Suppliers must meet corporation’s sustainability standards

Engaging with suppliers is key to the success of a corporation's sustainability agenda and if ignored businesses risk damaging their reputation and brand value, says BT's Liz Cross.

Cross, BT’s head of governance and sustainability for procurement, says there is far more to a sustainable product than just recycling materials and reducing energy use. There is a baseline, in terms of sustainability and being a responsible business, which involves significant engagement with its suppliers, Cross adds.

Speaking at today’s Responsible Procurement & Supplier Engagement Conference, organised by edie and Sustainable Business magazine, Cross says: “Our suppliers must meet our standards across the board in terms of waste standards, how they are treating their workers, health and safety in the environment, child labour etc”.

“We have seen some very poor examples of all these issues in our supply chain and we have worked with our suppliers, and have encouraged them to work with us to address these issues and try to work towards an acceptable standard”.

Earlier this year, BT began assessing its suppliers as part of its drive to ensure all areas of the business are considering environmental and social issues.

Through the company’s Better Future report and sustainability programme, it has seen significant behavioural change from its suppliers.

“One of our suppliers has found that the return rate of its workers in China at the spring break has gone up to 95%, rather than the industry standard of 50-60% returning. And if you think about that in terms of the challenge for a company that doesn’t have half of its workforce returning, this has huge benefits and amounts to big savings”, says Cross.

“Earlier this year we engaged with our suppliers and carried out the first baseline assessment of them and it’s been an interesting experience for just the start of our programme”.

“Some of them were very keen and ambitious in this area, teaching us that leadership and engagement at the top of these organisations is key to progress”.

However, other suppliers have been less interested, Cross adds.

“Some suppliers just want to sell products, they’re not interested in sustainability and taking the sustainability agenda forward, as long as they keep doing business with BT they’re happy – and that’s the path they choose to take”.

Most corporations have claimed that since the rise in awareness of sustainability and the implementing of sustainability agendas, a steep learning curve has been a significant part of the journey.

“This has been an interesting wake up call for BT in terms of the different levels of interest and engagement from our suppliers and what impact that might have on future buying options”, adds Cross.

Leigh Stringer

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