, that’s just the beginning. Across the entire strategy, Flex can feel the difference from customers, employees and investors.

We caught up with Maria Sepulveda, Global Sustainability Director at Flex, to learn more about what the company is doing on education and beyond.

What does Flex do, and who are your customers?

Maria Sepulveda: Flex is the Sketch-to-Scale® solutions provider that designs and builds intelligent products globally. With approximately 200,000 employees across 30 countries, we provide innovative design, engineering, manufacturing, real-time supply chain insight and logistics services to companies of all sizes across industries and markets.

We have customers across several industries, including automotive, telecom, enterprise compute, consumer, home appliances, connected living, energy, healthcare and industrial.

How does Flex make sustainability a part of its strategy, while serving a variety of industries globally?

MS: Sustainability is a core part of our business and operations, with a solid governance structure and guiding vision for our CEO and Board of Directors. Aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our sustainability strategy is based on five cornerstones — people, community, environment, innovation and integrity. Just last year, we joined the UN Global Compact, the largest sustainability corporate initiative in the world.

In alignment with our strategy, we established the Flex 20 by 2020 sustainability goals. We implement these goals at each of our sites through the collaboration of all departments and our global, regional and local teams.

We integrate sustainability into every aspect of our business and across our entire supply chain. We embrace sustainable business opportunities and translate them into innovative, efficient services and products, contributing to a greener technology industry. For example, Sinctronics transforms various e-waste into raw materials that can be used to manufacture new products. Our global logistics services include — among others — reverse logistics, repair and refurbishment of a range of devices.

On the product side, NEXTracker™ drives renewable energy transformation by designing and building some of the most advanced solar trackers and energy storage systems in the industry. By the end of 2018, NEXTracker delivered or is fulfilling capacity for 17 GW of smart solar trackers around the world. Flex also uses NEXTracker™ solar trackers to maximize the renewable solar energy generated at our site in Chennai, India.

We also provide lighting solutions and produce some of the world’s most efficient LED lighting systems for commercial and industrial applications globally, and we deploy our energy-efficient products in our own sites. Between 2013 and 2018, we installed over 113,000 LED light fixtures at sites in 15 countries, saving of over 87GWh/year and reducing over 61,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions per year.

On the supply chain front, sustainability requirements are linked to quality and other standard requirements for our suppliers. We ask our suppliers to have a social and environmental management system in place, to ensure continuity and effectiveness of social and environmental activities and mitigate potential risks. We also ask our suppliers to follow Responsible Business Alliance policies and the Flex Supplier Code of Conduct. We also have several supply chain programs that span work hours monitoring and worker empowerment training — an extension of our community programs.

Flex’s 20 by 2020 goals are aligned with four of the SDGs: quality education, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, and responsible consumption and production. Three years in, what have been the outcomes of this alignment with the SDGs?

MS: Every program we have aligns to the SDGs, but we focus most of our efforts on four goals related to [those four SDGs]. Our disclosure through the GRI reporting framework allows us to measure and publicly disclose our contribution to the SDGs. This is complemented by our Sustainability KPIs and our Flex 20 by 2020 goals, which we make available publicly twice per year.

Examples that showcase our contribution to the SDGs include:

SDG 4: Quality Education. Target 4.3By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.

We contribute to this through our 2020 goal of increasing the hours of training for employees. In the last two years, we provided over one million training hours, online or in person.

We also have the Flex Scholarship Program, which benefits over 4,000 employees at more than 30 sites in 10 countries. This initiative accounts for employees enrolled in 180 educational programs globally. Through this program, our employees can obtain technical certifications, high school diplomas, university or Master’s degrees from local, accredited educational institutions.

Our contributions to this SDG not only help our employees, but also benefit our communities and supply chain. We developed our own program, in collaboration with BSR, to teach personal and professional skills to our suppliers’ employees. This program will benefit over 20 suppliers in China and Mexico.

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. Target 7.3 — By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

One way we contribute to this target is through reducing energy consumption in our operations. We have implemented over 200 energy-saving programs to track and report our energy use, reductions and intensity as part of the CDP Climate Change Program, and for our own goal of decreasing our CO2e emissions.

These are only a handful of examples, but the overall outcome of our alignment to these SDGs is added value for our customers, partners, employees and the environment — a win-win for the business and stakeholders.

Flex has focused quite a bit on professional growth in your communities, especially for women. What are some of the things the company does that really stand out in this regard?

MS: We work with nonprofits, community leaders and governments to promote sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all. We promote social good through grants from the Flex Foundation, corporate and employee donations, and volunteerism.

With quality education as one of our priorities, we support nonprofits that align with our strategy and focus on areas related to lifelong learning, and technical and vocational training. We work to ensure people have access to the inclusive, quality education necessary to succeed in the workplace by investing in technical programs and curriculum.

Technical education programs targeted to women offer the skills to help narrow the gender equality gap and improve their economic outlook. In 2018, with funding from the Flex Foundation, the Canadian iSisters Technology Mentoring Inc. and the Mexican Laboratoria Coding AC trained more than 60 women. Training provided by the organizations included digital and media literacy skills, and a coding bootcamp.

What have been the business benefits of doing this?

MS: Integrating sustainability into everything we do has become a core part of how we operate. What we do in this area reflects on our ability to attract and retain employees, business and investors. It is in our best interest to invest in sustainability.

Our customers, investors and employees’ interest in sustainability is growing. More and more, the workforce is considering social and environmental factors when making employment choices. Our performance, in terms of sustainability, is constantly evaluated through customer scorecards, and external sustainability rankings and ratings.

It must also be noted that we do not operate in a vacuum. Everything we do has a broader impact. For example, when we invest in quality education — a crucial part of our strategy — those who benefit can build a more robust skillset and, subsequently, have more access to better work opportunities with higher earning potential. This, in turn, benefits their families and communities.

When we advance sustainability, our customers and investors win. When they win, we do, too. It’s a virtuous cycle.