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When sustainability needs a two-way conversation


When I used to behave like an entitled teenager, my mother always used to say, “You’ve only one mouth but you’ve got two ears.” It used to drive me crazy. But as with most things, she was right.

When communication in sustainability breaks down, it is often for the same reasons. Communication as a one-way conversation only gets you so far, whether it is a conversation between sustainability director and CEO, merchant and buyer, retailer and supplier, or the brand and customer. In our drive for more transparent supply chains and more sustainable consumer products, communication is key. At the Sustainability Consortium (TSC), we understand that means a two-way conversation.

Our THESIS (The Sustainability Insight System) Index, formerly known as The Sustainability Index, has been pioneered by retailers such as Kroger, Walgreens and Walmart. By asking suppliers to share the sustainability performance of their products, they have created a new and powerful market signal. Whether we are talking about global multinationals, household names or small family businesses, we see common themes among suppliers. They wall want to know how they are doing, how they can improve and to be given a chance to promote and celebrate their successes.

We’ve seen thousands of suppliers respond to retailer requests with a 30 percent improvement in scores over the past three years. This gives us all a lot of data and helps us measure progress. But it’s only one side of the story.

Our new partnership with SupplyShift is opening the door, for the first time, to a two-way communication platform for suppliers and retailers. TSC and SupplyShift will be launching the platform this summer.

In late 2018, we asked suppliers what would help them do more. They told us that data integration is very important, and the more automated it can be, the better. Over half of those suppliers told us they would prefer an approach that allows them to select what they report and to report it once, for retailers to then subscribe to the results of their assessments. It is clear there is an appetite for suppliers to control and self-publish their own scores. TSC is listening.

In this new world, suppliers will be able to select the product categories they want to assess, rather than having a retailer do it for them. As they complete their assessments, they will get real-time, tailored recommendations on how they can improve their scores, as well as next-level analytics capabilities. They’ll then be able to decide whether to keep the results for themselves, or to share with a retailer.

And sharing the same results with multiple corporate customers is as simple as clicking a button. Survey-fatigue happens in a one-way communication system. Our goal is to reduce survey fatigue, giving suppliers back time to improve their businesses rather than filling out additional surveys.

For companies embracing radical transparency, we will also let them opt for full public disclosure of the results. We want to see this become a “race to the top” in the food and consumer goods industry.

All this means suppliers will be better-informed than ever before, and better able to share their progress and point to their successes. So, by supporting this two-way conversation, we unlock unprecedented business value for suppliers and for retailers. The conversation is richer, benefits are shared, supply chains become more transparent and all of us as consumers are winners, too.

As my own kids head towards their teenage years, it has been great to re-learn that lesson of when to talk and when to listen. I firmly believe it is a lesson that will help us all in our drive for sustainable consumer products.