Executive Summary

Environmental sustainability has become an important topic for organizations in recent years and there has been a push not only to evaluate the sustainability performance within an organization’s own operations, but also to evaluate the impacts of the organization’s supply chain. This push has resulted in a proliferation of sustainability supply chain surveys and organizations have had to dedicate an increasing amount of time to respond to them. The Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) has convened a working group of sustainability professionals and partnered with Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment to address this issue, focusing specifically on environmental sustainability. Through interviews with 15 organizations across different sectors, and analysis of 31 collected sustainability supply chain surveys, this report aims to outline a roadmap towards streamlining and harmonizing the surveying process, which could alleviate this burden on sustainability professionals.

This report incorporates insights from our interviews on the current challenges and opportunities confronting sustainability professionals in the supply chain disclosure process, including survey responders, issuers, and decision makers. In addition, the report includes a thorough analysis of the collected surveys with the aim of identifying commonalities and differences regarding topics, question nature, and question format across sectors, surveys created by individual companies versus industry groups and NGOs, and survey purpose.

Survey responders who were interviewed expressed a desire for some level of standardization that would reduce the burden of responding to survey requests. However, survey issuers who were interviewed, while understanding the benefits of standardization, also want the flexibility to focus on the areas and topics that are material to their organizations. Lastly, it was clear through interviews with individuals responsible for making decisions on the survey data that organizations are at various stages in their ability to act on the results. Some organizations are collecting data in an attempt to start dialogues with their suppliers, while others have incorporated sustainability metrics into their supplier evaluation and selection processes.

The analysis of the collected surveys highlighted differences in topic coverage not only between industries, but also among companies in the same industry. Thus, a standardized, one-size-fit-all survey is unlikely to meet the needs of most organizations. However, it appears that there are opportunities to standardize the wording and format of the questions that are being asked.

A web-based repository of environmental sustainability questions should be created where survey issuers can pick and choose the questions they want to send to their suppliers, and suppliers can respond to each unique question that they receive from their customers and have the responses saved in the repository. As suppliers receive surveys from their customers, questions that they have already responded to in a prior customer survey will be automatically filled with their saved response and they would only have to enter responses to questions that they are receiving for the first time. This type of repository system would standardize the wording and format of questions, allow survey issuers to maintain the flexibility to customize their surveys to focus on the topics that are most important to their organization, and reduce the burden for survey responders This report provides a preliminary list of questions that could serve as a starting point for the question repository, in addition to highlighting a set of considerations and next steps that ACCO can use as a roadmap for taking this project forward.

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