UK supply chain survey reveals major lack of transparency on sustainability

Half of UK businesses admit they are not being transparent enough with consumers about the true sustainability of their supply chains, new research has revealed.

For most businesses, the environmental impact of the supply chain will be larger than for its direct operations

For most businesses, the environmental impact of the supply chain will be larger than for its direct operations

A survey published today (10 September) by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) found that 48% of the 318 supply chain managers surveyed do not believe their organisation is transparent enough with consumers, clients, and regulators about sustainability.

Meanwhile, 19% admitted they do not even know how sustainable their products are themselves. Despite this, only 5% feel their marketing actively misleads clients or customers about sustainability. 

Two years on from the UK’s net-zero commitment, only 59% of the supply chain managers surveyed by CIPS believe they will be able to deliver against the target. And, since that net-zero target was set in 2019, just one in 10 (11%) of the supply chain managers said their business has done nothing to improve the sustainability of its supply chains.

There have, however, been some positive signs of progress. Around 53% of respondents stated that, since 2019, they have begun taking sustainability into account when choosing suppliers. Additionally, 36% said they have redesigned products to reduce waste, increased the use of recyclables or introduced more sustainable materials.

Sustainable procurement

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is preparing for a new crackdown on misleading environmental claims made to consumers.

The CIPS survey suggested a lack of procurement involvement in setting corporate sustainability strategy in the UK is at least partly to blame.

Much of the UK’s carbon footprint is generated abroad, several tiers down the supply chain in the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing of products and transportation. The procurement function has a crucial role in understanding, measuring, and addressing the sustainability of this supply chain.

However, one in five (19%) of UK supply chain managers said they were not involved at all in their organisation’s sustainability strategy, while 43% said they were only lightly involved. A further 18% said they were unaware of any corporate sustainability strategy at all.

Collaborative action

CIPS Group chief executive Malcolm Harrison said: “The choices UK businesses make ripple through their supply chains to impact everything from water security and carbon emissions, to waste management and deforestation in other countries.

“Much of an organisation’s environmental impact will be outside their internal boundaries, and it is important that organisations understand this complexity so they can begin to track, communicate, and address the sustainability of their own unique supply chain. 

“Collaboration is critical to tackling climate change. This includes internal collaboration, between marketing teams and the supply chain managers, and external collaboration between suppliers across the supply chain.

“No one organisation can solve climate change on their own and there need to be more initiatives encouraging competitors to collaborate together to improve the sustainability of common supply chains.

“Sustainability strategy must be led by the chief executive but it requires input from across the business and procurement is perhaps the most crucial ingredient.

“Supply chain managers can take a more active role by improving their skills in this area and being more vocal internally about the importance of supply chains in addressing sustainability issues. We all have a role to play to help meet our climate change goals and the time to act is now.”

In February, research from CDP warned businesses could face up to $120bn in additional costs across their supply chains from the impacts of climate and environmental breakdown in the next five years.

edie’s latest Net-Zero Business Barometer found net-zero targets for this decade typically exclude Scope 3 emissions, while targets for 2040 and 2050 typically include them.

edie staff



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