7. Communicating the Company’s Sustainable Sourcing Efforts

How do you communicate your sustainable sourcing efforts to employees and other internal stakeholders?

A good internal communications strategy must go hand in hand with the sustainable sourcing strategy. The importance of internal communication should not be underestimated in comparison with external communications – which of course is equally important (see below).

To be successful with your internal communications strategy, you may use a number of tools. Examples of these might be:

  • Awareness-raising sessions such as site events, or sustainable sourcing specific events. This helps to engage managers and other staff in your process;
  • Including details about your sustainable sourcing activities in your intranet and internal websites. This helps to cross fertilise information within the firm and gives other managers direct access to information and success stories about your initiatives;
  • Quarterly business reviews/news bulletins/newsletters. These can be exploited to further disseminate information about your sustainable sourcing initiatives;
  • Tailor-made workshops and/or training, awareness building sessions, to get managers thinking of solutions to your sustainable sourcing dilemmas.

To outreach a sustainable sourcing strategy internally, however, it is advisable to leverage existing communication channels and plug into existing systems and tools, rather than creating new ones. Just be sure that the quality and clarity of your communications is of a high standard, otherwise, you stand to lose traction.

Identifying allies (“sustainability champions”) and “ambassadors” in procurement and other relevant functional units is a highly-effective mechanism for promoting your business case internally. Those responsible for implementing the strategy should thus strategically identify who needs to be convinced internally in order to get a project through the organisational hierarchy and to get it supported on a continuous basis. In companies where such a network is operating, these key “change agents” are kept involved permanently and on an on-going basis.

How do you communicate your sustainable sourcing efforts to consumers and other external stakeholders?

To get maximum traction on your investment in terms of time, energy resources and achievements, a company’s efforts to ‘go sustainable’ are generally communicated to a wide audience from consumers, to NGOs, governments and the media. How you decide to communicate efforts and achievements relating to sustainable sourcing depends on your firm’s philosophy and tradition.

Questions to ask include[1]:

  1. Does your company regard ‘sustainable sourcing’ as a competitive issue?
    Some companies have good reasons not to consider ‘sustainability’ in general or ‘sustainable sourcing’ as a competitive issue. Others regard ‘sustainability’ as an issue to differentiate themselves in the market and to become more attractive for certain consumer groups.
  2. Will your firm use its sustainable sourcing strategy as a main item in its communication to consumers and other stakeholders?
    The message your company wants to convey to different stakeholder groups, including consumers, is, among other things, dependent on whether ‘sustainability’ is regarded as a competitive issue or not.
  3. How do you mobilise your company’s great story tellers; the marketing people?
    One effective option is to bring your marketing people up the supply chain for a field visit. When they visit farms, farmers and farming communities, they may be in a position to tell great stories about the company and the brand in relation to sustainable sourcing.
  4. Does it make sense to communicate about targets and plans or only about concrete results?
    The answer to this question depends on the firm culture. Some companies like to communicate their efforts (“we will source 90% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably within five or 10 years”). Others prefer to produce outcomes first. External communication of targets may help create expectations on the part of consumers and other stakeholders. It may also be used as a mean to put pressure on the management to reach such targets.
  5. What role will on-product labelling play in communication to consumers? As with the other questions, there is no single recipe  here. Some companies prefer to focus as much as possible on their own brand, which, among other things, stands for sustainability. Other companies use on-product labelling (together with their own brands) with third-party labels, such as Rainforest Alliance (especially for tea, coffee, cocoa), UTZ Certified (mainly for coffee and cocoa) or different Fairtrade and organic labels. On-product labelling is generally not used for minority ingredients in the final product (such as RSPO certified palm oil or RTRS certified soy).

[1] Communication is not the main topic in this guide. In this version, we have only listed a limited number of questions. They may be elaborated further in future versions.

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