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Sustainability Activities with Suppliers

In order to achieve sustainability within the supply chain, communication and interaction with suppliers must occur. Interactions occur at multiple phases of the purchasing cycle.

Organizations committed to improving corporate citizenship and sustainable practices want to conduct business with suppliers with the same commitment to improving corporate citizenship and sustainable practices. Of course, an organization that expects their supplier base to commit and adhere to sustainability standards and policies must also document and adhere to the same standards internally, otherwise they cannot presume their supplier will do so.
Communicating, Monitoring, and Reporting on Sustainability Activities
Once an organization has established the environmental and social policies it expects of its suppliers, and suppliers upstream, the expectations must be clearly communicated. Monitoring and auditing of existing suppliers, using established metrics, ensures that the buying organization’s sustainability standards, as well as government regulations, are being met. 
Monitoring can sometimes be more effective when done in person, in order to compile violation records, place pressure on suppliers for compliance, as well as work with them on corrective action plans. This may be more difficult if the supplier is offshore, unless third party auditors are used.

Another approach would be to encourage suppliers to adopt transparent sustainability reporting, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).  Again, the buying organization should set an example to suppliers by doing the same. 

Common Required Sustainability Activities During Supplier Purchasing

The following activities are ongoing throughout the supplier purchasing and relationship processes:

  • Communicate sustainable procurement policies and objectives to suppliers and contractors.
  • Develop key performance indicators for suppliers to include sustainable factors (Note: See the section on Procurement Metrics.)
  • Monitor and audit supplier performance.
  • Assist suppliers with becoming compliant with the buying organization’s sustainability requirements.
  • Collaborate with suppliers and distributors to address sustainability issues with products and services, and improve the economic, social, and environmental characteristics.
  • Handle consumer criticisms of supplier lapses in sustainability.
  • Identify and implement opportunities for sustainable improvements and sustainable innovations by suppliers.

Collaborating with Suppliers

Organizations often find that some of their suppliers have already begun a sustainability initiative and have programs in place or key knowledge. Purchasing personnel are in an excellent position to take advantage of suppliers’ knowledge by collaborating with them as sources of additional information and ideas. For example, suppliers may suggest ways to reduce the product’s environmental footprint, may recommend available environmental-friendly materials as alternatives -- such as water-based solvents and returnable packaging—or may know of new methods for disposal or recycling of materials.

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