Supply Chain: where to start?

Start small, think big

This is never more true than when applied to where to start with your supply chain sustainability plan. Depending on what you buy or sell your supply chain can contribute up to 90% of your carbon footprint. So it’s not something that you can ignore if you’re serious about making your business greener. 

Take a look at what you might be doing already. 

Look at your consumables, canteen supplies, stationery etc. 

  • Have you looked at recyclable or more sustainable alternatives? 
  • Where are they sourced from?
  • Do you know who made them?
  • Are the materials they are made from managed responsibly?

Examination of this small part of your supply chain will help you to look at the whole supply chain through a sustainability lens.

With the information you gain you can start to formulate some rules or policies to apply to your broader supply chain. 

5 basic steps to improve your supply chain sustainability

  • Audit your supply chain

This step could be the most complex but the most important. Visit your supplier premises, investigate their sustainability credentials. Look at material sourcing and manufacture, price, competitiveness and quality: the list is long! There are many sustainability credentials depending on the resources, check which ones are most relevant and reputable in your sector. 

  • Evaluate your supply chain
    Now you know what your supply chain looks like, evaluate it against any standards or policies you have devised. See the UN Global Compact on Supply Chain Sustainability for more information if you don’t have a policy in place. It is based around the 4 principles of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-corruption.
  • Improve your procurement processes to reflect sustainability.
    Are you asking the right questions of your suppliers? Do you look at the total cost of the product in environmental and social terms, and not just the price in monetary terms? Do your supplier contracts reflect your sustainable credentials?
  • Support your suppliers to become greener
    Work with your existing partners to help them to meet your sustainability standards. Encourage innovation and accountability. This may make more sense than starting afresh with a new set of suppliers
  • Become a greener supplier yourself

Don’t wait for your customers to demand a more sustainable product or service. Be transparent about your own journey to sustainability. Communicate with your customers to make them aware of why you’re making changes – be a sustainability champion.

What is your more ambitious target?

Do you want your supply chain to fit in with an overall strategy to reduce your carbon footprint? It is difficult to look at your supply chain in isolation from the rest of your business’s activities. For most businesses, their supply chain is a large part of their carbon footprint. 

Supply chain sustainability is a big issue to tackle and it will take time for you to research and implement changes. It may be that you start with a part of your supply chain to establish how the principles might work for your business. But this is important work as it will be one of the areas that can contribute the most to a reduction in your carbon footprint.

Take a look at the Energy resources page to learn about Scope 3 emissions and where they fit into your supply chain

Also look at the principles of the Circular Economy as they will feed into your sustainable supply chain also.