Evaluate Your Suppliers for Sustainability

This series is commissioned by UPS.

Not long ago I wrote about communicating to the marketplace your company’s commitment to sustainability.

Sustainability is about more than marketing and communicating, of course. It starts with your company’s values.

Today, an increasing number of businesses not only are adopting sustainable practices internally, but they take it a step further. They’re also demanding their suppliers be committed to sustainable and responsible business processes.

But if you’re going to demand that your suppliers adhere to sustainable business practices, just how do you assess their practices and commitment level?


(1) Ask – the obvious place to start is to ask your suppliers and prospective supplies about sustainability. Ask, “Do you have a sustainability program in your company?” or “What sustainability and environmental responsibility practices do you follow?” If you get a blank look or a verbal “duh?” you’ll know the answer to your question.

(2) Create a questionnaire or scorecard – Asking verbally during a sales presentation is all well and good. But you’re more likely going to be able to evaluate the level of commitment if you have a written questionnaire that you ask suppliers to fill out.

(3) Tailor your questionnaire to the size of your suppliers – Sustainability scorecards are hot right now, but most of the ones you find on the Web are designed by large multinational corporations for other large multinational corporations. It would be overkill, an exercise in frustration, and perhaps a deal killer to give the same questionnaire designed for a Fortune 500 company to a business with 3 employees. So while it makes sense to use examples of scorecards (see Proctor & Gamble’s scorecard) when you compose your own, adjust the questions to fit your supplier’s size. The Energy Star website has good information for small businesses that can serve as a guide for what to ask.

(4) Send your questionnaire out annually – The chairman of the Board of a company I worked for in my corporate career had a saying: “Inspect what you expect.” Those words could be applied to suppliers. It says a lot about your commitment to sustainability simply by asking about it, because it says you consider sustainability important. So ask suppliers to complete it annually.

(5) Collaborate and offer suggestions — View your suppliers as partners working with you to achieve joint success.  If you see opportunities to improve practices, offer them as suggestions.  For instance, if you see an opportunity for your supplier’s packaging to become more “green” for inventory that they deliver to you, then suggest it.  And then offer to help — perhaps making an introduction to a new packaging company your supplier could use.  This is particularly important for small suppliers.  They may have the desire and willingness to be more green, but not have the internal resources to evaluate new packaging options.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.