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Center for Corporate Climate Leadership

How to Engage Suppliers

Respect Business-Sensitive Information

In cases where organizations use surveys to obtain supplier GHG emissions data, response rates can be low because suppliers question how their clients will use the information. Organizations can alleviate this concern by leveraging external programs, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project's (CDP's) Supply Chain Program Exit EPA Disclaimer. CDP's program allows suppliers to choose which organizations can access their data.

Other programs could be modeled after the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition's (EICC's) Carbon and Water Reporting System Exit EPA Disclaimer, which provides suppliers with additional tools and maintains confidentiality of supplier data.

Provide Assistance to Smaller Suppliers

Smaller suppliers generally need more assistance than larger suppliers, as they have fewer resources and less in-house expertise. Spreadsheets and databases with built-in emissions calculations, such as EPA's Simplified GHG Emissions Calculator can assist these suppliers.

Strategically Choose Which Suppliers to Engage

Organizations are choosing to engage a small number of key suppliers at first, focusing on those that comprise 75 to 80 percent of spend and those who pose the greatest risk to financial performance or brand reputation if they do not manage their emissions. The latter may also include smaller suppliers, those that provide critical components, or those that represent other risk factors, such as energy-intensive operations that are vulnerable to rising costs from energy price increases.

Keep the Questions Simple

Organizations often use GHG emissions questionnaires and databases to collect information from key suppliers. Organizations that have conducted their own GHG inventories emphasize the need to keep the information requests simple and not ask questions of their suppliers that they themselves would have difficulty answering. Some organizations ask suppliers for quantitative data, while others focusing first on qualitative questions as to whether the suppliers are measuring, reporting, and taking steps to reduce emissions. In some cases, companies use GHG emissions information from suppliers as a proxy for understanding how their suppliers are approaching sustainability more broadly.

Build Trust with Suppliers

Suppliers may be sensitive about how their information will be used, some fearing that sharing their GHG inventory data will provide insight into how operations are managed and potentially linked to production costs. Suppliers worry that their customers might use the information to request further cost reductions, rather than grant them flexibility for managing savings that result from efficiencies identified by developing their GHG inventories.

To build trust, organizations might consider first sharing their own success stories about saving money or enhancing competitiveness, lessons learned, tools and resources with suppliers to demonstrate realized and potential benefits. Suppliers will likely be more willing to overcome any skepticism on how measuring their GHG emissions will benefit their businesses if they see firsthand how other organizations reaped tangible benefits. Organizations should also consider collecting data through third-party programs that protect suppliers' confidential business information.

Provide Training and Capacity Building

Suppliers often do not know at first how to measure and report their GHG emissions, and they fear that doing so will involve extensive resources. However, when developing a GHG emissions inventory for the first time and identifying initial cost savings, suppliers often find that gathering the utility bills and other necessary information for an inventory is more time-consuming than it is difficult.

Training and capacity building for suppliers are critical components of a customer-supplier relationship built around the goal of managing GHG emissions. Many organizations have supplier focused meetings or forums that can be leveraged to include trainings on managing emissions. If resources permit, companies can also create a standing team to provide technical assistance to suppliers.

Conduct Pilot Initiatives

Some organizations select only a subset of suppliers and ask them for GHG emissions information. Organizations have reported needing approximately three years to glean lessons learned from piloting supplier initiatives before having the results and information needed to begin scaling up and solidifying supplier programs within their organizations.

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