Sustainable sourcing: How the more discerning customer is shaping supply chains

The way in which organisations approach environmental and social sustainability can have a significant impact on Brand perception and consumer purchasing decisions. In a 2021 survey carried out by Drapers, they found that 75% of customers take sustainability into consideration when making a purchase. Yet many organisations are failing to recognise the increasing consumer trend towards sustainable products and the impact this has on wider organisational success.

Staying ahead of the curve

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and it is no longer enough to sell a ‘sustainable range’ of products, but instead organisations must demonstrate that they operate as sustainable businesses in order to gain brand loyalty and avoid potential reputational damage from greenwashing claims. This means understanding key sustainability hotspots, investing in solutions and driving innovation. Focus should be concentrated in 3 areas, including 1) emissions reduction, 2) ethical and sustainable sourcing of all key materials and 3) packaging and waste reduction using circular economy principles. 

3 Steps towards a sustainable supply chain:

Emissions reduction 

Set Science Based Targets (SBTi), demonstrating a commitment to achieve Net Zero emissions across your own operations and supply chain. Move your energy to renewables and implement energy efficiency measures. Understand the carbon hot spots within your supply chain and work with your suppliers to make reductions. Where applicable, ensure the products you sell are energy efficient (eg electronics), reducing downstream consumer emissions. 

Sustainable Materials

Understand where you are sourcing your key materials and ensure they are sourced sustainably and using sustainable materials. This can be achieved though recognised accreditation schemes (eg FSC for timber, Rainforest Alliance for food commodities) or by working closely with your suppliers to set clear standards further upstream in your supply chain, where the key risks are identified.  

Packaging & Waste

Optimise product packaging design and move away from excessive packaging. Consumers want to see a reduction in plastics, particularly of hard to recycle materials and are looking for increased recycled content. In addition consider how customers can reduce waste, whether through increased shelf life of perishables, or a return and repair scheme for higher priced goods. 

And finally…Innovation is key!

One example of a business that has understood it’s key sustainability challenges, and is innovating to develop solutions, is Burger King (US), who plan to reduce waste through the launch of reusable packaging. The scheme, which will be implemented next year, will feature a small initial deposit, which will then be refunded when customers return with their boxes and cups. The boxes and cups are then taken away for cleaning and disposal through Loop, a zero-waste e-commerce system. Companies such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola have also joined Loop in testing reusable packaging.  

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