Holly Prievo
Copywriter - Maryland, United States

According to a survey by Futerra, 88% of consumers want brands to help them be more sustainable, yet they believe most brands make it harder for them to implement sustainability into their lifestyles.

For brands like yours, this spells opportunity.

If your company is already prioritizing sustainability within your organizational structure, this market differentiator is a clear added value for potential customers.

But as customers start to become savvier, looking further into the lifecycle of the products they buy and services they use, they’ll be expecting more information on your entire value chain- not just your products and customer-facing activities.

So, what happens when they start digging deeper?

Are you in fact doing enough?

Your Secondary Footprint

You may be content that you promote diversity, equity, and environmental stewardship through your company’s product development, hiring and benefits processes, and organizational operation. Your primary footprint might be very low. But your company likely does not operate in a vacuum. Other businesses and services you depend on are all decision-making points that can distinguish your true commitment to sustainability, even beyond your own services or products. This secondary footprint is where your organization has an even bigger opportunity to make a positive impact.

Sustainability in Your Value Chain

Your business’s impacts start upstream, with all the other businesses you rely on to make yours work.

Selecting sustainable providers, like ethical marketing agencies, communications organizations, shipping companies running on renewable energy, sustainable packaging companies, and beyond, likely offers the best chance to improve your environmental footprint.

  • With sustainability already embedded into their business plan, its an immediate positive impact to your own footprint
  • Selecting sustainable businesses over conventional options drives change, and supporting the competitiveness of sustainable brands and acknowledging sustainability as a significant and valued differentiator
  • It’s good marketing. Working with ethical service providers and supply companies could increase the visibility of your sustainability efforts through your partnership, and validate your commitment

But what happens when you can’t find sustainable suppliers, can’t afford them, or are locked into a contract?

Let’s examine how you might work with existing suppliers to improve your own footprint, and theirs.


Sustainable, ethical operation is just good business sense.  It mitigates risk, appeals to a growing segment of the market, and uses dwindling resources wisely so that we all may continue doing business into the future. So, if you can frame the discussion in a way that demonstrates the value of sustainability and ethical operation to your providers, you may have a better chance at improving your own footprint through them.

Making the case: Open communication is the best route to more sustainable supplier relations. Presenting sustainability and ethics as risk mitigation and a marketing tool can help convince decision makers to consider how they might improve their own business.

Understanding roadblocks: It is equally important to listen to the concerns and understand the risks for your suppliers. Understanding their circumstances can help identify opportunities and roadblocks, avoiding conflict during the transition.

Positioning: Positioning the discussion as a partnership may lead to more fruitful discussions and headway. Offering support in transition, longer term contracts after improvements are achieved, or proposing the idea of a sustainable initiative campaign are ways to solidify a sense of ownership and partnership.

Mutually beneficial: Make sure your discussions are always framing the transition as mutually beneficial. Identify objectives that serve both organizations as a starting place; low hanging fruit, achievable goals, and multi-benefit outcomes will help ignite interest and compel action.

Getting Started

Developing a Communications Plan for external relations that educates your value chain on your goals and expectations is a great place to start. Emails, newsletters, reports, and seminars can be useful, with a personalized follow-up with each organization.

With cooperative vendors, suppliers, or service providers, begin to collaborate on a Sustainable Initiatives Plan, auditing for a baseline, and identifying goals together. For those that express no interest, consider replacement providers.

Finally, be sure to monitor progress. Regular meetings, quarterly reporting, and support calls, site visits, and more can be helpful in ensuring that there is no loss of momentum.

Building a marketing campaign into the timeline, with press releases, and promotional events can keep you on track, leverage your separate audiences, help gain visibility, and motivate each party to commit.