June 15, 2024

Responsible choices

Choosing the most sustainable suppliers isn't easy, so follow these top tips from Sam Cande at Responsible Futures

As custodians of sustainable practices, buyers must navigate through the labyrinth of supplier offerings with a discerning eye, asking the right questions and demanding genuine commitment to environmental stewardship. Here’s a blueprint for engaging with suppliers to drive sustainability across your organisation:

Set the stage

Engaging with suppliers begins with a fundamental yet impactful question: “Do you have a sustainability strategy, policy, or mandate?” This initiates a meaningful conversation about their dedication to sustainability. Delve deeper by inquiring about their net-zero objectives, ensuring they are grounded in science-based approaches with measurable targets. Clarify how their organisation can contribute to your sustainability goals, seeking tangible actions rather than mere rhetoric. Encourage them to share their sustainability initiatives and any relevant accreditations, emphasising the importance of genuine commitment over mere checkbox exercise

Explore whether they possess technology that can aid your efforts and enquire about the source of their data. Request examples of meaningful carbon reductions achieved through their work, emphasising outcomes beyond simplistic measures like tree planting. Larger organisations may mandate suppliers to align with initiatives like SBTi or demonstrate clear carbon reduction plans, reflecting a strategic approach to partner selection.

While these discussions typically occur during the RFP process, it’s crucial to conduct regular sustainability check-ins, ideally annually. Hold suppliers accountable for progress against committed reductions, expecting transparency in reporting scope 1, 2 & 3 carbon footprints. Ask about updates since the last conversation and encourage sharing of sustainability news, perhaps through newsletters or direct communication from their sustainability lead. Maintain awareness of their sustainability efforts by following updates from their head of sustainability and consider requesting meetings with them to deepen engagement.

Navigate greenwashing

Amidst a landscape where greenwashing proliferates, distinguishing between genuine commitments and mere embellishments is essential. Delve into the specifics of suppliers’ pledges, meticulously examining the strength of their sustainability endeavours. Remain vigilant against ambiguous assurances lacking tangible actions. The recent regulatory measures introduced by the EU aim to curb deceptive environmental assertions, enforcing rigorous validation and transparency standards. Ensure accountability among suppliers by integrating sustainability clauses into contracts and seeking independent validation of their assertions.

Consider EU regulation and its ramifications

The EU’s regulatory crackdown on greenwashing entails that commonplace environmental terms such as “environmentally friendly”, “eco”, “natural”, “biodegradable” and similar descriptors on products necessitate substantiating evidence of recognised environmental performance directly linked to the claim. Sustainable labels must comply with accredited certification schemes or those endorsed by public authorities to maintain validity. Moreover, claims like “30% less emissions” or commitments to achieve full electrification by a designated year must be supported by concrete targets accompanied by feasible implementation strategies, all subject to verification by an impartial third party.

A significant pivot involves the stringent prohibition of claims reliant on emission-offsetting schemes. Expressions like “carbon-neutral flights”, which imply carbon neutrality through tree planting, are explicitly outlawed. This signifies that airlines can no longer tout carbon-neutral flights with the option for passengers to purchase carbon credits as a means of offsetting their emissions. This regulatory adjustment is poised to significantly impact the travel sector, where the practice of suggesting that flying can be offset by planting trees has become commonplace. It also prompts scrutiny regarding airlines marketing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as carbon credits.

It is imperative to verify that those making assertions possess valid accreditations and certifications, while meticulously scrutinising the veracity of their claims to ensure they hold up. Any sustainability claims must be truthful, precise, clear and unambiguous. They should embody fairness, significance, and account for the entire product lifecycle, all supported by robust evidence. If uncertainty arises regarding a supplier’s adherence to these standards, do not hesitate to challenge them. Seek guidance from experts to substantiate claims if needed and incorporate sustainable clauses into contracts to uphold accountability.

Inform travellers

Addressing dissatisfaction with suppliers necessitates a proactive approach. If a favourite hotel falls short on sustainability, engage with travellers transparently, leveraging storytelling to underscore the imperative of change. Educate travellers on the company’s net-zero targets and collaborate with innovative solutions like the EcoSmart accreditation by Greengage Solutions to identify sustainable alternatives. Foster partnerships with suppliers to deliver educational workshops and materials, empowering travellers to make informed choices.

Encourage collaboration

Strengthening your partnerships with suppliers involves a range of strategies, such as inviting them to lead educational webinars or workshops for your travellers and providing engaging materials to educate them on sustainable travel practices. Recently, for example, Responsible Futures partnered with Good Travel Management to organise a workshop for its clients focused on sustainable business travel.

In today’s landscape, sustainability permeates various aspects of our lives, yet its vocabulary can be daunting. It’s perfectly normal to encounter unfamiliar terms or concepts. Thankfully, there are experts available to assist you along the way. Despite the abundance of sustainability discussions in conferences and articles deciphering the terminology can still pose challenges. Don’t hesitate to seek clarification when needed.

The essence lies in active participation; regard your suppliers as essential allies in your sustainability journey. Collaborate closely with them, drawing upon their expertise, while also holding them accountable. It’s about embarking on a sustainable journey together, nurturing mutual growth and progress.

Use your power

As custodians of corporate sustainability, the onus lies on buyers to steer the course towards a greener future. By interrogating suppliers, challenging greenwashing and fostering collaboration you wield immense influence in shaping a sustainable trajectory for the travel industry. By prioritising sustainability, we uphold our commitment to preserving the allure of travel for future generations, guided by our shared responsibility.