Progressive companies today integrate sustainability into their everyday operations – from their manufacturing processes to the emphasis they place on employee engagement and giving back to the community.

 

But that doesn’t always mean they deal with vendors or customers that place the same priority on sustainability initiatives.  And in the case of vendors, a single bad actor in your supply chain – even one that you have little to no control over – risks damaging your brand reputation indefinitely.

 

Look no further than the 27 brands supplied by the Bangladesh clothing factory that collapsed in 2013.  Many were reportedly unaware of their link to the factory in question due to layers of subcontracting happening deep within their supply chains.  Yet often it was these customer-facing brands that had to answer for how such a tragedy could occur. It remains a cautionary tale for why companies today must be aware of where their product comes from, along with the environmental, social and economic practices they are effectively supporting by doing business with a specific vendor.

 

So how can you begin to support sustainability within your own value chain?

 

Tip # 1: Be respectful & flexible: Recognize suppliers’ autonomy & ownership.

Suppliers need to know they’re in the driver’s seat in order to trust a company to be their partner in sustainability.

 

Tip #2: Close the loop: Connect suppliers to customers and the product

There’s value in the supplier of even a minor component of an item seeing the role they play in the final product.

 

Tip # 3: Make it easy: Acknowledge work was done & keep it simple

Sustainability can be an intimidating and confusing subject. Breaking it down into digestible terms to avoid misunderstandings is key.

 

Tip # 4: Be accountable: Support and reward suppliers

Incentivize vendors to take the leap, either financially or through other means like designating them as a priority supplier.

 

Tip # 5: Create a community: Provide access to best practices & shared experiences

Convene a group where non-competing vendors can learn from one another.

 

Domtar has experienced great success following these five steps to help ensure a sustainable supply of wood fiber for its manufacturing system, the focus of a recent Sustainable Brands article.  Yet the framework remains flexible enough to apply to nearly any vendor-customer relationship.  Brands seeking to extend sustainability beyond their own doors should consider how similar processes can be implemented within their operations.