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Responding to Sustainability Surveys: A Primer for Suppliers

Customers that desire a more in-depth verification of supply chain operations may opt to go beyond surveys and conduct in-person audits.

By ·
By ·

Editor’s Note: Dana P. Stanton, Esq. Dana Stanton is an associate with Nixon Peabody LLP’s Energy & Environmental Group, representing developers and lenders in contaminated property and brownfields redevelopment, including advising on federal, state and local programs to obtain liability relief.

In recent years, companies have started to take a closer look at the sustainability aspects of their supply chain. Many large companies are increasing their own sustainability commitments and are considering sustainability when selecting their suppliers. Sustainability surveys are used to gauge suppliers’ environmental and sustainability performance.

Responding to a sustainability survey from a customer can be an arduous task. The time required to answer the questions can take hours, days or weeks, depending on the complexity and length of the survey. While some questions may be multiple choice or require yes/no answers, other questions may request written explanations or require supporting documentation. Sustainability surveys are typically filled out using either an Excel spreadsheet or an online portal.

The lingo may be unfamiliar and some surveys may ask questions about foreign laws. Enlisting the help of a law firm when confronted with a sustainability survey is a prudent first step, especially if you have concerns about the possibility of revealing proprietary information.

A supplier may receive multiple questionnaires, each from a different customer. The good news is that there will be lots of overlap, and completing subsequent surveys should take less time.

Some surveys are generic, but others are tailored toward a specific industry. For example, a survey sent to suppliers of paper or wooden furniture may focus on deforestation, whereas a survey sent to food and beverage suppliers may focus on water issues.

Common sustainability survey questions include:

  • Are you in compliance with all applicable environmental laws, permits and regulations?
  • Have you received any environmental claims, penalties, fines, violations or warnings?
  • Do you have an Environmental Management System (EMS) in place?
  • Do you have an environmental policy in place?
  • Do you have International Organization for Standards (ISO) 14001 certification?
  • Do you have goals, targets or management systems in place for any of the following?
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Wastewater reduction
  • Hazardous materials reduction, substitution or elimination
  • Renewable energy increase
  • Energy use reduction
  • Sustainable material usage
  • Industrial process waste reduction
  • Water use reduction
  • E-waste management
  • Do you consider sustainability in the design or packaging of your products?
  • What percentage of your packaging or products is comprised of post-consumer recycled materials?
  • Does your company provide an end-of-life take-back program for products or packaging?

In addition, companies that have to comply with California’s Proposition 65 or the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations may request detailed data regarding exactly what chemicals are in the purchased products.

Moreover, companies that are required to certify that their supply chain does not use conflict minerals may ask questions related to certain minerals in the product and the origin of those minerals.

Customers that desire a more in-depth verification of supply chain operations may opt to go beyond surveys and conduct in-person audits.

Filling out the surveys fully and accurately is important. The future of the business relationship could be influenced by the information disclosed in the survey. However, in general, companies prefer to work with their suppliers to improve performance, rather than search for a new supplier.

To ensure accuracy and timeliness in responding to a sustainability survey, assign accountability for completing the survey and budget money to ask for outside assistance.

 


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