Sustainability, social awareness prove key to brand image

Implementing sustainable manufacturing practices has a range of benefits for businesses. If the positive environmental impact weren't reason enough for firms to go green, the reductions in operating costs that are possible when companies streamline their transportation logistics provide further incentive to limit fuel consumption and decrease the organization's carbon footprint.

The advantages of sustainability don't end there, however. New research suggests that brand image - particularly in the eyes of young consumers - is intimately linked to environmental and social awareness.

Tax and audit company KPMG recently released a study that found 70 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 30 consider the sustainability of a given company when deciding whether or not they'll give that firm their business. 

The increased demand for greater environmental responsibility is already impacting the way companies manage their manufacturing chains.

"Retailers are increasingly asking their suppliers to assess their environmental and social sustainability," noted Jim Low, an audit partner at ​ KPMG.

Low's comment reflects the need for businesses to implement green logistics if they are to keep pace with competitors in their respective sectors. As customers grow more environmentally conscious, firms that fail to meet that demand may fall behind.

Apple demands ethical practices from suppliers

Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant Apple provides an instructive example of the trend toward social awareness. The company recently responded to complaints that many of its overseas manufacturing partners weren't in compliance with regulations prohibiting companies from requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week. To rectify the issue, Apple increased the number of audits it performed at its suppliers' premises in an effort to hold them to a higher ethical standard.

As a result, Apple was able to significantly increase the number of its partners that complied with this law. By October 2013, 95 percent of the company's suppliers limited employees to 60-hour work weeks, a substantial increase from November of the previous year.

What's more, supply chain regulations worldwide are increasingly taking sustainability into account. Iuliana Nita, global marketing manager for the food and beverage division of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, discussed this phenomenon in a column for

"The global regulatory landscape is shifting to accommodate this drive towards improved sustainability, supported in many cases by the efforts of major retailers to incorporate sustainable practices into their guidelines," Nita wrote.

Companies that begin striving toward energy efficiency and sustainable supplier management across their operations are likely to find compliance with changing regulations much easier in the long term.

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