Is Your Supply Chain a Key Part of Your Brand Sustainability Plan?

Last week at the Natural Products Expo West, Alisha Real, Director of Sustainability and Social Impact at UNFI; Brenna Davis, VP of Social and Environmental Responsibility at PCC Community Markets; Deanna Bratter, Head of Sustainable Development at Danone North America, and Rebecca Hamilton, Co-CEO at W.S. Badger, spoke about supplier engagement as a climate strategy. The following content is edited for length.

Engaging supply chain partners to analyze their own impact on the environment is a key element to a sustainable climate strategy and brand transparency. Data transparency from distributors rose to the top when mentioning what is needed for a complete picture of sustainability – something that consumers are demanding from the brands they support.

“We’re hoping to be able to collect more [data]” said Bratter, “and we do have sustainability requirements written into our contracts, but we have a lot more work to do on supply chain – reducing the opacity of our supply chain and really getting down to the nitty gritty, especially from the distributors. Give us the data. We need it, we’ll use it.” She added, “Transparency can be scary because we’re all trying to protect our business. We’re trying to protect our brands and our relationships, but really evolving into a true partnership is going to take an enhanced level of trust…ultimately moving away from just a transactional relationship but being open to longer term commitments and contracts that will help us create the longer-term transformation that’s needed in these spaces.”

Hamilton added, “If we have suppliers that are doing really great things and are able to share [data] with us, that’s really helpful because we’re trying to build a whole picture of what our impact is, and trying to be responsible and shift the needle forward, and the more we can partner with suppliers and share what we’re doing and figure out ways that we can help each other, the further we can really start making more of a positive impact.”

“My advice would be around the idea that this issue is only heating up,” said Davis, “and the number one and two issues that are in the proxy season this year for shareholders were one, climate change and two, diversity. It’s not going away. So, a smart supplier would start preparing now, and move quickly to deal with the climate impacts of their products and to start getting the data together so that they can disclose the carbon footprint of each product.”

Here is more of the discussion:

Brenna Davis:

PCC Community Markets is the nature nation’s largest food co-op. We’ve grown to $383 million in sales, and we have 15 stores across the Puget Sound area. We were founded in 1953 and we’ve been working on sustainability since the 1970s – so that’s over 50 years. In 2018, we rolled out arguably one of the most ambitious set of sustainability goals in grocery, that included carbon negative store operations, reducing emissions associated with refrigerant leaks by 50%, 100% renewable energy, and one really big goal was to eliminate petroleum-based plastic from our deli.

Rebecca Hamilton:

Badger is a much smaller company than my other co-panelists, but as a manufacturer and a smaller company, we have a little bit of a different story. Badger was started around 1995, and in 2011 we became a Certified B Corp and that really kicked us off on a journey of measuring our impact, understanding how to operationalize, looking at goal setting, creating an environmental monitoring system, and focusing internally on how do we mitigate our impact as a business?

We have around a 97% diversion rate for the waste that we create in manufacturing, but the vast majority of our impact is not actually at our factory, it’s in our supply chains. And so that’s really been our focus in the last several years and going forward into the future, is to look at the larger impact that we have, with a vision of saying that if we’re a consumer products company…

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