Green hospitality: How Whitbread is making complex supply chains more sustainable

As Whitbread sets itself a series of ambitious new sustainability targets, the hotel and restaurant group's CSR programme manager Mark Parker explains the increasing importance of supply chain management to further enhance its environmental credentials.

In May 2015, Whitbread announced ambitious new targets for its CSR programme, known as Good Together, in line with the overall growth of the business. Following the early achievement of many of the targets we initially set, for completion in 2017, it was vital that as a business we reassessed our aims and continued to challenge our team to create a sustainable future.

As part of our aim to become a truly sustainable and environmentally conscious business, we have set targets to increase awareness of our supply chain’s sustainable credentials internally and to increase the transparency of our operations to consumers. By 2020 we aim to have achieved the accreditation of our ten critical product sourced commodities and are implementing a number of measures to ensure that we succeed.

Both consumers and corporate stakeholders are increasingly interested in understanding businesses’ supply chains. Many consumers are conscious of the ethical and environmental impact of the products they purchase whilst stakeholders understand the positive effect that a sustainable supply chain can have on the business’ reputation more widely. Developing a supply chain structure that will stand up to increased scrutiny by consumers, the media and your stakeholders is a valuable way to enhance and protect your corporate reputation across all channels.

Simple steps

Many business models are supported by complex supply chains which can present challenges. At Whitbread, we have been working collaboratively with our teams and suppliers to solve the challenge of ensuring a transparent and, equally importantly, sustainable supply chain across our businesses. As a hospitality business operating hotels, restaurants and coffee shops our supply chain has complexities, as we necessarily source a wide range of products from a variety of suppliers. It is therefore vital that we work collaboratively with our suppliers to gain the best possible view of our supply chain so that we can ensure we are working towards our targets.

Though the process of ensuring a sustainable supply chain may appear challenging, taking a number of simple steps and working closely with your suppliers can help to build a sustainable supply chain and increase transparency across your operations.

Firstly, it is key to assess your current supply chain. Do you have an understanding of where your products have come from? Are there any aspects of your supply chain that appear overly complex and unclear? If so, it is important to increase your knowledge of the sourcing policies that your suppliers have and the processes involved throughout the manufacture of their products. This will enable you to identify the potential risks that unethical policies could present for your business.

It is a good idea to create a short list of questions that will provide you with this information. You should consider assessing the environmental impact of a product whilst it is as important to gain knowledge about the ethical implications of the processes used by your suppliers, for example the labour used in the manufacture of a particular commodity, as well. These questions can then be sent to suppliers to identify potential risks to your corporate reputation and subsequently solutions can be implemented to increase the sustainability of your business.


A collaborative approach with suppliers is one that Whitbread has found beneficial. We have developed Responsible Sourcing and Commodity Policies and we believe that working collaboratively with our suppliers to ensure that these standards are met creates the best possible solution for all parties involved. Not only has this approach improved our relations with suppliers and enhanced their sustainable credentials but it has increased the transparency of our supply chain as well.

It can be challenging, however, to ensure that suppliers meet the standards we set. Whitbread has therefore developed an automated system, with CRedit 360, to assess suppliers. Once our suppliers have responded to the questions posed, the system’s agile technology identifies potential risks to our supply chain automatically. It is then crucial that our expert team work closely with our suppliers to resolve any issues the system identifies, by educating them about our sustainable aims and the wider implications of our combined actions. Giving our suppliers an action plan for improvement, tailored to their business by our expert team, has increased our suppliers’ engagement with our aims. Using this innovative technology and offering personalised advice is a combination that we have found highly effective in improving the sustainability of our supply chain.

As an integral part of your business, a sustainable supply chain will protect corporate reputation and enhance the sustainable credentials of your businesses. As consumers, the media and stakeholders are increasingly beginning to question the transparency of supply chains and scrutinise sustainable credentials across all aspects of a business, it is important to take steps to increase sustainability in your supply chain.

Mark Parker is programme manager of Corporate Responsibility at Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants. 

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