Sustainability sells in the supply chain, too

Some of the biggest names in business know that their commitments to sustainability are as cost-effective as they are climate-conscious, and that becomes clear when checking out the March 2018 list of Climate Leadership Awards. These went to Citigroup, for supporting the Paris climate agreement and committing USD$100 billion to climate finance over the next 10 years. They went to Gerard Anderson, the CEO of DTE Energy, for his leadership on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and to companies including Goldman Sachs, National Grid, IBM, Kimberly Clark and Comerica.

“Their efforts are creating jobs around the country, saving lives by cleaning the air people breathe, and sending a strong message to the rest of the world: America will continue to lead the way on climate change, no matter what happens in Washington,” said Michael Bloomberg, a leader in his own right when it comes to being a champion of climate action as an imperative that’s win-win business sense.

The awards used to be sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, but changes in government administration caused the EPA to pull out in 2018. It’s the kind of Trump-era decision that has concerned and climate-savvy consumers turning to the private sector to build a sustainable future.

So now, Bloomberg Philanthropies is a co-sponsor of the awards, along with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and The Climate Registry, a North American nonprofit that helps companies with both voluntary and compliance emissions reporting programs. The registry works much like the Kimberley Process used to verify conflict-free diamonds and other minerals needed in cutting edge technology, or the Fair Labor Association with members like Patagonia, an “activist company” whose customers expect both social responsibility and transparency about it. That is the new marketplace.

For every big brand, though, there also are thousands of small business owners who know that being an ecofriendly enterprise is the best way to do business – and they make sure that customers know it. A company’s climate impact isn’t an afterthought to clients and customers in today’s marketplace. They may not see the money their favorite restaurant is saving with solar-powered lighting or in the behind-the-scenes supply chain, but they place a premium on businesses that align with their goals and values.

“There are two things that are powerful that we do to bring customers back,” said Marc Miles, co-founder of Salsa Fresca Mexican Grill, a chain of fast casual restaurants in New York and Connecticut. “Obviously, they love the food. But they really care about the dedication to what we’re doing towards the planet. And we see that in every store.” Salsa Fresca’s eco-friendly policies range from compostable bowls and forks made from plant starch, to the buildings themselves, which use energy-saving lighting and HVAC units.

The Clif Bar snack company, a previous winner of the Climate Leadership Awards, is another example. The sports snack brand is identified with sustainability because the company was very intentional about it. Yet in order to achieve its own goals – baking that relies on renewable energy, deliveries using clean-energy transportation – it needs its B2B and supply chain partners to be just as green-friendly in action. For States Logistics, the company that Clif Bar relies on, that meant making a few changes of their own.

“In the past decade, scores of companies have been pushing their supply chains to adopt sustainable practices — often in answer to consumers,” explains Kirsten James, writing for GreenBiz. “Ranging from retailers such as Walmart to packaged food companies such as PepsiCo and Kellogg to iPhone maker Apple and other tech giants, these companies often view greening a supply chain as a way to win customers themselves. Increasingly, their investors are looking at sustainability creds as well.”

What that usually means is that customers aren’t just expecting more from companies, but the eco-friendly business leaders are influencing other businesses too. That’s obvious when companies market their “green edge,” and others in the community or sector know they have to clean up to compete. It’s less visible – marketing materials and social media campaigns rarely highlight the thrill of biodiesel fleet transportation, or zero-waste reductions in warehouses – but it’s all part of the brand and its footprint.

At Outdoor Solar Store, based in environmentally aware Golden, Colorado, that’s meant more business from small and mid-sized companies too. “They’re not just looking to greenwash operations to keep clients and consumers happy and protect their profits,” said Dan Kennedy, of Outdoor Solar Store. “They want their stores and fitness gyms and restaurants to walk the walk, and they want the benefits that come with that for everyone. What’s really taken off is the degree to which customers drive transformation but B2B is delivering it.”

Ultimately, that’s because sustainability sells – and for all the right reasons. Consumers know they’re buying goods or doing business with service providers who are in the fight for a sustainable climate future. Smart public-facing companies are making sure that everyone knows it, but they’re also promoting ecofriendly practices the customers don’t see, and building a greener business community too.

Image: Climate Leadership Awards