Young happy female worker in bottling factory recycling department.
Working with a sustainable manufacturer is good for business and good for the planet. Here’s how to find a partner that can help you reach your sustainability goals. — Getty Images/Group4 Studio

More and more consumers are paying attention to the impact their purchasing decisions have on the planet. In 2018, 50% of digital consumers said that environmental concerns played a role in their shopping decisions. Customers are able, in just a few clicks, to research different elements of your supply chain, including your manufacturing partner.

Working with a sustainable manufacturer is good for business and good for the planet. Here’s how to find a partner that shares similar brand values and can help you reach your sustainability goals.

[Read more: How to Find a Factory to Manufacture Your Product]

Define what sustainability means to you

Sustainability is a broad area that can encompass a range of different metrics. And, unless you have an unlimited budget, it’s likely that you’ll need to prioritize some areas of sustainability over others. That’s why it’s useful to develop a specific set of standards against which to benchmark potential manufacturing partners.

Before you start to solicit information from manufacturers, define your sustainability standards. This could include things like:

  • The partner’s approach to sourcing raw materials.
  • If and how much the partner uses clean energy.
  • If and how the partner tracks its vehicles’ and factory’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • The partner’s recycling and waste management programs at its facilities.

By prioritizing your sustainability goals, you can begin to survey potential partners to see if they’re equipped to meet your standards.

Ask tough questions

As you reach out to potential manufacturing partners, include sustainability questions in your vetting process. Here are some ideas of things to ask:

  • What are the local environmental regulations, and how do you comply with them?
  • What environmental management practices do you use?
  • What are your environmental goals?
  • Where do your raw materials come from?
  • What are the sustainability credentials of your suppliers?
  • Do your distribution partners offer carbon offsets?

Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer, and require manufacturers — especially those overseas — to provide evidence or customer testimonials. It can also be useful to ask for specific certifications.

By prioritizing your sustainability goals, you can begin to survey potential partners to see if they’re equipped to meet your standards.

Look for sustainability credentials

Some manufacturing partners will make the effort to achieve industry-approved sustainability credentials or certifications that you can reference. For instance, the B Lab certification verifies “social and environmental performance” while TRUE Zero Waste credentials identify a company’s environmentally responsible waste diversion initiatives. Other credentials can be found on this list of green business certifications from Small Biz Trends.

Visit trade shows

Trade shows can be a great place to meet multiple potential manufacturing partners at once and compare their sustainability credentials. There are industry-specific trade shows, like Pure London for fabric and the Natural Product Expos, that put sustainability at the center of the event. The clothing industry has tons of sustainability-focused trade shows, and you can find one in your niche by searching on Google or speaking to industry groups on LinkedIn.

Use a sourcing tool

Companies like Common Objective can help you find sustainable manufacturers in your industry. Technology like Fairmarkit’s strategic sourcing platform can also help you find companies committed to sustainability. These tools and partnerships may require some upfront investment, but they can do the vetting work for you and make it that much easier to find the right manufacturer.

Help your existing manufacturing partners evolve

If you’re already well into the process of vetting a manufacturing partner, or if you’re renewing an agreement with an existing one, make sustainability central to your continued relationship. Create a sustainability code of conduct, perform a sustainability audit, and provide training to make sustainability easy throughout your supply chain. All your efforts should include some key performance indicators that can keep everyone on track and measure your success over time.

[Read more: How to Create a Product Prototype]

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Published October 15, 2021