Sustainability is no longer just a ‘nice thing’ for retailers to have; it’s absolutely essential.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a sustainable business model can affect up to 70% of a business’s earnings, making it the difference between surviving and thriving.

When you’re in charge of a brick-and-mortar store, you’re not only responsible for ensuring your own brand is socially and environmentally responsible, but that your suppliers are too.

Here are some of the ways that you can help make your supply chain more sustainable.

Lead by example

If you want to make your supply chain more sustainable, you need to set a good example. Taking the initiative and reviewing the environmental factors in your own business will encourage your suppliers to improve their own processes.

Make sure that you get buy-in from your board to ensure everyone within the business follows your new sustainability guidelines.

Stuck for inspiration? See what ten global companies are doing to make themselves as environmentally friendly as possible!

Set targets

Only one in four businesses engage their suppliers on sustainability issues. Holding your supply chain accountable will encourage them to push themselves further when it comes to becoming greener.

Setting targets for your suppliers to work towards is a good way of doing this. You can then review these targets during meetings and look at ways to work together if your suppliers are falling short of requirements (more on this later).

Incorporate sustainability questions into your selection process

When you operate a retail store, there are always many businesses that want to get onto your approved supplier list.

If you have a supplier questionnaire form, you can use it to ask any potential partners about their sustainability processes.

Questions you can ask include:

  • Do you have an environmental management system (for example, ISO 14001) in place?
  • Do you have a sustainability, environmental or social responsibility policy?
  • Do you have targets in place for reducing your use of energy or waste materials?
  • Do you have a person who is qualified to provide competent advice on environmental and sustainability issues?
  • Do your products have any environmental features? For example, do you use FSC-certified wood or OEKO-TEX fabrics?
  • Do you have principles in place for purchasing responsibly sourced products and services? Remember that your suppliers will have their own supply chains too!

You can use this form to help choose the most sustainable companies to work with, as well as audit your existing suppliers.

Be supportive

Companies need to work together to ensure sustainability. Rather than enforcing environmental standards, you should communicate clearly with suppliers and help them however you can.

A Spanish study has shown that taking a collaborative rather than a coercive approach to sustainability has more of a positive impact on environmental performance.

Take the time to listen to your supplier’s questions and concerns and see where you can work together for maximum impact. For example, if they are struggling to find recyclable packaging, can you recommend companies for them to reach out to?

Reviewing your supply chain for sustainability can be a challenging process, especially if you work with a wide range of businesses. Get the process right, however, and it will benefit both you and the companies you work alongside.