Giving Compass' Take:

• Attempts to address sustainability in business have often failed because suppliers, who best know the work on the ground, have not been properly engaged. Stanford Social Innovation Review lays out steps for businesses to take to engage suppliers for sustainable food. 

• How can these partnerships make the greatest impact? Where is there most room for improvement in existing processes?

• Learn about AtSource, a new way to track products through their supply chain.

For decades, consumers, investors, government bodies, and others have voiced growing concerns about energy, waste, water, deforestation, and a host of social issues related to food production and distribution—across issue areas as wide-ranging as child labor and farm practices.

But achieving those high sustainability targets is proving much harder than anticipated. Many of these companies now face a barrier. Retailers and consumer goods companies may have adapted their own production and logistics to lower-resource requirements, for example, and they want to do more. Yet they have discovered they cannot reach higher sustainability objectives without deep collaboration with their agricultural suppliers, who often set less-aggressive goals. The primary reason: Suppliers fully understand the on-the-ground challenges. They are much closer to where system-wide operating practice changes must actually happen.

As a result, consumer goods companies and retailers that have worked solely within their own four walls, with only their immediate suppliers (or those that have just flatly asked suppliers to assure them their products and practices are sustainable), now realize they need to get deeper into the details of how those products are produced.

While this research has focused on consumer goods and retail companies with upstream agricultural supply chains, the lessons we’ve gleaned apply across industries, including apparel, mining, and forestry. Organizations that take a three-step approach can make a meaningful difference in their upstream supply chain.

  1. Map out sustainability challenges throughout the supply chain and identify who should address them.
  2. Develop a portfolio of actions with systemic reach.
  3. Build on successes—and repeat.

Read the full article about teaming up for sustainable food by Jenny Davis-Peccoud and Sasha Duchnowski at Stanford Social Innovation Review.