GRI-metrics-supply-chainAny business that is aiming for total corporate sustainability knows that greening their supply chain will be an essential step in 2013 and beyond. It’s all about making sure anything that enters your facility meets the same strict environmental standards as the final products you develop in your own facility. After all, it’s difficult to create a green product if it’s full of toxic or irresponsibly sourced materials.

    But there’s another link in your business’ chain that often gets overlooked when it comes to sustainability accounting: service providers.

    There’s two ways of thinking about service providers in relation to your business: those that you control in-house (like your customer service or sales teams) and those you don’t directly control but develop partnerships with. Both can be difficult to account for in terms of sustainability, since it means something very different in that context from responsible manufacturing. Nevertheless, both are important if complete corporate sustainability is the end goal.

    Sustainability in Your Service Department

    No business is simply a manufacturer, there has to be a team – or even just a single person - responsible for selling and delivering your product. The question is, are they doing it sustainably? The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting program for sustainability offers a good starting point for Key Performance Indicators to consider when measuring the sustainability of your service teams:

    • Are they paid fairly?
    • Is customer privacy honored?
    • Is there gender and cultural equality?
    • Do you provide education and skills development to encourage growth and success?

    Although these have little to do with “green”, they are essential to any company that is planning for long-term success.

    But service departments are also a prime spot for some of the most profitable and simplest green measures: simply by going paperless or encouraging ride-sharing to work, you can cut down on the carbon footprint and operating costs of the entire department significantly. In fact, it’s far easier to start composting in the lunch room than it is to overhaul an inefficient manufacturing system.

    If shipping goods or travelling is part of your service delivery (for example, flying to conferences, shipping products across the country, or driving from home to home for installations), you should include the associated GHG emissions into your sustainability reporting. Finding ways to reduce these activities – like shipping more at once or switching to an electric vehicle for local travel – will both reduce your carbon footprint and your operating costs.  

    Sustainability & Who You Choose to Work With

    Far more difficult is the task of greening those links in your business chain that you do not directly control, like the businesses you partner with or those that are closely aligned with your brand.

    Are you making strategic partnerships with the right people? Are they as committed to sustainability as you are? Although you don’t report the air emissions or other GRI metrics from your outside partners, it can have an impact on your long-term success and public image. Just as you wouldn’t invest time into working with a financially unstable partner, it makes no sense to be striving for sustainability while working with a group or spokesperson that is environmentally irresponsible.

    A common example of this is when it comes time for you to pick retailers. If you’re manufacturing an environmentally-responsible product , the decision about who gets to actually carry and sell your product can have a big impact on how your product is perceived by consumers overall.

    Even though you can’t directly control these types of partners, you can use the GRI reporting indicator protocols to assess and filter out those businesses hoping to benefit from working with you:

    • Do they participate in voluntary environmental reporting?
    • What is their carbon footprint?
    • Do they take measures to protect endangered ecosystems?
    • Are they transparent about their business practices and environmental impacts?
    • What is their worker safety and human rights record like?

    Depending on our commitment levels and their transparency, you might even consider looking into their other partners and their own supply chain. For most businesses, this would be going well beyond the call of duty, but it’s an important step to keep in mind further down the road.

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    Alex Chamberlain
    Post by Alex Chamberlain
    January 17, 2013
    Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.