Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy
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A Green Supply Chain

In the past few years, consumer-goods companies have learned that improving their sustainable credentials is not just a matter of peering inside their own operations. They must also examine the environmental and social footprint of every player in their supply chain. The search for sustainable ingredients can take a company anywhere from the warehouses of its current suppliers to a tropical jungle in Africa.

The path is not always smooth. Sourcing sustainable materials can mean putting pressure on suppliers to share sensitive information and help create green products-or risk being cut out of the supply chain altogether, say the brand managers and sustainability chiefs who talked to C&EN about their experiences.

The relationship that manufacturers have with their suppliers is at the core of designing a green product, according to Kevin Brady, director of Five Winds, a consulting firm that helps companies improve their sustainability performance. "They try to assess the performance of their suppliers with data and questionnaires, but it's challenging and expensive-especially with global supply chains-to understand what is going on."

Ingredient suppliers with sustainability problems are a risk for a company's brand, Brady points out. A smart company will "figure out a way to manage that risk and work with suppliers that are responsible and will provide ingredients that are nontoxic, low CO2 emitting, and fairly and responsibly made," he says. It's a lot to analyze, he admits, but companies must look broadly at environmental, societal, and technological performance.     

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