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Supply chain sustainability leader at DuPont works for greener world

In this industry leader profile, DuPont's Peter Murray reflects on his career in supply chain sustainability.

For Peter W. Murray, sustainability isn't just another snappy corporate buzzword to throw around in meetings. It's a way of looking at the world and developing new, better ways to fit into it. As a program manager and sustainable and resilient supply chain innovation and development leader at DuPont Sustainable Solutions -- as well as the Sustainability Task Force leader at APICS -- Murray has made a career of helping companies find greener ways to do business.

Peter W. MurrayPeter W. Murray

Murray leads DuPont's innovation efforts in supply chain sustainability and said DuPont "was one of the pioneers in actually coming up with a strategy around sustainability." Under Murray's leadership, sustainability has become part of the company's growth strategy. "We've been at this for 20 years," Murray said. "We've made major investments in [sustainability], and it's informed how we've made choices around the science we invest in and the businesses we buy."

A key component of his work has been researching how manufacturers can turn regulatory compliance into an advantage rather than a cost. Murray points to the energy savings he believes are a major part of sustainability. "We've had huge success with energy internally and how we're externalizing that, meaning we offer that as a solution outside of DuPont too."

Finding suitable technology for meeting sustainability goals continues to be a challenge for manufacturers such as DuPont, Murray said. "The IT component [of sustainability] is really underdeveloped. [Vendors] have analytical tools and estimation tools, but nobody has created an ERP type of program to trace it at a bill of materials level or a routing level," he said. "From [DuPont's] perspective, we are penciling it in as a future piece of architecture, as nobody seems to be able to deliver that."

Winning hearts, minds for sustainability through culture, cost savings

Beyond technology and process, the cultural aspect of sustainability is also very important, according to Murray. "It's a big part of people's sense of who they are," he said. "It's the idea that we're doing good in the world." What's "good" isn't measured simply by being a successful company, Murray added, but by helping to lower corporate environmental impacts.

Developing products that come from renewable materials -- and in essence creating a self-sustaining supply chain -- is a way for manufacturers to become greener while also being more profitable, Murray said. The other side of that coin is creating products that help improve the carbon footprints of customers. Murray points to DuPont's work in refrigeration gases in compliance with the Montreal Protocol. DuPont's goal there is to provide an energy-efficient source of cooling made from materials that do less harm to the atmosphere, he said.

Murray enjoyed taking part in a recent project at DuPont examining the business opportunities of producing an alcohol-based fuel that wasn't based on food products, such as corn, and also sequestered more carbon than it emitted. "The tough part was developing the supply chain that could actually deliver those boundaries," he said. "It was a fun project to do, and also a pioneering one." The facilities that will be used to create this fuel are expected to open in 2013, according to Murray.

APICS education helps DuPont go green

There are business reasons for understanding your supply chain better through sustainability, and improving it.

Peter W. Murray, program manager and supply chain innovation and development leader at DuPont

When Murray isn't leading the green supply chain charge at DuPont, he's heading the sustainability task force at APICS, the association for supply chain and operations management. An APICS member since 1994, Murray launched the task force in 2009 while sitting on the board of directors. The purpose of the task force, he explained, was to help supply chain practitioners better understand sustainability, determining what information has practical uses for them and then embedding that information in educational materials created by APICS. In surveys and at events since then, Murray has seen a slow-growing but consistent interest in sustainability from APICS members.

Bringing APICS education to companies he's been part of has been a point of pride for Murray. Naturally, DuPont has seen a great increase in its supply chain sustainability competency through APICS, going from about 20 APICS-certified employees to more than 400 today, along with 3,000 partially certified employees.

His career goal, which Murray refers to as a "work in progress," is to prove that supply chain sustainability is a driver of competitive success -- and revenue -- and should be treated with the same importance as any other business opportunity. "At DuPont, we've had to make that case internally, and now it's a big part of how we succeed," he said. "It's been very rewarding, but also tremendously difficult, because you're introducing an entirely new way of doing something for most people, and you're having to constantly telescope between transactional things and more strategic things across areas you can't necessarily control in the supply chain."

Besides overcoming the hurdle of selling sustainability as a business tool, Murray has also had to overcome his challenges with public speaking. "I had to learn first how to be technically right in what I was saying and learn to hit the timing and pacing," he said. "I was not satisfied I was reaching people, especially with challenging subjects like sustainability across supply chains. By chance, I was asked to speak on a subject [in which] I did not have a lot of technical depth and was asked -- as it was after lunch -- if I could make it entertaining and engaging. With some study, reaching out to mentors, some creativity, and a lot of effort and luck, it was a hit; since that day, I present and educate by engaging people both visually and with a story."

Murray has had several mentor figures throughout his career that have helped him build his goals in sustainability education. They include DuPont's vice president of supply chains Don Wirth and consultancy Oliver Wight's principal George Palmatier.

A lifelong passion for sustainability

Over the years, Murray has often been asked how he became so interested in sustainability. The answer, he said, is twofold. First are the benefits he sees for his business. "My focus has always been on what we have to do to stay competitive in the supply chain space," he said. "There are business reasons for understanding your supply chain better through sustainability and improving it."

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The other reason why sustainability has always felt "comfortable" for Murray is more personal. "I grew up in Vermont, in a very practical world," he said. "We heated with wood; I spent my young life chopping and hauling wood. My father had solar panels when I was a kid in the 1970s, and my mother had a garden where we got the majority of our food. That was a normal way of life, not just for us, but for most of the people I knew."

Today, Murray's appreciation for nature and renewable resources extends past the supply chain and into his personal life. Mountain climbing is a favorite activity, and the family raises chickens in the backyard so Murray's children can see firsthand where food comes from.

"When it came to looking at sustainability in a more concrete business way, none of this seemed like a great leap to me. I was confused by people's sense that it was something magical or horrible, depending on where you were coming from," Murray explained. "None of that made sense to me, because I saw there were practical reasons to do these things and they just made sense. My drive was to prove that."

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