Limited sustainability reach throughout global supply chains

2nd March 2018

P6 sustainability report istock 468392873

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Sustainability


Deborah Cousins

Efforts to apply sustainability practices throughout supply chains are having a limited reach, covering only a small section of the materials used.

A paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals 52% of global companies incorporate sustainable sourcing into their business operations.

However, more than 70% of these practices only cover a subset of input materials for a given product, leaving the remaining upstream impact unaddressed.

“Advancing environmental and social goals in supply chains can quickly become very complex,” study co-author and postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Joann de Zeghar, said.

“This complexity is reflected in our findings that companies use a broad range of strategies and that current efforts have limited reach.”

The study of 449 publicly listed companies highlights how global supply chains will be key to achieving UN sustainability goals, touching more than 80% of trade and employing more than a fifth of workers worldwide.

Despite this, it was found that almost all sustainable sourcing practices address only a single tier in supply chains, such as the textile factories that sew T-shirts, ignoring remaining processes like dying the cloth or growing the cotton.

In addition, the researchers found more than a quarter of these practices apply to only a single product line, and that just 15% focus on health, energy, infrastructure, climate change, education, gender or poverty.

However, the findings show that putting companies under pressure makes them “significantly more likely” to adopt sustainable sourcing practices, with a higher number of businesses doing so in countries with many active NGOs.

“The pressure consumers put on firms when they demand more sustainable products might be paying off,” study lead author, Tannis Thorlakson, said.

“I hope this paper acts as a call to action for those 48% of companies that aren’t doing anything to address sustainability challenges in their supply chain.”

Image credit: iStock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Weather damage insurance claims hit record high

Weather-related damage to homes and businesses saw insurance claims hit a record high in the UK last year following a succession of storms.

18th April 2024

Read more

The Scottish government has today conceded that its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 is now “out of reach” following analysis by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

18th April 2024

Read more

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Vanessa Champion reveals how biophilic design can help you meet your environmental, social and governance goals

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close