You monitor your supply chain to understand the source of your raw materials, how to reduce your environmental footprint and how to use the least toxic chemicals. You have a Corporate Social Responsibility Team, Sustainability Manager or Product Engineer to oversee this program. But more often than not, product manufacturers feel that supply chain data collection is the largest source of cost, delays and uncertainty in their product transparency initiatives.
How do you engage your supply chain to become an active?
Define a common goal:
Work with your top suppliers to define a common goal so you’re on the same team from the beginning. What are you measuring or trying to change and why? If you have a clear vision to work towards (e.g a Declare Label), discuss your goals with your suppliers. Let them know you want to work together on this effort, and chances are, they want to keep you as a customer and will help out. Perhaps they can inform their other customers that they are ready and willing participants in helping to green supply chains and can use it as a competitive advantage.
Collaborate at the beginning:
Discuss a working format that makes it easy for the supplier to provide you with the details you need. They probably already have some of the information, (e.g. MSDS sheets) but someone on your side or their side needs to enter the data into a new format manually or import it into a software program like Toxnot. Help them understand data gaps (i.e. getting to 100ppm disclosure) and what level of additional disclosure that will mean for them based on how much of your end product they supply. Decide up front so neither side feels the surprise burden later on.
Keep in mind that they have many other customers also requesting similar information, so understand what their process is and if they have a standard format already.
*pro-tip: When engaging with a new supplier, create a sustainable supplier contract at the beginning of the relationship to streamline the entire process.
Explain your Language and Understand Theirs:
Ensure that you’re talking about the same thing. Do they call a list of materials a Bill of Materials, sub-assemblies or a formulation? Are they clear which of their products you’re referring to if you send them your internal material codes? Ask them, and use their terminology to make it easier for them to help you.
Sell the Supplier Value:
Talk to your supply chain partners about your transparency program requirements and how you see that program expanding. Suppliers want to be your long term partner, winning expanded business and long term contracts with you.
Help them understand how support for your transparency initiatives can make them a preferred partner for new developments and prominently marketed product lines.
Address Intellectual Property Concerns Head On:
“No” is always the easiest answer for your suppliers’ short-staffed legal teams. Make sure you clearly lay out how data will be handled and secured up front. Allowing suppliers to redact or mask some level of information about key substances can greatly improve overall response rates. Using third party systems, like Toxnot, or consultants can allow you to have a trusted third party conduct a check of masked ingredients. If you are using an encrypted platform like Toxnot, help suppliers understand the security advantages over unencrypted email communications.
Talk it up:
Use social media and other opportunities to discuss how your supply chain management is working well. Consumers want to know that companies understand what goes into the products they make; investors want to know that you’re working with your supply chain; and other manufacturers will want to work with your suppliers. It’s a win-win.
Reduce everyone’s risk.
We all want to reduce adverse risks to human health and the environment. If a chemical of concern is found in your supply chain, you have the opportunity to work with your supplier to find a more sustainable alternative. Using a preferred alternative can reduce the risk to your company and consumers while reducing the risk to workers downstream. Remember the issue with toy company Mattel’s bad publicity about lead in toys? You want to be a proactive member of your supply chain, not the weak link at the end who has no idea what was going on upstream.
Remember, everyone wants to be on the same team, reducing health, environmental and financial risk. Make a concerted effort to understand your suppliers needs and you’ll more forward more effectively.