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Responsible sourcing – spreading sustainability far and wide

February 5, 2022

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Isaac Pelham-Chipper


Responsible sourcing is a phrase increasingly used in the hospitality world. With interest in sustainability growing all the time, it’s no wonder there’s increasing consumer and regulatory demand for responsible sourcing. But what is it? Why is it important? What are the benefits? And where do hospitality businesses start?

Read on for Considerate Group’s brief introduction to the topic.

What is responsible sourcing?

Responsible sourcing is an approach that businesses take towards using sustainable products and services throughout their supply chain. This has stemmed from growing pressure from stakeholders (e.g., investors, regulators, and customers) for companies to accept responsibility for promoting sustainability across their entire operations, not just internally.

With the definition of sustainability widening in recent years to encompass social, cultural, and economic facets (in addition to the well-known environmental aspects), responsible sourcing refers to choosing goods and services that have a positive (or at least minimise the negative) impact on these areas.

Within hospitality, this means buying products (e.g., food, napkins, toiletries) from suppliers who can show that they have considered their environmental and social impact and made efforts to minimise them. It also means ensuring that any services purchased are sustainable too. For example, switching energy suppliers to one that supports renewable generation and doesn’t use fossil fuels or offer REGO-backed tariffs (more on that here), is one way to use more responsible services.

Responsible sourcing does not focus on changing suppliers. While that may be necessary in some cases, the aim is for businesses to understand the extent to which suppliers align with their sustainability aims and, where possible, work with them to support improvements. This helps build strong relationships which are good for business and encourages the spread of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.

Why is it important?

Where and how businesses procure products and services may not appear to have a large impact at first, but many sustainability matters have direct links to purchasing decisions. For example, within the global hospitality and hotel company Accor, Scope 3 carbon emissions (which are emissions created by an organisation’s supply chain) represented 52% of total carbon emissions, due principally to the purchase of goods and services. Other examples such as biodiversity loss related to the use of chemical products during manufacturing processes and the re-usability/recyclability of waste are also linked to how businesses buy commodities.

In the hospitality sector, many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals cannot be directly addressed through everyday operations. Working with responsible suppliers offers a way of creating improvements outside of a business’s own operations that would otherwise not be possible.

What are the benefits?

Responsibly sourcing is a great opportunity to realise operational, reputational, and even financial improvements. A report by WWF highlights how, by implementing responsible sourcing alongside better supply chain management, businesses can often reduce supply chain complexities and improve operations.

Taking action to improve the sustainability of the supply chain also shows guests and customers that the business is responsible, affording reputational benefits for consumers. YouGov statistics show that 79% of UK adults think it’s important to buy locally sourced produce, offering a great chance to engage these customers by sourcing locally. Reducing or eliminating single-use plastics, utilising compostable disposable items, and purchasing organic food, drink, linen, and towels, all offer opportunities to engage customers with a sustainability programme.

How can hospitality businesses start?

The first step is to consider the overall sustainability goals and ethos, understanding the areas which are most important to the company (e.g., biodiversity loss, worker standards, carbon footprints, etc.). This process can be guided and supported by utilising well-established international frameworks such as The United Nations’ Global Compact. Consideration should then be given to reviewing suppliers to see how they align with the ethos, starting with the sustainability priorities.

Considerate Group recommend creating a short supplier checklist or survey for suppliers to complete. This works best when the survey is based on a formal, written sustainability strategy, which clearly sets out the ethos and aims of the business.

Gathering information in this way will allow businesses to review all relevant information at once and make informed decisions as to how they would like to proceed in line with their overall goals. Ongoing improvement and monitoring should occur to make progress visible to the suppliers and other service companies and to prevent greenwashing.

Considerate Group has a wealth of experience supporting hospitality businesses in this area, and have recently developed bespoke policies and guidance for several international operators. If you’re interested in finding out more, please get in touch.