Seventh Generation, a Certified B Corporation, has ambitious sustainability goals. By 2020, they intend to have all suppliers exceed social standards for health, safety, environment, and equity. To achieve this goal, Seventh Generation partnered with B Lab’s Measure What Matters initiative in 2015, introducing the Quick Impact Assessment (QIA) and the full B Impact Assessment (BIA) to 19 suppliers.
We talked with Penny Tudor, Seventh Generation’s Director of Quality, Regulatory & Claims to share about Seventh Generation’s experience of being a Measure What Matters Partner. Click here for a downloadable version of this case study.
What motivated Seventh Generation to become a Measure What Matters Partner?
I believe that, by acting as good citizens and focusing on all stakeholders in the supply chain, businesses have the potential to change the world. This is aligned with Seventh Generation’s overall mission and long term strategic goals. We want to encourage all of our suppliers to engage in sustainable business practices and impact management, so we became a Measure What Matters partner and started asking our suppliers to take the QIA in 2015.
What is your strategy to engage suppliers?
In 2010, we started organizing “Supplier Days”, a yearly event in which we would convene our suppliers to talk about these topics. So far, the events have been mostly virtual. Nonetheless, some of our suppliers have been able to joins us in person at our headquarters.
But we wanted to move beyond just talking about impact. That’s why in 2015, we asked suppliers to evaluate their impact using the Quick or full B Impact Assessment. The next year, we asked them to choose a question to improve upon and, ever since, we have been working together to develop plans and programs for improvement. Eventually, we want to focus on carbon footprint and ask everyone to take the full B Impact Assessment.
How did you get buy-in from your suppliers?
Giving suppliers the the option of taking B Lab’s quick assessment (QIA) and asking suppliers to pick a metric to improve upon were our first steps to start the conversation with our suppliers. It is relatively easy for suppliers to fill out the QIA and pick a question for improvement based on their needs and resources.
Additionally, we discovered that suppliers have a lot to learn from one another. That is why we started inviting suppliers to present about their sustainability programs at our Supplier Days. In 2016, for example, one supplier talked about their strategy to reduce water, electricity, and increase recycling. After the presentation, another supplier expressed interest in learning more about this strategy. The conversation eventually evolved into a relationship where the suppliers would visit each others facilities in an effort to share experiences and learn about new ways to improve their sustainability practices. This is exactly the type of engagement - not just with Seventh Generation, but with each other - that we think has earned buy-in to our program.
What were some of the challenges you encountered when trying to engage suppliers?
When we introduced this idea to our suppliers, we were surprised by the interest they had in this program and their strong performance, mainly in the environmental sections of the QIA. When asking them to choose a metric to improve on, the main concern for them was cost and our main challenge was timing.
Our suppliers were concerned about how much improvement would cost, considering they were not staffed for sustainability. We also learned that the timing of our Supplier Day is very important. Summers turned out to be a tough time to run the Supplier Day, as people often go out on vacation. We also learned that it is better to have deadlines to fill out the QIA and/or BIA soon after the Supplier Days are over, in order to build upon the momentum gained during the event. Giving suppliers two months was too long of a deadline and didn’t help to keep momentum going.
How did you overcome these challenges?
For those newer to sustainability, we offered them different resources. Our Director of Sustainability also invited them to talk to other suppliers who are further along in their sustainability journeys.
For those concerned with cost, we reviewed the questions together and helped them pick a metric that wouldn’t increase their operational costs. In doing this, we leveraged some of B Lab’s resources, like the Impact Cloud feature of B Analytics, that highlighted questions that were easy to improve upon.
Additionally, we also partnered with external consultants. They presented at our event and talked about the work they do with other companies, showed examples of their previous work for different clients, and gave an array of ways they could help suppliers in their sustainability strategies, from inexpensive to more comprehensive alternatives.
What did you find valuable about using B Analytics?
The upgraded version of B Analytics has been really helpful. Through it, we have been able to track and report on the progress of the suppliers that have completed the QIA. This will be particularly useful when we start planning for next year’s Supplier Day, as B Analytics helps us understand how suppliers are improving on their sustainability journey and what areas require more attention and support. We also use B Analytics on individual basis when working with specific suppliers so we can support them with targeted resources to help them move forward on their journey.
What were some of the outcomes of your Measure What Matters Partnership?
Through this partnership we have been able to better engage our suppliers to measure their impact. By analyzing that impact data and identifying areas in need of improvement, we are able to better assist our suppliers in improving sustainability. Moreover, as we engage our suppliers, it will also help us reduce our own carbon footprint and improve our own B Corp Certification score.
In addition, we have been able to educate our suppliers on how to measure impact. This has raised awareness about how improving impact not only benefits the environment, workers and society, but also their business. Often times, suppliers have discovered they can save money, they can improve employee morale, and so much more. In short, this program has allowed us to make a business case for sustainability with our suppliers.
Ultimately, we hope that all of our suppliers share our values and are better citizens for their own community.
Through this partnership we have been able to better engage our suppliers to measure their impact. By analyzing that impact data and identifying areas in need of improvement, we are able to better assist our suppliers in improving sustainability.
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