Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

How Sustainable are My Suppliers?

thumb green-recycling-iconI’ve become increasingly interested in supply chain sustainability over the past few months. There’s plenty of activity in that arena and it’s not likely to calm down soon. Sustainability is both good for the environment and great for business, and that’s a powerful combination.


Although the adoption rate for sustainability objectives seems to have abated, it’s still well over 50% for our largest corporations. But how prominent is it for businesses we deal with in real life? I figured if it’s considered important, it’ll be noted on their websites. Let’s check it out.

I looked at how the companies with whom I do business treat sustainability, especially as it relates to their supply chains. Among those I researched were Target, Food Lion,, Grainger, and WalMart. All describe sustainability goals on their sites, with several similarities that cross company lines. In general, companies tackle the issue by addressing these elements of their business.


  • Transportation. Everyone wants to reduce transportation-related emissions on both inbound and outbound shipments. There are many approaches, with Grainger, for example, opting to use the EPA’s Smartway Shipper certification. Others with their own fleets have more direct options.


  • Physical location characteristics. Target does a particularly good job on this one, with a specific goal stated for energy efficient buildings. Refrigeration and lighting are commonly included in this category.


  • Product packaging. The big retailers are leading the way on this one, which is focused on making improvements to the packaging of products to eliminate downstream waste and to reduce weight.


  • Products that support sustainability. Everyone with ‘green’ products to sell advertise that fact on the sustainability section of their website. By helping their customers become ‘greener’, they help the environment for all.


  • Waste reduction. This is a broad category that includes such approaches as using recycled paper for shipping cartons and catalogs, and the use of renewable material.


  • Processes. This is a category that cuts across all the aspects of sustainability, and the only company that spoke in detail of it was Amazon. They focused on continuous improvement processes that result in sustainable supply chains, improved energy efficiency in DCs, and so on.


What were my takeaways from this exercise?


  • There's a much stronger commitment to sustainability by these companies than I expected.


  • The bigger the company, the more detailed their objectives. That makes sense, since they usually have more resources available to devote to this goal.


  • On some topics, there’s simply reporting after the fact (ie. LEED certifications, lighting retrofits) noted on their sites. You can’t assume there are no measureable corporate objectives driving these, but it would be nice to see them explicitly stated, such as indicated on the Target site. I’d like to know that a goal was to reduce electricity use for lighting by 50% in 3 years and they reached the 45% level after two, not that they retrofitted 4 DCs with LED lighting.


  • No real overall measurement standards exist yet, but companies like WalMart and Proctor & Gamble are driving development of various scorecard-like tools for their supplier partners.


  • The mega-retailers have great visibility on the sustainability issue. WalMart in particular is doing a superb job driving improvements, especially in its supply chain.

The sites I reviewed can be located as follows:
Target Corporation HERE and HERE.
WalMart HERE.
Grainger HERE.
Amazon HERE.
Food Lion HERE.

If you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend diving into the WalMart site if you really want to see what’s going on with sustainability. As one of the world’s largest corporations, their leadership on the topic is obvious and much of their approach will end up being adopted by many other companies. You should also check into how your company looks at sustainability- is it just a necessary evil you’re being pushed into supporting, or have you seen the light and are now making it a priority for yourself and your supply chain?

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