How Sustainability Can Help You Land Big Clients

Many small businesses dream of breaking their products into the supply chains of big companies. Being “green” can give you an edge over other, less environmentally friendly competitors.

That’s because more big companies – from Ford to IKEA to UPS – are expecting their suppliers to better measure and manage their environmental impact, from reining in their fossil fuel and water usage to reducing their packaging. Some are even creating “scorecards” that lay out what green measures they expect their suppliers to take.

While your environmental footprint alone won’t get you in the door, it can make you more attractive to companies looking to bolster their own corporate sustainability through green supply chain management. Here are some tips for how to make the most of this trend:

shop green

Know the scorecard. Many big companies undertaking major sustainability initiatives – the Wal-Marts and P&Gs of the world – aren’t secretive about what sustainability measures they expect their suppliers to adhere to. In fact, they’re creating supplier “scorecards.” Read up on the company you’re looking to do business with and how it’s rating its suppliers on green practices. Many companies lay out their sustainability goals on their websites. (For instance, you can find IKEA’s Sustainability Product Score Card here by clicking on its 2010 sustainability report.)

Get certified. We’ve talked about how small companies need to be cautious about pursuing green labels without verifying their legitimacy, especially given the opportunity for using a label to “greenwash” your image. However, there are reputable green certification programs that can validate your progress and make you more appealing to prospective partners. Here’s a list from the Small Business Administration (SBA) of some green certification programs.

Find your edge. It’s always important to find your niche as a small supplier, and that also rings true when it comes to sustainability. If you’re lucky enough to score a pitch meeting with a big company, make sure you can explain how your product or service is environmentally superior to other suppliers in your industry. Remember, just “being green” isn’t such a unique thing anymore.

Go beyond sustainability. At the end of the day, sustainability is just one of many things big companies evaluate when choosing suppliers, and it’s not usually at the top of the list. (Can you actually produce your product at a low enough price to sell?) You need to prove you’re the best option all around, and show you have created a strong brand on your own. You can use your environmental sustainability initiatives, however, to better market yourself.


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

4 Reactions
  1. More and more people are making “Green” businesses and products a priority.

  2. Its important to know who you are doing business with so be sure to always do your home work on your supplier or local business. I know a competitor who hired an internet marketing company to help them with their online presence and ranking and they ended up getting penalized for spam and deceptive practices. The marketing company was based over seas and the local company had no other recourse to persue other than getting a new domain name and brand and start all over again.

  3. You are right about finding the specific niche in your business because it will surely give you an edge among others. I just came across a video that talks about how you can easily land to the clients that you want. It’s a video from Marie Forleo and it gave me lots of ideas too.

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