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Collaboration is key to achieving sustainability

June 7, 2018
Posted by adjuno

Whether it is awareness driven by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet or the ‘mindful buying’ millennials, the impact of our society on the planet appears to be increasingly influencing purchasing behaviour.

In a bid to make the necessary changes to improve standards globally and keep up with consumer demand, retailers are now working with science and academia to discover new products that have better environmental credentials – from recyclable man-made fibres to cotton production methods that use far less water.

One organisation that recently took a public stand on improving its sustainability is LEGO. Rather than continuing to use conventional plastic, LEGO are introducing new sustainable elements made from polyethylene, a plant-based plastic. This initiative shows that LEGO is pushing forward with new methods and constantly re-evaluating the environmental impacts of its products.

But while there are potential competitive advantages to be gained from going it alone and making that sustainable breakthrough, the risks are also significant.

So how can retailers truly make a difference?

Small incremental gains are likely to have a far bigger impact on the environment and on the lives of those involved in the manufacturing process. Focusing on production methods to reduce the amount of water used in the creation of cotton products, from farming through to process, is essential. The world has finite water and energy resources and failure to become far more effective in production will affect not only consumer perception but also profitability.

Such achievements are far more likely to be achieved collaboratively, with retailers working together to drive up sustainability within factories – from sharing performance information to jointly funding ethical audits. One organisation supporting this ‘open information’ approach is Common Objective, which is building up a database of suppliers – including their ethical and sustainable credentials – from information provided by retailers. This database will help other organisations quickly locate the best source or supplier that works to a specific ethical standard.

A collaborative approach will also free up resources to focus on innovation that could provide a competitive edge. For example, strong, end to end supply chain insight and control can provide the ability to track the source of every piece of wood used within the product line. Similar models could be adopted for products made from leather, cotton or feather and down.

With this collaborative model reinforcing the business value of a pool of high quality suppliers, retailers can create a strong foundation for continual innovation within an established and trusted supplier base, delivering incremental sustainability improvements year on year.

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