How to Choose Sustainable Business Partners

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Sustainability has moved past industry buzzword status to command a stronghold in business and customer communities. When your business embraces sustainable practices, has mindful customers, or both, it’s important to make sure your actions reflect your priorities.

Your organization has the opportunity to make an impact through its sourcing choices as well as its own sustainability goals. But finding, choosing, and monitoring business partners can often seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there are ways to help you sort through slick marketing to reveal potential partners with a true commitment to sustainability.

Consider Their Products’ Impact on the Environment

When you’re thinking of partnering with a company, you may first be focusing on the quality of their products. While product quality is paramount, pause to research its impact on the environment.

Review its manufacturing process, ingredients, and packaging as you consider whether the partnership is a match. Companies that source their ingredients locally could be a more environmentally friendly choice given the reduction in miles traveled. Plant-based ingredients often have a lower carbon footprint while growing and when they’re processed or manufactured into other goods.

If you operate a grocery store or restaurant, you can reduce your carbon footprint by offering products made with plant-based protein. Such products have experienced significant growth and customer adoption thanks to their great flavor and sustainable status. Add other similarly attractive products like locally roasted coffee, produce grown nearby, and honeys and jams from small, sustainable producers.

Examine Their Company Culture

Brands are built by their actions, so review potential partners’ company culture alongside their products’ quality. Employees are often one of the best sources to determine if a company is truly living their values. 

Check the company’s website and required reporting for commitments, data, and analysis. If the company you’re considering has quarterly reports, those can be full of valuable details. Many sustainable companies carry over their commitment to sustainable products to their offices. Find out whether their building is LEED certified and/or uses water recapture methods and energy-efficient lighting and equipment. 

Review how they support their employees and the community where they work. If they offer benefits for bike or hybrid commuters, that can be a good sign. Likewise, how they contribute to the community where they produce products can be very telling. Look for companies that give back and offset their environmental impact on their community. Those that do so quietly and genuinely can often be great partners whose values match your company’.  

Review Green Labeling With Care

The impulse behind green labeling like “certified organic” and “B-Corp” certification has genuine roots. But when there are marketing opportunities and market share to compete for, less ethical companies take advantage.

Review potential partners’ sustainable labeling with care, investigating whether their actions match their labels. Certified B-Corp businesses commit to providing a material positive benefit to either society or the environment. However, some certified businesses’ practices don’t always line up with the specifications of the designation. 

Complete a thorough review and request documentation, proof, and data from potential partners. Your partnership with their organization reflects on you as much as it does on them. Essentially, your working with them gives your customers the impression that they, too, are ‘good people.’ You’ve worked to build your reputation as a sustainable business over years of hard work and mindful decisions. Protect what you’ve earned by ensuring your partners help lift your brand and enhance your business. 

Check That Their Commitment to Full-Scale Sustainability Extends Beyond Headlines

Everyone loves a good PR campaign, especially when there’s great news to share. But does your potential partner do the right thing even when no one is looking? Be wary of publicity stunts that look great above the fold but don’t deliver on their promises. 

Scour search engines for both company-led news and reporter-generated stories about your potential partners. This research may yield whistleblower news, critical reports, or, ideally, more great news about their practices. While your goal isn’t to find a wealth of incriminating material, think like a competitor. If someone not invested in your business’s success were to research you and your partners, what would they find?

Learn how potential partners dispose of waste, manage nonrenewable energy, offset carbon impact, and source raw materials. Companies that offset their impact through actions like recycling, reuse, and donation may indicate a greater commitment to sustainability. Those that offset by donating money to fixing what they’ve damaged likely aren’t invested like you are. Examine what they do when monitors aren’t watching and seek to find the “why” behind their practices. If they’re doing good for the sake of reputation, there may be other more sustainable businesses to partner with. 

Establish Shared Values With Your Partners

Sustainability is more than just a business commitment — it’s a promise to protect the environment and the people you serve. When you partner with producers and other companies, aim to establish shared values. 

Include language in your partnership or purchasing agreement that specifies expectations to ensure you are in alignment. If putting it in writing isn’t your style, share your company values with potential partners, extending those expectations to them. When you and your partners are in sync on sustainability, you, your customers, and the environment reap the rewards. 




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