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    Sustainability planning shifting focus to supply chains

    Could you be the weak link in your customer's supply chain? (Image credit: Christophe Goessen)

    With the stakes for environmental failure always getting raised, big name manufacturers are only getting more concerned about how they can make their business more sustainable.

    Name almost any internationally recognized corporation and you can bet they have a sustainability plan in place.

    These days it's also becoming pretty important for you, the supplier, to get on the sustainability bandwagon, because people are starting to realise that the environmental impact extends beyond their own operations.

    It's time to adapt: before you start losing business.

    Does sustainability really matter for you?

    Right now, sustainability seems like the realm of industrial heavyweights who have time and money to invest in things like renewable energy or zero-waste policies.

    Once upon a time, it didn’t really matter how environmentally friendly your original parts or coatings were, because it was the responsibility of the big manufacturers to ensure they were utilizing the right control technologies and equipment to use them.

    But every day it gets more important for you (as a supplier) to provide greener alternatives, use more renewable resources to power your processes and start taking your environmental data management more seriously.


    Because those big manufacturers want to get sustainable and can only do it with your help.

    Businesses are keyed in to the fact that having a sustainable supply chain is a more efficient way of getting their own business to be sustainable than trying to squeeze their own sites into the sustainability box.

    Is sustainability hurting your business?

    In fact, many manufacturers are starting to choose sustainable suppliers over the competition. The really influential ones are even insisting that their suppliers get more sustainable.

    It’s the sustainability trickledown effect.

    Being a sustainable supplier makes you a more attractive business partner and a stronger link in the overall supply chain. Business owners are starting to understand that corporate sustainability is not just about what happens on-site, but also encompasses those activities that take place off-site as result of their actions.

    And the energy you use to produce and transport your materials to them is starting to get counted.

    Another example, some major automotive manufacturers have committed to reducing their overall waste generation. If your products come wrapped in layers and layers of packaging, you just made their sustainability goals more difficult to achieve. But if you were to offer them the same materials with 100% recyclable packaging, or no packaging at all, your business just became their best friend.

    The goal is to become a sustainability partner: an indispensable link in their sustainable supply chain.

    How to strengthen your position in the chain

    Being part of a sustainable supply chain requires an ongoing effort and dedication to transparency.

    One of the steps that manufacturers are taking to create their own sustainable supply chains is to conduct thorough audits on their suppliers. In the future, your potential customers might just ask you for environmental records demonstrating how much renewable energy you use or how much hazardous waste your processes generate.

    This type of information is increasingly important in their decision-making process.

    If you want to be a lasting link in the sustainable supply chain – a link that manufacturers will actually fight to keep – follow these steps:

    1. Discover what makes you a sustainable supplier. What is it about your business that could be marketed as sustainable?
    2. Commit yourself to continual improvement. Even if there’s already something about your business that is sustainable, find a way to further improve your system. Could you reduce your waste or energy usage? Reduce packaging? Partially switch to renewable energy? Just having a long-term sustainability plan in place will make you a more appealing supplier.
    3. Find out what your customers’s sustainability goals are, and help them to achieve them. If your primary customers have a particular sustainability challenge, one of the best ways to win their loyalty is to help them overcome it. And there’s nothing wrong with creating a supplier/customer relationship to get your own sustainability plans in place.
    4. Get your environmental data management in order. You can’t demonstrate that you’re a sustainable supplier if you don’t have the data to back it up.


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    Alex Chamberlain
    Post by Alex Chamberlain
    June 7, 2012
    Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.