6.2 Roll-Out

How do you implement sustainable sourcing on an organisational level?

Your company has chosen a sustainable sourcing strategy and it has set the level of sustainability standards for (selected) commodities. For example, there might be a target to source at least 75% of palm oil from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sources within three years, to source all dairy according to the internal company standard or to upgrade coffee sourcing from a basic level towards a higher standard. Unless you source all of these raw materials directly, most of the work will have to be done not by your own company, but by the suppliers and the suppliers’ suppliers. Naturally, if your company is sourcing directly from farmers, it will be much more involved in the implementation work than if it sources more indirectly through suppliers and traders. The roll-out process will therefore be very different for different companies. The following questions and guidelines should therefore be interpreted according to your company’s situation and tradition.

Do you have the right people on board to roll out sustainable sourcing?
Depending on your firm and your position, the answer to that question will vary considerably. In any case, you will need support from top management. Good cooperation between the sourcing side of the company, production, marketing and public relations departments is often an essential success factor.
  • This guide starts from the assumption that top management has made a decision in favour of sustainable sourcing already. However, top management support has to be re-confirmed time and again throughout the process. It is essential to secure that support for your selection of raw materials and sustainability requirements (standards) before starting the roll-out process on any scale. It is also essential to create an information feedback loop through key managers so that top management is kept informed of progress/sticking points/success stories. Remember, these are important ambassadors that serve in outreaching your strategy and changing organisational mindsets. 
  • Are you sufficiently involving the departments / people on the marketing and production side of the company? For example, if you want to go for certified raw materials, have you agreed on a marketing strategy whereby you would use certification in the company’s consumer communication and link it to a specific brand?

Consider the development of well-understood best practices before going for a standard:

Fixing a standard at too early a point of time may be counter-productive. It can be more useful to develop and try out some best practice guidelines first. By doing that, the company can learn more about the ease or the difficulties of implementing certain requirements and about the farmers’ readiness to follow them. Only after gathering such experience, may it be wise to develop a standard from these requirements.

Carefully weigh up the advantages, disadvantages and the timing of certification:
Certification is generally recommended after one has gathered enough experience with implementation. Therefore, it is not usually included in the early phase of a roll-out scheme.

Use pilot projects in the roll-out process: 
It can be useful to start with a number of pilots with selected suppliers and/or farmers in selected sourcing regions or countries, before setting and rolling out a standard. Once the pilots have been evaluated, the standard can be fixed and rolled out with more suppliers and farmers. Depending on the company, the raw material(s) considered and the market conditions, there are many options on how to proceed:

  • start the roll-out process for one particular brand, before including other brands;
  • start with sourcing from one region or country, before including other ones;
  • start with one or two priority commodities before dealing with others. Start with the “easy-wins” that will give you some initial traction and establish your first pilot projects if possible with the most-engaged or strategically most-important suppliers.

Think about replicability and scalability from the very beginning: 

Although it is useful to start with a limited number of pilots, it is important to consider the issue of scalability from the very outset. Sustainable sourcing cannot be based on small-scale pilot projects. Any pilot project you establish should have the potential to be scaled up to standard practices that can be applied to mainstream sourcing strategies.

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