Choosing a Sustainable Supplier for Your Small Retail Business

by Danielle Bloom

3 min read

A sustainable business model starts long before you put products on your shelves. Finding sustainable suppliers for your merchandise, shipping materials, and stockroom supplies is an important part of running an eco-friendly small business. By committing to finding the best sustainable suppliers, you give your customers a place to shop that supports their environmentally and socially responsible consumerism.

Set Standards

Before you can evaluate the sustainability of a supplier, you need a set of standards to compare the options. What’s important to you in an eco-friendly supplier? Many aspects can go into sustainability, such as materials used, manufacturing practices, employee conditions, recycling, commitment to the environment, giving back to the community, packaging, or shipping methods. When choosing a supplier, it’s important to define your own values, purpose, and priorities to find suppliers who align with those ideals. Write a list of characteristics you want your suppliers to have. Do they need to use fair trade products? Do you want a supplier who gives back to the community? Are you looking for a company that continuously works to lower its carbon footprint? Define your must-haves as a framework for evaluating suppliers.

Check Supply Chain

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to check your product supply chain. If you’re buying merchandise for your retail store shelves, you need to trace back through the supply chain. Your suppliers provide you with the finished products. Did they manufacture those products themselves, or did they get them somewhere else? If so, what are the practices of the companies further up the supply chain? What materials go into the products, whether your suppliers or someone else makes them? Ask your suppliers about their products and the materials that go into them. Determine if they verify the sustainability of their suppliers or if they trace the supply chain to comply with environmental and social goals.

Survey Suppliers

A survey is a standardized way to get information from each of your suppliers based on the eco-friendly aspects that are important to you. This is also a good way to get the information in writing. Create your own short questionnaire about things such as compliance with environmental laws, supply chain, product sourcing, manufacturing practices, and other areas you think are most important. If the surveys reveal areas of concern, talk with the supplier about the issues. It could be a misunderstanding or something the supplier can easily change. Other times, that problematic answer could be a deal breaker, and you need to find a new supplier for that particular product. You can also use the surveys as a baseline for future improvement. Check in on suppliers to make sure they continue toward greater sustainability. Perform periodic audits to make sure your supply chain maintains sustainability over time.

Establish Expectations

Share your expectations with your suppliers. Let them know what you’re looking for in terms of sustainability. Having open discussions can help your company and your suppliers improve. You might bounce ideas off one another that help both of you improve your processes. Setting clear expectations is important to establishing a relationship with suppliers who share your environmental and social values. If a supplier is unwilling to have these discussions, it’s probably a sign you need to find someone new to supply your goods.

Provide Training

If certain suppliers come up short or need a little motivation to improve sustainability, provide educational resources. Sharing case studies and providing your own curated resources for sustainable business practices could encourage change in your suppliers. Continuing to improve your own sustainable business practices is a way to lead by example. Regularly evaluate your own behaviours, making changes when possible to minimize your negative impact on the environment and the community.Choosing sustainable suppliers for your retail business is essential when you want to focus on building an eco-friendly company. Research your suppliers and encourage them to make eco-friendly changes for a healthier supply chain.

References & Resources

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